With recruiting behind us and most schools in the swing of spring drills (the last of the bunch kick off next week), the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to examine each team's chances of winning its respective division.
This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.
Buy or sell California winning the North?
Sell: We don't want to squelch California fans' optimism. This team has some intriguing talent on both sides of the ball. But there's a lot weighing against it challenging for the top spot in the North Division, starting with … the North Division. It's brutal.
The Bears seem like a long shot to break the top four, with Stanford and Oregon at the top and Washington and Oregon State looking like top-25 teams. In fact, the basement dweller might still be thinking bowl game into the final weeks of the season. Washington State looks like the main rival this year for the Bears.
Just consider: You've got a team coming off a 3-9 season with a new coaching staff, significantly new systems on both sides of the ball, a new starting quarterback and a brutal schedule.
There are eight teams with legitimate top-25 potential on the slate, and three are among everyone's national title contenders: Ohio State, Oregon and Stanford. The South Division misses -- Arizona State and Utah -- are a decided mixed bag.
An enthusiasm bump for coach Sonny Dykes can only do so much. There's a reason coach Jeff Tedford was fired after 11 seasons: The program had plateaued and started a downward trend. Hard to correct that in a single year.
It's reasonable to put a long-term buy rating for the Bears under Dykes, particularly with sparkling new facilities bolstering recruiting. But for the short-term investor, we suggest a buyer beware.
Sell: I'm selling, too. However, it's not because California is installing new systems on both sides of the ball. We saw last year what kind of a jump start new coaches running new systems can bring to a program. Three of the four new coaches in 2012 with their newly-installed systems -- Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham, Jim Mora -- had immediate success and went to bowl games. Heck, the Bruins won the South with complete offensive and defensive overhauls. So there is precedent.
Plus, we've seen that having a first-time starter at quarterback doesn't necessarily mean a one-year death sentence for a program anymore. From Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota to Kevin Hogan and Taylor Kelly, we saw what first-time starters are capable of.
I don't see either of these as Cal's major obstacles.
The reason I'm selling the Bears is because I don't think they can win the division with the current level of competition within the North. Ted used the word brutal. That's generous. Barbarous might be a more apt description. And I just don't see a scenario this year where they beat three of those top four teams Ted mentioned.
I will say this, however. The Bears are going to spoil someone's season. I don't know if it will be Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State or Washington, but I wouldn't rule out Cal knocking off one of those teams along the way. Because the talent is there on both sides of the ball to catch one of those teams off guard. And I wouldn't count them out of a bowl berth, either. But I don't see the Bears knocking off enough of those top-end teams to earn a spot in the conference title game.