College football programs are now well into their second week of training camp and the season is drawing closer by the day. Most publications have put out their preseason rankings and professional pundits have taken their stabs at which schools will be the cream of the crop this year. As with every year, it is impossible to know how teams will fare this upcoming year based on a just a few practices, but looking at some of the predictions out there it seems some Pac-12 teams are getting a bit too much love, while other are not getting enough. Here's a quick look at the Pac-12's most overrated and underrated teams.
The 2016 preseason AP poll has five Pac-12 teams ranked in the top 25. Those are as follows:
The Pac-12 also had three teams receiving votes. Those being Utah (73), Washington State (47) and Arizona (2).
Looking at these preseason rankings, two teams stand out to me as being rated a little bit high. Those are USC and Washington. Wait, USC overrated at 17? Absolutely. USC has the name cache, yet they are coming off just an 8-6 season and replacing a three year starter at quarterback. The defensive line, a traditional strength of USC teams, is also dangerously thin and inexperienced, so much so that Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, a backup defensive tackle for the Utes last season, transferred to USC for his final season of eligibility in part for more playing time. USC always has talent, but with a new quarterback, an inexperienced defensive front and a coaching change, no. 17 seems a little high for a preseason ranking for this Trojans team.
The other team is Washington at no. 18. Washington is definitely poised for a breakout season, that I don't disagree with. They return sophomore standouts Jake Browning at quarterback and Myles Gaskin at running back, both who have put on some weight and now have a year of NCAA experience under their belt. The defense is very stout led by Azeem Victor at linebacker and one of the best secondaries in the conference with safety Budda Baker and cornerback Sidney Jones.
Still I have some reservations about this team. The Huskies finished last season barely above .500, needing a bowl win against Southern Miss in the Heart of Dallas Bowl to get to seven wins. They also finished with a losing record in Pac-12 play. Their four conference wins came against a USC team in disarray at the time, Arizona at home, a punchless Oregon State team and Washington State without Luke Falk. There is no doubt there is a lot of talent on this team, but a few more big wins would go a long way in convincing people they deserve a top 25 ranking. I think Washington will definitely be improved from last season but maybe not to the extent of the hype they are receiving this preseason. A preseason ranking closer to no. 25 seems more fitting.
Now we come to underrated teams. Call me a homer, but Utah stands out as underrated after finishing last season 10-3 and returning a top 5 defensive line in the country. There are a lot of new faces to replace (notable ones too), but the offense can only get better after struggling to move the ball through the latter part of last season, and the players stepping into the vacated positions (Joe Williams, Troy Williams, Kavika Luafatasaga) are some of the best athletes Utah has ever recruited. Add in an experienced returning offensive line and I like the way Utah is shaping up heading into the season. Football is won and lost in the trenches and there aren't too many programs out there with better fronts than the Utes. A preseason ranking in the no. 20-25 range seem warranted.