Welcome to the first power rankings of 2016. Note: This is not a predicted order of finish, but a (very subjective) gauge of where teams are at heading into next season. This takes into account coaching changes/vacancies/promotions/firings/hirings, etc., but not necessarily recruiting since a lot still can happen between now and signing day. Also, here's Mark Schlabach's national way-too-early Top 25.
1. Stanford Cardinal: Three Pac-12 titles in four years isn’t a dynasty. But it’s a good start. The Cardinal have consistently proved that the road to a league title goes through Palo Alto, California.
2. Oregon Ducks: Oregon had the worst defense in the Pac-12 in 2015, allowing 37.5 points per game. And yet the Ducks were still able to post a 7-2 record in conference play, second only to Stanford. Decent quarterback play and even marginally improved defensive play make the Ducks a contender.
3. USC Trojans: There are still a lot of question marks with this team before we anoint the Trojans as repeat South Division champs. The defense needs fixing, a quarterback needs to be named and Clay Helton has much to prove as a head coach following a late-season power outage in 2015. But the hiring of Clancy Pendergast as defensive coordinator will make an immediate difference and the Trojans consistently have the top collection of athletes in the league.
4. Washington State Cougars: Luke Falk + Mike Leach + multiple returning starters means the Cougars are going to be right back in the hunt. That is, unless they were a one-year wonder. But the Pac-12 blog doesn’t think so. The defense made huge strides last season and it will be interesting to see if it continues to improve and if the Cougars can build off of last year’s success.
5. Washington Huskies: Their breakout season might come in 2016, but is more likely to happen in 2017. With a talented corps of sophomores -- headlined by quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin -- the Huskies should be more consistent offensively in 2016. Not sure they are ready yet to challenge for the North. But they’ll be close.
6. Utah Utes: A lot of folks think the Utes are going to take a big step back next season. And they might be right. But color me intrigued by the addition of transfer QB Troy Williams. Still, they lose a lot on offense. The good news is the offense wasn’t that great, so there’s that. The defense is always solid and the special teams are always outstanding. With average-to-good quarterback production, there’s no reason to think the Utes won’t be back in the hunt for the South Division.
7. UCLA Bruins: We know Josh Rosen can play. And he’ll be even better next season. The question is whether the Bruins can sustain some of the hits they take by way of the draft, whether they can plug holes on the lines and whether enough guys can step up around Rosen.
8. California Golden Bears: Replacing Jared Goff won’t be easy. But the Bears took a big enough step forward in 2015 on both sides of the ball to feel good about them being a bowl team again in 2016. An opportunistic defense helped propel them to early-season success in 2015. If they can sustain that, the Bears should again be in position for a postseason bid.
9. Arizona State Sun Devils: A new quarterback and a new offensive coordinator aren’t as big a concern as patching some of the holes in a leaky defense. The Sun Devils gave up too many explosive plays and weren’t as opportunistic as they’d been in previous seasons. That said, the right quarterback can also help cut down on some of the turnovers.
10. Arizona Wildcats: With a healthy Anu Solomon, Nick Wilson and an altered (not necessarily new) direction defensively, the Wildcats should be more consistent in 2016. There are gaps to fill on the offensive line. But defensive improvement has to be priority No. 1 for a team that gave up 35.8 points per game last year.
11. Colorado Buffaloes: Not a ton more to say about this team than what’s already been said the past couple of seasons. The pieces are in place. Start winning.
12. Oregon State Beavers: Given the situation Gary Andersen walked into -- a stripped-down program with a lot of inexperience -- we shouldn’t judge Year 1 too harshly. But he doesn’t have many mulligans left. Andersen will be given the time to rebuild -- but some forward progress next season, such as winning a conference game, would alleviate some concerns.