First off, no, that's not a typo in the above sentence. There are now indeed 12 teams in the league with the addition of Utah and Colorado.
Next, because the league now has 12 teams, it also has two divisions - North and South - and a championship game at the end of the regular season, but before any bowl games.
So, part of predicting the ultimate winner of the league this year and going forward will be to predict the winners of the two divisions.
Based on what I've read and seen this summer, here's how I see it shaking out.
I think the top two here could easily flip, but for now...
- Oregon - I do not think UO goes undefeated this season. They'll lose a Pac-12 game I think and probably their game against LSU down in Texas to open the season. I suspect the league game they'll lose is probably to Stanford on the road. That one game on Nov. 12 could very well be the key for the entire division because both Oregon and Stanford have the ability to beat every other team in the division - I just think Oregon has slightly more talent back overall and a consistent coaching staff and will end up on top of this division by a game.
- Stanford - you might think Stanford is a shoe-in for the division and league title with their all-everything QB back, but they're not because they lose a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and the coach who got them to their current level is gone. So, I think Stanford drops a couple league games - I'll guess to USC on the road and to Arizona on the road. And of course Oregon could beat them in that Nov. 12 game.
- Cal - this team has talent and good coaching. They'll finish in third place I think.
- Washington - UW, you got a little better last year finishing 6-6 and then winning a bowl game, but you lose your starting QB and some talent on D (like your leading tackler). I think 6-6, 7-5 is what you're looking at again.
- Oregon State - not the Beavs year this time. I think they sink. Oh sure, they'll upset some teams (and as usual when they play Oregon they'll play great), but over the course of the season I see them slipping down to the lower tier of this division.
- WSU - this team will be better in 2011, but I think they're still looking at losing most their league games. Sorry Cougs. I wish I felt differently. I do.
- USC - I think USC is the class of this division. They are currently ineligible for post-season play, so could not play in the Pac-12 championship game. But in any case, I think they outclass all these teams. The downside for USC is they play both Stanford and Oregon on the road. I don't see them winning at Autzen, but they have a good shot at Stanford down in L.A. A run through the rest of this group undefeated would still get them to the top of their division, however.
- ASU - this is one of those teams that is picked highly every year and every year finds a way to disappoint. Entertaining at times and unwatchable at others, ASU confounds the experts. I'm not expert, but I've seen enough "failure to launch" with the Sun Devils that I don't think they're going to surpass USC on the field.
- Arizona - two seasons ago, these guys finished second in the league and expected great things in 2010. Not so much. Sure, they won more than they lost and made a bowl game, but they lost their last four games and then got killed in their bowl game. They are good enough to rise up any week and knock someone off and probably will to the degree that it'll land them in this position.
- UCLA - similar story with the Bruins as the Sun Devils - a lot of hype every year, no corresponding results. So, I'm slotting these guys in for lower middle of the pack until otherwise proven different.
- Utah - not going to be very good in their debut Pac-12 season. Sorry Utah, I just don't think so.
- Colorado - just not that good.
- Oregon vs. Arizona State. Yep, I think that's how it'll pan out. Because USC is not eligible, I think we'll see the Sun Devils slip into this game. A plausible alternative from each division would be Stanford and Arizona if things fall right for them. Anyway, if my prediction comes true I think Oregon will have the better record than ASU and therefor the game will be at Autzen. And therefore, I think we're looking at a third straight league title for UO.