CFN's Matthew Smith Previews the 2012 Season

Mr Pac Ten
Posted Aug 30, 2012

CFN's Matthew Smith Previews the 2012 Season and Picks all the Pac-12 Games

2012 will be a coronation for the only two national elites the league has, Oregon and USC... or will it be? Oregon looks as strong as ever, and has a fantastic schedule draw as well; as long as they're close to as good as projected, 10-2 is the absolute minimum. But USC has a schedule loaded with potential landmines, and don't be surprised if they stumble along the way.

On the next tier lie Utah and Stanford, two quality programs that are capable of making some noise, but aren't quite at the same level as the top two of the league.

After that it starts getting muddled; there isn't much of an obvious difference in quality between Cal, Oregon St, UCLA and Washington, so don't be surprised if the games betweem them (and they all play each other, except for UCLA-Washington) turn into pretty interesting contests.

Towards the bottom of the league, the Arizona schools, Colorado and Washington St have a shot at being decent, but none of them look to be especially impressive. Don't be surprised to see one of them in a bowl game, but it's tough to say which one.

Whereas in past seasons I've posted large html tables of my picks along with various other sources' picks, this time around I'm just posting my own picks, with everything else going into a google doc to make this article easier to read and follow.

As always, I will compare my Pac-12 league picks against picks available elsewhere, and report on how my picks have done historically compared to other sources. Those items will be included in a separate article to be published soon, by this weekend at the latest.

Away Home Projected Winner
Ariz UO UO
Utah ASU Utah
ASU Cal Cal
Stan Wash Stan
Ariz Stan Stan
UCLA Cal Cal
Wash UO UO
USC Utah Utah
ASU Colo Colo
Cal WSU Cal
Wash Ariz Wash
Stan Cal Stan
Cal Utah Utah
Colo UO UO
OSU Wash Wash
WSU Stan Stan
Wash Cal Cal
Stan Colo Stan
WSU Utah Utah
Colo Ariz Ariz
OSU Stan Stan
Utah Wash Wash
Ariz Utah Utah
Wash Colo Wash
Stan UO UO
ASU Ariz Ariz
Utah Colo Utah
Wash WSU Wash
North winner UO
South winner USC
Title game winner UO
Projected Wins
Team Overall League
Cal 6 4
UO 12 9
OSU 7 5
Stan 8 6
Wash 7 5
WSU 4 2
Ariz 4 2
ASU 4 2
Colo 3 1
UCLA 8 5
USC 10 7
Utah 9 6

Projected Non-Conference Results

Pac-12 North

vs Nevada: W
vs Southern Utah: W
@ Ohio St: L

vs Arkansas St: W
vs Fresno St: W
vs Tennessee Tech: W

Oregon St:
vs Nicholls St: W
vs Wisconsin: W
@ BYU: L

vs San Jose St: W
vs Duke: W
@ Notre Dame: L

vs San Diego St: W
@ LSU: L
vs Portland St: W

Washington St:
@ BYU: L
vs Eastern Washington: W

Pac-12 South

vs Toledo: W
vs Oklahoma St: L
vs SC St: W

vs NAU: W
vs Illinois: W
@ Missouri: L

vs Colo St: W
vs Sac St: W
@ Fresno St: L

@ Rice: W
vs Nebraska: W
vs Houston: W

vs Hawaii: W
@ Syracuse: W
vs Notre Dame: W

vs Northern Colorado: W
@ Utah St: W
vs BYU: W

Quick team-by-team notes

This is likely to be a rough season. The schedule is even nastier than last year's, thanks to a brutal game against Ohio St, and the Bears lose a lot of talent, especially on defense (though the secondary looks strong). This should be a bowl team, but it might be by a narrow margin.
Biggest Games:
vs Nevada, vs UCLA, vs Stanford, vs Washington
Nevada is mainly the "don't trip up" game, where if they blow it things will go downhill fast. The other three are the sorts of important home games that Cal really needs to win if they're going to go on any kind of run. 3-1 here would mean a solid season, 2-2 about a .500 season. Better would be fantastic, while worse could portend a disaster.

I actually project the Ducks to be better than USC, and other than that one game at the Coliseum, it's incredibly tough to see any potential losses here.
Biggest Games:
@ USC, @ Cal, vs Stanford, @ Oregon St
Really, it's USC and then finding a couple others to fill the list. If they win at LA, I'd be stunned if they lost anything else, even though the closing stretch is a bit rough. It's really only if they can't beat the Trojans where the other three start to look more interesting.

Oregon St:
Oregon St is one of the more veteran teams in the league, which should help them rebound from last year's awful 3-9 run in a big way. Don't be surprised to see the Beavers make some noise this year.
Biggest Games:
vs Wisconsin, @ UCLA, @ BYU, vs Cal
Obviously it would be nice to pick up a Civil War win, but if we're going to be more realistic, these are four more attainable wins. Wisconsin is an early chance to get a big win against a rebuilding offense, while the other three are doable wins if the Beavers really are improved. Of course, that would mean that they'd need to actually beat UCLA, something they've really struggled with over the last decade.

This is a tough to peg team. They've been so good the past two years that it's tough not to think they'll be upper-division agian, but they've lost so much that a decline is almost certain.
Biggest Games:
vs USC, @ Washington, @ Notre Dame, @ Cal
Like Oregon St, it'd be nice to beat Oregon, but these are four more realistic targets. USC would be a huge win, and they're definitely underdogs, but if they can control the line of scrimmage, they have a realistic shot. The other three are road games against teams that I'd project to not be quite as good as Stanford, but they're going to be tough wins away from home.

The Huskies look like a program that is continuing to improve. There's a long way to go before they're contending for the Rose Bowl, but step by step things are getting better.
Biggest Games:
@ LSU, vs Stanford, vs USC, @ Cal
I know what I've been saying about avoiding unrealistic games, but LSU at least might be a more favorable matchup than people think. If the Huskies can move the ball against a depleted Tiger secondary and win the turnover battle against a fairly green quarterback, it could turn into an interesting shootout. If not, blowout city. USC could be a trap game for the Trojans after a big showdown at Utah. The other two games are important if the Huskies want to establish themselves as the #2 program in the North, which they'll have to eventually do if they want to get to the point where they can challenge Oregon.

Washington St.:
Mike Leach will eventually do good things here, but it's tough to see success in 2012, especially if Jeff Tuel's health is a question mark. If he stays healthy, and the running game improves, and the line does well, and the defense improves, maybe the Cougars jump up to 5 wins, or if things are incredibly fortunate sneak into a bowl game, but that's a lot of things that need to go right.
Biggest Games:
vs Colorado, vs UCLA, @ Arizona St, vs Washington
BYU would be huge if they could win it, but that looks like a stretch. Similarly, UNLV would be a disastrous loss, but the Cougs really should be much better than the Rebels. Instead, these look like the three most winnable league games, plus the Apple Cup. UCLA is a tough matchup, but that's going to be a November game against a very warm-weather team, so don't be at all surprised if an upset pops up in that one.

This team was desperately disapointing last year, and now Foles, most of his receivers, and a bunch of defensive contributors are all gone. Year one of the RichRod era is likely to be a rough transition.
Biggest Games:
vs Toledo, vs Oregon St, vs Colorado, vs Arizona St
One interesting thing about Arizona's schedule is that they only have four road games, and all of them are on the tougher side of things. That means that it really comes down to the home slate whether they can make a surprising run at a bowl game. These are four winnable gams, and if they can sweep them and avoid gagging against their AA opponent, all they need is one upset. It's certainly a reach, but it's at least potentially doable.

Arizona St:
Similar to Arizona, the Sun Devils had a rough 2011 and lose a tremendous amount. It's going to be tough sledding in 2012, but there might be some hope.
Biggest Games:
vs Illinois, @ Colorado, vs Washington St, @ Arizona
If there's going to be any kind of surprising bowl run, they need to sweep these four games. NAU is a win, and there are a couple of other potentially winnable games on the slate. If they can catch fire at the right times, this could be a respectable season.

After another bad season in Boulder, it's all about trying to take baby steps forward. A cushy non-conference slate means that they have a shot at improving last year's record, even with heavy rebuilding.
Biggest Games:
vs Colorado, @ Fresno St, @ Washington St, vs UCLA
The Buffs have had too many seasons lately where things started poorly and simply spiraled out of control. More than anything else, they need to right the ship early and gain some reason to believe, or it's going to be another long season of never-ending losing.

This is theoretically a Pac-12 South contender, given a lot of returning production, great recruiting, no Oregon on the schedule, USC and Utah at home, and the fact that they "won" the division last year. That said, it's pretty unlikely. Instead, the goal is a solid record and one meaningful win along the way.
Biggest Games:
vs Nebraska, @ Cal, vs Utah, vs USC
I don't look at this team as being in legitimate danger of missing a bowl game, so it's really about registering meaningful wins. Nebraska in week two is a great chance to get the Mora era off to a huge start. The Bruins haven't won at Berkeley this century, and really need to establish themselves as being capable of beating a credible opponent on the road. The other two games are chances to raise their flag in division play, with USC especially a chance to make their presence felt in a season that's assumed to be their rival's coronation.

Expectations seem like national championship or bust. I don't think they're quite at that level, but if Barkley keeps playing fantastically, they avoid injuries, and the defense steps up, it could be a season to remember.
Biggest Games:
@ Stanford, @ Utah, vs Oregon, @ UCLA
I'd add Notre Dame, but that series hasn't been competitive enough to think that's going to be one of USC's biggest hurdles, especially with the Irish likely to be exhausted after a brutal year-long schedule. Instead, it's these four games that seem like their biggest regular season tests. It probably takes 13-0 to make the national championship game, so each and every game is vitally important. That also includes the random games against teams not on this list; if anything, the danger to USC has actually been more from the 2nd tier teams that are good enough to challenge USC's D game than the better opponents who get their best efforts.

If someone is going to challenge USC in the South, it's likely to be Utah. The Utes have been a great program for the last decade, and while they did struggle in 2011, they have a much more veteran team and should bounce back in 2012.
Biggest Games:
vs BYU, vs USC, @ UCLA, @ Washington
And it's really the first two that are the biggest of them all. BYU is always a huge game for the Utes; no matter what else happens during the season, it's an important game for them to win. USC is a chance to put themselves in the driver's seat of the Pac-12 South; win that one and they could potentially be off to the races. Lose that one and not much else along the way is likely to matter as much.

Matthew Smith's 2012 CFN Blog

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