Here we go. Pac-12 Media Days are Wednesday and Thursday but before we get there, how about a look at answering some of the questions we need to figure out before we get there.
Here are our five questions about how Pac-12 football will play out in the fall of 2014 -- with answers, of course.
1) WHO WILL BE STANDING AT THE END -- TEAMS, PLAYERS AND COACHES?
In the North, we, along with most pundits, like them to finish in this order: 1) Oregon; 2) Stanford; 3) Washington; 4) Oregon State; 5) Washington State and 6) California.
In the South, we'll flip the LA picks from most pundits just because we've had the benefit of watching the Trojans; spring and summer workouts. So here we go. Not a homer pick here, just the way we really think this is going to play out: 1) USC; 2) UCLA; 3) Arizona State; 4) Arizona: 5) Utah and 6) Colorado.
Championship game winner at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara: USC. If the Trojans get there, we don't see them failing to finish it. They'd have come back too far to fall short here. We're looking for an athletic defense to do the trick against the Ducks.
Offensive Player of the Year: We love Marcus Mariota. If he stays healthy and the Ducks beat Michigan State early, we look for him to win the Heisman as well.
Defensive Player of the Year: Big Leonard Williams beats out Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olumu.
Freshman of the Year: Always a crapshoot. How can you know. How about Adoree Jackson? Could happen. Make a few plays they remember you for is how you do it as a first-year guy.
Coach of the Year: Hard to win this one from USC but if the season plays out the way we think it might, if the team that wins is playing with 18 scholarships fewer than the rest of the league, we can see Steve Sarkisian taking this one home. He'll have to earn it if it goes this way.
2) WHO WON'T BE BACK -- PLAYERS AND COACHES?
Almost everybody who will earn All-Pac-12 honors, we'd guess, will be missing next fall, from USC's Williams and Buck Allen to the top five or so quarterbacks who make the Pac-12 such a superior league right now including UCLA's Brett Hundley, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion to the mix here. USC's Cody Kessler could move to the head of the class that will look mch different next year.
As to the coaches who might not be back, with a new stadium and new AD, Cal may have to pull the trigger on second-year coach Sonny Dykes even if some see it as too soon. And will someone come by and make an offer Arizona's Rich Rodriguez cannot refuse after his excellent work in Tucson? Maybe.
3) WHAT ABOUT THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME?
We think it will work out great to have a neutral site game at Levi's state-of-the-art NFL stadium if they get the matchup we're predicting. USC and Oregon fan bases will eat this game up as they meet in the middle in a matchup with enough pizzazz to attract the Bay Area folks as well. As to that extra travel week, with the winner there having an excellent shot at going back to the Rose Bowl for the first-ever College Football Playoff semifinal game, that could make it much more sensible for Trojan fans.
4) SURPRISE TEAMS -- GOOD AND BAD?
In the quarterback-heavy Pac-12, any team that loses one of the marquee signal-callers is in trouble although USC, with Max Browne waiting in the wings, might have the best shot at surviving. Otherwise, we think UCLA dropping might be the one surprise that could happen. Not sure the Bruins replaced all the guys who moved on.
5) NO. 2 NOW, DOES THE PAC-12 EVER GET TO NO 1?
Not before this season -- or any season in any world where the SEC survives. But maybe after. The Pac-12 will have enough national games from enough teams to take a run at it if the playoffs work out since we think the SEC might not be fully ready for the wide-open world of the new playoff system. We noted Oregon-Michigan State, and there will also be Texas-UCLA and three teams -- USC, Stanford and Arizona State -- face a Notre Dame team that plays Florida State and Michigan for comparison. The depth is there if Washington comes together quickly under Chris Petersen and RichRod can keep Arizona overachieving.