Prepare yourself for boldness!
Are you ready? Some of these might be a little out there. But hey, there’s a reason they are called “bold” predictions and not “super obvious” second-half predictions.
Here are five for Part II of the 2016 season.
The Pac-12 will be in the College Football Playoff.
Maybe this one isn’t too bold. But considering the narrative before the season started, this is a step in the right direction for the league. Washington is the Pac-12’s best chance, and if the Huskies play the second half the way they played the first, there should be little drama about a Pac-12 joining the postseason festivities. Washington has torn through its first six weeks. At question is whether they are seasoned enough to handle the moment. They certainly looked the part against Stanford and Oregon. We’re not ready to rule out one-loss Utah, especially if it can upend Washington later this month. We’ll deal with that if it happens. For now, Washington is the team to watch.
The South will see its fifth champion in five years.
We’ve got a two-in-five shot at this one, so we’re rolling the dice. Remember, it was UCLA in 2012, Arizona State in 2013, Arizona in 2014 and USC last season. Right now Utah and Colorado are tied for the South Division lead with 3-1 conference records. FPI favors Colorado in the rest of their regular-season games and gives the Buffs a 60 percent chance to win the division. Utah has a tougher road, with trips to UCLA, Arizona State and Colorado, and they still have Washington at home later this month. Much can still happen, and three other teams are still in play. USC and Arizona State are right behind. USC has a tiebreaker over Colorado. Utah has a tiebreaker over USC. Those could and likely will play a role down the line, as they did last season. Just as we’ve seen the last couple of years, the South could come down to the final weekend and a rivalry game. Which means it might be time to start calling Utah-Colorado a rivalry.
The Pac-12 will be represented in New York.
But it’s not going to be Christian McCaffrey or Royce Freeman. Part of the Heisman qualification – like it or not – involves team success. And neither the Ducks nor Cardinal have the bona fides right now to get their guy to the Big Apple. But Washington does. And quarterback Jake Browning has joined the midseason conversation. He’s No. 4 in ESPN’s Heisman poll and has tossed 23 touchdowns to just two interceptions. That plus-21 differential leads all FBS players. According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, his odds of winning the Heisman jumped from 200-1 at the start of the month to 10-1 after the Oregon win. He’s now at 8-1. If he can replicate his production in the second half, he’ll at least warrant an invitation.
The loser of the Pac-12 championship game will go on to win its bowl game.
Why is this bold? Because it’s never happened before. Recall the Interim Coach Bowl (officially the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl) in 2011 when UCLA lost to Illinois. Or the Holiday Bowl disasters of 2012 (UCLA losing to Baylor), 2013 (Arizona State losing to Texas Tech) and 2015 (USC losing to Wisconsin). Then there was the Fiesta Bowl in 2014 (Arizona losing to Boise State). But let’s assume that bold predictions Nos. 1 and 2 pan out. That means Washington wins the conference and either Colorado or Utah is the runner-up. Kyle Whittingham is as good a bowl-game coach as you’ll find in the country: The Utes are 9-1 in bowl games under his watch. And if it’s Colorado, I’m banking on the fact that those players will be so excited to be in a bowl game they will rise to the occasion.
Washington will finish as the league leader in scoring offense and defense.
In the expansion era (since 2011), no team has led the conference in both of these rather essential statistical categories. In fact, since the league moved to 12 teams, Oregon has led the conference in scoring offense every season. But right now, it’s not even close. The Huskies average 49.5 points per game and Cal is second at 42.3 – more than a full touchdown behind. Defensively, the Huskies yield 14.2 points per game. This feels like the shakier of the two categories down the stretch because three of Washington’s final six opponents rank in the top half of the league in scoring offense (Cal at No. 2, Washington State at No. 3 and Arizona State at No. 6). Interestingly, all three of those teams are in the bottom half of the league in scoring defense. Yet the Huskies look like one of the most complete teams we’ve seen in this conference in years.