Each year, media members who cover Pac-12 football are asked to submit a ballot ranking the North and South division teams in order of predicted finish, in addition to predicting who will win the conference championship game.
With media day(s) beginning on Wednesday in Hollywood, Calif., the results of the annual media poll are soon to be announced. Here’s what my ballot looks like.
With an offense led by QB Marcus Mariota, RB Byron Marshall and four returning starters on the offensive line, the Ducks should again be pretty difficult to stop. Their defense lost a good bit of production to the NFL, but they should still have enough talent there to form a pretty tough group — and the Ducks don’t have to play Arizona State or USC, and they get Stanford and Washington at home.
The Cardinal have a star running back, a couple of stud offensive linemen and a bunch of departed defensive talent to replace, but David Shaw is preceded a bit here by his reputation for strong recruiting and ability to reload. Plus, Stanford has a veteran QB in Kevin Hogan, a talented crop of receivers led by Ty Montgomery, and there are still a few playmakers — A.J. Tarpley and James Vaughters come to mind — on that defense. One trip-up could be the schedule; the Cardinal have to play at Washington, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA (plus a nonconference trip to Notre Dame).
Their front seven should be one of the best in the conference, but the Huskies also have a lot of production to replace offensively (and in the secondary, where CB Marcus Peters appears the only sure thing). That starts with settling on a quarterback to replace three-year starter Keith Price, and settling on a running back (or a rotation of running backs) to replace the record-setting Bishop Sankey. An experienced offensive line and a handful of returning receivers still make this a potentially dangerous group, but I don’t know if this feels like a “next step” kind of season just yet.
4. Oregon State
Brandin Cooks is gone to the NFL, but the Beavers still have some returning talent at receiver (Richard Mullaney, plus RB Storm Woods, an adept pass-catcher) for QB Sean Mannion to throw to. Beavers also return seven defensive starters. If you’re looking for a sleeper team, OSU might be a strong pick.
5. Washington State
Tempting to move the Cougars up a spot, given their ultra-deep group of experienced receivers and the fact that they have a fifth-year senior QB in Connor Halliday. But their secondary, at least right now, looks pretty shaky, and they have some questions to answer along the offensive line, too. They get that all ironed out, this could be a big year for Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense.
The Bears probably had a lot more talent on their roster than they showed — injuries destroyed them — en route to a 1-11 record. I’d expect better this year, but the growing pains will still be frequent.
Led by potential Heisman Trophy candidate QB Brett Hundley, the Bruins should be able to overcome the loss of five NFL draft picks and reclaim the South title.
Steve Sarkisian has plenty of talent to work with in Year 1, but here’s a guess the Bruins will be kings of L.A. at season’s end.
3. Arizona State
Was tempted to move the Sun Devils ahead of USC, but they lost so much defensive talent from a year ago that I’m in wait-and-see mode in that regard. But their offense should still be pretty tough.
Wildcats still have to figure out who their starting quarterback is going to be, but they’ve got a deep stable of receivers to help ease the transition for whoever Rich Rodriguez chooses to line up under center.
The return of QB Travis Wilson will help, for sure. But hard to see the Utes taking a real step forward in a division so loaded with talent, especially with a schedule that includes road games at Michigan, UCLA, Arizona State and Stanford.
Buffaloes will be a popular pick for the South cellar. Should be another rebuilding year.
PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME WINNER: Oregon
Christian Caple can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple