The Pac-12 had a successful run in the 2016 college football season with one member getting into the College Football Playoff. Here’s a look at some predictions and storylines for each team heading into 2017.
Now that the 2016 college football season is officially over, the countdown timer can be set for the start of the 2017 season.
However, this past year was a successful one for the Pac-12 conference. It watched the Washington Huskies represent in the College Football Playoff, a group of young, talented quarterbacks emerge, and teams like Colorado and Washington State surpass expectations by a country mile.
The Pac-12 will officially be back in action on Aug. 31, 2017, when the Utah Utes host North Dakota. But there’s plenty of time until then, so let’s focus on some of the storylines and predictions for the 2017 college football season.
California Golden Bears
Sonny Dykes is gone after four seasons with Cal, so the storyline for 2017 has to be the unknown direction of the Golden Bears. Davis Webb is gone. Chad Hansen is gone. The future of the program is in the hands of young, talented players like wide receiver Demetris Robertson. There are some potential candidates for Cal to closely examine – names like Chip Kelly and current offensive coordinator Jake Spavital come to mind. One thing is for sure, whoever is brought in as the next head coach will have to fix a defensive unit that ranked No. 127 in total defense.
Prediction: The Golden Bears will only squeak out four or five wins and won’t qualify for a bowl game. The rest of the conference is too stacked.
It’s the dawn of a new day in Eugene. Willie Taggart is now the big boss at Oregon, and there is an energy surrounding that program right now because of him. Taggart plucked defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt from Colorado and could make a huge recruiting hire with (potential) offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal — if he can lure him away from Alabama. The story to watch is how the Ducks do in Taggart’s first season with rising sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert returning from a successful freshman campaign.
Prediction: The Ducks will win eight games in Taggart’s first season, and Herbert will take a huge leap forward in his development as a quarterback.
Oregon State Beavers
Head coach Gary Andersen signed a one-year contract extension to keep him Corvallis through 2021. But there are two much bigger stories to keep an eye on with the Beavers. Halfback Ryan Nall will return for his junior season after accounting for 41 percent of the team’s offensive touchdowns. He’ll likely be the focal point of the offense in 2017.
The other headline to watch for is who Oregon State’s starting quarterback is going to be. Darell Garretson was lost for the season six games in, and Marcus McMaryion filled in nicely for him. The Beavers also have JUCO All-American quarterback Jake Luton coming in, so it should be a heated competition in fall camp.
Prediction: The Beavers will fail to qualify for a bowl game yet again with only five wins, and Andersen will end the season on the hot seat — one year after signing an extension.
Christian McCaffrey and Solomon Thomas are both gone … now what? Well, David Shaw has to find a new focal point of the offense, and that’s what Cardinal fans should be looking for heading into the 2017 season.
Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns were nothing to get excited about this past season. Now, Burns is transferring, and Chryst is reportedly out for at least six months with an unspecified injury. Rising sophomore quarterback K.J. Costello was highly regarded out of the 2016 class, and he’ll get a shot to earn the starting job. Incoming 5-star quarterback Davis Mills will also get some consideration.
However, running back Bryce Love will be the one tasked with replacing McCaffrey. And, of course, someone will have to step up to fill Solomon’s shoes on defense. That responsibility might fall upon the shoulders of Harrison Phillips, who recorded seven sacks to Solomon’s 8.5
Prediction: Costello will win the starting job. Love will rush for 1,000-plus yards, and Stanford will win nine games and make it into the Holiday Bowl.
He may not have been able to lead the Huskies to a win over Alabama in the CFP, but Jake Browning took a giant leap forward as a quarterback in 2016. He showed great accuracy, leadership and an ability to make plays. However, he won’t have wide receiver John Ross, who’s entering the 2017 NFL Draft.
A bigger problem for Washington is the loss of key defensive players. Safety Budda Baker, cornerback Sidney Jones and defensive lineman Elijah Qualls all declared for the draft, too. And both Psalm Wooching and Joe Mathis, two of their three sack leaders, are lost to graduation. However, linebackers Keishawn Bierria and Azeem Victor will likely be back to lead the defense.
Prediction: Chris Petersen’s Huskies will make it back-to-back seasons with 12 wins. They’ll again reach the Pac-12 title game before heading into the Rose Bowl. And Browning will compete for the Heisman Trophy but will not make it to New York.
Washington State Cougars
If Luke Falk were ever going to try his hand at the pros, it’s hard to imagine a more opportune time than right now. The quarterback class is weak, and he had a great 2016 season. However, he’s returning to Pullman next season, but star wide receiver Gabe Marks will be gone. Tavares Martin Jr. is the only one of his top three receivers to return in 2017. Mike Leach will have to figure out a way to sustain that potent passing attack.
Prediction: The Cougars will win eight games again and lose yet another Apple Cup, but they’ll make it into the Hyundai Sun Bowl.
Pac-12 Football Predictions, Storylines For 2017 Season (cont.)
The arrow is currently pointing down for Rich Rodriguez and his Wildcats. They certainly suffered a lot of injuries this past season, but it's difficult to look past a 3-9 record. With quarterback Anu Solomon transferring to Baylor, Arizona has to find an identity, and it might be rising junior quarterback Brandon Dawkins, who flashed dual-threat ability in 2016. However, the real stories to watch will be whether the Wildcats can stay healthy and if Rodriguez will make it through the season.
Prediction: The Wildcats will win only three games yet again, and Rodriguez will find himself without a job.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Manny Wilkins will be back, but it's not guaranteed the starting quarterback job will be his. Brady White and Dillon Sterling-Cole are also returning, and it will likely be an open contest in fall camp. It'll be interesting to see if the Sun Devils can consistently move the chains through the air. But it will be more fun to watch Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, as they look to carry the team for one last time before moving on.
Prediction: Arizona State will pick up only four wins, and Todd Graham's seat will begin warming up.
In 2016, Colorado produced its first 10-win season since 2001 and its first winning season since 2005. Mike MacIntyre has changed the culture in Boulder, but the 2017 storyline to watch for is how the Buffaloes can take the next step forward — or if they move forward at all.
Quarterback Sefo Liufau is gone, and now it will be up to rising junior Steven Montez. Colorado competed in the Pac-12 title game. Sure, it lost to Washington, but that was a huge accomplishment in itself. If running back Phillip Lindsay returns instead of declaring for the draft, it will be an easier task. But either way, MacIntyre has his work cut out for him, as the bar has now been raised.
Prediction: Colorado will win seven games and qualify for the Las Vegas Bowl.
It's never easy when you lose your starting quarterback, and UCLA certainly wasn't the same after Josh Rosen went down. The Bruins tried to throw it just as much, but the demeanor was different. Rosen is the main story to watch, as he's expected to be fully healthy when the 2017 season begins. Nate Starks, Bolu Olorunfunmi and Soso Jamabo will need to produce more on the ground than they did this past season, but it will be up to Rosen to lead the way. If he can't, his draft stock could take a severe hit, and Jim Mora's job my be in danger.
Prediction: The Bruins will bounce back enough to save Mora's job, as they'll pick up seven wins and remain relatively healthy with a showing in the Cactus Bowl to cap the season.
It started off rocky in 2016, but Clay Helton eventually got his Trojans on track when he made the switch from Max Browne to Sam Darnold as his starting quarterback. So, the story to watch for USC is how they move forward from JuJu Smith-Schuster, who's entering the draft, and whether or not Darnold can go from good to great in Helton's second year.
The Trojans are gearing up to finish the 2017 recruiting cycle on a high note, and there could be some freshman receivers catching passes in Los Angeles in 2017.
Prediction: USC will win the South Division with double-digit wins and will take down Washington in the Pac-12 title game. Darnold will be a Heisman Trophy finalist and lead the Trojans to the CFP.
Kyle Whittingham's team had injuries of its own to worry about this past season, but it still managed to go 9-4. However, Joe Williams won't be back, so the Utes have to figure out who is going to step up and run the ball, which is a gigantic portion of their offense. And quarterback Troy Williams will have to show a drastic improvement if Utah is going to compete on a high level next season.
Prediction: The Utes will win eight games and compete in the Foster Farms Bowl.