Phil Steele picks the Pac-12 North

PHIL STEELE tells he sees Mike Leach this season fielding the most potent offense he’s ever had in Pullman. And he feels the Washington State defense will be better than last year. But where does Steele predict the Cougs to finish in what figures to be a chock-full Pac-12 North?

Steele sees the Cougs finishing fourth in the six-team Pac-12 North behind Oregon, Stanford and Washington.

The North is loaded, so much so that Steele says any of the above four teams can win the division. When it’s all said and done, though, Steele says he doesn't see Washington State matching its nine wins of last year.

“I take a look at my nine sets of power ratings and play them into the schedule,” said Steele. “I go through every game myself and it came out the way in the computations that Oregon, Stanford and Washington came out with – decimal points in some cases – more wins. Being a magazine you’d love to tie them all for first but you can’t do that, so you have to pick them in order.

“But I like Washington State’s offense this year and I think the defense can be slightly improved. I could make that case (for WSU to win the North) but we’ll see what happens.”

We asked Steele for his best case/worst case scenarios for the Cougs in 2016.

"Best case scenario would the a Pac-12 North title," said Steele. "I feel if they had a healthy Luke Falk in the Washington game last year they might just have won that game. And they'd be a lot higher on everybody's radar coming into the season... there's not that big of a difference between first place and fourth place in the Pac-12 North this year.

"Worst case scenario: Luke Falk gets injured or they struggle on offense, have turnovers on offense which they didn't have last year. I would say pretty much where I've got them, fourth, although Cal I think is going to be better than most folks expect. But WSU does get the Cal game at home. So I would still have to pick Washington State, I would say fourth would be the worst case scenario."

WSU does not appear in Steele's national top 40 (nor in his top 57 list).  In his power poll (combined nine power ratings and where he sees teams finishing) he ranks WSU 48th nationally.

“It’s a difficult schedule, they’re playing a non conference Boise (State) on the road, Stanford on the road, Arizona State on the road, and then the usual suspects in the North -- which is loaded this year with Stanford, Oregon and Washington,” said Steele.

Steele’s predicted order of finish in the Pac-12 North:
1. Washington
2. Stanford
3. Oregon
4. Washington State
5. Cal
6. Oregon State

SEVEN COUGARS made Steele’s preseason All-Pac-12 teams. 

WR Gabe Marks is the Cougs’ lone first-team selection.  QB Luke Falk, center Riley Sorenson and safety Shalom Luani were second-team picks. DL Hercules Mata’afa and LB Peyton Pelluer were named to Steele’s Pac-12 third team and WR River Cracraft was named fourth team.  Steele also named Marks to his All-American fourth team.

--Steele’s predicted order of finish in the Pac-12 South.
2. USC
3. Utah
4. Arizona State
5. Arizona
6. Colorado

-- Steele's has been the most accurate preseason magazine over the last 18 years according to (conference predictions vs. final conference standings). This year’s edition checks in at a healthy 352 pages. To order, CLICK HERE.

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