By Matthew Zimmer

Can you feel the excitement? College football is SO close. The Associated Press released their “Preseason” Top 25 Poll on Monday, and it surprised some, including this Washington State alum. There are five Pac-12 schools in the initial ranking.

Oregon is the top team in the Pac-12 just outside the Top 10 at No. 11. Washington and Utah went back-to-back at No. 13 and No. 14. Washington State checked in at No. 23, and Stanford wrapped up the Poll at No. 25.

The first AP Poll got me thinking about four big things surrounding the Pac-12 Conference.

  • Which Pac-12 team will finish better than their initial AP Ranking?
  • Which unranked Pac-12 Team has the best chance to finish in the Final Top 25?
  • Who are the Sleeper teams to win the Pac-12 North and South?

Let’s get started.

Who will finish better than their initial AP Ranking? WSU & Stanford.

The case against Oregon: The Ducks need to finish as a Top 10 team to be “better” than their first ranking. No matter what that’s difficult to predict. But I think Oregon’s season opener will decide their fate.

The game against Auburn on Aug. 31 will tell us if Oregon will be a Top 10 team or not. Win, I can see them making the College Football Playoff. Lose, they can still be a Top 25 team, but I don’t they’d finish in the Top 10.

The case against Washington: The Huskies will be breaking in a new quarterback in Seattle after Jake Browning graduated. If I’m being honest, both Washington and Washington State’s preseason rankings are courtesy rankings. I think Washington will be good, because they have Chris Peterson and he’s a hell of a coach. However, Washington will not finish as high as No. 13.

Washington’s offense and defense lost good players, and it will affect them just enough to keep them outside the Top 15 by year’s end.

The case against Utah: Last week, Yogi Roth picked Utah to win the Pac-12. At Pac-12 Media Day, the media chose Utah as well. Since the Utes joined the Pac-12 they haven’t finished better than No. 17 in the AP’s Final Poll. I know the Utes get back quarterback Tyler Huntley, who broke his collarbone last November. But I just don’t trust the Utes at all.

Utah has a ton of talent, don’t get me wrong, but I have been burned by them before. The Utes will not finish better than No. 14.

The case for Washington State: Last year, the Cougs surprised everyone and finished 11-2, the best record in school history. Despite Mike Leach’s ability to turn quarterbacks into yard-gathering machines, the Cougs will inevitably take a step back in 2019.

As mentioned in the Washington section, the Cougs were ranked in the Top 25 as a nod to their recent run of consistently good football. I’m sure you’ll think I’m biased, but I think the Cougs will be in the Top 25 in the final ranking. They’ve got a ton of question marks, but Mike Leach is a wizard so I can’t bet against him.

I think they’ll finish in the No. 18-22 range.

The case for Stanford: This may be a cop out pick, but Stanford is consistently good. Last year was the first season since 2014 when Stanford was not in the final AP Top 25 Poll.

Cardinal QB K.J. Costello is no Justin Herbert, but last year Costello threw for over 3,500 yards. He can hold his own, and the Cardinal defense is characteristically stingy.

David Shaw will have the Cardinal better than No. 25 come season’s end. The Cardinal will finish at No. 17 or better.

Which unranked Pac-12 Team has the best chance to finish in the Top 25? Arizona State

If I’m being honest, I don’t love any of the seven unranked Pac-12 schools. However, the team that I think is underrated is Arizona State.

Herm Edwards proved one thing to me last season, the man can still coach. Yes, the Sun Devils lost quarterback Manny Wilkins. Yes, ASU will face three of the five preseason ranked Pac-12 teams this season.

But, if you told me Edwards would take Arizona State to a bowl game before last season, I would have called you crazy. Maybe this year I’m crazy, but guess what? I don’t care! Edwards will learn more this season and combine it with what he learned last year to make ASU competitive and bowl-bound for a third straight campaign.

Who are the Sleeper teams to win the Pac-12 North and South?

As mentioned above, the media selected Oregon and Utah to win their respective divisions. So, obviously they’re out.

Washington and USC were picked to finish second in the North and South, respectively. They’re out.

Sorry to Arizona, Cal, Colorado, and Oregon State, I just don’t think any of you will be that competitive this year.

That leaves Washington State and Stanford in the North and Arizona State and UCLA in the South.

I’m not picking the Cougs. One, that would kill all my credibility if I picked my alma mater. And two, the Cougs haven’t beaten Washington since 2012, so it’s not likely they’ll win the North.

UCLA is not ready. They’ll be better than last year’s abysmal 3-9, but they still won’t challenge for the South crown.

So, by process of elimination that means I’m picking Stanford in the North and Arizona State in the South.

Neither of my sleeper teams should be a surprise. I told you what I think about both teams earlier, and they’re just overlooked enough to qualify as sleepers in my eyes.

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