The CBS Sports college football staff is laying it all on the line ahead of the season, calling out each of our most overrated and underrated teams, picking a champion, making a bold prediction and predicting the order of finish for the Pac-12.
Let’s take a look. You can also check out our Pac-12 superlatives and awards.
Most overrated team
Washington: I love Chris Petersen. I think he’s going to do great things at U-Dub. But for the love of Don James, you don’t just go from 7-6 to winning the Pac-12 North. That’s where some pundits have the Huskies this season. I get they have a promising quarterback (Myles Gaskin) and eight starters back on defense. I get that the Stanford game is at home. The Huskies will be better. They just won’t be the best. — Dennis Dodd (In agreement: Jon Solomon, Jerry Palm, Tom Fornelli, Chip Patterson)
Oregon: This isn’t to say Oregon can’t be good, but can they compete with Stanford in the North? They’ll have to find gold again with another FCS transfer quarterback for a second straight year with Dakota Prukop. The Ducks also need new coordinator Brady Hoke to find a way to turn around the 116th ranked scoring defense from his first year in 2015. I think that’s a tall order. (I do love Royce Freeman, though.) — Robby Kalland
UCLA: It was close, but UCLA was chosen by the media to win the Pac-12 South over USC. People will hang their hat on returning stars like Josh Rosen, and the defense regains injured players like Eddie Vanderdoes. I like this team’s talent overall, even though it lost some key underclassmen to the draft. Still, the hesitation comes courtesy of coach Jim Mora, who has squandered his fair share of chances to take this program to the next level. With a deep Pac-12 South, cannibalization could be the name of the game for a lot teams, not just the Bruins. — Ben Kercheval
Most underrated team
Utah: If the game is won on the line of scrimmage, Utah could be in position to be the surprise of the Pac-12 this year. The Utes will be one of the strongest teams in the league on each line of scrimmage and will have one of the best overall defenses in a league where, often times, the defense rests. They will have new faces at many of the skill positions on offense, but if the new guys step up, the schedule is set up for the Utes to make a run toward the top of the South division. — Jerry Palm (In agreement: Jon Solomon, Ben Kercheval)
Washington State: Raise your hand if you knew the Cougars won nine games last year and tied for the third-best conference record in the league at 6-3. Mike Leach is just getting it ramped up in Year 5 in Pullman. Quarerback Luke Falk chucked it around more than anyone (644 throws). Receiver Gabe Marks has All-America ability. Who cares if the Cougs have to outscore everyone? They’re my dark horse to win the North. — Dennis Dodd
UCLA: If you subscribe to the Bud Elliott’s Blue-Chip Ratio Theory ( more four- and five-star prospects than two- and three-star prospects over four recruiting cycles ), then UCLA is one of 13 teams with the right combination of talent to win a national championship. I do subscribe to said theory and think the changes on offense to better suit Josh Rosen’s skill set will result in a banner year in Westwood — including the Pac-12 South title. Unlike some of my colleagues, I think UCLA has a decided leg up on USC and could even challenge Stanford for the league’s potential playoff spot. — Chip Patterson
USC: I’ll be honest, I’m blinded by the talent on this team. The Trojans are my west coast Texas A&M in that regard. Ronald Jones and JuJu Smith-Schuster are studs for the offense, the offensive line should be a beast, and then there’s all-everything defensive back Adoree Jackson. Utah lost a lot this offseason, so it looks like a two-horse race in the Pac-12 South on paper with cross-town rival UCLA I think the Trojans will pull it out and win the division title. — Robby Kalland
Arizona State: I could give you some fancy reason, or even a logical one, for my belief that Arizona State is overrated, but none of them would be the real reason. No, the real reason is I picked Arizona State to win the Pac-12 last year and get to the College Football Playoff … and it let me down big time. So this pick? This pick is nothing but stubbornness and pride. — Tom Fornelli
Stanford: Not exactly stepping out on a limb here with the defending champs, which have three conference titles in the last four years. David Shaw has the Cardinal as a perennial powerhouse in the Pac-12, and Stanford has the best player in the conference — and arguably the nation — returning in all-purpose yards king Christian McCaffrey. The schedule for Stanford is tough — conference road games with UCLA, Oregon and Washington, plus a trip to Notre Dame — but it’s hard for me to pick against their consistency and talent. — Robby Kalland (In agreement: Dennis Dodd, Jon Solomon, Jerry Palm, Chip Patterson, Ben Kercheval)
Oregon: Until the South proves otherwise, I think we’ll see the North continue to dominate this conference — Oregon and Stanford in particular. The main reason I’m going with the Ducks is that, while there are certainly question marks, Stanford has its own, and I don’t really believe in Washington just yet. Plus, both Stanford and Washington have to go to Eugene this year. — Tom Fornelli
Bold Pac-12 prediction
Jerry Palm / Dennis Dodd / Robby Kalland: The Pac-12, and Stanford specifically, will get left out of the CFP for the second straight year.
Jon Solomon: By the end of the season, USC will be the best team in the Pac-12, but its record won’t reflect that given a brutal schedule.
Tom Fornelli: Oregon running back Royce Freeman will rush for over 2,000 yards.
Chip Patterson: UCLA will win 10 games in 2016.
Ben Kercheval: Three Pac-12 south coaches will leave or lose their jobs this season.
Predicted order of finish
Source: CBS Sports / 2016 Pac-12 Expert Picks: Overrated, underrated, predicted order of finish