- Washington Huskies– Chris Petersen is entering his third season as head coach at the University of Washington and their football program has been on the rise since his hiring and they have the pieces in place to compete for the division title and challenge Stanford. Leading the way on offense are two sophomores- quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin and the offensive line returns three starters from a season ago. The defense improved as they allowed 18 points per game in 2015 and will look to build off that success in the new season. Not only did they lead the league in points per game, they also were leaders in yards per play (4.9) and yards per game at 351. A total of 17 starters are back this year and the confidence levels are high.
- Stanford Cardinal– In the five years that David Shaw has been head coach, Stanford has claimed at least a share of the Pac-12 title in four of those years. In order to earn another title, it will take a big time rebuilding effort. The good news is that one of the country’s best players is back for another year as running back Christian McCaffrey will anchor this offense that will feature a new quarterback (Keller Chryst) and a revamped offensive line. The defense is still in good shape with Solomon Thomas anchoring things up front. He’s versatile enough to play both the tackle and end positions. Linebacker Blake Martinez is gone and he led the Pac-12 with 141 tackles. Expect Kevin Palma to fill that void. Stanford will be in the thick of the race throughout the season.
- Oregon Ducks– Just two seasons ago, they were playing in the inaugural College Football Playoff national championship game. Last season, their streak of seven straight seasons with double-digit victories came to an end. For Washington to compete with Stanford and Washington, they will have some work to do. Dakota Prukop comes in as the successor at quarterback to Vernon Adams. Running back Royce Freeman will be the x-factor for the Ducks in 2016 and I’m hoping he will get some recognition as so many of the other premiere backs in college football do. The Ducks defense will be coached by former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke. We can say good-bye to 3-4, two-gap defense and welcome in the 4-3 look that Hoke will install. Henry Mondeaux will anchor the defensive front and replace DeForest Buckner. This season will be determined on how Prukop plays and if Hoke can turn around a defense that was considered one of the best in the league.
- Washington State Cougars– They improved their win total by six games in 2015 after a 3-9 record in 2014. As always with a Mike Leached coached team, the Washington State Cougars will be dynamic on offense once again. Luke Falk will remain under center at quarterback and wide receiver Gabe Marks will be his go to guy once again. Falk is looking to build after throwing 38 touchdown passes a season ago. The defense made many improvements and quite a few critics thought Mike Leach was insane for hiring Alex Grinch to run the defense but the move certainly paid off as their points per game average improved from 38 to 27. There is much to do if they want to be mentioned in the ranks with Stanford or Washington.
- California Golden Bears– Sonny Dykes may have his work cut out for him this year as these Golden Bears will look to replace Jared Goff who was selected by the Los Angeles Rams with the first overall pick in April. Davis Webb, a transfer student will get the job as the new starting quarterback and a few wide receivers will also need to be replaced. Four offensive linemen will be back from last season which helps their offensive line in 2016. The defense has improved each year since 2014. The defensive line will be stronger than ever led by tackle James Looney. The expectations maybe diminished this year without Jared Goff but they can still take a step forward and win games. Winning the division is stretching it.
- Oregon State Beavers– Gary Andersen’s first season as head coach resulted in only two wins and that’s because of the rebuilding project he was taking on but year two should definitely show some more signs of improvement and progress. The offense looks to get better after averaging 19 points per game last season. Utah State transfer Darell Garretson will be the starting quarterback for the Beavers. Not only did Oregon State struggle on offense, they also played poorly on the defensive side of the ball. Year two will have some optimism going forward but they are still a big time work in progress.
2016 Prediction: I like the Stanford Cardinal to win this division once again. David Shaw will lead these guys once again and Christian McCaffrey will carry this offense on his shoulders. They have been able to overcome many obstacles and retool as a team, that’s why they’ve won this division as many times as they have. Their trip to face Washington could decide the division.