Who Will Win The PAC-12 Championship?

Getting all of the pieces together to produce rankings for all 131 college football teams is a dizzying task that makes me often question if perhaps I’ve gone crazy.  

Sometimes I feel like the unnamed person who Douglas Adams once described:

“He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher. Or, as his wife would     have it — an idiot.”

Nonetheless, we press on.

Indeed, my Savvy Index football rating system has produced rankings for all 131 teams, which can be seen here.

For now, let’s take a look at the PAC-12 Conference, and let’s start with the PAC-12 North.

PAC-12 North

6.  Stanford                  

2021 win-loss record: 3 – 9

2022 schedule difficulty ranking:  2   (2nd hardest in FBS)

2022 projected wins:  2

Head coach David Shaw is the second longest-tenured PAC-12 coach, but his fortunes have been fading. Several years ago, I projected the Stanford demise, and that opinion can be seen here.  

Since Shaw’s change from a grunt-and-grind rushing attack to a short-game passing scheme, Stanford’s running game has been abysmal and with an offensive line that was 8th-worst in the nation for rush blocking and 93rd-ranked for pass blocking, and the defections of two top running backs, the only hope for Stanford to get ground yardage is the potential breakout of freshman running back Danny McFadden, younger brother of Darin.

Wanna know how to beat the Stanford offense?  Load up on passing.

Yes, Stanford returns Tanner McKee at quarterback, and he is indeed an NFL prospect.  But, he will be running for his life in 2022 because only half of the top offensive linemen return, and those that do aren’t very good.

The Stanford defense had given up more points per year than before for six consecutive seasons and ranked 125th for stopping the rush (5.74) in 2021.  Wanna know how to beat the Stanford defense?  Load up on running the ball.

Stanford talent has dropped noticeably in recent years. However, that doesn’t point to coach Shaw as much as perhaps to the transfer portal where Stanford loses starters who cannot qualify for grad school and doesn’t gain new ones because few FBS players can meet Stanford academic standards.

With the second most demanding schedule in America, expect Stanford to win just two games while suffering two five-game losing streaks.

5.  California                          

2021 win-loss record: 5 – 7

2022 schedule difficulty ranking:  47th   (a little harder than average)

2022 projected wins:  5

For the first time since 2018, the Cal offense averaged more points than its defense.

On offense, Cal expects to get a jump up with help from former two-year Purdue starter Jack Plummer.  The problem for Plummer will be finding receivers. Through graduation and attrition, Cal lost seven of its top ten players with receptions, leaving just Jeremiah Hunter (21 catches) as the lone starter.

The Bears like to control the ball, and with an offensive line that my Index ranks in the top-third in FBS for rush blocking, it should be able to do it even better.    

Peter Sirmon is finally the answer as defensive coordinator for the Bears, but so far, there is no special teams coordinator.  

Cal is a worse-than-average team with an average schedule so expect this group to repeat five wins from last year.  

4.  Washington State

2021 win-loss record: 7 – 6

2022 schedule difficulty ranking:  25   (very hard)

2022 projected wins:  6

Jake Dickert was elevated to interim head coach during the 2021 season and produced three wins and four losses. Dickert made a decent offensive coordinator hire in former Mike Leach (Texas Tech) disciple Eric Morris.

Morris went to work quickly. First, he installed the Air Raid offense.  Then, he brought in his former quarterback from Incarnate Word, FCS All-American Cameron Ward, who had entered the transfer portal one day after Morris was hired.

Head Coach Dickert hired Brian Ward (not related to Cameron) to run the defense, but after 25 years on college sidelines, Ward’s most elite stint was at Syracuse, and that didn’t end well after the Orangemen gave up over 30 ppg.

Last year, WSU lost to all four of its ranked opponents. This year, the Cougars face three more (Wisconsin, Oregon, and Utah) plus USC, which delivered a humiliating 45-14 home loss, so the Cougars have some work to do before it can play with the big boys again.

3.  Washington                      

2021 win-loss record: 4 – 8

2022 schedule difficulty ranking:  64th  (average)

2022 projected wins:  7

New coach Kalen DeBoer has two seasons of FBS experience, although he had a remarkable record in FCS. DeBoer brought both of his coordinators from Fresno State, where they had success both on the field and in recruiting. It’s a solid coaching triad, although early indicators on Savvy analytics show some early negative signs in recruiting.

Quarterback Michael Penix has transferred in from Indiana, where he was the starter for the past three seasons.  Penix is a fabulous leader, but his interception rate was higher than average in his three seasons at Indiana. UW has Dylan Morris and Sam Huard as backups, but between them, they threw 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions last year.   

The Huskies had a great deal of trouble running the ball in 2021 and must now do without the services of Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant. Decent help returns to the offensive line, and the transfer-in of New Mexico running back Aaron Dumas (4.84 ypc) should keep the Husky ground attack upright.  

Expect opponents to run against the UW defense since it was in the bottom quadrant of rush defenses last year. At the same time, DeBoer and Ward led Fresno State’s defense to number one in the nation for lowest completion percentage by opponents (52.3).  

UW was 4-8 last year. With an average schedule and the natural upward burst that accompanies new coaches taking over losing teams, Savvy rates Washington as a seven-win bowl team in 2022.

2.  Oregon State           

2021 win-loss record: 7 – 6

2022 schedule difficulty ranking:  40   (moderately difficult)

2022 projected wins:  8

For the first time in a decade, the Oregon State defense held opponents to under 30 points per game, and the Beavers posted their first winning season in just as long.  The slow and steady progress of this program under coach Jonathan Smith has caused many fans to wonder, “Riley, who?”

It’s enough for our Index to project Oregon State as this year’s second-best program in the PAC-12 North.

In addition to winning on the field, Smith has also gained prestige with recruits, delivering a roster that Savvy analytics rank in the upper half of the FBS for the first time since 2015.

With three returning quarterbacks and two proven running backs, the backfield is in good shape. Plus, fans caught lightning in a bottle at the Spring game when 230-pound freshman Damien Martinez proved he is a threat to go the distance on every touch.  

The receiving corps looks questionable, and the offensive line has plenty of new faces, but the Jonathan Smith era has been one of effectively training offensive lines. Expect the Beavers to go to sensational tight end Luke Musgrave twice as often this season.

The issue on offense will be how fast OSU can bring the line together. The season starts pretty fast, so if the Beaver front end comes together early, the only opponent on the schedule that seems out of reach is Utah.  

The Beavers have a similar fast-start need on defense with the linebacking corps, and that is critical because even with those strong linebackers last year, OSU was less than average against the rush.

If the schedule were a little lighter, this would be rated as a nine-win team.  As things stand now, expect Oregon State to get eight wins.

  1.  Oregon                  

2021 win-loss record: 10 – 4

2022 schedule difficulty ranking:  26   (difficult)

2022 projected wins:  10

Preseason national ranking:  19

Former coach Mario Cristobal was a hero when it came to recruiting elite talent but not so much when it came to on-field performance. That is likely to change under new head coach Dan Lanning who arrived in Eugene with a plan and a staff. The changes he has already made are likely to produce as much increase in entertainment as they are effective.

And . . .

There is no understating the significance of quarterback Bo Nix coming to Oregon from Auburn. Nix is a fantastic NFL prospect and one of the best leaders in the nation.  

Nix signed with Auburn as a consensus five-star prospect. So guess which team he was up against in his very first college football game?   

Yup — Oregon.  

At that time, I considered Nix both a phenom and an anomaly, making him sort of a phenomenally. I wrote about Nix before that Oregon game, and you can read that here.

With a new quarterback and lots of new faces at running back and receiver, getting this offense to fire on all cylinders might take a couple of games. Unfortunately, the first game is against national champion Georgia.

The good news for Ducksters is that the offensive line is Savvy-ranked as the 19th best in America and one that can battle with anyone.  

Defensively, the Ducks were a modest 53rd in stopping the run, only 75th in preventing completions, and 104th at getting to opposing quarterbacks. Coach Lanning led a historic Georgia defense last year, so expect better results on that side of the ball. 

The Ducks were 9-1 before November 20th last year and 1-3 after that, and only 1-3 against ranked opponents, so there is plenty for this group to prove.  Ten wins would do the trick.

PAC-12 South

 6.  Arizona             

2021 win-loss record: 1 – 11

2022 schedule difficulty ranking:  10   (very difficult)

2022 projected wins:  3

Dynamic head coach Jedd Fisch went to the portal and brought back a ton of transfers this year, including talented new quarterback Jayden De Laura from Washington State.  Although the talent has improved, it might not show in terms of wins because this year’s schedule is brutal.

The Wildcats were near the bottom of the FBS for intercepting passes, so there’s plenty of work to be done on the defensive back end. Because of that and the time, it will take to get the new guys going, I am sticking with the Savvy projection that this is, at best, a three-win team in 2022. While that doesn’t sound like much, it’s three times as many wins as last year against a schedule that is the 10th toughest in America  San Diego State, Mississippi State, North Dakota State (perennial FCS favorite), Oregon, USC, Utah, and UCLA).

 5.  Colorado                    

2021 win-loss record: 4 – 8

2022 schedule difficulty ranking:  5   (extremely difficult)

2022 projected wins:  1

J. T. Shrout transferred from Tennessee to Colorado and is the current favorite to start at quarterback. However, in three years at Tennessee, Shrout took fewer than 90 snaps and threw interceptions at twice the national average.  He wasn’t the answer at Tennessee, and it’s a “push” to think he will be the answer at Colorado.  

I think that before October, Shrout will yield to last year’s starter Brendon Lewis because Lewis is a genuine dual threat.

Other skill positions are filled with plenty of starters, and the Buffs will get help from transfer-in R.J. Sneed, who had 147 receptions in three years at Baylor.

The offensive line has been a mess, but there is hope that former Oregon State guard and NFL line coach Kyle DeVan can finally get it to compete. 

The Buff defense needs to be much stronger after it yielded over five yards per carry (113th) to opposing running backs, and it could only generate barely about one sack per game.

The schedule includes top 25 prospects TCU, Air Force, Minnesota, UCLA, Oregon, USC, and Utah and doesn’t include any FCS opponents.   

In an algorithmic oddity, Colorado has ranked ahead of Arizona in the preseason even though the Buffs are projected to win fewer games.

4.  Arizona State              

2021 win-loss record: 8 – 5

2022 schedule difficulty ranking:  41   (moderately difficult)

2022 projected wins:  6

This program is a mess, and I wonder if Herm Edwards will make it through the season. I suspect his players are wondering the same thing, and that is often a distractor on the field.

ASU has parted ways with most of its coaches after allegations of recruiting violations, so putting new parts together on both sides of the ball won’t be easy.

Neither will the loss of superstar quarterback Jayden Daniels (LSU).  Dynamic, dual threat, Incoming transfer Emory Jones from Florida will help after he posted 65% completions and 758 rushing yards.  Of course, he also brings a 3.7% interception rate to an offense already ranked 99th for turnovers.  

It’s essential also to note that Arizona State is 125th in the nation when committing penalties.

This group has a moderate schedule and plenty of winnable home games, but it is questionable if Hermie will be in Tempe long enough to enjoy them.

Based on system analytics, this is at best a six-win team but one with so many unresolved program issues that it could quickly spiral to just three wins.

3.  USC                   

2021 win-loss record: 4 – 8

2022 schedule difficulty ranking:  30   (moderately difficult)

2022 projected wins:  8

New coach Lincoln Riley has gotten plenty of hype and Tinsel Town buzz.  Now it’s time to prove he can take USC to the next level.  

Savvy projections point to Riley making an impressive impact in his first year. Of course, that should be easy since USC was only 4-8 last year.

After his first year, system projections show declining trends. Keep in mind that in neither of his last two years at Oklahoma did he win the Big-12 title.  In fact, last year, his Sooners finished third.

Riley has made impressive coordinator hires, although the shine is off of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch after his defenses atrophied in the waning months at Oklahoma.

USC will have plenty of weapons with the transfer-in of Oklahoma star quarterback Caleb Williams and others. It’s important to note that former quarterback Kedon Slovis was quite a star before he opted to transfer to Pitt. Williams offers more durability and mobility but not a measurable upgrade in the passing game.

The Trojans will cruise to two early wins, and the rabid hype will increase. At that point, USC will likely be in everyone’s top 25 until three of the next five opponents (Fresno State, Oregon State, and Utah) tell us they will stay there. It’s reasonable to think they will but less reasonable to believe they can knock off Utah.     

 2.  UCLA                

2021 win-loss record: 8 – 4

2022 schedule difficulty ranking:    65      (average)

2022 projected wins: 9

Preseason national ranking;   21

There seems little question that this year’s UCLA team is headed for the top 25.  Head coach Chip Kelly has done a fabulous job of building the talent in Westwood.

Not only does he return his four-year starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, but he has two talented backups in Ethan Garbers and Chase Griffin.  

Transfers populate this season’s wide receiver roster after the Bruins lost Kyle Phillips to the NFL and Chase Cota to Oregon.  

UCLA will once again be one of the 20 best running teams in the nation behind a staunch offensive line and the crafty power of 1100-yard running Zach Charbonnet.

Overall, the Bruins’ defense needs to be stronger, but it should be good enough for UCLA to win its first five games and four more.  

1.  Utah                  

2021 win-loss record: 10 – 4

2022 schedule difficulty ranking:  45   (moderately difficult)

2022 projected wins:  11

Preseason national ranking:     6

Coach Kyle Cunningham is in his 16th year at Utah, putting him as the second-longest tenured coach in the FBS behind Kirk Ferentz of Iowa. As we’ve seen often, long-tenured coaches are the ones most expected to reach the national playoff, something Utah may very well do in 2022.

The Utes return star quarterback Cameron Rising and two of their top three running backs, plus the addition of Chris Curry from LSU.

Receivers are plentifully led by All-American candidate Brant Kuithe who led all receivers despite being a tight end.

If there is a concern for Utah, it is along the offensive front, where graduation has shredded a line that opened holes for the second-best YPC rush attack in America and the top five for protecting Cameron Rising.

A moderate schedule tells me that if Utah can get past the Oregon Ducks in Eugene the week before Thanksgiving, this will be an undefeated team. 

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About Bobby Albrant 120 Articles
Bobby Albrant is a former journalism major at the University of Oregon, creator of Savvygameline.com for college football predictions and rankings, former analyst for Southern Mississippi football games, and twenty years coaching girls basketball for all ages through CIF high school. He has three grown children with his youngest daughter playing on the Ventura (Ca) High School basketball team that defeated Dom Lugo High School and was the last high school game ever played by Diana Taurasi. He can be reached at bobbywildcat@gmail.com.