Finally! Football is just around the corner, but before we can begin we have to engage in the time honored tradition of wildly guessing what will happen over the next four months or so. So without further ado, the inaugural power rankings and bowl projections for the 2016 season:
1. Stanford- Preseason hype for challengers in the North and a new quarterback for the Cardinal didn’t convince our panel, who put Stanford at the top of the heap. Until someone knocks them off their pedestal, there’s no reason to have it any other way.
2. UCLA- The Bruins are the strongest team in the South on paper, and so they slot into this lofty spot. Josh Rosen and virtually everyone else is back and ready to make some national noise.
3. USC- The Trojans have a ton to replace and a lot to prove, but their talent is so good that they never drop too far out of the top spot. A new quarterback might give them a ceiling, but BlockU voters felt confident.
4. Utah- Advanced metrics don’t like the Utes, but that didn’t give our voters pause. We all feel that the offense will improve with new talent and new leadership, and that the defense won’t lose a step.
5. UW- The Huskies hype train doesn’t stop at BlockU. Despite national projections that put them in the Rose bowl, our voters are waiting to see Washington prove it on the field.
6. Oregon- It was only a few short years ago that the Ducks were expected to be at the top of the conference and in the national title conversation. Their new reality is in the middle of the pack, and unless they can find a defensive identity and a good quarterback, that’s where they are going to stay.
7. WSU- The Cougars are poised for a breakout season, with a lot of talent returning on offense and a defense that seemed to take steps forward in 2015. BlockU voters aren’t rubber stamping this team, though.
T-8. Arizona- The Arizona schools started near the top of power rankings last season, but they both disappointed. The Wildcats have enough going on to give the PAC 12 some trouble, but not enough to earn the respect of BlockU voters.
T-8. California- Cal had it all last year, and couldn’t put it together. Sonny Dykes has lost the benefit of the doubt with our voters; it remains to be seen if he will face similar challenges with Cal administration.
10. ASU- Unlike Arizona, the Sun Devils don’t bring back their most talented and experienced players. The cupboards are bare and this looks like a rebuilding year for Arizona State.
11. Colorado- The Buffs simply have never shown that they can compete in the PAC 12. It’s only the doldrums of Oregon State that keep them out of the cellar.
12. Oregon State- There really isn’t anything to say, given how bad these guys were last year.
Each week, we’ll share with you several bowl projections from major news services, as well as a returning feature. We use ESPN’s FPI win probabilities to calculate the odds of final records for each team. These numbers let us formulate our own bowl projections. Percentage odds of achieving a particular record are used as tie-breakers for who gets what bowl. The records odds will shift as games are won or lost, and as the FPI formula refines its projections for the rest of the season.
I’ve also asked our contributors to give their picks for where Utah winds up, and I’ll share the consensus with you each week.
FPI projects a record of 7-5 or 6-6 as the most likely result for the Utes, another fifth place finish in the South. UCLA and USC will duke it out for the right to take on Washington, which is a team FPI loves. Don’t put too much stock in these numbers right now; they are fun to think about but still highly volatile, just like the news service projections.
The news services all project the Utes to play in a lower tier PAC 12 bowl game, FPI thinks they will be fortunate to go 6-6. FPI gives the Utes a 68.5% chance of winning 6 or more games. BlockU’s voters were all over the place, from the Sun bowl to an at-large bid. Thursday isn’t going to teach Ute fans very much; SUU is a better team than they are given credit for, but there’s still a huge gap in talent. It’s going to take a few weeks before this all settles down.