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After previewing every Pac-12 football team for 2018, here’s how I think the conference stacks up

The Pac-12 has as much offensive star power as ever, but had only one awesome defense in 2017. Will things balance out this fall?

NCAA Football: Southern California at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of each conference previews run-through, I take a look at how I perceive the conference’s balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. This is just how I would rank the teams after writing thousands of words about each of them. We have already completed the Sun Belt, C-USA, MAC, MWC, and AAC.

Bill C’s Pac-12 power rankings

Here’s a link to every team’s data, and each team’s name below is linked to its preview.

Tier 1

1. Washington
2. USC
3. Stanford
4. Oregon

From an S&P+ perspective, Washington almost deserves a tier of its own. The Huskies are projected fourth overall and are favored by double-digits in every regular season conference game. (They would be 9.9-point favorites against USC on a neutral field, too.)

I’m high on UW, but I don’t think I’m quite that high. Or maybe I’m just higher on teams like USC and Oregon.

Either way, I’m thinking of these four teams as by far the most likely to succeed in the conference. Oregon might be a bit of a surprise — it appears I’m higher on Mario Cristobal’s Ducks than most — but they were outstanding when Justin Herbert was healthy, and I expect that to continue.

Tier 2

5. Utah
6. Arizona

Also known as the three teams that will challenge USC in the South. Utah’s easily got the highest floor of the three, but Arizona’s got Khalil Tate, and UCLA’s got Chip Kelly and remnants from plenty of strong recruiting classes. They’ve therefore got higher upside. All three of these teams have top-25 potential, and I figure one will reach it.

Tier 3

8. California
9. Washington State
10. Colorado
11. Arizona State

For this foursome, it’s all about getting back to a bowl. I thought Justin Wilcox did a nice job at Cal last year, and his two-deep has outstanding continuity, so I trust the Bears the most here. Meanwhile, Wazzu has easily been the most steadily successful team in recent years, but there are a lot of off-the-field issues for Mike Leach.

Tier 4

12. Oregon State

I have talked myself into the Jonathan Smith hire. But he doesn’t have much to work with just yet.

How does S&P+ see things?

Here’s how my statistical system has the Pac-12 laid out for 2018, with zero equating to an average FBS team. (You can find full 2018 S&P+ projections here.)

2017 Pac-12 S&P+ ratings

2018 projected standings (per S&P+)

Projected conference wins, with overall wins in parentheses.

North Division

  1. Washington 7.7 (10.1)
  2. Oregon 5.4 (8.2)
  3. Stanford 5.3 (7.3)
  4. Washington State 4.2 (6.7)
  5. Cal 3.5 (5.4)
  6. Oregon State 1.6 (2.7)

I’m telling you, S&P+ loves UW this year. And it hates Stanford’s schedule (which features road trips to both Washington and Oregon).

South Division

  1. USC 6.4 (8.2)
  2. Arizona 5.3 (7.5)
  3. Utah 4.6 (7.0)
  4. UCLA 4.1 (5.6)
  5. Arizona State 3.5 (4.9)
  6. Colorado 2.6 (4.3)

USC is an obvious favorite, but Arizona’s got a nice schedule. If the Trojans start slowly, as they have in each of the last two years, then they could suffer a couple of conference losses before finding their trajectory. That could open the door for Zona, Utah, or whoever.

How these teams looked in 2017

2017 Pac-12 S&P+ ratings

Utah and Wazzu had their moments, but Washington was the only Pac-12 team that really had its act together defensively last year. If you’re looking for a reason why the conference has gone from basically second among P5s to dead last*, that’s why. The offenses have been fine.

* Yes, it really wasn’t that long ago that the Pac-12 was doing just fine. If a few of the new hires pan out, it will be fine again. The “RIP, Pac-12” stuff has been pretty silly.

Pac-12 offenses heading into 2018

2017 Pac-12 offensive efficiency

Tate and Stanford’s Bryce Love are the obvious stars, but they both headlined offenses that weren’t quite consistent enough last year.

Pac-12 defenses heading into 2018

2017 Pac-12 defensive efficiency

Seriously, this was a bad defensive conference in 2017.

Best 2018 offensive players by team (best overall in bold):

  • Arizona: QB Khalil Tate
  • Arizona State: WR N’Keal Harry
  • California: LT Patrick Mekari
  • Colorado: QB Steven Montez
  • Oregon: QB Justin Herbert
  • Oregon State: TE Noah Togiai
  • Stanford: RB Bryce Love
  • UCLA: LT Andre James
  • USC: WR Tyler Vaughns
  • Utah: C Lo Falemaka
  • Washington: QB Jake Browning
  • Washington State: LT Andre Dillard

Don’t make me choose between Tate and Love. I can’t do it.

NCAA Football: Arizona at Arizona State
Khalil Tate
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Best 2018 defensive players by team

  • Arizona: LB Colin Schooler
  • Arizona State: LB Koron Crump
  • California: LB Jordan Kunaszyk
  • Colorado: S Evan Worthington
  • Oregon: DE Jalen Jelks
  • Oregon State: LB Jonathan Willis
  • Stanford: LB Bobby Okereke
  • UCLA: CB Nate Meadors
  • USC: LB Porter Gustin
  • Utah: DE Bradlee Anae
  • Washington: NB Myles Bryant
  • Washington State: LB Peyton Pelluer

I honestly had no idea who to pick here. This conference definitely needs a bit more star power on this side of the ball.

Since so many teams are led by their linebackers, I felt I should probably pick one of them for best overall, but I went with probably the best play-maker on the most proven defense in the league. Really, you could make the case for anyone in Washington’s secondary — Bryant, safety Taylor Rapp, even sophomore corner Byron Murphy.

NCAA Football: Washington at Colorado
Myles Bryant (5)
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports