Thursday, December 4, 2014

Pac-12 Football: 2014 Final Standings + League Title Prediction

What a season! Great games, upsets, road teams winning, Hail Mary victories, a front-runner Heisman candidate, a player named Scooby and great performances from a lot of players.

In total I went 64-19 in predicting winners of Pac-12 games this season. That's a 70% rate of success. Pretty good.

Below is how I thought the standings would be at the end of the season and then how they actually turned out. And below that is how I think the Pac-12 Title Game will go.

Here is how I predicted the teams in this division would finish...
  1. Oregon
  2. Stanford 
  3. Oregon State 
  4. UW 
  5. WSU
  6. Cal 
Here is how they actually finished...
  1. Oregon (11-1, 8-1)
  2. Stanford (7-5, 5-4)
  3. UW (8-5, 4-5) 
  4. Cal (5-7, 3-6)
  5. WSU (3-9, 2-7)
  6. Oregon State (5-7, 2-7)
I got the first two and fifth place correct, but otherwise it was a jumble with UW and Cal performing a bit better than I thought and Oregon State a lot worse. Overall, despite some good games, this division ended up being Oregon and then everyone else. The Ducks swept every school...and, other than WSU, by a lot of points.

Game of the season: Oregon beats Stanford, stopping a two season skid against the Cardinal and latching onto the North Division lead for good. 

Next: All this puts Oregon into the Pac-12 title game Friday.

Here is how I predicted the teams in this division would finish...
  1. UCLA
  2. USC
  3. ASU
  4. UA
  5. Utah
  6. CU
Here is how they actually finished...
  1. UA (10-2, 7-2) 
  2. UCLA (9-3, 6-3) 
  3. ASU (9-3, 6-3)
  4. USC (8-4, 6-3)
  5. Utah (8-4, 5-4)
  6. CU (2-10, 0-9) 
I got spots 3, 5 and 6 correct. But, Arizona played much better than I thought they would with a new QB and replacing some key players on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, UCLA under-performed...I bought into the annual UCLA hype this year and should not have. And USC had an OK year, but not as good as their talent would suggest.

Game of the season: Way too many to pick just one. But, I'll try...ASU beats UCLA in the last game of the regular season. This eliminates the Bruins from winning the South Division and catapults UA into that position.

Next: These results put Arizona into the Pac-12 title game Friday.

Pac-12 TITLE GAME - Dec. 5, 2014 

Oregon Ducks vs. Arizona Wildcats in Santa Clara, CA at 6 p.m. Pacific 
By virtue of its better record, Oregon is the "home" team, but this is a neutral site match up.

This is obviously a compelling game. Here are several reasons why...

Oregon: If they win, not only will they re-capture the league title for the first time in three seasons, but they will be a lock to get into the four-team national championship playoff. And that would likely be in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. Oh, and barring a bad game, QB Mariota is probably your 2014 Heisman Trophy winner. And if all that wasn't enough for the Ducks to be motivated, Arizona is the team that gave them their one loss earlier in the revenge will be a factor. If Oregon loses, for the third season in a row they will be relegated to the odd situation of being second banana in a league they dominated. Sure, they'll still probably get a decent bowl, but no playoff and no Heisman.

Arizona: These are heady days for Arizona's football program. Sure, by all rights they should have lost to UW and were only saved by a super bone headed coaching decision by Washington to not "take a knee" at the end of that game. But, they now have a chance to win their first Pac title ever. That is their motivation. That and of course trying to show their earlier victory over UO was not a fluke. If they beat the favored Ducks, they'll have an outside shot at the playoff (depending on what else happens nationally) but more likely a sweet New Years Day bowl. If they lose, they drop to a being a three-loss team and while they will go bowling and probably still be ranked, it'll be quite a bit less of a season for them.

Big Picture: How Oregon does in this game will have a direct impact on which schools are in the four team national title playoff. If the Ducks win, they're in...locking up one of the four spots. If they lose, then another school will get in.

What do I think will happen in this game?

I think Oregon will win this time against Arizona. It'll be a hard fought, tough game for a half...maybe even three quarters. Arizona will put points on the board, sure. But, this time around Oregon will pull away and win by a couple scores. Why do I think this? A few reasons:

1) Oregon has a healthy offensive line this time. Due to a wave of injuries, in October they were starting walk ons and Freshmen at most spots on the line against UA. It showed. The running game was extremely limited, Mariota was hurried and sacked a lot and the Ducks were unable to take advantage of the aggressive Arizona defense. Additionally, key defensive players left the game because of injury too. It was still a very close game, but the Ducks could not do enough to win. However, since getting many/most their starters back on the line...

2) Oregon's offense has ramped up considerably and they are hitting on all cylinders. Loads of talent and experience all over the field. This time, I expect the Ducks to make Arizona pay for their aggressive play on defense with more yards, more first downs and more points.

3) Oregon's defense has steadily improved. In the defeat to Arizona they looked lost and unprepared. Horrible to be honest. Since then they've gotten better and better each week - particularly at linebacker. Arizona feasted on the short pass over the middle or to the flat followed by long runs by the receiver. That was poor linebacker play...something that has greatly improved since. Also, the Ducks have gotten a much better pass rush since the loss. And I highly doubt there will be any stupid "unsportsmanlike conduct" penalties for celebration such as the one that created the Arizona drive that cost the Ducks the earlier game with Arizona.

My prediction is that these three factors will be clearly on display and will add up to an Oregon win:

Oregon 45-UA 28

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