As he has done the past five seasons, ESPN contributor Phil Steele takes a crack at projecting the preseason AP Top 25.
Steele has been pretty solid the last couple of years -- picking all 25 ranked teams in consecutive seasons. If he’s projecting your team, chances are they’ll be the list. He notes that this isn’t his personal preseason ranking, but rather his projection of how the AP will likely vote.
The Pac-12 is represented with Oregon at No. 3 and UCLA at No. 7 and three other teams in the projected Top 25.
Steele on Oregon:
While the Ducks, under new head coach Mark Helfrich, failed to make a BCS bowl for the first time in five seasons in 2013, they still managed their sixth-straight season with double-digit wins. This year they return 15 starters, led by quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is clearly one of the Heisman favorites heading into 2014. The biggest question might be how they adjust to long-time defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti's retirement. However, they do return linebacker Derrick Malone, their leading tackler, and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu could be the best cornerback in the country.
Stanford and USC check in at 12 and 14, respectively, and Washington rounds out the group at No. 22.
He raises an interesting point regarding the Cardinal:
The biggest question for the Cardinal in 2014, however, is how they will navigate one of the toughest schedules in the country: Stanford plays Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA --- all on the road.
The Pac-12 finished up 2013 with six teams ranked in the Top 25. ASU is the only team that was ranked to close the season that isn’t projected by Steele. But the Sun Devils are likely to receive some votes and have a chance to slip into the Top 25 in the first couple of weeks with a softer schedule. But then it ramps up for ASU with four straight games against teams in Steele’s projections, starting off with a home date against UCLA. Recall the last couple of seasons that game has essentially decided the Pac-12 South title, and the road team has won in consecutive years. Then ASU is at USC, home to Stanford and at Washington.
Arizona ended the season receiving votes and should start out 4-0 (vs. UNLV, at UTSA, vs. Nevada, vs. California). Then the Wildcats have back-to-back games against Oregon (in Eugene, can you say revenge game?) and home to USC. A 4-0 start and a win in either of those games keeps the Wildcats in the Top 25.
Oregon State may receive a few votes as well -- though voters will likely be timid with the Beavers considering how last season started. Still, with three projected nonconference wins (vs. Portland State, at Hawaii, vs. San Diego State) the Beavers should be undefeated heading into conference play at USC. A 4-0 start and a win over USC would go a long way toward getting OSU in the Top 25.