By Do-Hyoung Park
The media has spoken: Your defending Pac-12 champions, the Stanford Cardinal, will open their 2016 campaign as the No. 8 team in the country, according to the results of the preseason AP Top 25 poll released early Sunday morning.
This marks the first time the Cardinal will start the year ranked in the top 10 since 2013, when they were the No. 4 preseason team in college football.
Stanford is the highest of the five Pac-12 teams that are ranked in the preseason poll, ahead of No. 14 Washington, No. 16 UCLA, No. 20 USC and No. 24 Oregon. And believe it or not, this marks the first time in the Harbaugh-Shaw era that the Cardinal have opened the year as the highest-ranked team in the conference.
Stanford’s relatively low place in the poll (behind two SEC teams, two Big Ten teams, two ACC teams and a Big 12 team) seems to show, again, that the Pac-12’s perception in the national sphere is lagging after its lack of representation in the College Football Playoff last season.
Granted, preseason polls are usually to be taken with a grain of salt (remember when USC opened the 2012 season at No. 1 before finishing the year 7-6?) but this, at least, offers a good picture of how the media perceives the national (and conference) landscapes heading into the season.
To no surprise, the SEC topped the poll in representation with six teams, including No. 1 Alabama and four total teams in the top 15. The ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 had four teams apiece to trail the Pac-12.
The only other Pac-12 teams receiving votes were Utah and Washington State.
Assorted Pac-12 observations
- Four of Stanford’s first six opponents this season are ranked (No. 20 USC, No. 16 UCLA, No. 14 Washington, No. 10 Notre Dame). Only one of its final six is ranked (No. 24 Oregon).
- Oregon opens the year outside the top 10 for the first time since 2010 (when it was No. 11). It was a good run, Ducks. To add insult to injury, they open 10 spots behind archrival Washington, whom they’ve beaten in 12 straight seasons.
- Speaking of Washington, the media is clearly buying into the preseason Chris Petersen hype. The Huskies return most of the pieces from a young defense that topped the conference last season in both scoring and total defense, and a stud young running back in Myles Gaskin, who rushed for just over 100 yards per game as a true freshman last season. The only question is if sophomore quarterback Jake Browning can help the team take the next step.
- A day after naming Max Browne their starting quarterback, Clay Helton’s USC Trojans actually don’t seem over-ranked in the preseason for once, checking in at No. 20, which sounds about right given the skill position talent but the questions in the front seven and what’s probably the most difficult schedule in the country.
- UCLA at No. 16 also feels about right after they return Josh Rosen, who will probably be the best quarterback in the conference, but also lose running back Paul Perkins and three of their top four receivers from last season. Soso Jamabo will be a great running back, but they’ll also need to contend with the loss of three starters from the offensive line.