We’re a couple weeks away from seeing actual Pac-12 football for the first time in more than eight months.
These final days before kickoff are a great time to throw some predictions out as a means of passing the time until the game that we love so much finally returns.
Today, I’m going a little outside of the box with my five bold prediction for the Pac-12 in 2015.
Who is with me?
1. USC will win the Pac-12 South
While the SEC-West caught most of the national headlines as the best division in FBS last season, the Pac-12 South had a case of its own to be made.
Five of the six teams finished the season with eight wins or more and a spot in the final AP Top 25 poll of the season.
That begs the questions– Will the division be as highly contested in 2015, and who will win?
The answer to the first question is a resounding yes, but the second one is a little more complex.
Based on scholarship numbers, most folks see the Trojans as at least another year away from contending for a Pac-12 championship. Not me. I believe the talent is in place for a run at the title this season. Cody Kessler returns as the league’s most complete quarterback, and the defense has a mix of playmakers and an infusion of depth to get off the field a little bit more regularly this season. That’s a dangerous combination.
I expect the division to again come down to the wire, but the Trojans have the horses (pun intended) to turn close loses, like the ones to Arizona State and Utah, into wins this season. And in a race this close, those wins were literally the difference between going to the championship game and staying home.
2. Colorado will Bowl
I promised to get outside the box with my predictions, and here is one that I believe to be especially bold.
Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better.
Mike MacIntyre won six games in his first two seasons at San Jose State before rattling off 10 wins in his third try, a season which ultimately landed him the job at Colorado.
How many games has he won at Colorado through two seasons? You guessed it… six.
So are the Buffaloes lined up for a Year 3 jump similar to the one that San Jose State experienced in 2012? Not exactly, but a modest bump is within reach.
MacIntyre has spent the last two seasons investing playing time in QB Sefo Liufau, and this may be the year it pays off. He finished with 3,200 passing yards in a solid sophomore campaign, and returns go-to receiver Nelson Spruce this season.
With the added benefit of 13 regular-season games thanks to a season-opener at Hawaii, the opportunity is there for the Buffaloes to grab four out-of-conference wins, meaning they would only need a 2-7 record in Pac-12 play to reach the elusive six-win plateau.
Dare to believe.
3. Luke Falk will lead the Pac-12 in passing yards
Never underestimate the ability of a Mike Leach coached quarterback to accumulate stats.
Last year, former Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday had 3,833 passing yards through the first eight games of the season (That’s an average of 479.1 yards per game!). A broken leg suffered against USC on Nov. 1 ended what could have been a record-breaking season for the senior, and cleared the way for Falk to gain some experience in his redshirt freshman season.
Now a sophomore with a good chance to hang on to the Cougars starting quarterback job this season, expect to see Falk pick up right where he left off in 2014, when he averaged 443 passing yards per game over the final month of the season. Even if Falk falls short of those lofty averages, he should see a high enough volume of pass opportunities to surpass USC’s Cody Kessler, Cal’s Jared Goff, Arizona’s Anu Solomon and all other Pac-12 challengers.
4. No real Heisman contender from Pac-12
When Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota took home the Heisman Trophy following the 2014 season, it marked the first time since 2005 (Reggie Bush, since vacated) that a Pac-12 player hoisted college football’s most coveted individual award on stage in New York.
Unfortunately, we may be on our way to starting a new drought for the Pac-12 in 2015.
While there will be plenty of playmakers throughout the conference this season, I just don’t see a player that will garner consideration from the national media.
If I had to choose one as a candidate, it would likely be USC quarterback Cody Kessler. But in order for Kessler to become the first Trojans quarterback to win the award since Matt Leinart in 2004, he’s going to need a Leinart-like performance in the win-loss department. It would take no less than a Pac-12 championship aided by gaudy individual numbers for Kessler to be the overwhelming national choice.
5. Four Pac-12 RBs will top 1,500 yards
This statement sounds outrageous from the outset, but the truth is that this almost happened in 2014.
UCLA’s Paul Perkins (1,575 yards) and Utah’s Devontae Booker (1,512 yards), who are both set to return in 2015, accomplished the feat last season.
They were followed closely by USC’s Buck Allen (1,489 yards), Arizona’s Nick Wilson (1,375 yards) and Oregon’s Royce Freeman (1,365). Wilson and Freeman return this season.
Cal’s Daniel Lasco topped 1,100 yards last year, giving the league another returning back capable of approaching the 1,500-yard mark.