Football is coming. This year, our esteemed (well, kind of) panel consisting of Nick Kranz, atomsareenough, Berkelium97, boomtho, Sam Fielder, and me—Leland Wong—will submit weekly rankings of the Pac-12 teams, starting today with our rankings entering the slate of Week One games. Thanks to CGB Legend Ragnarok, from whom I've inherited this series and whose template I'm shamefully stealing.
In the event of a tie, these teams will be listed alphabetically. The number of first-place votes received by each team (if applicable) is listed parenthetically.
1. Oregon (5)
Nick Kranz: I put Oregon over Stanford because I'm a dope.
atomsareenough: A healthy Mariota is a difference-maker, and Stanford lost more talent than the Ducks did from last year.
Berkelium97: The receiving corps has some questions but this should otherwise be the most formidable offense in the conference. With Mariota, Tyner, and Marshall running behind five returning starters on the line, Oregon should run wild this season. If Helfrich can't 10 wins this season, things will be unpleasant in NikeTown.
Leland Wong: Maybe I'm giving them too much credit due to the past successes of Chip Kelly and Nick Aliotti, but with Mark Helfrich and Don Pellum inheriting those jobs and keeping it all in the family, I still think Oregon is the team to beat with their system and continuity.
boomtho: I expect Mariotta to run rampant through the conference and Helfrich should be steadier with a year of experience under his belt. A key factor will be how the Ducks adapt to a new DC after losing Allioti to retirement.
Sam Fielder: We know what Mariota can do when he's healthy, but the real question here is whether or not Oregon is due for a down year as many pundits are predicting. I think they'll be good, but not as good as the past.
2. UCLA (1)
atomsareenough: Loads of talent here, and I believe this is the year they're ready to make the leap to national title contender, joining the ranks of Oregon and Stanford in the top tier of the Pac-12. Can someone please hire away Jim Mora?
Berkelium97: This team has no weaknesses. They range from solid to spectacular at every position and have a ton of momentum with Mora at the helm. I picked them to win the Pac-12 and stand by that prediction until proven otherwise. Unfortunately for them, Oregon is slightly more spectacular (although that is not yet proven at the coaching level).
Leland Wong: I think they can be scary good this year. Losing G Xavier Su'a-Filo and some questions at RB will hurt their run game, but they kind of freaking have QB Brett Hundley who can dismantle defenses in the air and on the ground. Defensively, they have to replace LBs Jordan Zumwalt and Anthony Barr, but they should be just fine with Myles Jack and Mychal Kendricks's brother. They pretty much have everything this year (except for their own fight song).
boomtho: Hundley and the offensive talent is terrific, and I think they're the class of the South, but their ceiling feels slightly lower to me and their depth could be a concern.
Sam Fielder: Returning QB, strong D anchored by Jack, and riding momentum from a strong showing last season puts UCLA in the drivers seat for me.
Berkelium97: Every year I expect the Lobsterbacks to take a step back. After departures of Gerhart, Luck, Harbaugh, and countless stars on the O-line, they always bounce back. They lost four starters on O-line, but I doubt that will be much of a setback.
Leland Wong: It didn't take long for me to hate doing these rankings and placing the Furdies this high has done it for me. Like Berkelium97 said, they're at a point where their system should churn out OL for the next couple of years regardless of who leaves and they have some fresh faces at TE. Praise Oski that we won't have to put up with the dirty play of Shayne Skov anymore, but they even have some young guys to step up there. Ugh.
boomtho: As much as I hate to, Shaw has built a juggernaut. They're replacing a bit of talent which is why I have them below Oregon for now, but the furd has that the edge in that matchup as of late.
Sam Fielder: This. Is. The. Year. They will not be as good as in years past and their gravy train will slow down.
4. Arizona State
atomsareenough: After last year, I'm not going to underestimate Taylor Kelly and Todd Graham this time around. Hopefully they can find a way to beat Stanford.
Berkelium97: This team scored 50+ points in five conference games last season and return their biggest playmakers on offense. Replacing most of the defense could be challenging, however.
Leland Wong: Gotta side with Bk97 here. ASU will take a step back in 2014 (and is considerably weaker than the top-three teams), but they're still gonna be in a tier of their own above the rest of the Pac-12. Losing 90% of your defense sucks (AHEM especially when you lose them in the middle of the year due to an injury epidemic), so I'm expecting most of their games to turn into shootouts. But with offensive weapons like Kelly and DJ Foster, they should be well-equipped to win most of them.
boomtho: Graham has built a nice program and they still appear on an upward trajectory.
Sam Fielder: I think they'll take a step forward this year with their experience on both sides of the ball. They'll be good.
atomsareenough: The talent is there, as always. Does Sark know the combination to unlock all that potential, or is he going to be the same decent-but-not-great coach he was at Washington, only with a better roster? I think the latter.
Berkelium97: I don't expect Sark to do much at USC. Sure, his team has tons of recruiting talent. So did his teams at UW.
Leland Wong: USC will always recruit well because USC. However, they've gotta convert a lot of those pro-style players to Sark's up-tempo system. I bet Sark's just chomping at the bit for another ~0.500 season, this time in new colors.
boomtho: I'm definitely not a believer in Sark but the talent is always there. Will this be the year we break the hex?
Sam Fielder: Now that Sark is there, pencil them in for a decent 7-6 season.
6. Washington State
atomsareenough: I think the Cougs are going to be sneaky good.
Berkelium97: The Pirate will lead his Cougs to third in the Pac-12 North this season.
Leland Wong: Having a ninth-year super senior like QB Connor Halliday in such a critical position will be huge for this pass-happy team. But on that same note, being a one-dimensional pass-happy team is going to help a lot of teams beat them despite their improvements over 2013.
boomtho: I think Leach is a good coach but they (like us #sadface) play in a brutal division and that will hold them back.
Sam Fielder: This could be wildly underrating them but I don't really know what to expect from them at all. Besides awesome quotes from Coach Leach that is...
atomsareenough: Is Petersen a great coach? I think so. Does Washington have a good amount of talent? Sure. But will there be an adjustment period? I believe so. They should be a bowl team, but they're not in the top tier yet. On the other hand, their schedule starts out extremely soft, and so they'll be 4-0 heading into Pac-12 play versus Stanford. We'll see.
Berkelium97: Petersen has to replace stars at QB, RB, and TE and compete in one of the toughest divisions in college football. He'll win 7 or 8 games thanks to that embarrassing OOC schedule, but it will be a struggle when we get to Pac-12 play.
Leland Wong: It pains me to say these guys are going to be damn good... in a few years. They have to replace 2013's leading passer, rusher, and pass-catcher. And the dude who was supposed to be QB keeps getting into trouble. Petersen and company will (unfortunately) make these guys good again, but it'll take some time to get his system going.
boomtho: Fully admitting that I haven't followed them closely, but I am a believer in Petersen.
Sam Fielder: I think they have talent but we'll see how smooth the transition to Petersen is.
atomsareenough: I like what Rich Rod is doing in Arizona, but I think the offense takes a step back with a new QB and RB. They'll be good next year though.
Berkelium97: All this team needs to be successful this season is a good QB and a strong running game. Unfortunately for RichRod, he cannot seem to find the former and Kadeem Carey has departed.
Leland Wong: Call me crazy—even though these guys don't have a quarterback and have to replace Carey, I think this is the year they really get Rich Rod's system going. I think they're gonna be better than most expect. Or, I'm just gonna have egg on my face and look like a fool BUT WHAT ELSE IS NEW.
boomtho: Again, I know next to nothing about this team. But it just feels so right.
Sam Fielder: They came up with some huge wins last year but I think this is the year to see what the RichRod system can really do for them. I'm skeptical they'll do much beyond play spoiler though.
9. Oregon State
atomsareenough: Oregon State was 7-6 last year. I think they're going to tread water a bit. I trust Riley to coach up his guys, but Cooks and Crichton were their two best players, and I'm not sure who replaces them.
Berkelium97: I don't know what to make of the Beavers anymore.
Leland Wong: QB Sean Mannion's good, but I don't know whom he will throw to in 2014. Nonetheless, I believe in Riley's "hip hip hoorays" enough to think this is insultingly low for the Beavers.
boomtho: For some reason, this team doesn't scare me besides Mannion. Riley will always trot out a competitive team but I don't see tons of talent on either side of the ball.
Sam Fielder: They never jump off the page at you, but Riley always seems to get the most of out his squad.
atomsareenough: Is Travis Wilson healthy and fully ready to go? If so, they may be a decent team. They did beat Stanford last year, after all. I'm still not convinced they can compete week in and week out in the Pac-12 yet though.
Berkelium97: They won't be good but they won't be terrible.
Leland Wong: I'm not sure what to make of these guys. Coach Whittingham has to prove his BCS-busting wins weren't flukes and that his Pac-12 struggles were due to recruiting being hindered by their former non–automatic qualifying status. At this point, his recruits as a Pac-12 school should be old enough to be considerable contributors to the team. Is this the year they return to their winning ways?
boomtho: I see them as being feisty but ultimately a non-factor in conference play.
Sam Fielder: Might pull an upset but they just don't have the horses to compete this year.
atomsareenough: The cupboard was bare. It'll be another year or two still before the Buffs are competitive.
Berkelium97: I'd be surprised if Mac matches his 4-win total from yesterday.
Leland Wong: Rebuilding takes time and I don't think Coach MacIntyre quite has all the players he needs. He's got them on the right track, but they've still got some work to do.
boomtho: MacIntyre is a solid coach but they just have such a steep talent deficiency compared to the rest of the league.
Sam Fielder: Flip a coin between us and the Buffs, both in year 2 of the rebuild.
atomsareenough: I'm incredibly hopeful and optimistic about the Bears, and I definitely think Cal can win 4-5 games in conference if things fall into place. But after last season, I need to see the team in action and performing well on both sides of the ball before I get too excited about our prospects.
Berkelium97: Nowhere to go but up.
Leland Wong: Maybe I'm just too much of a fanboy and a faithful alumnus, but the Golden Bears don't deserve to be ranked last. If we can field a healthy team (which isn't even a guarantee given pretty systemic injuries in 2012 and 2013), then that alone will make us better than last year's hot mess. Factor in offensive maturation and another year in the Bear Raid system, add in a defensive coordinator who knows how to quickly fix terribad defenses, and I think we will surprise a lot of people (but atoms and myself won't be on that list). Can we just stay healthy‽
boomtho: Started from the bottom, at the end of the season we'll be __________.
Sam Fielder: I don't expect us to stay here long and I actually think we'll be MUCH improved this year, but just based on last years results and how good everyone else is, we'll start out here. Nowhere to go but up!
Nick Kranz: There's a sizeable gap between my top three (Oregon, Stanford, UCLA) and the rest. Those top 3 could be put in any order and easily justified. The middle is something of a muddle with the Arizona and Washington schools. I really didn't follow off-season developments closely enough to really feel confident about these rankings, so it's pretty status quo. Something about a 1-11 season really saps your enthusiasm.
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