Posted on August 18, 2019
Two rival Pac-12 football teams from the South Division continue to struggle, despite their storied reputations, and that’s bad news for the Conference as a whole. The good news is that two revitalized rivals from the North seem poised to meet or exceed expectations in 2019.
Costly Collapse in the South
The L.A. schools are arguably the lifeblood of the South, though Utah made a strong argument for that distinction last season. In any case, most agree the Conference is perceived stronger nationally when the Trojans and Bruins perform well.
Should both programs fall short of their perennial expectations again this season, the consequences could be as damaging as they would be embarrassing. USC and UCLA need to step it up.
Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening.
⬇ Trending Down: USC and UCLA
Falling Short of Expectations in 2019: USC Trojans
– 2018 Overall and Conference Record: 5-7 (4-5)
– 2019 Projected Regular Season Record: 7-5 (5-4)
Losing seasons simply do not happen at USC. Or so it would seem.
How rare are they? The last time the Trojans lost more games than they won was in 2000. Since 1968, the year the Conference became the Pac-8, they have produced just four losing seasons total.
Season in and season out, USC is loaded with talent at every position. And only a few Pac-12 teams are capable of keeping pace in recruiting, giving the Trojans a psychological advantage before they take the field.
But that Trojan mystique seemed to vanish last season, with USC winning just five games. The magic figures to be elusive this year as well, with a new offensive system, the departure of three starting offensive linemen, the loss of team’s leading rusher, leading tackler, and several other key players on defense.
All of which could leave South Division challengers chasing USC like sharks in bloodied water—and the Trojans chasing a replacement for beleaguered head coach Clay Helton.
Of course, there’s always the chance USC plays up to its potential and menaces the Conference once again.
Bottom Line: USC remains beatable by all but a few.
Not Living up to Expectations in 2019: UCLA Bruins
– 2018 Overall and Conference Record: 3-9 (3-6)
– 2019 Projected Regular Season Record: 5-7 (4-5)
With 12 Rose Bowl appearances and nine 10-win seasons to their credit, the Bruins have historically generated lofty expectations. But while UCLA’s recent drop-off has been unsettling, many prognosticators are projecting a dramatic turnaround this season.
And yes, it has been done in Westwood before.
As recently as 2013 and 2014, former coach Jim Mora seemed to have the Bruins on track, putting together back-to-back 10-win seasons for only the third time in school history. But since winning the Alamo Bowl in 2014, UCLA has been in sharp decline, compiling a disappointing 19-29 record.
Last year’s 3-9 season was the worst since 1989, when the Bruins went 3-7-1. While Mora didn’t exactly leave the cupboard empty, it could take a few more recruiting classes for second-year Coach Chip Kelly to assemble the players he needs to run his system.
UCLA should be improved enough to upset a team or two this fall, but not enough to make a bowl.
Bottom Line: UCLA isn’t back just yet.
Revitalizing Rise in the North
While the South Division needs—and has lacked—a consistent leader, Stanford has been a steady standard-bearer for the North. WSU has been impressive over the past three seasons as well.
But just as the South needs the L.A. schools to shine, the North seems to flourish best when either Oregon or Washington are battling for the Conference title. And for the first time in several years, the long-time rivals appear to be rising together.
It seems fitting that the only Conference teams to have made the College Football Playoff could be playing for more than a Division title and Pac-12 Championship this season.
⬆ Trending Up: Oregon and Washington
Meeting Expectations in 2019: Oregon Ducks
– 2018 Overall and Conference Record: 9-4 (5-4)
– 2019 Projected Regular Season Record: 10-2 (7-2)
After a disastrous and rapid decline under Mark Helfrich, the Ducks have undergone a frustrating but effective rebuild over the past three years. That revamp, fueled by back-to-back top recruiting classes, seems poised to culminate in what could be their most successful season since their last College Football Playoff run in 2014.
Oregon begins Mario Cristobal’s second season with one of college football’s biggest early games against Auburn, in Arlington, TX. A win would confirm the preseason hype with a bang, generating even more Heisman buzz for Justin Herbert.
It would also launch the Ducks into the Playoff conversation.
Fortunately, Oregon gets a couple of breathers before beginning Pac-12 play at Stanford. The Ducks outplayed the Cardinal last year before losing in overtime, but have lost by an average of 24.6 points over their last three meetings.
Then comes what could be the biggest game of the Pac-12 season in Seattle, a probable winner-take-the-title matchup with the underrated Huskies. Look for the Ducks to fall just short.
Bottom Line: The high-flying Ducks are back.
Exceeding Expectations in 2019: Washington Huskies
– 2018 Overall and Conference Record: 10-4 (7-2)
– 2019 Projected Regular Season Record: 11-1 (8-1)
The Huskies have a weak non-conference schedule with games against Eastern Washington and Hawaii, but that shouldn’t keep them from turning heads this fall.
Washington’s first big test comes on the road against Stanford, followed by a potential trap game at Arizona, prior to hosting the Ducks. Provided the Dawgs or Ducks don’t stumble before then, a victory over Oregon—in a potential ESPN College Game Day appearance before a Prime Time national audience—would likely make a big impression on the College Football Playoff Committee.
The key will be the development of projected starter Jacob Eason. If the Georgia transfer develops the way previous Chris Petersen-coached quarterbacks have, the Huskies should be well-positioned to repeat as the North champions. If not, the Ducks will have their opening.
Surviving a probable rematch with expected South Division champ Utah in the Pac-12 Championship game could land the Huskies a second shot at the CFB Playoff.
Bottom Line: The Pac-12 title chase still runs through Seattle.
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