Considering we pretty much nailed our fearless predictions for 2014, it seems like it's never too early to get bold with projections for 2015.
Here are five bold -- bold I say! -- predictions for the offseason:
A South team will win the Pac-12 for the first time: Since the Pac-12 split into divisions in 2011, Oregon and Stanford have split four Pac-12 championships, meaning no team from the South Division has won the conference. That will change in 2015, as the South looks like it will be the roughest division in college football, with five teams likely to start off ranked in the preseason, as they finished the 2014 season. Whoever emerges -- either Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, USC or Utah (yes, we are leaving our options open) -- will have survived a gauntlet that will give it a steel-hones-steel edge in the title game against Oregon.
Oregon will again finish ranked in the top 10: Oregon will romp to the North crown again in 2015, so don't believe the first prediction writes the Ducks out of national relevance. In fact, when the Ducks lose the Pac-12 title game, we still suspect they will be attractive enough to get invited to a major bowl game. The Ducks' case could be helped greatly by the Pac-12 champ earning another berth in the College Football Playoff.
Two true freshmen will start at quarterback: Considering we pretty much know who will start behind center for Arizona, Arizona State, California, Colorado, Stanford, USC and Utah (at least it won't be a freshman), we're obviously opining that two of Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington and Washington State will start a freshman, true or redshirt. Considering the impressive, late-season showing by redshirt freshman Luke Falk for the Cougars, this really comes down to the other four schools. It once was rare for players in their first year of eligibility to sit in the cockpit of an FBS offense, but not any longer. We suspect that will hold true in the Pac-12 in 2015.
California's Goff will be first-team All-Pac-12 QB: While he received little national fanfare while putting up huge passing numbers, Jared Goff was perhaps the conference's most improved player in 2014. He ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in Total QBR, but that also was good enough for 12th in the nation. Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley, the top two Pac-12 quarterbacks in 2014, are off to the NFL. Enter Goff, who if he sustains his current improvement trajectory should be due for a national breakout in 2015. After throwing 18 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions as a true freshman starter in 2013, Goff threw 35 TD passes vs. seven picks this fall. He has NFL ability and a strong supporting cast coming back, particularly at receiver. While USC's Cody Kessler will top many preseason Heisman Trophy lists, don't be surprised if Goff puts up huge numbers, leads the Bears to a bowl game for the first time since 2011 and nips Kessler for first-team All-Pac-12.
There will be two coaching changes at the end of the season: If not for Oregon State's Mike Riley making a surprising jump to Nebraska, the Pac-12 would have had no coaching changes after the season. That sort of stability is not typical, and we suspect that there will be changes after the 2015 season, either from coaches bolting on their own or getting pushed out the door. You could see a coach or two get a wandering eye for the NFL or an athletic director might decide to make a change, but we're predicting that only 10 of the 12 2015 head coaches will be the same in 2016.