The Pac-12 is headed toward a crossroads. Can they stick with the pack in the conference, or are things bound to change?
Let’s make some predictions about the conference.
1. Washington will become the premier power in the North.
The Washington Huskies have stacked up their depth chart for years. They have the best coaching salaries outside of USC, Oregon and Stanford, so stability shouldn’t be an issue. They recruit in the top 25 regularly. They have a top-two coach in the conference in Chris Petersen. And based on the depth already stacked on the chart they have a defense that should be among the nation’s best for years.
If Washington can improve their offense to elite levels, they will be contending for national championships on a yearly basis.
2. USC is back! For a year. Then there are likely to be up-and-down seasons.
The USC Trojans are the favorites to win the Pac-12, again. But all is not assured in Los Angeles. The Trojans will have a lot of talent they need to replace regularly. Sanctions are finally gone, but there is a bit of a roster imbalance. And Clay Helton had a great finish to 2016, but he was often carried by the abilities of Sam Darnold. Take a wait-and-see approach with the Men of Troy.
3. Oregon is likely to slip back. Stanford will hold steady.
The Oregon Ducks are in rebuilding mode for the near future. They have a lot of the personnel to speed it up, but the coaching is uncertain and the defense has just been bad for a long time. Even recruiting can’t rebuild them immediately. They’ll need some time.
The Stanford Cardinal, on the other hand, are set up for the long haul. Their scheme of getting the best offensive linemen and fundamental pro-style players will ensure they have a floor of seven to eight wins and an occasional conference (or maybe even national) title run in them.
4. The Pac-12 South will remain a revolving door.
The last five Pac-12 conference champions: UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona, USC, Colorado. You get the feeling Utah will be joining them soon enough. All teams offer slightly different variations in terms of scheme and potential, so we’ll continue to see flux in terms of who wins this conference on a yearly basis. USC is no longer the transcendent power out west—there will be regular competition for top dog in the conference.
5. The Pac-12 will start engaging digital and be the first major conference to broadcast their games on an online streaming provider (Twitter, Amazon, Yahoo, etc.).
The Pac-12 has struggled with distribution for years, but with cord-cutting now as real as ever, expect conferences to rapidly consider the idea of streaming some of their games online, particularly with the Pac-12 Network struggling to reach widespread distribution.
I’d imagine we’ll see a sample stream thrown out in the next year or two for a Pac-12 game, followed by a weekly package sometime in the next five. With the NFL entering the streaming business, it makes sense that Pac-12 football should be quick to follow.