I didn’t plan my vacation around the 2018 Pac-12 preseason media poll, but my first day back at work coincided with the deadline to submit my ballot.
Here’s a look at how I voted in the poll, which will be revealed at the Pac-12 media day event next Wednesday in Los Angeles, followed by Register-Guard columnist Austin Meek’s pecking order:
The Huskies are the clear-cut favorite to win the Pac-12 and commissioner Larry Scott’s best hope for inclusion in the College Football Playoff. That’s not ideal for CFP committee chairman Rob Mullens, but it’s the reality in July.
There’s a lot to like about the Ducks, including the return of quarterback Justin Herbert, defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and a favorable schedule. Mario Cristobal should win nine or 10 games in his first full season as Oregon’s head coach.
There is also plenty to (Bryce) Love about this team, but the Cardinal’s daunting schedule includes games at Autzen Stadium and Husky Stadium.
The Bears are still undermanned but will be competitive under Justin Wilcox and his veteran coaching staff. Cal has a chance to reach six wins and a bowl game.
5. Washington State
The program experiences massive turnover during the offseason, and Mike Leach was hoping to shut the lights off on his way out the door to Tennessee. If the rebuilding Cougars are in contention in the division, the Pirate on the Palouse should be Pac-12 coach of the year.
6. Oregon State
Jonathan Smith will need a long honeymoon period in Corvallis. The Beavers will be underdogs against every team on the schedule except for Southern Utah.
This feels like the year when Kyle Whittingham and the Utes finally break through and get to the Pac-12 title game.
Kevin Sumlin should be able to create some first-year magic with Khalil Tate.
The Trojans lose Sam Darnold and face September road games at Stanford, Texas and Arizona with a true freshman quarterback.
Mike MacIntyre needs to prove 2016 wasn’t a fluke and get the Buffaloes bowling again. There is enough talent in place for Colorado to win eight games.
The rest of the Pac-12 had better beat Chip Kelly while they can, including Cristobal on Nov. 3 at Autzen. It will take a year or two for Kelly to build the Bruins into a contender.
6. Arizona State
As a media person, I’m rooting for the loquacious Herm Edwards to succeed. But this still seems like a strange hire for the Sun Devils.
Washington over Utah
AUSTIN MEEK’S BALLOT
Jake Browning and the Huskies look like a clear favorite to win the North and the Pac-12’s strongest CFP contender.
Cardinal have a tough schedule (at Washington, at Oregon) and holes to fill on defense, but the return of Bryce Love makes them dangerous.
Ducks could be a sleeper pick to challenge Washington, but let’s learn more about Mario Cristobal first.
Bears are trending up, but not ready for a top-half finish in the North just yet.
5. Washington State
Is Mike Leach’s act wearing thin in Pullman?
6. Oregon State
If Jonathan Smith can get a Pac-12 win, he’ll have a leg up on last year’s team.
Trojans could be starting a true freshman quarterback, but there’s enough talent elsewhere to make them a narrow favorite in the South.
Utes get USC and Arizona at home, but also have to play top three teams from Pac-12 North.
Like Oregon in the North, Wildcats return a star QB to ease the new coach’s transition.
4. Arizona State
If Herm Edwards can coach at all, Manny Wilkins and ASU’s talented receiving corp should make Sun Devils competitive.
Buffaloes need a bounce-back year after squandering momentum from 2016 division title.
Nothing against Chip Kelly, but I’m betting the Bruins are a year away from being competitive.
Washington over USC