Stanford starts No. 1 in Pac-12 Preseason Power Rankings

Christian McCaffrey was AP player of the year in 2015 after a sophomore season for the record books. Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the first round of Power Rankings for the 2016 season. Expect a lot of movement in the coming weeks as quarterbacks are named, depth charts are established and ... frankly ... once some actual football is played. The only rankings that truly matter are the postseason rankings. But we don’t want to make you wait that long.

1. Stanford (12-2 last season)

The Cardinal have won the Pac-12 championship three out of the past four years, including last season. And it’s not as if the jury is still out on that Christian McCaffrey guy. He’s a star. Sure, the Cardinal have questions. And quarterback is just one of them. But they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt to be on top. At least for now.

2. Oregon (9-4)

Much like the Cardinal, the Ducks warrant some benefit of the doubt, seeing as beside Stanford, they are the only other team to actually win a Pac-12 championship under the current setup. Running back Royce Freeman is outstanding, the offensive line is quietly good and the receiving corps is a definitely going to be a plus. Much of Oregon's success will hinge on the defense.

3. Washington (7-6)

Defense is something Washington doesn’t have to worry about. The Huskies were tops in the conference last season, yielding just 18.8 points per game. They are earning plenty of preseason hype. Much of that is projecting the Jake Browning-led offense is going to make big strides in Year 2 with him at the helm. Given a pretty manageable nonconference schedule, we might not really know what this team is all about until the end of September.

4. Washington State (9-4)

Cougs, you’ve earned the right to be listed in the preseason among the league’s elite. The offense is explosive with one of the best QB-WR tandems in the country. The defense has quietly made big strides from last season. A healthy Washington State team is a legitimate threat to anyone in the conference.

5. UCLA (8-5)

The L.A. schools are basically 5A and 5B. The Bruins get the nod only because they have fewer questions. More specifically, they have a quarterback who is already proven. The defense is solid, and the only real question mark is which skill players are going to emerge as playmakers for Josh Rosen. This is a fairly complete group worthy of its preseason prognostication as South champs.

6. USC (8-6)

There is a lot to like about the Trojans. The offensive line is one of the best in the country. So are the skill players. Two levels of the defense are really solid. But the defensive line is a huge concern and an unproven quarterback always raises preseason eyebrows. Oh yeah, have you seen their schedule?

7. Utah (10-3)

Maybe the Utes can win the South this season. Why not? There have been four different division champs in four seasons. Why not make it five? They have the defense to do it; there’s no question about that. But do they have the offense? That’s going to be the season-long question.

8. Arizona (7-6)

We’ll finally see the mystery defense unveiled when the Wildcats take on BYU in the season opener. How that defense looks -- and the health of its offensive backfield -- will likely be the story of Arizona’s 2016. If they can play somewhat efficient defense and get the most out of quarterback Anu Solomon (who has an underrated corps to throw to) and running back Nick Wilson, there’s no reason why Arizona can’t quickly climb these rankings.

9. California (8-5)

There are still plenty of question marks for this team. But the addition of quarterback Davis Webb helps provide some stability to an offense that looked suspect with the departure of Jared Goff. There are lots of holes defensively. Attrition has thinned the linebacking corps and secondary significantly. And the Bears need to be able to generate a pass rush to stay competitive. There's potential, but approach this team with caution.

10. Arizona State (6-7)

No clue what to make of the Sun Devils ... yet. New quarterback, new offensive coordinator and a rebuilt offensive line are usually red flags. The defense -- on paper -- looks solid, particularly up front. But they gave up so many big plays last season (most among all Power 5 teams) that before any true assessment can be made, we have to see if the holes have been patched.

11. Colorado (4-9)

The good news is quarterback Sefo Liufau looks to be back at, or near, 100 percent. Since the Buffs missed out on the Davis Webb lottery, the pressure is on Liufau to lead a Colorado offense that was inconsistent last season. Say this for the Buffs: The defense showed tremendous improvement. They are no longer an easy out.

12. Oregon State (2-10)

New coordinators and a new quarterback means the Beavers will likely be in rebuilding mode again. Expect a lot of the same growing pains they had in Year 1 of the Gary Andersen era. There will be flashes, mind you. These are, after all, Power 5-quality football players. But with the North only getting better, gains in the win column might not come until next season.