This column reflects the opinion of the writer and does not in any way reflect the views of The Stanford Daily.
You’ve read part one. Now it’s time for the second half of my annual Pac-12 power rankings, the bottom (and perhaps more interesting) half of the conference.
No. 7: Utah
After its emergence from the bottom of the Pac-12 South in 2014, Utah has shown that it’s not about to be pushed back down without a fight. The team has utilized the transfer market to reload quite well from recent losses, and I don’t expect the graduation of running back Joe Williams or loss of a number of linemen to set the team too far back. The team is also bringing in an intriguing offensive coordinator in Eastern Washington’s Troy Taylor, and he should have a competent quarterback to work with, whether it’s the experienced Troy Williams or up-and-coming Tyler Huntley.
No. 8: Colorado
It’s probably unfair of me to place the Buffs this far down. Colorado’s offense should be solid with running back Phillip Lindsay and experienced backup quarterback Steven Montez, and the team is coming off a championship in the (admittedly somewhat weak) Pac-12 South. The Buffaloes are going to have a lot of questions to answer on defense, however, which may pose a bit of a problem since three of their wins came by less than one possession. And, while pushing Michigan off the schedule is probably a good thing, the addition of a late-September matchup against Washington probably isn’t.
Above all, Colorado looks like it may regress a bit in a conference that overall looks set to be stronger, which can be a bit of a problem for a team that’s still not completely used to winning. As much fun as it would be, I’d be quite surprised if the Buffaloes seriously contend for the conference next season. Even so, the future looks bright in Boulder, and I think this team will remain dangerous to most of the opponents it faces.
No. 9: Arizona
Arizona seemed to try a lot of different things during the 2016 season, and almost all of them didn’t work. Still, the Wildcats showed enough heart to push conference champion Washington to overtime and thrash in-state rival Arizona State, and I think they might be primed for a bit of a resurgence next season.
Part of that is just by virtue of the number of players they return — at least 70 percent of their starting roster. The Wildcats should also benefit by having a relatively solidified quarterback in Brandon Dawkins, who flashed potential while picking up over 1,300 yards through the air and nearly 1,000 yards on the ground as well. If Dawkins can find a bit more consistency in his passing game and Arizona can utilize its returning talent to make some incremental defensive improvements, I think we could see the Wildcats make some serious strides next year.
No. 10: Oregon State
This is one of those picks where the team “feels” like it should be higher, but it’s hard to place exactly how. Oregon State actually salvaged a pretty respectable season last year after earning convincing wins in both its last two contests, and I think six or seven games on the Beavers’ schedule next year could be winnable if someone emerges from their quarterback battle. Gary Andersen and his team still undeniably need another year or two to jump back into the conference fold, but things are gradually starting to turn around in Corvallis. Earning a conference road win for the first time since 2014 would be a great sign of progress.
No. 11: Arizona State
Like a lot of the teams on this list, it seems like something could click with Arizona State and propel them to six or even seven wins. That something could be transfer quarterback Blake Barnett, who started briefly for Alabama (yes, that Alabama) and actually made a few nice plays before transferring to the Sun Devils.
Still, there’s a little more reason to be skeptical of an Arizona State rebound, mostly because of just how poorly the team’s prospects look on the defensive side of the ball. The Sun Devils have finished in the bottom two in the FBS in pass defense in both of the last two years and aren’t adding anyone to the roster who appears likely to reverse that trend. Head coach Todd Graham probably made the right call by bringing in a new defensive coordinator, but it still figures to be a year or two before the Sun Devils can completely crawl out of the Pac-12’s cellar.
No. 12: California
Justin Wilcox is probably a good hire for the Bears, but unfortunately, he’s pretty much starting at square zero when it comes to the Cal roster. While Demetris Robertson and Melquise Stovall should give him two offensive weapons to begin building around, all the rest of the improvements supposedly made under Sonny Dykes seem to have gone out the window with the departures of Davis Webb and a couple of key linemen. It’s probably fair to say the Cal defense is due for a bit of improvement under Wilcox, but then again, when you allow 42.6 points per game, there’s pretty much only one direction to go. Barring a miracle, 2017 could be dreadful for the Golden Bears.
Contact Andrew Mather at amather ‘at’ stanford.edu if you would like to tell him about your feelings. He’s a good listener.