- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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The problem with crystal balls is no one has one that actually works. So projecting what the Pac-12 will look like three years from now (will it still even be the Pac-12?) can be a bit of a challenge. All we can do is work with the information we have today.
What makes this task particularly more difficult is that 2013 is such an intriguing year for the league. Coaching positions could be up for grabs (or solidified) by the end of the season, and the league has already welcomed seven new coaches the past two years. We still don't know if the Air Raid will fully catch on at Washington State or the Bear Raid at Cal. We think they will, but again, no crystal ball. Is all the Arizona State hype justified? Will Oregon and Stanford stay on top another three years?
I'd prefer to do this by separating the squads into categories, but then you wouldn't have as much Kevin-hates-my-team fodder.
As Ted likes to say when he does the weekly power rankings, if you don't like where you're ranked, play better. Well, if you don't like where you're ranked three years from now, complain tirelessly.
1. Oregon: We're still waiting to hear on whatever sanctions might come down from the NCAA. If they are harsh, Oregon could easily slip from this spot. If not, the chain of succession from coach to coach has been silky in Eugene the past few go-arounds. As long as the Ducks continue to bring in -- and develop -- the types of athletes they have in recent years, they will consistently stay atop the rankings.
2. Stanford: As long as David Shaw is head coach there, Stanford will compete for titles. The program has been able to reinvent itself without really reinventing itself the past few seasons. The players change, the philosophy and mentality don't. This list has to be a 1-through-12, but if a 1/1A were allowed, Oregon and Stanford would be interchangeable. Maybe they won't be top five every year, but they aren't going anywhere, either.
3. UCLA: The program might take a step back in 2013 before it takes a step forward in the years to come. The schedule will be tougher and the Bruins are still learning to adjust to life under coach Jim Mora. But he and his staff have poured all of that NFL experience into a team on the rise. And they can recruit big-time players. If Mora stays on board -- no promises, but no indications either that he wants to leave after minor flirtations with the NFL this offseason -- the Bruins could be regulars in the league title game.
4. Washington: The Huskies are on the verge of something special … maybe. If they can only get over that pesky seven-win hump. The recruiting has been solid, and the right coaching staff is in place. It's just a matter of taking that next step. They have the experience this year to do it and very good depth. A big season in 2013 sets the stage for a solid run in future years. Washington might not win the North in three years, but it will press the top two and should be going to the league's top-tier bowl games.
5. Oregon State: The Beavers will have some really good years, some really bad years and a lot of seven- or eight-win seasons in between. Mike Riley is an outstanding coach and has done a solid job recruiting talent to Corvallis. But the North is going to be brutal in years to come -- especially if Cal and Washington State close the gap and Washington surges as expected. But there's little reason to think OSU won't consistently stay ranked. Also, don't underestimate the ability to maintain continuity on a coaching staff -- something Riley has been very good at.
6. USC: The Trojans will always bring in five-star talent simply because of the brand name. And for that reason alone, they will always be in the hunt for the South division. That includes this year, 2016 and beyond. But with just one double-digit-win season in the past three, you have to wonder if it's a one- or two-year hiccup, or a return to the rest of the pack? There is also the slippery footing of coach Lane Kiffin, leaving us to wonder if he'll be on the sidelines three years (or one year) from now.
7. Arizona State: By 2016, the Sun Devils could be at the top of this list. Or near the bottom. Or exactly at No. 7. We think they are going to be really good this season, but we've thought they were going to be really good before. I do think Todd Graham is the right guy, and I love what he did in Year 1. Show me a 10-win season, a national ranking and some consistency, and three years from now I'll gladly season up some crow and shovel it down.
8. Arizona: A lot of the reasoning that applies to Arizona State also applies to Arizona. Rich Rodriguez is the right guy for the job, and the South looks to be up for grabs this season -- and maybe three seasons from now. Finding the right players and truly building a program will take time, but three years from now, the Wildcats could fall anywhere in the 3-8 range.
9. California: The Bears are dealing with a coaching change for the first time since 2002. The Pac-12 blog is on record as saying that Sonny Dykes' offense will be a good fit for Cal and the conference. But will it take one season? Three seasons? Five? In 2016, there's a chance that whoever is starting at quarterback this season will still be the guy. That could be huge. Or Cal could still be trying to figure things out. The Bears have talent -- and if we were projecting receiving corps in three seasons, I'd put them in the top three. But, as of today, there are too many unknowns to justify a higher ranking.
10. Washington State: Recruiting to Pullman has been, and probably always will be, a challenge. Upgraded facilities should help. And the Pac-12 blog still thinks Mike Leach will bring the Cougars back to the postseason in the next few years. But maintaining a consistent program that competes for titles every season is going to be tough -- especially in the North.
11. Utah: If this were a five-year projection, I think the Utes would be higher. But I also think they need to go through at least a full class cycle before they can really start climbing the Pac-12 hierarchy. Our preseason hype last season was misguided, and the Utes' lack of depth was exposed. It takes time to build not only a starting lineup that can win in the Pac-12, but also the depth behind those starters. The facility upgrades are a good step in the right direction.
12. Colorado: By Year 3, Mike MacIntyre had his San Jose State team ranked. During that time, the Spartans saw only two ranked conference opponents -- and both in 2010. There might be similarities to rebuilding programs. But San Jose State wasn't facing a surging Pac-12 South that could have three or four ranked teams, plus the interdivision matchups with the North. Colorado has a lot of rebuilding to do. I'm a MacIntyre fan, but it's going to take more than three seasons. And when the Buffs actually go 9-3 in 2016, I'm buying the first round for RMoysters and buffnaustin. Right after Mac deletes my number from his cell.