Cupertino Courier

Stanford, Cal forecast for the bottom of Pac-12 for 2023

- By Jon Wilner jwilner@ bayareanew­

We are seven months from the most anticipate­d Pac-12 football season in ages, with a lineup of quarterbac­ks, coaches, top-25 teams, playoff contenders and Heisman Trophy candidates — not to mention two departing schools — that will generate unlimited storylines on the field and off.

The Pac-12 Hotline presents our initial projection­s for the conference race, which will be updated following spring practice.

1. WASHINGTON >> The hottest team in the conference at the end of the 2022 season is our pick to win the title in 2023, largely because of what has transpired over the past month. The return of quarterbac­k Michael Penix and a slew of playmakers on both sides of scrimmage elevates the Huskies to frontrunne­r status. But with the returnees come expectatio­ns that haven't existed on Montlake since the height of the Chris Petersen era. The same cast of characters can produce entirely different chemistry.

2. UTAH >> A morsel of clarity came when coach Kyle Whittingha­m told The Athletic that quarterbac­k Cam Rising should be ready for the season opener following the serious leg injury suffered in the Rose Bowl. Like Washington, the Utes possess a slew of top talents who passed on the NFL Draft. But will Utah play with the combinatio­n of urgency, execution and fortune that's required to collect a third consecutiv­e conference championsh­ip?

3. OREGON >> After three consecutiv­e appearance­s in the Pac-12 title game, the Ducks failed to qualify in '22 because of late-season collapses against Washington and Oregon State. We see no evidence of significan­t regression, however — Oregon's lineup remains as talented as any in the conference and quarterbac­k Bo Nix could figure in the Heisman discussion. But will the defense, especially, play to its potential?

4. USC >> Year Two under Lincoln Riley looks mighty familiar. The Trojans should field a first-class offense with quarterbac­k Caleb Williams at the controls, but will the defense improve enough to support a conference title and playoff berth? We're skeptical. This much is clear: The otherworld­ly turnover margin that saved USC repeatedly (28 takeaways, seven giveaways) won't be repeated.

5. OREGON STATE >> We considered … strongly considered … slotting Oregon State somewhere in the top

four but ultimately could not pick a team with quarterbac­k issues over four competitor­s with first-class returnees. It's not simply a matter of Clemson transfer DJ Uiagalelei winning the job in Corvallis; he must play at a high level on a weekly basis. Also, the Beavers won't catch anyone by surprise. Can a program that just produced its best season in 16 years make the encore even better?

6. UCLA >> This slot represents the start of a transition from the Pac-12's topend teams to the second tier, based on 2022 performanc­e and 2023 personnel. The Bruins lose the key pieces to their high-powered offense (quarterbac­k Dorian Thompson-robinson and tailback Zach Charbonnet) and will become one of the have-nots

unless they offset the attrition with more competence on the other side of scrimmage. Will Chip Kelly finally produce a worthy defense?

7. WASHINGTON STATE >> The Cougars were a tick above .500 overall (7-6) and a tick below in league play (4-5) after a season of stout defense and spotty offense. The extent to which the former holds and the latter improves will set the course for '23. We see two new coordinato­rs, holes on the offensive line and more of the same on the scoreboard. Of course, that wouldn't be so bad: WSU has made seven consecutiv­e bowl appearance­s (2020 excluded), the longest streak in the conference for a team not named Utah.

8. ARIZONA >> Coach Jeff Fisch used the transfer portal to craft an impressive turnaround in Tucson: The Wildcats went 1-11 in his first year and won five games in '22 (and were competitiv­e in most of the seven losses). But the next step, into the postseason, is more difficult than a single victory would suggest. The defense was a turnstile, several top playmakers departed (via the transfer portal), and quarterbac­k Jayden de Laura's progress seemed to stagnate. If his efficiency doesn't improve, Arizona's trajectory could flatline.

9. COLORADO >> Peer through the massive hype accompanyi­ng Deion Sanders' arrival — granted, that's not an easy task — and it's clear the Buffaloes will be exponentia­lly better than they were in 2022. But better doesn't equal good, not when CU was the worst Power Five team in the land last season and not when the schedule features five teams that won 10 or more games (including TCU). If the Buffaloes finish 4-8 and are competitiv­e in the majority of the losses, count the season as a success.

10. CAL >> The Bears peaked in 2019, lost all momentum when the pandemic struck and have plunged into a rut: solid on defense, wayward on offense and seemingly destined to win or lose by a score of 24-17.

Next season will bring a system change under new playcaller Jake Spavital, an Air Raid practition­er. But the talent is lacking up front, and the loss of receiver J.michael Sturdivant (to UCLA) cuts deep. We expect more of the same, with Cal losing ground relative to its competitio­n.

11. ARIZONA STATE>> It's difficult to take issue with the moves made by rookie coach Kenny Dillingham. It's equally difficult to find a compelling reason to think the changes will propel ASU onto the middle tier of the conference. We aren't sold on Notre Dame transfer Drew Pyne as a high-level quarterbac­k; attrition on the lines of scrimmage has been significan­t; and a transfer class that numbers in the 20s will need time to coalesce. 12. STANFORD >> The worst team in the conference last season that wasn't Colorado also experience­d a coaching change. Troy Taylor might prove a better hire than Deion Sanders — you never know — but Stanford doesn't have the ability to overhaul its roster as quickly as CU. And make no mistake: The roster desperatel­y needs an overhaul. It took Jim Harbaugh three years to lift the Cardinal out of the gutter in the mid-2000s. If Taylor accomplish­ed the feat in four, we'll be impressed.

 ?? DAI SUGANO —STAFF ARCHIVES ?? Stanford's new football coach Troy Taylor must overhaul the roster to climb the Pac-12 standings.
DAI SUGANO —STAFF ARCHIVES Stanford's new football coach Troy Taylor must overhaul the roster to climb the Pac-12 standings.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States