Welcome back to another year of our ASU Devils Den Pac-12 Power Rankings. Last season was a roller coaster ride throughout both of the Pac-12 divisions especially early on in non-conference games as we witnessed surprising defeats by teams to inferior opponents, let alone games that played out much closer than expected. While the usual suspects stayed in the race for most of the season there certainly were some surprises by the end of 2014.
Unlike most of my my posts on the site, there is very little in the way of algorithms, formulas, or detailed stats involved in these rankings other than what I might point out down the road as the trends start to present themselves. In fact I start out this week ranking a team at the top that I won’t be picking to win the Pac-12 Championship Game (but you’ll see more on that later this week).
What stands out at first glance is how good the Pac-12 South is on paper going into the season. While we all know how injuries, coaching, and random chance tend to alter the course of how we’d like to project things in a perfect world, it’s still worth pointing out. On the other end of the spectrum is the Pac-12 North. Will Stanford bounce back from a disappointing eight-win season and will Cal continue to improve?
The picture will begin to slowly emerge from the fog starting today with three Pac-12 teams in action. Enjoy the ride!
- #7 Oregon (2014: 13-2, 8-1)
Vernon Adams was named the starting quarterback going into the Ducks first game against his former team. This much is for sure, he’s got some big shoes to fill. Like the biggest you could ever ask for as he is set to replace the best quarterback in team history. He does however have the luxury of handing the ball off to one of the best young running backs in the country, while having perhaps the deepest group of wide receivers in the Pac-12.
This week is undoubtedly a warm-up against an FBS opponent. Next week things get more interesting against Sparty in East Lansing.
- #8 USC (2014: 9-4, 6-3)
What would Oregon be if they had someone like Cody Kessler at quarterback? Would he even be a good fit there? Would they be ranked right up there with Ohio State, TCU, and Alabama?
Regardless, Kessler enters his third season as starter with all the accolades you’d expect of a quarterback playing for the Trojans. What’s interesting however is the fact head coach Steve Sarkisian still proclaims this to be a run-first team. And history tends to agree with Sark as he’s had a 1,000-yard rusher during each of his six seasons as head coach of both USC and Washington.
What sets this Trojans team apart from last season is that they possess star power with a year of seasoning between JuJu Smith and Adoree’ Jackson. Two players who look ready to take this league by storm, if they didn’t already last year. Combined with an offensive line much improved from the one that at one point started three true freshman in 2014 giving Kessler and company all the time they need to either lean on the arm of their potential Heisman quarterback, or improve upon a running game that ranked tenth in the league in yards per attempt (3.99 yards/carry).
- #13 UCLA (2014: 10-3, 6-3)
I find it difficult to wrap my head around Jim Mora’s platform of promoting his newly named starting quarterback, true freshman Josh Rosen. With a team stocked full of talent at nearly every other position, why on God’s green earth do you want to apply any pressure to this kid?
Does Rosen have the physical gifts with the high school performance to back the hype Mora is putting out there? Sure. But when you have Paul Perkins and his Pac-12 leading 1,575 rushing yards returning let alone 18 other starters from last year, do you really want to put it all on Rosen to win or lose games for you?
With ace kick returner Ishmael Adams suspension, this team goes from the ability to dominate all three phases of the game, to just being really good at two. None of which really matters in week one against however against Virginia at the Rose Bowl.
- #15 Arizona State (2014: 10-3, 6-3)
Sun Devil fans will learn right off the bat if they have as good a defense as Todd Graham has preached since spring practice. In a classic match-up against defensive guru versus offensive guru, the Advocare Texas Kickoff between the Aggies and the Sun Devils vows to be right up there as the best game to watch this weekend week among neutrals.
Much like last season, quarterback Mike Bercovici gets thrown into the fire without the lowly FCS school to warm up against. How he performs against new defensive coordinator John Chavis (where spread offenses go to die) could determine the level of success he achieves throughout the remainder of the season. Perhaps the ASU offense lucked out in playing the Aggies now, rather than later in the season when the defense becomes more comfortable with Chavis’ scheme?
- #21 Stanford (2014: 8-5, 5-4)
It’s tough to play quarterback in this conference. It’s even harder when you have to endure the loss of a loved as did Kevin Hogan during the 2014 season. But most reports this pre-season have stated that Hogan seems a different man. And the Cardinal will need every bit of that during his senior season as the defense will be rolling over personnel in large numbers. The replacements are of high quality, but success is never a given.
Christian McCaffrey could become the break-out offensive star of the conference in 2015 helping the head coach David Shaw prove last year was just a fluke after winning 34 games combined in his previous three seasons.
- #22 Arizona (2014: 10-4, 7-2)
Safe to say that RichRod and company will be taking UTSA a bit more seriously this year after squeaking by the Road Runners thanks in part to their kicker going 4-for-4 in a 26-23 win.
- Cal (2014: 5-7, 3-6)
The trendy pick by pundits to make a big jump this year in a wide open Pac-12 North. Jared Goff just keeps getting better as does the rest of this offense (30th best offensive S&P+ rating). But even he can’t will the team to score enough to make up for a defense that got better at defending the run, but was still awful at defending the pass (108th in defense S&P+ rating).
- Utah (2014: 9-4, 5-4)
It’s hard not to watch anything on the Fox family of networks recently without seeing some hype on the Utes game against Michigan and their new head coach. It’s hard to imagine how 2015 won’t be like 2014 for this offense that will once again be the Devontae Booker Show as they transition into what feels like their 100th coordinator in 100 years of Utes football.
While they lost a few big names off their dominant 2014 defense, by Hunter Dimick will still be up to no good in the Michigan backfield, he of 14.5 tackles for loss last season.
- Washington State (2014: 3-9, 2-7)
This could be a make or break season for Mike Leach in Pullman with just seven wins over Pac-12 opponents since taking over the Cougs in 2012.
The passing offense is now run by a quarterback Leach recruited, not to mention all the talent at receiver. The question is, will he run the ball more after preaching to make some tweaks with how much his quarterback will lineup under center in the Air Raid.
Leach will be leaning on first-time defensive coordinator Alex Grinch to force more turnovers this year (just 8 turnovers forced in 12 games last season) to feed his offense.
- Washington (2014: 8-6, 4-5)
The Huskies play one of the best games of the week in terms of narrative when Chris Petersen returns to his former employer to take on Boise as two score underdogs.
But Boise is also replacing their quarterback, not to mention star running back Jay Ajayi, so this game might be less ugly than people are expecting.
- Colorado (2014: 2-10, 0-9)
It will be fun watching junior quarterback Sefo Liufau throw the ball over 150 times again to his favorite receiver Nelson Spruce again, but it’s just hard to see how they might manage to become bowl eligible within their divisional opponents. They must also win seven games, not the customary six, to make it to a bowl due to playing Hawaii, in Hawaii, to start the season. Much like the Cougs, the Buffs made a change at defensive coordinator, hiring former UCF head coach Jim Leavitt to improve on its 111th ranked total defense and 116th in scoring defense in 2014.
- Oregon State (2014:5-7, 2-7)
See 2011 Colorado Buffaloes.