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Way too early Pacific Takes Pac-12 Power Rankings: Stanford sits up top with Bryce Love coming back

A very early look at the power structure of the Pac-12 heading into Spring.

NCAA Football: Alamo Bowl-Stanford vs Texas Christian Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Stanford - The Cardinal got a massive boost by getting Bryce Love back for his senior year. Love’s return, combined with four returning offensive line starters and the improvement of K.J. Costello, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and their young tight ends, overcomes their defensive questions and makes them my preseason Pac-12 favorite for now. The defense’s biggest task will be replacing defensive tackle Harrison Phillips who many times kept the unit from utter collapse all by himself. Watch for senior linebacker Bobby Okereke to emerge as the unit’s best player.
  2. Washington - I might be sleeping on the Huskies - they have a senior/four-year starter QB, an all-time great senior running back, two-first-All-Pac-12 tackles and the most talented/experienced defense in the conference. Still, the Huskies have yet to prove they are truly a Top 10/perennial Pac-12 champion team. They will have to prove it, and get through Stanford in 2018 to take their next step towards becoming elite.
  3. USC - It’s all about replacing Sam Darnold for USC. They were lost before they had him with similar talent under Clay Helton and don’t have a massive shoe-in star waiting in the wings. The defending Pac-12 champions still have plenty of emerging talent at skill positions though and loads of talent and experience on defense. The offensive line improving would go a long ways.
  4. Oregon - Mario Cristobal inherits a talented junior quarterback and a well-stocked offense along with a defense that made massive strides in 2017. They have the tools to climb back towards the top of the conference in 2018, but they can’t look anything like they did in the Las Vegas Bowl.
  5. Utah - Utah just keeps doing their thing as a sneaky good Pac-12 team. They lose a lot on both lines and at linebacker, but the progressions of Tyler Huntley, Zack Moss and their receivers could go a long ways in 2018. If nothing else, this program is much more reliable than some of their other current mid-conference brethren.
  6. UCLA - Chip Kelly loses Josh Rosen, but inherits a talented roster which could easily make a run a the top of the conference. How quickly-installed Kelly’s system is, its effectiveness and if they have a playmaker at quarterback will determine how they fare in 2018.
  7. Arizona - Khalil Tate faded in 2017, but the Wildcats could easily make a run at the Top 25 if he gets back to mid-season form. Kevin Sumlin has an ultra-young defense that made strides in 2017, Tate and an offense built for speed. A lot to work with here, but also a lot of question marks.
  8. Arizona State - The funny thing is I probably would have ASU at five or six at the lowest if Todd Graham was still in Tempe (and I’m not a big Graham guy). But Graham’s exit led to a few key players declaring early which leave big holes and I have no faith in Herm Edwards, for now.
  9. Cal - The Bears almost made a bowl in Justin Wilcox’ first year. I think they do in his second and I wouldn’t be surprised if they climbed past one of the Arizona schools by the end of the season.
  10. Washington State - Are we going to doubt the Cougars again? Yes, we are, but not wholly. The Cougars lost massive pieces in Luke Falk, Cody O’Connell, Cole Madison, Hercules Mata’afa and more. Yes, Leach’s system is consistent, but the Cougars have also have benefited from catching a lot of top teams at just the right time the past two seasons and have stumbled down the stretch.
  11. Colorado - Colorado’s breakout 2016 season might end up being a short burst of a peak because they lose almost all of their best players from a team that didn’t make a bowl in 2017. There will be a lot of pressure on Mike MacIntyre to climb out of this hole.

12. Oregon State - Jonathan Smith has to do a complete rebuild at Oregon State. It will not be easy. They are the clear number 12 until proven otherwise.