Examining Five Teams Who Could Be Voted No. 1 In Pac-12 Media Poll

Jul 20, 2023, 8:00 AM

SALT LAKE CITY – The Pac-12 looks to be as deep as ever as we head into the 2023 football season making it a little hard to decide who will slide into the No. 1 spot in the conference media poll.

At least on paper, the Pac-12 has five teams who could legitimately end up being No. 1 when all is said and done this season. In fact, that knowledge makes how the poll will turn out in a few hours a fascinating thing to think about.

There is a case to be made for Utah, USC, Washington, Oregon, or Oregon State to walk away with that coveted top spot. That’s why we’re going to have some fun and discuss it a little before the poll comes out.

Before we dive in however, it is important to note that media polls are for fun and are not indicative of how things will actually play out. With that said, let’s have some fun and discuss.

Why Utah Deserves To Be No. 1.

Since our focus is specifically with the Utes, we will start here.

Utah is coming off of back-to-back Pac-12 Titles and largely returns the team that has helped them get there. While that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, there is also something to the idea that it’s hard to say someone isn’t number one when everyone else has yet to dethrone them.

Out of every year that Utah has been in contention for the top spot and ultimately won it, 2023 holds the most for the Utes to have balanced experience on both offense and defense. In fact, it feels safe to say the defense will likely have caught up to where the offense has been the past two seasons. That feels like a crazy statement to make since Utah’s defense has still graded out in the upper echelon of the conference, but they have done it while being rather young. Experience often can take these things to another level.

Utah will also enjoy having quarterback Cam Rising back for another year along with dynamic tight end Brant Kuithe.


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Why Won’t Utah Be Voted No. 1?

Utah has a lot going for them, but there are a few reasons why the media may not be as hot on them as others in the conference.

For starts, while the Utes have key guys like Rising, Kuithe, and Van Fillinger back, they are all coming off of pretty serious injuries. All are expected to be back to start against Florida, but there is also typically an element of “wait and see”.

How will they react in live-game situations? Could there be setbacks?

One other area that likely gives some pause on the Utes is their schedule. It’s tough. Very tough.

Not only do they play Florida and Baylor in out of conference, but they have Oregon State, USC, and Washington on the road along with Oregon at home.

USC’s Argument For The Top Spot.

USC rebounded in a big way last season thanks to new head coach Lincoln Riley and quarterback transfer Caleb Williams.

Being the runner up in the conference with a Play Off spot on the line isn’t bad when just a season before you went 4-8 and weren’t even bowl eligible. However, the Trojans have a reputation to uphold that in all honesty they haven’t really upheld the past decade or so outside of last year. As my grandpa always used to say, “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades” and there is no doubt being “close” isn’t good enough for Riley and Williams.

Much like Utah, and frankly, everyone on this list, USC returns a lot of the same production that got them to the Pac-12 Championship Game and earned them an 11-3 record in 2022.

As we all know, Williams went on to win the Heisman Trophy and is returning for a second season in Southern California after putting up stellar numbers in his first season in Troy.

Add in that there should be a better sense of continuity this season versus a year before when the pressure was on to right the ship and there is reason for optimism about USC.


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Why Won’t USC Get The Top Spot?

The one real blemish for USC in 2022 was their defense who outside of being opportunistic with takeaways, wasn’t very good.

In fact, USC’s three losses came at the hands of teams who played very good defense in 2023 while having a sufficient or better offense. USC also had some uncomfortable games against Oregon State, Arizona, Cal, and UCLA.

As far as the losses go, Utah (twice) and Tulane were able to go toe-to-toe offensively with USC, but the biggest key was their defenses were able to make key stops here and there that the Trojans couldn’t match.

Riley and crew have done some work in the transfer portal this offseason to shore up the issues and have brought in some good talent. Will it be enough to sway the media, and more importantly, will it be enough to push them over the edge in 2023?

Why Washington Could Be The Top Dog In The Pac-12.

Washington and USC are very similar in that a change at head coach and quarterback really took their programs from pumpkins to golden carriages almost overnight.

Like the Trojans, the Huskies had a dreadful year in 2021 also going 4-8 and missing bowl eligibility. In 2022, under Kalen DeBoer and with Michael Penix Jr. taking the snaps, Washington rocketed to an 11-2 record, but missed an opportunity to play for the conference title due to how the tiebreakers fell.

Washington largely returns everyone that got them the best overall record in the Pac-12, and maybe most importantly their quarterback, Penix Jr. who led the country in passing yards a year ago.

They also have a fairly favorable schedule getting to host Oregon, Utah, and Washington State, though they do have to face USC and Oregon State on the road.

Why Washington Won’t Get The Nod.

Some question whether the production UW (Penix Jr. and the offense) put up a year ago is sustainable and feel like the Huskies could come back down to earth a bit in 2023.

There have also been some questions about their defense, and most specifically whether some of their key pieces can stay healthy for a full season to give them that edge.

If guys like Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Bralen Trice, Edefuan Ulofoshio, Mishael Powell, and Julius Irvin can stay healthier in 2023, and the defensive backfield can improve their pass defense, UW could be a team to look out for.

Oregon’s Odds At The No. 1 Spot

Like USC, and Washington, Oregon is heading into their second season with their new head coach and quarterback. 

In their first season together, head coach Dan Lanning and quarterback Bo Nix gave the Ducks some juice back that they had been missing in 2021. Don’t get us wrong, Oregon’s 10-4 record in 2021 was nothing to sneeze at, but they just didn’t look like Oregon while doing it.

2022 saw the Ducks stay steady with a 10-3 record and they looked much better doing it with room to grow and continue getting better. Nix and much of Oregon’s same talent from 2022 will be back and the hope is they will be more comfortable in year two with Lanning.

Why The Odds Aren’t In Oregon’s Favor.

Defensively there is a lot of reason to feel good about Oregon and how they might improve from year one to year two under Lanning who is in fact a defensive coach.

However, the Ducks’ offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham left to be the head coach at Arizona State which has left that side of the ball open to some questions.

Yes, Oregon does return a lot of the same talent on offense including Nix, but will they function the same way they did for Dillingham under Will Stein? Or will learning new terminology and schemes be enough to put the Ducks behind?

Could Oregon State Disrupt Their Way To No. 1?

Oregon State finished 2022 with a 10-3 record and was arguably one good quarterback away from possibly contending for a title. The defense was one of the best in the league and the Beavers were pretty darn good in the run game.

Fast forward to 2023 and OSU took care of their biggest issue in the transfer portal bringing in former Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei. Add in they return all five starters on their offensive line and their top running back and wide receiver.

Why Disruption May Not Be Enough For OSU To Be No. 1.

What has been a strength for Oregon State under Jonathan Smith in the defense took a bit of a hit in the offseason with NFL and transfer portal departures. Having some gaps to fill in obviously leads to questions about just how solid Oregon State will be in 2023.

Will they just reload? Or will there be some growing pains?

In many ways Oregon State is very reminiscent of Utah back in 2015 and 2016- a very good team that if everything bounces the right way could vie for a top spot in the conference, but realistically is missing a few pieces still that don’t make it likely.

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on TwitterInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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Examining Five Teams Who Could Be Voted No. 1 In Pac-12 Media Poll