Six members of the Pac-12 won at least nine games in the 2014 season.
That’s not only a very nice season, but it is a win total that is hard to duplicate from year-to-year.
So while some of the league’s team may be on their way to a season of unsuccessfully trying to keep up with the pace of winning they set for themselves in the year prior, there are going to be some new teams experiences more success in 2015.
Here is a look at three Pac-12 teams that should significantly improve their win total this season.
Cal Golden Bears
2014 record: 5-7
2015 prediction: 7-6
Sonny Dykes has won a total of six games in his first two seasons as head coach at Cal. There’s a reasonable chance that he at least matches that total in Year 3.
After a completely forgettable one-win season in 2013 that was spent implementing Dykes’ brand of the Hal Mumme/Mike Leach-style “Air Raid” offense, there were signs of significant improvement — at least on the offensive side of the ball — in 2014.
The Golden Bears finished sixth in the country with 346 passing yards per game, and only Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty will return in 2015 with more passing yards than Cal QB Jared Goff had last season (3,973).
The reason for optimism on the offensive side of the ball extends beyond the passing game. Cal has a legit rushing threat as well in senior Daniel Lasco, who ran for over 1,100 yards last season.
But the defense remains the greatest question for Cal entering the 2015 season, particularly in pass defense, where the Bears were one of the worst in the country in 2014. The unit ranked 124th in the FBS in total defense (512 yards per game), and is holding this team back from truly competing for the Pac-12 North.
2014 record: 2-10
2015 prediction: 5-8
Another team that struggled mightily on defense a year ago, Colorado is hopeful that Year 3 of the Mike MacIntyre era presents a chance to break a streak of seven years without a bowl game.
The Buffaloes return an offense capable of doing some really nice things. It begins with junior QB Sefo Liufau, who has spent the major of the last two seasons as the starter for this team. He threw for 3,200 yards and 28 touchdowns last season, and has a chance to grow into one of the league’s better passers in his third season under center.
Liufau will be delivering passes to Nelson Spruce, who set a school record with 106 catches a year ago.
But much like Cal, significant improvement to the Buffaloes win/loss record this season hinges on an improvement from the defense. Colorado gave up a staggering 39 points per game last season.
Former South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt was brought in as the new defensive coordinator, creating some intrigue around a group that returns some depth at linebacker and in the secondary.
Thanks to a season-opener at Hawaii, the Buffaloes have a 13-game schedule in 2015, increasing their chances of besting the two-win season of a year ago.
2014 record: 9-4
2015 prediction: 11-2
Is this the season that the Trojans return to national prominence after years of playing short-handed due to scholarship restrictions results from NCAA sanctions?
The short answer: Yes.
The Trojans return 14 starters from a team that was a couple of plays away from reaching the 11-win level in 2014, with heartbreaking, last-minute losses to Arizona State and Utah leaving them just short of a record worthy of a Pac-12 championship game appearance.
USC returns the league’s best quarterback in Cody Kessler, and he’s surrounded by former four and five-star recruits that should be ready to contribute. While there may not be a full complement of them just yet, the skill position players the Trojans do have are impressive. Sophomore WR JuJu Smith-Schuster could already be one of the best wideouts in a league full of good ones.
On defense, the Trojans will look to replace All-American Leonard Williams up front, but they do return LB Su’a Cravens, who is an All-America candidate in his own right.
Trips to Arizona State and Oregon could determine whether this is a special year for the Trojans, or just another year for growth.