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Looking back at the Pac-12 Media Polls Part 2

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NCAA Football: Pac-12 Media Day Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday we took a look at the Pac-12 media polls and final standings for 2011-2014 in the first part of this two part article. Now we will look at 2015-2017, and we will breakdown what we have learned from this.

2015

With senior quarterback Cody Kessler back, USC was tabbed as the favorite to win the Pac-12 South and the conference. Oregon was the favorite to win the Pac-12 North. Despite returning multiple key pieces on each side of the ball, the media was low on Utah.

2015 Pac-12 Media Poll

North Points South Points
North Points South Points
1. Oregon (37) 262 1. USC (32) 254
2. Stanford (8) 231 2. Arizona State (7) 200
3. California 174 3. UCLA (6) 180
4. Washington 129 4. Arizona 155
5. Washington State 89 5. Utah 105
6. Oregon State 60 6. Colorado 46
PAC-12 TITLE GAME CHAMPION: USC (21 votes)
Others receiving votes:  Oregon (17), Arizona State (3), UCLA (2), Stanford (1)

2015 Pac-12 Final Standings

North South
North South
1. Stanford 1. USC
2. Oregon 2. Utah
3. Washington State 3. UCLA
4. Cal 4. Arizona State
5. Washington 5. Arizona
6. Oregon State 6. Colorado
Pac-12 Champion: Stanford

The media got the bottom of each division correct, and they correctly picked that USC would win the Pac-12 South, but only one person correctly predicted that Stanford would win the Pac-12. In the North, WSU overachieved, finishing third after being picked fifth. The made the biggest jump from preseason pick, finishing second after being picked fifth (they technically were Pac-12 South co-champions, finishing with the same conference record as USC but losing head-to-head against the Trojans). Utah was one of only three ranked teams from the Pac-12 and the only in the South. ASU was picked second and finished fourth.

2016

The media picked Stanford to win the conference for the first time in the history of the poll, which dates back 56 years. Stanford returned Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey. Many were expecting big things from UCLA and sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen, picking them to win the South. Utah received one vote to win the Pac-12 and was picked third in the South. Washington was picked second in the North and received four votes to win the Pac-12. No one expected anything from Colorado, who was picked last in the South...

2016 Pac-12 Media Poll

North Points South Points
North Points South Points
1. Stanford (24) 186 1. UCLA (19) 180
2. Washington (8) 163 2. USC (12) 173
3. Oregon (1) 132 3. Utah (2) 127
4. Washington State 112 4. Arizona 87
5. California 67 5. Arizona State 85
6. Oregon State 33 6. Colorado 63
PAC-12 TITLE GAME CHAMPION: Stanford (20 votes)
Others receiving votes: USC (5), Washington (4), UCLA (3), Utah (1) 

2016 Pac-12 Final Standings

North South
North South
1. Washington 1. Colorado
2. Washington State 2. USC
3. Stanford 3. Utah
4. Cal 4. Arizona State
5. Oregon State 5. UCLA
6. Oregon 6. Arizona
Pac-12 Champion: Washington

Washington ended up laying waste to the Pac-12 (outside of USC) en route to an appearance in the College Football Playoff. No one saw Colorado coming in the South, literally going from worst to first. USC beat Colorado, but a 1-3 start doomed USC to a second-place finish in the South, but after Sam Darnold took over at quarterback against Utah (the only game they would lose with him behind center), he led the Trojans to a Rose Bowl win over Penn State. Utah finished third just where they were predicted to finish. UCLA, the preseason favorite, stumbled into a 4-8 record and a fifth place finish. The media really missed on the Pac-12 South in 2016, and only four media members correctly picked Washington the winner. Stanford, the preseason favorite, ended up finishing third in the Pac-12 North. Oregon ended up finishing dead last in the North after being picked third. The Pac-12 ended up finishing far different from how most people expected.

2017

The Trojans brought a lot back heading into the 2017 season. They were a College Football Playoff pick and Darnold was one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman Trophy. The Pac-12 media picked them to win the conference. Fresh off a College Football Playoff appearance in the previous season, Washington was pegged as the heavy favorite in the North. The media gave Utah a surprising amount of respect, picking them second in the South, despite the fact that Utah sent 16 players to the NFL off the 2016 team and had to break in a new offensive line and secondary. One person picked the Utes to win the Pac-12.

2017 Pac-12 Media Poll

North Points South Points
North Points South Points
1. Washington (49) 309 1. USC (49) 309
2. Stanford (1) 247 2. Utah (1) 220
3. Washington State (1) 206 3. UCLA (1) 209
4. Oregon (1) 163 4. Colorado (1) 182
5. Oregon State 101 5. Arizona State 109
6. California 64 6. Arizona 61
PAC-12 TITLE GAME CHAMPION: USC (28 votes)
Others receiving votes: Washington (22), Oregon (1), Utah (1)

2017 Pac-12 Final Standings

North South
North South
1. Stanford 1. USC
2. Washington 2. Arizona State
3. Washington State 3. Arizona
4. Oregon 4. UCLA
5. Cal 5. Utah
6. Oregon State 6. Colorado
Pac-12 Champion: USC

The Pac-12 media just kept picking the Trojans, and they were finally right for once. With Darnold back, USC managed to win the conference, but they underachieved considering they were a Playoff pick from many. The Huskies ended up finishing second in the North behind Stanford but still played in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Looking back on 2017, second really was too high to pick the Utes. They were young and lost too much talent to the NFL. They ended up finishing fifth in the South after injuries hit the Utes hard in the middle of the season. A few close losses also stung. The media missed on the Arizona schools, picking them fifth (ASU) and sixth (Arizona) and they finished second and third respectively. Colorado fell to the bottom of the Pac-12 for the sixth time in seven years. Oregon State did not win a game against an FBS opponent. The media definitely struggled a bit calling the conference in 2017.

Overall thoughts

First off, it is worth noting that the media has not yet correctly picked the winner of the North and South in the same year. If that trend continues, we will not see Washington against USC in Santa Clara, Calif. in December. In 2012, 2013, and 2016, they missed on the winner of both divisions. In the North, the lowest preseason ranking to win the division was second, which happened several times. The South has been much more up and down, teams picked third (UCLA, 2012), fourth (Arizona, 2014), and sixth (Colorado, 2016) have all won the division. The media has only correctly picked the North champion twice (Oregon in 2011 and 2014) and the South champion three times (USC in 2011 [ineligible], 2015, and 2017). The only teams picked to win the North have been Oregon, Stanford, and Washington. Only UCLA and USC have been picked to win the South. USC 3/4 when picked to win the South, UCLA is 0/3.

Utah thoughts

Utah was picked second in this year’s media poll. They have been picked second twice before (2012 and 2017), they finished fifth both times. In fact, in the seven years that Utah has been in the conference, only once have they finished better than they were predicted to (2015 when they were picked fifth and finished second). Obviously, the past does not have bearing on the future. However, it is a bit troubling that Utah has only once been able to exceed expectations in conference standings (they have done that multiple times in the AP poll though, starting unranked and finishing ranked three times since joining the Pac-12). Unlike in 2012 and 2017 (the other times Utah was picked second), the Utes do not have massive question marks (in 2012, Utah was replacing both offensive tackles, their top linebackers, and top cornerback) and in 2017, Utah was replacing 16 players who went to the NFL. This year, Utah returns more talent and has more depth than they did in either of those seasons.