Washington State was the highest-ranked team in the PAC-12 a year ago, finishing 10th in the AP and Coaches' Polls. The conference has had just 2 participants in the brief 5-year history of the College Football Playoff - Oregon in 2014 and Washington in 2016.
The soon-to-be released 2019 Preseason Congrove Computer Rankings at CollegeFootballPoll.com suggest that the conference won't miss out this season, with Oregon grabbing the 4-seed after capturing the North division title and the PAC-12 championship with a win over Utah.
The Ducks are projected to go undefeated (12-0, 9-0), but get the edge by just a game over Washington State (11-1, 8-1) with the difference-maker coming in Eugene on October 26 when Oregon is favored to defeat the visiting Cougars 6.15 points.
The South division has Utah (10-2, 7-2) finishing a game ahead of Arizona State (8-4, 6-3) by virtue of a home win by the Utes over the Sun Devils on October 19.
It would be Oregon's first conference championship game appearance since 2014 (won), while Utah would be getting a second straight shot at the PAC-12 crown after losing 10-3 to Washington in last season's title game. Utah last claimed a conference championship in 2008 when the Utes were members of the Mountain West. They joined the PAC-12 in 2011.
The North division, aside from Oregon and Washington State, could also see Stanford or Washington challenge for the title. The computer has the Cardinal going 8-4 overall and 7-2 in conference play with losses to Oregon at home and Washington State in Pullman. The Huskies are forecast to go 9-3 over-all and 6-3 in conference play, but are underdogs by just 4.23 points at Stanford, 5.70 at home vs. Oregon, and 2.55 at home to Washington State.
In the South, Utah and Arizona State are joined only by Arizona (6-6, 3-6) as expected bowl teams. USC gets saddled with a 5-7 projection while UCLA only improves to 4-8 from 3-9 a year ago, and Colorado stays mired in the basement with a 2-10 campaign.
The Buffaloes are the only PAC-12 team that will be under the direction of a new head coach as Mel Tucker replaces Mike MacIntyre who was fired on November 18, a day after the Buffaloes lost their sixth straight game following a 5-0 start. Kurt Roper was named interim coach for the season finale at Cal which the Buffs lost 33-21 to finish 5-7. MacIntyre was 30-44 overall with the Buffaloes, but just 14-39 in PAC-12 games. 8 of those 14 league wins came in the 2016 season when MacIntyre led Colorado to the conference championship game and was named Coach of the Year by the AP. As for Tucker, it will be his first head coaching gig. The veteran assistant served as Georgia's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach from 2016-2018.
Arizona is one of four teams that will kick off the season a week ahead of the rest of the field. The Wildcats visit Hawaii on August 24th, the same day that Florida meet at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
The preseason PAC-12 media poll agrees with the computer's selections of Oregon and Utah as division champions, but voted Washington as a very close second in the North and USC as a distant runner-up in the South.
*-Tie-breakers: USC beats Arizona and UCLA; Arizona beats UCLA
*-Championship: Oregon beats Utah
First-place votes in parenthesis
1. Oregon (17) - 190 points
2. Washington (17) - 189 points
3. Stanford - 129 points
4. Washington State (1) - 108 points
5. California - 81 points
6. Oregon State - 238 points
1. Utah (33) - 206 points
2. USC (2) - 167 points
3. Arizona State - 118 points
3. UCLA - 118 points
5. Arizona - 85 points
6. Colorado - 46 points
Predicted Champion: Utah