This conference used to be ruled by the Trojans of Southern California. The Pac-12 South was king for so many years we all forgot that winter was coming and the Kings of the North would return. USC has yet to fully overcome the sanctions and the rise of Oregon and Stanford in the North have compounded their issues. Not to mention that the Trojans are no longer even the only game in town. UCLA, with last year being an exception, have taken it to their cross-city rivals recently thanks to Jim Mora Jr.
The 85th meeting of UCLA vs. USC. The Trojans lead the overall series, but we've won the last 3 in a row. Let's… https://t.co/RS5gLKeVmt
— Lorenzo Haire (@DJRenzoDC) November 28, 2015
Although USC fans will be quick to counter:
— Jacob (@JacobF_33) September 16, 2015
For a good look at context, here are the teams’ Pac-12 record recently:
Pac 12 Team Records last 5 Years
ARZ ST 40-26
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) June 19, 2016
The reality is that the Pac-12 has not been property of USC in a long time. Oregon changed the game with Chip Kelly’s offense and their billion combinations of uniforms. Stanford showed they could bring the SEC type defense and running game to the west coast. Eugene and Palo Alto are where you really need to head if you want to win the Pac-12:
Oregon and Stanford have combined to win the last 7 Pac-12 titles. Ducks' average recruiting rank in that span is 22 and Cardinal's is 21.8.
— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) February 1, 2016
Stanford has been picked to win the Pac-12 in 2016 and a lot of that has to do with the fact they return Christian McCaffrey at running back. McCaffrey set the record for single season all-purpose yards in 2015 and was a Heisman finalist. The defense will need to rely on new faces at certain positions. Returning, however, is Solomon Thomas on the defensive line. Kevin Palma and Bobby Okereke will be tasked with being the next great Stanford linebackers. On the offensive line, the Cardinals need to replace three starting offensive line to help create the same holes for McCaffrey. Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns will try to pick up the slack after record setting quarterback Kevin Hogan ended his Cardinal tenure.
Here is how the media sees the Pac-12 North and Pac-12 in general going:
— CSN Northwest (@CSNNW) July 19, 2016
Stanford has been picked to win the Pac-12 North with Washington finishing second ahead of the Oregon Ducks. It is no surprise that the Huskies hype continues. Washington finished with an incredible defense last year and many Huskies are playing defense in the NFL right now. The Huskies return quarterback Jake Browning for the 2015 season. Browning had a strong finish in their bowl game with 284 passing yards on 23 of 34 passing. Washington returns 8 starters from that strong defense which led the conference in scoring defense (18.8 ppg) and 4.9 yards per play. The Huskies did surrender 34 sacks but have 4 starters returning on the offensive line with more experience. I leave it to you to determine whether or not that is a good thing.
The Oregon Ducks might have some beef after being picked 3rd in the Pac-12 North. The Ducks have been dominant over the past decade and have established themselves among the country’s elite programs. Oregon has played for two national titles in the past 6 years and have created an identity that has helped them sustain success. Mariota left in 2015 and the task was left to Vernon Adams Jr. to help the program. Adam’s Jr. arrived late on campus due to academics, however, he helped the Ducks to some impressive games. Oregon won at Stanford but lost at Michigan State in a close game. Returning to the Ducks are wide receivers Charles Nelson and Darren Carrington to help give whoever wins the quarterback some weapons. Another weapon for the offense is Royce Freeman. Freeman could gain over 5,000 yards for his career at Oregon this season and should be considered one of the best in the country. The quarterback battle will be between Dakota Prukop, Travis Jonsen, and Terry Wilson. Prukop is another FCS transfer quarterback who is more of a runner than Adam’s was. The Ducks hired Brady Hoke to be their defensive coordinator and the defense will switch to a 4-3 defense and hopefully for them be able to be more formidable.
I pick the Oregon Ducks to win the Pac-12 in 2016. I think that Prukop will pick up the offense just as well as Vernon Adams Jr. and I think having weapons like Freeman and Nelson will allow him to be a dynamic playmaker. I also think Hoke improves that defense in 2016. The Ducks beat Stanford last year on the road and I think that showed me they have figured something out about that program.