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Pac-12 Week: Predictions for each team in the conference

It’s Pac-12 preview week. Here is a look at Mike Farrell's predictions for each team's regular season record.

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PAC-12 WEEK: Top five MVP candidates | Five best position groups | Five freshmen to watch | Coach report | Players in need of bounceback seasons

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ACC WEEK: Top five MVP candidates | Five best position groups | Coach report | Players in need of bounceback seasons | Freshmen to watch | Sleepers | Predictions for each team | Impact transfers | NFL Draft prospects

SEC WEEK: Top five MVP candidates | Coach report | Five best position groups | Players needing bounceback seasons | Top true freshmen | Sleepers | Predictions for each team | Impact transfers | NFL Draft prospects

BIG TEN WEEK: Five MVP candidates in the Big Ten | Five best position groups | Coach report | Five players needing bounceback seasons | Freshmen to watch | Sleepers | Predictions for each team | Impact transfers | NFL Draft prospects

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NORTH DIVISION 

1. Oregon (10-2)

The Ducks have more high-end talent than anyone else in the conference, led by Kayvon Thibodeaux, who makes a strong case for the best player in the country, regardless of position. No matter who is playing QB, they've got plenty of playmakers at both the running back and wide receiver positions, including CJ Verdell and Devon Williams, and they bring back their entire offensive line as well.

In addition to Thibodeaux, they've got two former five-stars in Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe at linebacker and a veteran defensive backfield. They've got a really tough week two game at Ohio State, and trips to Washington, Utah and UCLA won't be a walk in the park, but there's too much talent here to think they're anything but the favorite in the conference.

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2. Washington (9-3)  

The Huskies again have a very good defense, led by their defensive backfield, specifically Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon at corner and Cameron Williams and Oklahoma transfer Bookie Radley-Hiles at safety. Their front seven is pretty darn good as well, returning Edefuan Ulofoshio at linebacker, Ryan Bowman on the edge and Tuli Letuligasenoa on the inside.

Offensively, they've got arguably the strongest line in the conference, anchored by Jaxson Kirkland, who could be the first lineman off the board in next spring's NFL Draft. Dylan Morris returns at quarterback, but he'll be pushed by five-star freshman Sam Huard. Outside of TE Cade Otton, however, they need upgrades at pass catchers and are hoping that transfers Giles Jackson and Ja'Lynn Polk are the answer.

The schedule shakes out well, with a lot of the tougher opponents at home, including Oregon, Cal and UCLA, and their toughest road trip is early in the season at Michigan in week two, which will be a great measuring stick game for both programs.

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3. Cal (7-5)  

Justin Wilcox has proven that he can take just about any 11 players and turn them into an upper-echelon defensive unit, and now with a proven QB, this Golden Bears team is starting to become dangerous. Chase Garbers is definitely one of the top QBs in the conference, and he's protected by an offensive line bringing back four out of five starters.

On the defensive side of the ball, they've got a great back seven, led by Cameron Goode and Kuony Deng at LB and Daniel Scott and Elijah Hicks at safety, but the Golden Bears need some bolstering on the defensive line. They are hoping that true freshman Akili Calhoun can step in immediately next to Brett Johnson and make an impact. One of the biggest hurdles that they face, though, is the schedule, with road games at TCU, Oregon, Washington, Stanford and UCLA.

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  4. Stanford (7-5)  

The Cardinal are the only team in the country that plays its entire 12-game schedule against Power Five teams, and they have the toughest crossover games in the conference, facing the presumed top four teams in the South. Replacing Davis Mills won't be easy, and they need a couple of replacements on the offensive line. They've got some playmakers at the skill positions in RB Austin Jones and WR Michael Wilson though, so whether it's Jack West or Tanner McKee as the week one starter, they'll have some safety blankets.

Thomas Booker is a great run defender on the interior of the defensive line, but outside of him there's not a ton of depth there. They also need to break in new players in the back seven, so this may not be a vintage Stanford defense. Considering the question marks on the depth chart and the tough schedule the Cardinal have a bit of an uphill battle ahead of them.

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5. Washington State (4-8)  

There's some talent here, especially at the skill positions. Max Borghi is arguably the top all-around back in the conference, and Travell Harris and Renard Bell are both very good players at the receiver position. Abraham Lucas anchors a very solid offensive line, but the big question is at the quarterback position. Jarrett Guarantano comes over from Tennessee, but he's been among the most inconsistent players in the country over the past few seasons.

Defensively, there's not a ton to love outside of LB Jihad Woods and CB Jaylen Watson on a defense that gave up 39 points per game last year. But the biggest issue may be the head coach. Nick Rolovich at this point is causing more problems than he's solving, and his tenure in Pullman may come to an end sooner rather than later.

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6. Oregon State (4-8)

Jonathan Smith took over one of the worst situations in the country when he became the head coach at his alma mater in 2018, and despite some success in the 2019 season the Beavers took a few steps back last year, and have to replace one of the top backs in the country in Jermar Jefferson. The offensive line is far and away the strength of the offense, but the skill positions don't have any real upper-echelon talent, and they will need to get better quarterback play out of Tristan Gebbia.

Defensively, the linebackers are solid, anchored by Andrzej Hughes-MUrray, Omar Speights and Avery Roberts, but there's not a whole lot else. Odds are they won't be favored in any of their conference games, and it could be another long season in Corvallis.

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SOUTH DIVISION 

USC's Kedon Slovis
USC's Kedon Slovis (USA Today)

1. USC: (10-2)  

You could make a pretty strong case for any of the top four teams in the South to take home the division title, but I'll take USC because the Trojans have more top-end talent than anyone else, starting with Kedon Slovis. Slovis returns as the top QB in the conference, and despite not making any big strides in his second year as a starter, he was still statistically the best QB in the Pac-12 last season.

Even without the suspended Bru McCoy they've got the best WR corps in the conference, with Drake London being a potential top-15 draft pick, and transfers KD Nixon and Tajh Washington rounding out a great unit. However, they lost their best OL in Alijah Vera-Tucker to an already shaky line, and all the talent in the world at the skill positions can't help Slovis if he's consistently got guys in his face.

Five-star true freshman Korey Foreman will join Drake Jackson as a very solid 1-2 punch at edge rusher, but they're not as deep on defense as they have been in years past. The Trojans get most of their toughest games at home, but have road trips to Notre Dame, Cal and Arizona State.

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2. Utah (9-3)

As always, the Utes will have one of the most disciplined and well-balanced teams in the conference. New starting QB Charlie Brewer brings a ton of game experience with him over from Baylor, and he's got some very good targets in TE Brant Kuithe and WRs Jaylen Dixon, Britain Covey and transfers Theo Howard and Munir McClain. The line, once again, will be very strong.

Defensively, it all begins with the linebackers, as Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell both rank near the top of the conference at the position. Their schedule has them heading to USC and BYU, but they get Oregon, UCLA and Arizona State at home.

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3. UCLA (8-4)  

Some people will look at Chip Kelly's record at UCLA and say he deserves to be on the hot seat, but all that tells me is that they're not looking at the trends. The Bruins have gotten better every season under the former Oregon coach, and this year they are primed for a big breakthrough.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson returns as the top dual-threat QB in the conference, and his rushing and passing numbers took a big leap last year. With another season in Kelly's spread system he could put up some very big numbers. Brittain Brown and Michigan transfers Zach Charbonnet are as good of a 1-2 punch as any in the conference, and they have some nice targets in the passing game with TE Greg Dulcich and WR Kyle Phillips. Sneakily, the Bruins finished first in the conference in sacks last season and second against the run, a formula for success for any defense, and they return 10 starters from that unit. The one they have to replace, though, is DE Osa Odighizuma, who was arguably the best player on the defense.

But the Bruins have still got a very good pass rusher in Mitchell Agunde, as well as safety Quentin Lake, who is among the best in the conference. The biggest issue for the Bruins is the schedule, which includes home games against LSU, Oregon and Cal, and trips to Washington, Utah and crosstown rival USC.

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4. Arizona State (7-5)  

The Sun Devils bring back as good a backfield as any in the conference with QB Jayden Daniels and RBs Rachaad White and Chip Trayanum, creating a formidable triumvirate, but there's still some question marks at receiver and tight end. The offensive line has not been a strength of the team in recent years, but they do have continuity, bringing back four starters, anchored by guard Dohnovan West and tackle Kellen Diesch.

Defensively, ASU has a really good one in DT Jermayne Lole. But outside of him, there are still a lot of question marks in the front seven. Jack Jones and Chase Lucas form a nice pairing at corner. However, my biggest concern with this team is the scandals that have arisen over the summer, which won't be easy to overcome. Because of those scandals the coaching staff is now on thin ice with the administration, which could have a trickle-down effect to the product on the field.

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5. Colorado (4-8)

Last year's 4-2 record in Karl Dorrell's first season was a pleasant surprise, but also a bit of a mirage, as the Buffs gave up more points than they scored. They'll be breaking in a new QB this season in Brendon Lewis, after Tennessee transfer JT Shrout went down with a knee injury. Lewis has a nice pair of backs with Jarek Broussard and Alex Fontenot to hand the ball off to, and four returning starters on the OL, as well as three proven pass catchers at receiver in La'Vontae Shenault, Brenden Rice and Dimitri Stanley.

Defensively, however, there are big strides that need to be made, and the Buffs are hoping that Notre Dame transfer Jack Lamb can come in and immediately be the leader of a defense that gave up 32 points per game last season. Tough non-conference games against Texas A&M and Minnesota, as well as trips to Oregon, UCLA, Cal, Arizona State and Utah are going to make for a long season.

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6. Arizona (2-10)  

Jedd Fisch is a better hire than most people think, but he's got a monumental task ahead of him in Tucson. There is not a lot of talent on this roster, and it's going to be a multi-year rebuild considering the mess left by Kevin Sumlin. Offensively, it's going to be the Michael Wiley show, as the RB will be getting the vast majority of the carries, even with the addition of Drake Anderson in the transfer portal.

Who will be handing the ball off to him is still up in the air, as Fisch has announced that both Gunner Cruz and Will Plummer will get significant reps in their opener against BYU. Don Brown is a veteran defensive coordinator, but he slipped the last few seasons at Michigan, and he doesn't have a ton to work with outside of safety Isaiah Mays. It's going to be a tough year or two for the Wildcats, but Fisch has brought an infusion of energy into the program and it should pay off down the road.

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