Oregon Vs. Utah, USC, Or UCLA In Pac-12 Championship Game?

EUGENE, OR - DECEMBER 02 : Running back Kenjon Barner #24 of the Oregon Ducks heads down the sidelines as he runs with the ball in the first quarter of the Pac-12 Championship game against the UCLA Bruins at Autzen Stadium on December 2, 2011 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Matthew Smith does a really good job over at Scout of doing comprehensive previewing and projecting, and one of his latest projects caught my eye. Using his models, the Utah Utes end up winning the Pac-12 South, although the USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins are right there with them in the chase.

Here is the methodology he uses to make his picks.

1) This model is primarily based on the main compu-picks model. Essentially, it attempts to predict how well a team will rate given its rating history, as well as a number of other data points, such as returning starters, draft talent lost, turnovers, recruiting, etc.

2) There is a substantial amount of noise in these projections, which is to be expected given the large number of unknowns (who will have good and bad luck with injuries, which young players will improve and which won't, how specific matchups will come into play, etc.). I also don't yet have all the relevant inputs, such as prior year injuries (as of when the simulations were run Phil Steele had posted the most/least injuries list but not the entire list for all 1-A teams), a few other inputs, and basically all injuries, dismissals and suspensions that have taken place during the offseason.

You can probably see some flaws with this approach. The losses of some players are bigger than the losses of others, the replacement value might be higher for some and lower for others, and there's just a lot of variables factoring into a new college football team that can't be projected entirely with stats. Still, it gives us a working model of things to look at going into the upcoming season.

Pac-12 North

Oregon: 10.78 wins
Stanford: 9.15 wins
Washington: 7.03 wins
Oregon State: 6.23 wins
Cal: 4.56 wins
Washington State: 4.39 wins

The North again looks significantly stronger, as the conference appears to have six teams that are all perfectly capable of making bowls (there are almost three teams in the South lower than the bottom North team, and two teams in the North ahead of all the South teams). Again the projections seem to favor an Oregon-Stanford match being the decisive game in who wins the North, while everyone else fights for third.

Oregon State moving back to six-plus wins after the seasons they've struggled with has to be a positive sign, because the Beavers haven't had much great recruiting success. The big issue appears to be their latest health troubles, and possibly a regression to the mean, which would probably mean better performance on the field with all the old faces returning to action. OSU has proven they can beat anyone not named Oregon, so they're plenty dangerous.

Cal this low just cannot be a good sign, but they did lose a lot of draft talent, had tremendous injury luck, and are cresting through their final weak recruiting classes. The Bears have not done well the past three seasons against their main division foes (A combined one win against Washington, Oregon, USC, Stanford the past three years), and occasional success against everyone else.

Pac-12 South

Utah: 8.92 wins
USC: 8.73 wins
UCLA: 8.35 wins
Colorado: 4.41 wins
Arizona: 3.61 wins
Arizona State: 2.68 wins

Although the North might have better-quality matchups, the South might surprisingly be the more interesting race. Three teams all strait-jacketed into that eight-nine win window has to make things very intriguing.

Of course, the big surprise is USC not being at the top of this list, but the Trojans apparently are getting the "overrated" treatment by the media, so there they sit right behind unheralded Utah, a team that went toe-to-toe with them in the Coliseum a year ago. UCLA is also up here, although this is probably purely based on recruiting rankings, as their on-the-field record has been anything but stellar. Still, the Bruins are expected to be right up there with the Trojans this upcoming season.

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