Welcome to the first edition of Martin's Musings as it returns for the second season, where we will take a look at what happened around the Pac-12 the previous week and take a quick look at the week to come.
Weekly Pecking Order (record last season):
1.) Oregon (13-2) – The admission of Vernon Adams was huge for the Ducks, but even without him, Oregon is stacked with talent, is the odds on favorite to win the North, and could run away with it. Oregon misses Arizona on the regular season slate this year, which should come as a relief to the Ducks, but the biggest test of the year could be when Oregon heads to Tempe to face the Sun Devils on a late October Thursday night.
2.) USC (9-4) – I’m still not sold on Steve Sarkisian in Southern Cal, but if the recruits keep filing in like they are, the wins will keep piling up. Cody Kessler is back for his senior campaign, the Trojans are in the second full year with the new offense, and are blessed with a favorable schedule that gives USC home field advantage in the most dangerous games of the year.
3.) Arizona (10-4) – The way things stack up, there’s only one reason that the Wildcats finish lower than third this season and that is injuries. Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson lead an offense that should only get better this from last year. Not having a bye is going to be rough for the Wildcats, but a strong start to the season may allow for a trip up late in the season to not cause too much damage.
4.) Stanford (8-5) – The Cardinal are a weird team in the way that they have developed over the years. Kevin Hogan is saddling up for his last rodeo under center, but the strength of the team should be Stanford’s defense. If the Cardinal can’t pull off a successful season, Head Coach David Shaw may feel his seat start to warm up.
5.) Arizona State (10-3) – If Arizona’s schedule is heavily back-loaded, the rival to the North’s schedule is heavily front-loaded. USC, UCLA, Utah, and Oregon in a five-week span before the final month of the season could be taxing on the Sun Devils, who are replacing several key components from last season. Will the offense be as potent without Jaelen Strong, and will the defense be deep enough to continue the blitzing barrage that has been a staple of Todd Graham's in the recent years are just two of many questions that are swirling around Arizona State.
6.) UCLA (10-3) – The Bruins are a strange team this season because they are one of the few teams in the conference that has a dominant defense and a rather questionable offense. Even last year, with proven starter Brett Hundley, UCLA looked shaky on offense at times. Now, without a firm starter under center, the Bruins will have to rely on Myles Jack and the rest of that LA Steel defense for some of the early season contests.
7.) California (5-7) – This one is a bit of a shocker, but the Golden Bears look the part of a team that makes the big jump this season. California has a difficult schedule, however #CalGang has been steadily on the rise and should make the jump into bowl eligibility this season. Jared Goff and Daniel Lasco are going to have big years for the offense, but if the Golden Bear defense doesn’t shape up to be a much better unit than the one that gave up nearly 500 points total and over 500 yards per game, then California may sputter.
8.) Utah (9-4) – Ah, the Utes. They are trending down and that happens when the coordinator stability is virtually non-existent. With oft-injured Travis Wilson as the starter at quarterback and perpetual backup Kendal Thompson as, well, the backup, this signal caller position looks just as shaky as last season, while the wide receiver depth also causes some more reasons for concern. Utah will win their fair share of games purely with willpower and home field advantage, but in a stacked South division there isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room for the Utes.
9.) Washington State (3-9) – The Cougars are in a similar position to the Golden Bears, where they have been steadily on the rise, but Wazzu just hasn’t been able to put it together on the field yet. Losing Connor Halliday mid-season last year may have been the best thing for Mike Leach, as he had to throw Luke Falk into action. If Leach doesn’t start to rack up a few more victories this season, the leash could be getting much shorter on his reign in Pullman.
10.) Colorado (2-10) – Sefo Liufau, that is all. He really is all that Colorado is relying on this season. The Buffs have been a punching bag for the entire conference for the last few years and there might not be much of a change in the near future. Colorado has a 4-33 record in conference play since joining the Pac-12 with a current 11-game losing streak, so that may something to watch grow as the year goes on.
11.) Oregon State (5-7) – There’s a new Sheriff in Corvallis. Potential lifer Mike Riley bolted at the opportunity to become the new Fake Bo Pelini and Gary Andersen made the trek from Wisconsin to replace him. There is no doubt that Anderson is going to get Oregon State rolling again, but it could be a shaky few years before the Beavers are back in competitive form.
12.) Washington (8-5) – The Huskies weren’t bad last season, but they weren’t good. Losing two returning starters to career ending injuries is brutal. With Shaq Thompson departed to the NFL, Chris Petersen will need to find another all-world athlete to play multiple positions and fill the major holes that the Huskies are left with.
Offensive Player of the Year: UCLA RB, Paul Perkins– Surprise! Well, not really since Perkins led the Pac-12 in rushing last season, but with questions at quarterback, the running back should get more than his fair share of carries. Perkins leads UCLA to an impressive season, but can’t get them a division title (see below).
Defensive Player of the Year: Arizona LB, Scooby Wright – I don’t think there is any doubt coming into the season that Wright is the heavy favorite here. If Arizona finds a way to win the division, the All-American should book his flight to the Heisman Trophy ceremony because he will be in the discussion.
Newcomer of the Year: Oregon QB, Vernon Adams – As with just about every quarterback that runs the Ducks’ offense, Adams is going to have some insane numbers. This may seem like a cop out pick because he is technically a senior, but the guy threw 55 touchdown passes in a single season two years ago. I’m sure he won’t hit that number against FBS competition, but it sure is going to be fun watching him try.
Pac-12 North Champion: Oregon Ducks – Outside of Stanford, there isn’t a team in the North that is going to challenge reigning Champs for the divisional title. It’s just not going to happen and Stanford isn’t like to go undefeated or with just a single loss in Pac-12 play.
Pac-12 South Champion: USC Trojans – Even though the rest of the country believes USC will win the entire conference, this one was insanely tough to call. Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, and USC will all likely be tied or within one game of the lead for a majority of the season. It likely comes down to the USC-UCLA game in the final week of the season and the Trojans should have the upper hand in that one.
Games to watch Week 1:
Utah vs. Michigan – It’s not every season that there are two great games on opening weekend, but this year is pretty special. Kyle Whittingham and co. were part of Michigan’s downfall last season and get to take the first shots at Jim Harbaugh this season. It would be a real surprise if Michigan could pull off the upset. Utah 38, Michigan 21.
Arizona State vs. Texas A&M – This is a neutral site game in a not-so-neutral area (Houston). ASU is going to get tested early and often in this one and should give a pretty good indicator of how good the Sun Devils actually are. Arizona State is getting a lot of positive press right now with some unproven answers, but I think they squeak this one out. Arizona State 42, Texas A&M 38.