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Dane Miller’s 2023 Pac-12 Football Season Projections

College Football is here and the time is ripe for some win-loss projections and game predictions

Posted on August 25, 2023

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

The 2023 College Football season is here and the time is ripe for some good old-fashioned win-loss projections.

I spent the last three months researching and writing about each team in the Pac-12 and have a solid understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each roster.

With that research in mind, I put my money where my mouth is and produced the record predictions and loss breakdowns below.

I will invariably be wrong about something. And when that inevitability arrives, feel free to tag me on X (formerly Twitter) @DaneMiller_SWS to say how wrong I was.

It’s the last season in the Pac-12, so let’s not hold back on the trash talk.

The Conference of Champions is the deepest conference in America this season and I’ll be the first to lobby for two teams from the Conference to get an invitation to the Playoff.

With the league falling apart next year, why not go out with a bang?

1. USC (11-1, 8-1)

Losses: at Oregon

The Trojans are the class of the Conference, and if Caleb Williams remains healthy, they could find themselves in the Playoff come January.

usc logoYet, with the schedule USC has in front of it and the key transfers added on both sides of the ball, 2023 could finally be the year the Trojans are truly “back.”

How well the defense holds up against San Jose State on Saturday could be telling. (Here’s a link to my Preview of that Trojans-Spartans game.)

2. Washington (10-2, 7-2)

Losses: at USC; at Oregon State

Michael Penix Jr. is one of the top quarterbacks in the country and Washington’s scheme, co-designed by Kalen DeBoer and OC Ryan Grubb in their 15 years together, is elite.

Washington football pac-12The Huskies have some questions to answer in the secondary and are rebuilding their offensive line.

But the Dawgs should get to double-digit wins this season.

3. Oregon (10-2, 7-2)

Losses: at Washington; at Utah

Oregon doesn’t have the most difficult schedule in the Pac-12, but the Ducks have their work cut out for them.

Oregon Ducks Logo Pac-12Bo Nix is a preseason Heisman candidate and new offensive coordinator Will Stein’s system is proven. UO is replacing some pieces along the offensive line and struggled on defense last year.

But, if Nix stays healthy all year, Oregon should be right in the thick of the Conference race.

4. Oregon State (10-2, 7-2)

Losses: at Washington State; at Oregon

Flying under the radar for those that are less familiar with the Pac-12, Oregon State is legitimate.

DJ Uiagalelei should thrive under Jonathan Smith’s offense and the Beavs’ offensive line is arguably the best in the Pac-12.

But, Washington State is 8-1 against OSU since 2014 and the game is in Pullman this year.

5. Utah (9-3, 6-3)

Losses: at Oregon State; at USC; at Washington

The Utes have a difficult road ahead of them.

With games in Corvallis, Los Angeles, and Seattle, the 9-3 prediction is more based on the schedule than the actual talent on the roster.

If those three games were played at a neutral site, Utah’s ceiling would be a different story. But, the schedule is what the schedule is and those three road games will be tough to win.

6. UCLA (8-4, 5-4)

Losses: at Utah, at Oregon State; at Arizona; at USC

The only real surprise in this prediction is the defeat to Arizona. But the Wildcats beat UCLA last season in Pasadena and the Bruins come to Tucson on Homecoming.

And with the season just a week away, there’s still no clarity on who UCLA’s starting quarterback will be.

Still, the Bruins should be strong. New defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn could change the analysis if he hits the ground running.

7. Washington State (6-6, 4-5)

Losses: Wisconsin; at UCLA; at Oregon; at Arizona State; at California; at Washington

The Cougars are somewhat of an enigma this season.

New offensive coordinator Ben Arbuckle runs one of the most potent offenses in the country and Jake Dickert returns several key players along his defensive line and secondary.

But the Wazzu offensive line is a certified liability and the amount of production lost at linebacker is astounding. Six wins is a fair projection, but eight wins isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

8. Arizona (6-6, 4-5)

Losses: at Mississippi State; Washington; at USC; at Washington State; Oregon State; Utah

Somehow, someway, Arizona will reach bowl eligibility.

Arizona football Pac-12Jayden de Laura is more comfortable in Jedd Fisch’s offense this season and the Cats have a strong offensive line.

The key to the year is an improved defense, though. With several transfers expected to make immediate impacts on that side of the ball, Arizona should reach six wins.

9. Arizona State (5-7, 3-6)

Losses: Oklahoma State; USC; at Washington; at Utah; at UCLA; Oregon; Arizona

The Sun Devils will be better than some expect. Kenny Dillingham did a great job of building his roster via some key recruits and the transfer portal over the offseason.

As a result, ASU had the good fortune of naming former 4-star true freshman Jaden Rashada as its starting quarterback after veteran Notre Dame transfer Drew Pyne went down with a hamstring injury.

The Sun Devils also have capable pieces on defense, but linebacker remains a serious question, especially after the dismissal of Juwan Mitchell.

10. California (4-8, 2-7)

Losses: Auburn; at Washington; Arizona State; Oregon State; at Utah; USC: at Oregon; at UCLA

The path to bowl eligibility for a California team breaking in a new offensive system and a new quarterback is steep.

Sam Jackson V has been named the starter and is tasked with running Jake Spavital’s scheme. The Bears have depth at running back but have regressed on defense over the last few seasons.

To get to 6-6, Cal will probably need to beat Auburn and Arizona State in Berkeley.

11. Colorado (3-9, 1-8)

Losses: at TCU; at Oregon; USC; at Arizona State; at UCLA; Oregon State; Arizona; at Washington State; at Utah

The writing seems to be on the wall for a difficult first season under Deion Sanders.

The games against Arizona State and Arizona could flip the script to a five-win year, but without seeing the product on the field, it’s hard to expect more than three victories.

To Prime’s credit, he has surrounded himself with quality coaches that can elevate his team. Offensive coordinator Sean Lewis’s system, in particular, should be able to put up points.

12. Stanford (2-10, 0-9)

Losses: at USC; Arizona; at Oregon; at Colorado; UCLA; Washington; at Washington State; at Oregon State; California; at Notre Dame

Troy Taylor and the Cardinal are in a rebuilding year. Recruiting momentum is high and the future is bright for Stanford Football, even despite the conference realignment issues.

This season is more of a bridge year to 2024 with the Tree bringing in one of the top recruiting classes in the country.

But without a seasoned quarterback leading the way this year, two wins might even be too high of a projection.

Key Games
There are several matchups this year—some of which I highlighted previously in my Pre-Media Day Season Predictions—that could have significant consequences.

I outline a handful of them below.

Arizona at Arizona State: The Territorial Cup could feature two five-win teams fighting for bowl eligibility. It’s a long way away, but the winner of that game likely makes a bowl.

Washington at Oregon State: The Dawgs could be facing the Beavs with a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game on the line.

Both programs could have one loss at that point and enter the matchup with Playoff aspirations in mind.

Oregon State at Oregon: The winner of this year’s I-5 rivalry (formerly known as the Civil War) could very well find itself in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

The Conference race figures to be an all-out war for second place, and the winner of this rivalry could secure its spot.

Utah at Oregon State: The Utes are flying a bit under the radar this season, partially due to their tough schedule. The matchup with the Beavers is early in the year and could determine the ceiling of Utah’s season.

A win in Corvallis would put Utah in a position to fight for a Championship Game appearance.

Oklahoma State at Arizona State: A Sun Devil victory in Tempe would arguably be the key to a six-win season.

If Kenny Dillingham can engineer a victory over the future Big 12 foe, a bowl appearance seems like a given.

Three-Way Race for Second
With the soft schedule that USC has in front of it, the Trojans are arguably a shoo-in to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

That leaves a projected three-way battle for second place among Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington.

A tiebreaker could be the deciding factor, especially with the league’s historic propensity to eat itself.

The multi-team tiebreaker is first decided by head-to-head matchups between the tied teams with the best cumulative win percentage coming out on top.

If that still creates a tie, as it does in the predictions above, then the tiebreaker is decided by win percentage against common conference opponents.

Based on the predictions above, Washington would have a 4-0 mark against common conference opponents and be the second-place team in the Championship Game.

Oregon finishes second over Oregon State in their third-place tie, based on a head-to-head win over the Beavers.

At the end of the day, a two-loss team could probably find itself in Las Vegas.

And with the strength of the league from top to bottom, who is to say a two-loss Pac-12 Champion would be excluded from the Playoff?

Pac-12 Championship Game: Washington v. USC
With each fielding what are expected to be the top two offenses in the Pac-12, Washington and USC face off in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The height of both program’s ceilings is highly dependent on the health of their quarterbacks.

If Caleb Williams or Michael Penix Jr. miss time during the season, all bets are off. And despite both rosters having apparent issues on defense, the firepower that Lincoln Riley and Kalen DeBoer bring in their offensive schemes is undeniable.

Defense doesn’t matter so much in modern College Football. Offense wins championships and these two teams have the strongest in the league.

The winner would likely receive an invitation to the Playoff and 2023 feels like the Year of the Trojans.

—More from Dane Miller—