The 2013 SaturdayBlitz.com Pac-12 preview concludes with predictions for each of the conference’s members. Stanford and Oregon remain the heavyweights, but both should face stiff competition from Oregon State and Washington within their division.
The Beavers return a solid corps from last year’s surprise nine-game winner, while Washington boasts its most talented roster in over a decade.
In the South, Arizona State has all the makings of a breakout title contender. The Sun Devils must overcome reigning division champion UCLA, a possibly resurgent USC and the wild card Wildcats of Arizona.
CAL GOLDEN BEARS
Projected record: 3-9, 2-7 Pac-12
Most important game: vs. Oregon State (Oct. 19)
The Beavers visit Memorial Stadium at the midway point of the season. Cal could conceivable have four wins when OSU comes to Berkeley, but just two more home games remain thereafter. Hope of a bowl game rests on a win here.
Potential for an upset: vs. Arizona (Nov. 2)
More than decade has past since the Wildcats last won in Berkeley.
Forecast: Sonny Dykes was an excellent hire, and his impact could be felt immediately. The Golden Bears play a difficult schedule though, and face challenges on both sides of the ball. Cal will be competitive on a more regular basis than 2012, but reaching bowl eligibility is likely a year away.
Projected record: 11-1, 8-1 Pac-12
Most important game: at Stanford (Nov. 7)
This is one you can bet Oregon has had circled on its calendar since the schedule was released. For a fourth straight season, the Oregon-Stanford showdown will determine the conference championship outlook.
Potential to be upset: at Arizona (Nov. 23)
Oregon has controlled its BCS destiny the last two seasons, but dropped November conference games. A Thanksgiving weekend trip to Tucson looms as this year’s likely candidate.
Forecast: Mark Helfrich inherits the keys to a high-end sports car, but he helped build the engine. Oregon is loaded both offensively and defensively and has a manageable schedule. The Ducks will once again be in the hunt not only for the Pac-12 championship, but the BCS.
OREGON STATE BEAVERS
Projected record: 9-3, 6-3 Pac-12
Most important game: vs. Stanford (Oct. 26)
OSU will be eagerly awaiting its shot at the reigning conference champion, this time on its home turf.
Potential to be upset: at Utah (Sept. 14)
Early season conference games are challenging. Teams are still developing chemistry, and in Oregon State’s case, possibly still determining its quarterback. Rice-Eccles is one of the more unique atmospheres in the conference, and Utah has had Oregon State’s number there in 2008 and 2011 meetings.
Forecast: Mike Riley got his groove back in 2012, and has the Beavers primed to contend for the division in 2013. OSU gets two of the three teams it lost to in conference last year at home (Stanford and Washington), both of which the Beavers were within single digits of. OSU could realistically be playing for the division in November’s Civil War. In-n-Out burgers for all!
Projected record: 11-1, 8-1 Pac-12
Most important game: vs. Oregon (Nov. 7)
Defense won championships in last year’s Pac-12 race. Can Stanford make it two in a row against one of the most successful college football programs of the last half-decade?
Potential to be upset: at Oregon State (Oct. 26)
The Beavers took Stanford to the brink last season on The Farm. This time around, OSU gets the Cardinal at Reser Stadium with the Oregon showdown looming in the following week.
Forecast: With an outstanding offensive line, a promising young quarterback and the conference’s best top-to-bottom defense, the defending Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champions are primed for a run at the national championship.
Projected record: 8-4, 5-4 Pac-12
Most important game: at Stanford (Oct. 5)
UW upset the Cardinal in last season’s match-up, in retrospect essentially derailing the Cardinal’s BCS championship hopes. Washington is very much a viable Rose Bowl contender, but replicating the Stanford upset is crucial. It’s the first of the Huskies’ three big divisional contests.
Potential to be upset: at UCLA (Nov. 15)
The Huskies could be in the driver’s seat of the division when they visit the Rose Bowl, although winning in Pasadena is essential for returning to Pasadena.
Forecast: Washington is one of the most experienced teams in the conference and, after Steve Sarkisian landed back-to-back stellar signing classes, a bevy of talent. UW needs Keith Price to regain his form, and the Huskies must also navigate a difficult schedule. Two of their key competitors, Stanford and Oregon State, are road games.
WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS
Projected record: 3-9, 1-8 Pac-12
Most important game: vs. Utah (Nov. 23)
A late season visit from a Utah team whose identity we currently don’t know could be the positive stepping stone WSU needs for its Apple Cup showdown with Washington. The Cougars being in the hunt for a bowl game at this juncture isn’t completely unrealistic, either.
Potential for an upset: Arizona State (Oct. 31)
The Cougars have been good for an upset in Martin Stadium the last two seasons. In 2011, it was Arizona State, playing in snowy conditions. A similar atmosphere could await Sparky this time.
Forecast: The Cougars’ season-capping defeat of Washington in the Apple Cup closed the first year of the Mike Leach with positive momentum. The 2013 team has a few pieces, but is likely still a year away from serious bowl contention.