Early look at next season’s football race
We interrupt this basketball season for a return to football.
With all five Pac-12 coaching vacancies filled and the early entries for the NFL draft declared, here’s a look at how the conference’s preseason media poll might look when it comes out in six months.
1. Washington: With Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin returning along with nine starters on defense, the Huskies will be the pick to win not just the division, but the conference. It’s a good time to ditch the cupcake schedule with a trip to face Auburn in Atlanta on Sept. 1.
2. Stanford: Bryce Love followed the Royce Freeman plan by surprising many with a return for his senior season.
3. Oregon: Justin Herbert and an improving defense will get most of the preseason attention, but once practice begins, the Ducks will need to find some playmakers at running back and wide receiver. Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich all won at least nine games in their first year as coach, and that’s the expectation for Mario Cristobal. Matching Wille Taggart’s seven wins will be seen as a disappointment.
4. Washington State: Mike Leach could teach a class on how to turn another disappointing finish into a contract extension and raise. After losing the Apple Cup and before blowing another bowl game, Leach got his name tossed around at Tennessee before signing a five-year extension. Leach knew he had leverage on WSU president Kurt Schulz, who lost athletic director Bill Moos to Nebraska and had to pay up to avoid earning a reputation that he didn’t support athletics.
5. California: After overachieving in his debut season, it will be interesting to see what’s next for Justin Wilcox.
6. Oregon State: The Beavers open at Ohio State and have a realistic shot at going winless in Pac-12 for third time in four seasons.
1. USC: Hard to make a case they will be better next year after three top playmakers — Sam Darnold, Ronald Jones and Deontay Burnett — all left early for the NFL, but the Trojans will still have plenty of hype.
2. Arizona: Kevin Sumlin lands in a great spot to win right away with most of last year’s starters returning, including quarterback Khalil Tate.
3. UCLA: After going 46-7 at Oregon, Chip Kelly could reach double digits in career college losses before earning 50 wins.
4. Utah: Sure, Kyle Whittingham is 10-1 in bowl games, but it would be nice to see him raise the degree of difficulty by getting past the Heart of Dallas, Foster Farms and Las Vegas bowls.
5. Colorado: Mike McIntyre has won two conference games or fewer in four of his five seasons to go with eight wins in 2016, so figure the Buffaloes finally find middle ground next season.
6. Arizona State: Herm Edwards is going to be judged against Sumlin, who many ASU fans wanted before AD Ray Anderson pulled a surprise.