Oregon and UCLA are starting season on top
Former Arizona Quarterback B.J. Denker crosses the touchdown line during Arizona’s 35-24 win against Utah at Arizona Stadium on Oct. 19. Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats will look to improve upon back-to-back 8-5 seasons.
1. No. 3 Oregon
Led by Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota, this is the year the Ducks find a solution to the Stanford problem. With the Cardinal coming to Eugene, Oregon will get past Stanford and make it to the playoffs.
This week: Saturday vs. South Dakota
2. No. 11 Stanford
The Cardinal closed out the Bowl Championship Series error, I mean era, with four straight trips to BCS bowls, but that major bowl streak will end this year. Stanford returns 11 starters, but only four on offense, so it won’t keep up with Oregon and UCLA.
This week: Saturday vs. UC Davis
3. No. 25 Washington
The Huskies lost Bishop Sankey, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Keith Price, but like Arizona, they return the bulk of their starters. Washington returns 14 starters, including its whole offensive line. U Dub’s good enough to hold off Oregon State.
This week: Saturday at Hawaii
4. Oregon State
The Beavers feature one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Sean Mannion and return 14 starters but aren’t quite good enough to jump over Washington. Plus, the Beavers play the Huskies in Seattle.
This week: vs. Portland State
5. Washington State
Last year, the Cougars ended their 10-year bowl drought and beat USC and Arizona on the road. Wazzu is on the rise and should make it to another bowl game this season.
This week: Thursday vs. Rutgers (in Seattle)
After former UA assistant coach Sonny Dykes went 1-11 in this first year without a win over a Football Bowl Subdivision team, Cal’s head coach is on the hot seat, according to some. The Bears will be better, but not much. Dykes will have to suffer through another tough season.
This week: Saturday at Northwestern
1. No. 7 UCLA
Led by Heisman candidate Brett Hundley and Myles Jack, who would’ve won the Pac-12 Conference’s Slashie Award if only it had one, the Bruins are poised to reach their third Pac-12 Championship game. In fact, with Oregon, USC and Stanford at home, the Bruins could take Jim Mora to the playoffs. Playoffs!?
This week: Saturday at Virginia
2. No. 15 USC
Pete Carroll protégé Steve Sarkisian returns to Troy to try and relive USC’s glory days. The Trojans are talented and return 14 starters but don’t have lot of depth due to the NCAA sanctions.
This week: Saturday vs. Fresno State
After back to back 8-5 seasons with bowl wins, Rich Rodriguez has the UA poised for something big and soon. The Wildcats return 12 starters, including four of five on the offensive line, plus Austin Hill, who, after being one of the best receivers in the country, missed 2013.
This week: Friday vs. UNLV
4. No. 19 ASU
The Sun Devils are ranked and the Pac-12 dark horse pick by many, but the fact remains that they lost nine starters on defense, plus their star running back, Marion Grice. ASU and Arizona are about a push, but the Wildcats get the edge with the Territorial Cup game being in Tucson.
This week: Thursday vs. Weber State
After initial struggles adjusting to big boy football, the Utes, who beat Stanford last year, comprise a team on the rise. They’ll get to their first bowl game since joining the league, but it’ll be as a 6-6 team.
This week: Thursday vs. Idaho State
The Buffaloes won four games last year, their most since 2010, but two of those came against FCS teams. CU’s getting better, but it’s a victim of the powerful Pac-12, so it remains a cellar dweller.
This week: Friday vs. Colorado State (in Denver)
Follow James Kelley @jameskelley520