Pac Tracks: Why Pac 12 scribes were passed over this year for Nobel Pick Prizes

Rankman was not invited to vote in this year’s Pac 12 preseason media poll—thank you Lord Larry (Scott)!

Imagine being part of survey of experts that picked UCLA first in the South and Colorado last. It just goes to show how little anyone knows about the vagaries and peccadillos of any pigskin season.

Still, if you’re going to do a poll, you have to be responsible for it.

It reminds me of an 18-wheeler on the freeway sporting one of those bumper stickers: “How are we driving?”

Ever been tempted to break the law, take both hands off the steering wheel going 75 mph, and ring up 1-800 ACME Trucking to go say go “truck” yourself?

“Beep. Yeah, the guy you have hauling fruits and veggies heading up Interstate-5 just cut me off and dropped a load of kumquats under my radiator.”

At least there’s a number to call: who do you phone to complain about the Pac 12 media poll.

Well, this is as close as you’ll get to an apology.

For the record, genius me would have picked Oregon to win the Pac 12 North.

Not knowing how a season will turn out, of course, is part of the mystery and the fun. For the first time in the 56-year history of conference media poll, for example, Stanford was chosen to win. And how’s that going?

Here was the media’s projected order of finish in the North Division:[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

1: Stanford

2: Washington

3: Oregon

4: Washington State

5: California

6: Oregon State

Here are the standings as of Oct. 17:

1: Washington (6-0,3-0)

2: Washington State (4-2, 3-0)

3: Stanford (4-2, 2-2)

4: California (3-3, 1-2)

5: Oregon State (2-4,1-2)

6: Oregon (2-4, 0-3)

Here is the breakdown: Washington was way better than anyone thought—and right now the Pac 12’s only legitimate playoff contender. Part of the problem in assessing the Huskies was that they opened with three stiffs in Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State. Washington then needed overtime to win at Arizona, but followed with blowout wins against Oregon and Stanford. Washington State started 0-2 after opening losses to Eastern Washington and Boise State and had us thinking coach Mike Leach was more concerned about getting Donald Trump elected. Leach, though, called his team out after the Boise loss and the Cougars have responded with a four-game spurt that has included wins against Oregon, Stanford and UCLA. Hard to believe the game of the year could be the Apple Cup on Nov. 25. Stanford has been a huge disappointment, for many reasons, but showed large Tree sack last weekend in pulling out a win at Notre Dame without injured star Christian McCaffrey. The Cardinal still need a mini miracle to win the North, though, because its losses came against Washington and Washington State. Cal is better than people thought but still water you'd want to boil before drinking, with wins over Texas and Utah but losses to San Diego State and Oregon State. Oregon State isn’t terrible under Gary Andersen, but isn’t great either, while Oregon is the league’s front-runner for “bust of the year.” Let’s be real: the season was lost with a mystifying three-point loss at Nebraska in which the Ducks failed on four-of-five two-point conversions. Coach Mark Helfrich lost the media room when he said players made the calls on those, based on alignment, which made you wonder what Helfrich got paid for. Oregon then lost at home to Colorado. The Ducks were poised to score the game winner, staked first and goal at the opponent’s seven, when Dakota Prukop’s high-risk fade pass was intercepted in the end zone. Huh? Oregon has led the Pac 12 in rushing for almost a decade and had rushed for 215 yards against Colorado. The sound heard after that loss was everyone jumping the USS Helfrich. The Ducks have subsequently been washed to sea by the Washington schools, but actually never looked better last Saturday: they had a bye.

Here was the media’s projected order of finish in the South Division

1: UCLA

2: USC

3: Utah

4: Arizona

5: Arizona State

6: Colorado

Here are the standings as of Oct. 17

1: Utah (6-1,3-1)

2: Colorado (5-2, 3-1)

3: USC (4-3, 3-2)

4: Arizona State (5-2, 2-2)

5: UCLA (3-4, 1-3)

6: Arizona (2-5, 0-4)

Here is the breakdown: As Gomer Pyle used to say: “Surprise surprise.” Who could have dreamed that Utah and Colorado on Nov. 26 might decide the division and earn the winner a spot in the Rose Bowl? That could happen if Washington wins the league and earns a spot in the four-team playoff. Utah’s inability to score three times near Cal’s goal line is keeping the Utes out of the national conversation. Kyle Whittingham’s team could still possibly reach the playoff if it wins the Pac 12 with a win over undefeated Washington. Colorado is, simply, the most improved team in America. Its two losses were hard-fought bruisers at Michigan and USC. The Trojans may be the most dangerous team in the South right now as they wrestle with “what-if?” What if Coach Clay Helton had not waited until week 4 to start freshman Sam Darnold at quarterback? Darnold is the most intriguing Trojan at that position since Rodney Peete in the late 1980s. He could have, realistically, been the difference in USC’s loss at Stanford but, remember, he was the starter in the loss at Utah. That defeat basically locks USC out of the South title unless Utah loses two more times. It was also sad to hear receiver Steven Mitchell Jr. tore his ACL in Saturday’s blowout win at Arizona, but the future looks surprisingly bright after a 1-3 start. Darnold is a big-time talent with swagger and may have saved Helton’s job this season. Trojan fans who wanted Helton gone must be torn. The Arizona schools are tough to gauge because of injuries at quarterback, but UCLA isn’t tough to judge. The Bruins are right behind Oregon for “bust of the year.” Maybe UCLA needs to go to “finishing” school. The Bruins haven’t lost a game this season that could not have been won. They lost in OT at Texas A&M and last-minute, at home, against Stanford. They lost by three at Arizona State when Josh Rosen went out with an injury. Fifth-year backup Mike Fafaul looked woefully unprepared on a last-minute drive. Last weekend’s loss at Washington State, without Rosen, was forgivable. However…UCLA remains a program without purpose or identity. Jim Mora wanted to get tough this year and run the ball like Stanford, yet UCLA ranks No. 126 nationally at 91.1 yards per game. Mora is acting like a lunatic at times on the sideline, whether it’s screaming at officials or his own punter. This is NOT where the program was supposed to be mid-way through Mora’s fifth season.[/membership]

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