I’m at the airport waiting for my flight to Los Angeles, ready for the annual trip to Pac-12 Media Day (and boy, is it still taking some getting used to writing that).
And that can mean only one other thing — time to reveal my ballot for the official media poll.
Obviously it’s a different deal this year with expansion meaning two six-team divisions and a conference title game of the two winners played at the site of the team with the best record.
And that also means a little more uncertainty (especially compared to the days from about 2003-2009 when we all just penciled in USC at the top and worked down).
Before going further, here are my picks:
5. Oregon State
1. Arizona State
Pac-12 Champion: Oregon.
The Ducks, obviously, have a little bit of controversy swirling around the program, and who knows if that will have any impact. The fact that we don’t know means that for now, I’m just looking at what we do know, which is that the Ducks are the defending champs and have a lot of key pieces back, including QB Darron Thomas and RB LaMichael James. Oregon does have to go to Stanford this year, and that made me think seriously about tipping the North in favor of the Cardinal. But the Cardinal has its own uncertainty — most notably, a new coach — so for now, I’m keeping the Ducks at the top.
I’ve got the Huskies third, giving a slight edge to UW over the Bears, in part due to a more favorable conference schedule (mainly, five home games — or at least games in their hometown — compared to four) including hosting the Bears.
I’m not sure there’s a huge bit of difference between UW, Cal and Oregon State, but the Beavers seem to have a few more questions (though more certainity at QB). WSU should be improved, but I’m not sure it has improved enough to make real headway in what looms as a tough division.
The South is more wide open, especially with the tough off-season Arizona State has had, losing all-conference CB Omar Bolden to a knee injury in the spring and DE James Brooks a few weeks ago when he decided to quit the team. But ASU gets USC at home to open conference play and has five home conference games, which could be enough to tip the scales to the Devils ahead of the Trojans, who will have to deal with a second straight year of being ineligible for a bowl game. USC also has more depth issues than in the past and it’s just a hard team to get a read on right now.
Some think Utah could be a real player in the division race and it has the schedule edge with not having to play either Oregon or Stanford this year (just the luck of the draw as all South teams miss two from the North, and vice versa, and those are the two this year for the Utes). But QB Jordan Wynn is recovering from shoulder surgery and it’s still hard to tell how Utah will deal with the week-in, week-out rigors of the Pac-12.
Arizona lost its entire offensive line, so while it could have the best passing attack in the conference in terms of its skill players, Nick Foles could be looking up at the sky a lot, as well.
Colorado may be better than people think — not having both a coaching and QB controversy should help —- but for now, hard to see a real big move.
And while any UCLA team should have enough talent to do some damage, the Bruins just seem to have too much uncertainty — at QB and with the future of Rick Neuheisel.
So there you have it, my official ballot. Like you, I can’t wait for the real games to start so we can stop talking and start watching.