Get ready for wild ride in the PAC-12 North, while the South is expected to easily go USC's way.
The 2017 preseason forecast, based on the Congrove Computer Rankings at collegefootballpoll.com, has Stanford, Washington and Washington State all finishing 11-1 overall and 8-1 in the conference. The Cardinal are predicted to lose at the Cougars on Nov. 4, then rebound at home the following week (Friday, November 10) with a defeat of the Huskies. The round-robin tie is completed when the Huskies edge the Cougars in the season-ending Apple Cup rivalry game.
The tie-breaking procedures would fall all the way down to which team ranks highest in the SportSource Analytics poll. Though we have no idea how that poll would flush out, the Congrove Computer Rankings say Stanford would come out ahead.
Thus, Stanford would face USC as a 3.72-point favorite in the PAC-12 Championship game in Santa Clara on December 1. The Cardinal have claimed 3 of the last 5 conference crowns with Oregon winning in 2014 and Washington last season.
The PAC-12 could be the one Power 5 conference program to be left out of the College Football Playoff. Especially if the computer proves to be correct in picking Ohio State to win the Big Ten undefeated, while Oklahoma wins the Big 12 with its only loss to the Buckeyes in Columbus early in the season (September 9).
No other team in the North - Cal, Oregon, Oregon State - is forecast to finish better than 4-8 overall with the Ducks taking fourth-place with a 3-6 league mark to squeak past the Beavers and Bears at 2-7.
In the South, USC begins the season over 6 power points stronger than Colorado, and more than 9 pp's higher than Utah. The Trojans host the Utes on October 14 as a 12.05-point pick, but only have a 3.42-point preseason advantage when they visit the Buffaloes on November 11th.
Washington walloped Colorado 41-10 in the 2016 PAC-12 championship game, giving the Huskies their first outright title since 1991, and first share of the title since 2000. Five of the six PAC-12 Conference Championship games ever played have been decided by 18 points or more and the North is 6-0.
The 2016 preseason forecast, based on the Congrove Computer Rankings at CollegeFootballPoll.com, had Stanford beating Utah for the crown. The consensus pick by the major preseason prognosticators was Stanford over UCLA.
The 2016 forecast also said only 7 teams would be bowl qualified. As it wound up, just 6 made it to the postseason. The computer correctly tabbed 5 of the 6 teams that did advance - Stanford, Washington State, Washington, Utah, and USC. The big negative surprise to everyone was Oregon's 4-8 season, closely followed by UCLA's similar 4-8 finish. At the other end of the spectrum, Colorado was an expected 5th-place team in the South division and wound up topping its half of the ledger as the Buffaloes (10-4) hit the double-digit win mark for the first time since 2001.
Cal is the only team in the league that will enter 2017 with a new head coach as Justin Wilcox replaces the fired Sonny Dykes. It's the first head coaching job for Wilcox who spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons at Wisconsin as defensive coordinator and previously worked at Cal as linebackers coach (2003-2005) under Jeff Tedford. Cal fired Dykes on January 8, forty-four days after the team finished its season at 5-7. Dykes was 19-30 overall in 4 seasons, but just 10-26 in the PAC-12. His teams never finished above .500 in conference play.
*-Tie-breakers: Stanford, Washington and Washington State go 1-1 vs. each other, thus Stanford claims title by higher ranking. Cal beats Oregon State.
*-Tie-breakers: Utah beats Colorado