Very uncharacteristically, Oregon started last season 3-3. Head coach Mark Helfrich and company recovered to win six in a row and then lost in overtime to TCU in the Alamo Bowl. Once again, the Ducks will have a graduate transfer at quarterback. Dakota Prukop, formerly of FCS Montana State, will step in for Vernon Adams and run the Oregon spread offense. He will have junior RB Royce Freeman (1,836 yds., 18 TDs) alongside him in the backfield. The Ducks will have to develop an offensive line and some receivers, but there is plenty of talent in Eugene. Oregon gets Washington and Stanford at home.
Odds to Win the PAC-12 Champion
**odds provided by Bovada
Most Improved: Washington
The Huskies enter Year 3 of the Chris Petersen era and are primed to do some damage. The Huskies finished 7-6 a year ago, return the best defense in the Pac-12, and return nine starters on offense. Sophomores Jake Browning (QB) and Myles Gaskin (RB) are as good as any in the conference. Three of four linebackers, including Azeem Victor, return to a defense that gave up just 18.8 points per game (13th in the nation). Eight starters return on Petersen’s defense. The Huskies have a legitimate shot at winning the North Division.
Biggest Disappointment: California
A year after QB Jared Goff lit up opposing defenses, the Bears will struggle on offense. Head coach Sonny Dykes did hire new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital and he will try and either break in redshirt sophomore Chase Forrest or go with former Texas Tech starter Davis Webb at quarterback. The plus? Cal has four returning starters on the offensive line. The defense returns just four starters and gave up 30.7 points a game last year, although that was better than the 39.8 they allowed in 2014.
The Bruins will have the best quarterback in the league in sophomore Josh Rosen. After throwing for 3,669 yards and 23 touchdowns last year, Rosen was the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2015. WR Darren Andrews (43 rec., 443 yds.) returns as do two offensive lineman. The defense has eight returning starters plus 6-3, 305-pound defensive end Eddie Vanderboes, who was All- Conference in 2014 but missed last season with a knee injury. UCLA had six early exits to the NFL last year, but still have the talent to win the South.
Most Improved: Colorado
The only place the Buffaloes can go is up. Head coach Mike MacIntyre is just 10-27 in three years, but there is optimism in Boulder as 15 starters return. The schedule gets a little tougher with a nonconference game at Colorado. The offense returns QB Sefo Liufau, a senior, and wide receiver Shay Fields who had 42 catches for 598 yards last season. The Buffs should be better defensively as nine starters return, including CB Chidobe Awuzie, a sure NFL prospect. MacIntyre likely needs to win more than one Pac-12 game to keep his job.
Biggest Disappointment: Arizona
What happened to the Wildcats? Head coach Rich Rodriguez had a great thing going until a rash of injuries wiped out the 2015 season. Arizona finished 7-6 after beating New Mexico in the New Mexico Bowl. Rodriguez will have seven starters back on each side of the ball. QB Anu Solomon (2,667 yds., 20 TDs) returns healthy as does junior RB Nick Wilson (729 yds., 8 TDs). The defense will have to improve for Arizona to have any chance of winning more than three conference games. The Wildcats gave up 35.8 points a game (107th in the nation) prompting Rodriguez to fire the entire defensive staff at the end of last season.
Pac-12 Champion: Oregon
The Ducks will be just good enough defensively to win a Pac-12 title. New defensive coordinator and former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke takes over the defense which will become more aggressive in a new 4-3 alignment. Expect Prukop to shine on offense aided by Freeman and WR Darren Carrington, Oregon’ s leading returning pass catcher (32 rec., 609 yds., 6 TDs). The hyper-speed offense will continue to rain championships. The Ducks did average 43 points and 538.2 yards per game last year. Those crazy numbers will continue as the Ducks look to sneak into the College Football Playoff.
- Big 12 Conference
- Big Ten Conference
- ACC Conference
- PAC 12 Conference
- SEC Conference