UO fourth, OSU fifth in Pac-12 preseason poll
LOS ANGELES — Southern California is the preseason pick to win the Pac-12 in a poll of football media, and defending champion Washington is favored to win the North Division.
The conference announced the results Wednesday before its preseason media availabilities in Hollywood.
USC got 28 of 52 overall first-place votes, topping the Huskies' 22. Both schools were clear favorites in their respective divisions, getting 49 of the 52 votes for the top spot.
The Trojans won their final nine games last season behind returning quarterback Sam Darnold, culminating in a thrilling Rose Bowl victory over Penn State. Although USC must replace playmakers at several key positions, coach Clay Helton returns for his second full season with the school's usual roster loaded with NFL-caliber talent.
USC has been greeted annually with frenzied preseason expectations, particularly since the dominant Pete Carroll era. The Trojans have far more coaching changes than conference titles in the past decade, failing to take the crown after being installed as the preseason favorites in 2012 and 2015.
Another word of warning for the Trojans: The media has correctly picked the conference champion only twice in the last decade.
Washington went 12-2 and won the conference title game over Colorado last season. The Huskies lost to Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal, but star quarterback Jake Browning returns along with several key components of coach Chris Petersen's burgeoning powerhouse.
The Buffaloes are picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 South behind Utah and UCLA despite their breakthrough season under coach Mike MacIntyre. Arizona State ranked fifth in the division, and Arizona was last.
Stanford is picked second in the North after going 10-3 last season. The Cardinal are followed by revitalized Washington State and rebuilding Oregon, which replaced coach Mark Helfrich with Willie Taggart after going 4-8 last fall for its worst season in a quarter-century.
Oregon State is picked fifth in the North, with California expected to finish last under new coach Justin Wilcox.
Oregon and Utah got one vote apiece as Pac-12 title game champions.
The Ducks are coming off their worst season since 1991. Taggart inherited a promising quarterback (Justin Herbert), an established Pac-12 standout (Royce Freeman) and some good depth on the offensive line for his “Gulf Coast” offense.
But Oregon lacks experience at wide receiver and tight end, and new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt must rebuild one of the nation’s worst defenses.
Taggart’s first season will be viewed as a success if he can continue Herbert’s development, get Oregon to a bowl game and sign a top-10 recruiting class.
Oregon State, which finished a bitter 4-8 season with a sweet Civil War victory over Oregon in Corvallis, expects to return to a bowl game in Gary Andersen’s third season.
The Beavers added former Duck Thomas Tyner to a backfield that already includes Ryan Nall.
Andersen’s improving program must take advantage of a September schedule that includes Colorado State, Portland State and Minnesota ahead of a home date with Washington.