Pac-12 Football: Ranking the North Division
6 Oregon State
2015 Record: 2-10 (0-9 Pac-12)
Points Per Game: 19.0
Opponents Points Per Game: 37.0
Good news: The Beavers only lose three starters from last year’s offense. Bad news: Offense was responsible for 19 points per game last season, ranked 115th nationally. The Beavers were 2-10 in Gary Andersen’s first season as head coach. Season 2 should show signs of progress, especially with better consistency at quarterback; transfer Darell Garretson adds intrigue to the quarterback competition entering the fall. The defense is a work in progress as well but with some key recruiting additions, they should be better.
Key Game: Boise State, September 24
Wins may be hard to find on next season’s schedule with Stanford, Washington, and UCLA all being road games. Their Week 4 matchup with the Broncos takes on significant meaning as they enter Pac-12 play after that. What better way to gain some confidence than beating a tough MWC opponent.
2015 Record: 8-5 (4-5 Pac-12)
Points Per Game: 37.9
Opponents Points Per Game: 30.7
The Golden Bears upped the win total and won a bowl game last season in Sonny Dykes’ third season as head coach. Building on that could be an early struggle with adjustments needed on both sides of the ball, but quarterback Davis Webb looks to keep the offense on track. The defense returns six starters and hopes to improve as well. They welcome a few defensive back recruits who could shine with early playing time.
Key Game: Texas, September 17
The Golden Bears welcome the Longhorns to town in Week 3 and it’s certainly a game they could win. The Golden Bears beat Texas for the first time in program history last season 45-44. They had lost the five previous meetings. Let’s see if Cal can’t keep the streak going with two in a row.
4 Washington State
2015 Record: 9-4 (6-3 Pac-12)
Points Per Game: 31.5
Opponents Points Per Game: 27.7
The Cougars return junior quarterback Luke Falk, who was second in the Pac-12 in passing touchdowns (38) and passing yards (4,561) in 2015. Falk’s favorite target receiver Gabe Marks also returns. If they can put together another 8 win season or better, Falk could be in talks as a darkhorse Heisman candidate. The defense has some key playmakers to replace but defensive end Hercules Mata’afa is expected to have a big season. Look for the Cougars to upset a Pac-12 foe or two, Mike Leach is building a program here.
Key Game: @Stanford, October 8
The Cougars lost 30-28 to the Cardinal on a field goal with 1:54 remaining last season. The loss certainly makes 2016’s matchup one of those games you circle on the calendar if you’re a Cougars’ player. Visiting the Cardinal on the road may be overwhelming at first but if the Cougars can contain Christian McCaffrey, the game could be another close one with a different result for the Cougars.
2015 Record: 9-4 (7-2 Pac-12)
Points Per Game: 43.0
Opponents Points Per Game: 37.5
With three losses by less than a touchdown in 2015, all is certainly not lost on the Ducks going into 2016. The Ducks look to Montana State graduate transfer Dakota Prukop as the successor to Vernon Adams at quarterback this season. The defense will need to improve in 2016. They gave up 40 points or more in six games last season. New defensive coordinator Brady Hoke installs a 4-3 looking to change all of that. 2016 could be one where the Ducks return to the top of the Pac-12 North, transitions pending.
Key Game: Stanford, November 12
The Ducks have beaten the Cardinal in their last two contests. In their Week 11 matchup, it’s the Ducks last home game before visiting Utah and Oregon State. If Oregon can win this tough game at home, the Pac-12 North could be theirs for the taking.
2015 Record: 7-6 (4-5 Pac-12)
Points Per Game: 30.6
Opponents Points Per Game: 18.8
The Huskies return a lot of offense including sophomore quarterback Jake Browning, who threw for 2,955 passing yards and 18 touchdowns as a true freshman. In Chris Petersen’s third season as head coach, the Huskies look to turn a corner in the Pac-12 North and hopefully claim their first title since 2000, when the conference was the Pac-10. The defense returns some experience in linebacker Azeem Victor, cornerback Sidney Jones, and safety Budda Baker. Look for the Huskies to make a run for the Pac-12 title in 2016.
Key Game: @Oregon, October 8
The Huskies could be 5-0 or 4-1 by the time they meet the Ducks in Week 6. The Huskies have lost the last 12 meetings with the Ducks. If they want a shot at being the best, they have to start winning their big matchups. Last year, they lost 26-20. The last five meetings before that were: 45-20, 45-24, 52-21, 34-17, and 53-16. Progress this season means beating the Ducks.
2015 Record: 12-2 (9-1 Pac-12)
Points Per Game: 37.8
Opponents Points Per Game: 22.6
The Cardinal have won three of the last four Pac-12 titles. They return Heisman favorite Christian McCaffrey who rushed for 2,019 yards and eight touchdowns, caught 45 passes for 645 yards and five touchdowns and also was a terror on special teams amassing 1,070 kickoff return yards (1st in the Pac-12). If Keller Chryst can make a seamless transition at quarterback, the Cardinal could be back on top. The defense has some holes to fill as well but they’re hoping Solomon Thomas can lead the way on the defensive line and improve the defense in the process.
Key Game: @Washington, September 30
Their early Friday matchup with the Huskies could have North Division implications written all over by the end of the season. The Cardinal need to be prepared as the experienced Huskies defense won’t go down without a fight. The Cardinal will be tested, let’s hope they’re prepared.