I will eat some retroactive crow in regard to the Stanford Cardinal. When Jim Harbaugh left after the 2010 season, David Shaw was promoted and I was pretty lukewarm. I’m not a big fan of promoting from within the way Stanford did. I figured the Cardinal football program would come back to earth. WRONG!! David Shaw has only elevated the program in his five years at the helm. Shaw is cool and calculated and his team has a solid identity. The Cardinal are a physical, old school bunch. It’s incredibly impressive. Under Shaw, Stanford has won 11 or more games four of his five seasons. WOW!! The Cardinal have become the gold standard for how a prestigious academic institution competes with the rest of the college football powers. I have loads of respect for the way David Shaw and Stanford go about their business. But that is not why I’m selecting them to win the Pac 12.
The 2016 Cardinal has holes to fill from the 12 win Pac 12 champion outfit of a year ago. Great programs always do. But I expect the Cardinal to reload this fall. First off, let’s not bury the lead. Christian McCaffrey is amongst the very best players in college football. McCaffrey is coming off an outrageous season where he amassed over 2600 yards from scrimmage. McCafferey has jets in his shoes and changes direction effortlessly. He routinely leaves defenders in the dust. It’s a thing of beauty. McCaffrey is the top reason this squad will once again hoist the trophy in Santa Clara. He is not the only reason. Stanford is known for a suffocating, smothering defense. This year’s outfit will be lead by LB Peter Kalambayi and ball-hawking CB Quenton Meeks. The Stanford defense may not be as productive as defenses of recent years, but it won’t have to be. This offense will be electric as long as first-year starting QB Keller Chryst is competent. That is the biggest question around this squad. Kevin Hogan didn’t set the world on fire the way Andrew Luck did, but he was outstanding in 2015. Chryst just has to be good. He will get plenty of help from Michael Rector, Dalton Schultz and the transcendent McCaffrey. The steady Eddy Cardinal aren’t the most interesting team in this league, but they are the best. That’s why I’m picking them to win the league and contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The Washington Huskies are the most interesting team in a fascinating league. UW returns 15 starters including their top two tacklers and 1300 yard rusher Myles Gaskin. This offensive line is big and likes to move people. They even return QB1, Jake Browning. So it comes as little surprise that the Huskies are getting a lot of national love as the team of the future. Perhaps that is true. But at this point I see little reason to select them as the team of the present. Washington went 7-6 in 2015. If they had won 9 or 10 games last fall I would be giving them much more consideration. Expecting them to make the jump from 7 wins to conference champ is foolish. That doesn’t mean I won’t be watching. The Huskies will be loads of fun this fall.
Annually, Jim Mora’s UCLA squad has as much talent as anyone in college football. Look around this roster, they have athletes all over the field. More than that, UCLA passes the eyeball test. They even have the best QB in the league in Josh Rosen. Still, I’m not picking the Bruins. I’m not falling for it. For years, I have become enamored with UCLA’s raw talent. From Myles Jack, Paul Perkins, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr to Brett Hundley, this team consistently has A+ athleticism. But this team is a bunch of underacheivers. Under Jim Mora, this team hasn’t lost fewer than three conference games. It’s annually the same song and dance. High expectations ultimately result in a disappointing finish. I’ve fallen for the cheese too many times. Until this team proves me wrong, I’m out on the Bruins.
Oregon certainly hit a bump in the road last fall, logging their most losses in 8 years. Still, the talent exists in Eugene. Royce Freeman, Darren Carrington and Taj Griffin are all still on the roster. QB is a big question as no proven commodities are currently on the roster. The defense is also a huge question, but thats never stopped the Ducks from competing for a league title. The biggest advantage for the Ducks is the schedule. Both Stanford and Washington come to Eugene. Autzen stadium is one of the premier home field advantages in the Pac 12. That gives them a real edge within the division at least on paper. There are trips to USC and Utah on the schedule. That’s no big deal compared to the rest of the league. Everyone has tough road games. There are no free rides in this league. If the Ducks can hold serve at home they can win their division. That makes Oregon a contender even if I don’t think their threat is very serious.
Clay Helton? Seriously? That is who USC hired? No thanks, I’ll pass. Then again I said something similar 5 years ago about David Shaw.