How good are you feeling about your team right now? If you’re one of the 10 teams playing in the postseason, you’re probably feeling better than the two that aren’t. But for kicks, while we wait patiently for bowl games to start, we thought we’d do some “optimism” power rankings. Note, this is not a prediction of where teams will finish next year. So relax. It’s simply an exercise for what teams will (or won’t) be looking forward to for the next couple of years.
1. Washington: The Huskies have a true freshmen at quarterback, running back and left tackle. That’s a solid foundation for an offense. Combine it with one of the best coaches in America and you have a team that should be contending for the North Division by 2017, if not sooner.
2. Stanford: Precedent is on the Cardinal’s side. Three out of four league titles says so. Replacing Kevin Hogan will be tough. But they return a potential Heisman winner and a considerably young secondary that grew up quickly. Remember … this was supposed to be Stanford’s rebuilding year.
3. USC: Perhaps now, the program will have a little stability (lawsuits notwithstanding). Always loaded with athletes, the Trojans have some of the best in country at what they do coming back. The young running backs look outstanding and there’s a lot of depth across the offensive line. Clay Helton’s decision on defensive coordinator, however, is huge.
4. UCLA: With one of the brightest young quarterbacks in the country, the Bruins should keep contending for the South. Injuries put a damper on what could have been a big year (and we can say that for several teams). But Josh Rosen proved he’s worthy of building an offense around. And that’s what the Bruins are going to do for the next two years.
5. Oregon: The big worry here, again, is quarterback. We saw what Vernon Adams Jr. was capable of when he was totally healthy. Too bad he won’t have another year. Look for the Ducks to lean heavily on Royce Freeman (wouldn’t you?), who may very well lead the nation in carries next year.
6. Washington State: Another year with Alex Grinch running the defense and a more experienced Luke Falk means good things for the Cougars. We don’t want to buy in completely just yet … we saw what happened in 2014 after a strong finish to 2013. Let’s just say we’re cautiously optimistic about WSU’s future.
7. Arizona: Year 3 of Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson working together should produce a high-powered offense. Consider 2015 an anomaly with five middle linebackers going down, coupled with 12-straight games without a bye week and plenty of night games with little time to rest. And with Rich Rodriguez declaring his love for Tucson, confidence moving forward shouldn’t be shattered.
8. California: (This is assuming Jared Goff is gone. If he’s back, the Bears would be higher). The evolution of Cal under Sonny Dykes is directly traced to Goff. From one win to a bowl game, the Bears have made great strides. It looks like Dykes is sticking around (at least a little while longer), but finding someone else to run that offense with the same efficiency will be a challenge.
9. Arizona State: For whatever reason (well, more turnovers than usual is a good place to start), the Sun Devils took a step back in 2015. And now they move forward without Mike Norvell to captain the offense. Todd Graham gave him virtually full control. Huge holes on the offensive line and at the skill positions gives us reason for concern about the ASU offense moving forward.
10. Colorado: It’s got to come together at some point … right? Lots of skill guys coming back. Lots of experience on both lines coming back. Sefo Liufau expects to be back from injury by the summer. After years of pessimism, is it OK to start wanting more from the Buffs?
11. Utah: All the Utes have to do is replace a quarterback, running back, wide receiver corps, and a trio of linebackers. Oh … and the (two-time?) Ray Guy winner. I love the progress Utah has made since joining the league. Curious to see how they approach rebuilding mode moving forward.
12. Oregon State: Let's start with winning a Pac-12 game. Then we’ll open up the floor for optimism moving forward.