Predictions for the Pac-12 football season

THE BEAUTY OF seeing the world through crimson-colored glasses is that all roads eventually lead to the Palouse. While that has its benefits, say, when you immediately recognize a former WSU walk on basketball player at a neighborhood court in Seattle, it has its downside when you realize that the guy you predict will be the Pac-12’s offensive player of the year originally signed with the Cougs.

That’s a tough one to get over. Not as tough as Mike Price losing Troy Polamalu to USC on LOI day, but tough nonetheless.

Here’s my breakdown of how the Pac-12 will shape up in 2015:

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Devontae Booker, RB, Utah
The former WSU signee rushed for over 1,500 yards on less than 300 attempts last year, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and scoring 10 TDs. This year could be even better for Booker who is now 23-years-old and considered a top NFL draft prospect. The Utes, who won nine games last season, return many of their key starters. While USC QB Cody Kessler and Cal QB Jared Goff might have something to say here, Booker will not have as much pressure to perform as those two, and should thrive in Salt Lake City this fall.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona
Can you say ruh-roh he's back? For the second straight year fans should expect big things out of Wright, who last year recorded 163 tackles, 14 sacks, and 29 tackles for a loss in a great season in the desert. While Oregon DE DeForest Buckner and UCLA LB Myles Jack could give Scooby a run for top honors, expect the power of the Scooby Snack to win out.

BIGGEST BUST
USC
The Trojans are hyped as always, and QB Cody Kessler is a preseason Heisman contender. While many national pundits think this year could be a return to elite status for Southern Cal, the simple reality is that the Trojans don’t have the depth to dominate at that level and their head coach is hardly Mr. Clutch. For whatever reason, all Steve Sarkisian-coached teams get oversold in the preseason and underperform. And this year will follow the script. With Stanford, Arizona State and Notre Dame all coming in a four-week window, I see more a repeat of Matt Barkley’s disappointing senior year than I do a national championship run.

BIGGEST PRETENDER
Cal
The Bears improved from 1-11 in 2013 to coming within a Hail Mary of qualifying for a bowl game in 2014 and that jump — along with star QB Jared Goff — has pundits far and wide thinking the Bears could be a dark horse for the Pac-12 North. What those pundits fail to note is that the Bears last season beat only one team with a winning record (Sacramento State) and can thank only their lucky stars for narrow wins over WSU and OSU. The defense looks like it's going to remain weak so seeing this team as much more than .500 is hard to fathom.

BIGGEST SURPRISE
WSU
Those crimson-colored glasses may be obscuring the view, but I see a veteran offensive line and a favorable early schedule (a combo that has worked wonders in seasons past) setting the Cougars up for a nice season. As I detailed in this article from Tuesday, I like the leadership of Luke Falk (pictured above), the energy that coordinator Alex Grinch brings to the defense and the mathematical impossibility that special teams could ever be as bad as last season.

NORTH DIVISION CHAMPION
Oregon
Although not a very exciting pick here, it is too obvious that the Ducks are the best team in the North to not go with them. Outside of Stanford, Oregon has no serious competition in the division as WSU, Cal, OSU and UW do not have the firepower to compete on a consistent basis. Now that former EWU quarterback and two-time Walter Payton Award runner-up Vernon Adams is eligible to play, the Ducks look as formidable as ever. They have Michigan State in Week 2 and a four-week span late in the season that includes Arizona State, Stanford and USC so they're going to have to earn their way.

SOUTH DIVISION CHAMPION
UCLA
Despite losing star quarterback Brett Hundley, the Bruins will not disappoint in 2015 behind what looks to be a nigh-impenetrable defense anchored by the likes of DT Kenny Clark and LB Myles Jack. The Bruins’ offense will be nothing to scoff at either as long as highly touted freshman QB Josh Rosen takes care of the ball. The Bruins ranked No. 14 nationally in the preseason Coaches Poll, but expect to see them outperform that forecast and surprise USC for the South Division title and even have a legitimate shot at the conference title.

CONFERENCE CHAMPION
Oregon
While UCLA could pose a threat in the Pac-12 Championship Game, Oregon will most likely wear down the Bruins as they do most opponents, and in a battle of best defense in the conference versus best offense, the offense will win out.

NORTH STANDINGS
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington St.
4. California
5. Washington
6. Oregon St.

SOUTH STANDINGS
1. UCLA
2. Arizona St.
3. USC
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ryan Witter is a top-notch student and two-sport athlete entering his junior year of high school in Seattle. He is a lifelong Cougar fan whose dad co-founded CF.C two months after he was born.


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