2012 Pac-12 Football Simulated Preview From WhatIfSports.com image

2012 Pac-12 Football Simulated Preview

We simulate the Pac-12 football season

By Jake Westrich - WhatIfSports.com
August 27, 2012

Using our college football simulation engine, WhatIfSports.com simulated thousands of college football games to create this Pac-12 Preview. Team ratings, player ratings and depth charts are accurate as of August 17th. What you see in the Pac-12 Predictions table is the most likely outcome based on the computer simulations. The team-by-team schedules use Absolute Records, which you can learn more about below. Those same game-by-game simulations also generate average points per game for both teams.

Pac-12 Predictions
NorthWLOverall Record
Washington State457-5
Oregon State273-9
SouthWLOverall Record
Arizona State456-6

To hide the details, click here.

For this analysis, thousands of college football games are simulated, with the sum of the winning percentages of those games being our final predicted record. As can be noted, sometimes a team is "favored" (wins more than 50% of the time) in a different number of our games than the expected record shows. We list this record as the Absolute Record. The assumption of the Absolute Record is that the more likely scenario always happens. Since we know that it does not, our expected record (in the table above) is far more accurate. Also, especially since we are rounding, it is possible for a team to win a game more often, yet score the same or fewer points on average. In those cases, for Absolute Records, we always take higher winning percentage and are not predicting a tie or a win by an underdog. This is another reason why the expected records are more accurate, as the teams are so evenly matched, the game could easily go either way.


Kenjon Barner

The 2012 edition of the Ducks is eager to defend its crown. Oregon will again be among the nation’s most incendiary offenses, spearheaded by RB Kenjon Barner and all-purpose dynamo De’Anthony Thomas. However, there is going to be a wrinkle. Darron Thomas inexplicably left school with a year of eligibility remaining, precipitating a tight battle between underclassmen Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota that won’t produce a victor until the summer.

Nick Aliotti’s defense plans to wreak havoc from every level and angle, if possible, this season. The Ducks like to attack on this side of the ball as well, creating pressure and turnovers in order to get the ball back to the offense as quickly as possible. DE Dion Jordan, FS John Boyett and linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso are all seniors … and are all pointing toward a finale filled with postseason accolades.

Oregon will once again begin the season among the country’s elite, well-positioned for yet another conference title run. And while the Ducks clearly house the talent, staff and system to perennially remain in the BCS bowl hunt, the mounting off-field distractions could become a more daunting roadblock to Pasadena than any other member of the Pac-12 … except, of course, those once-sleeping giants from USC.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2012 Oregon Ducks
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Arkansas State Red Wolves8435-21
2Fresno State Bulldogs8333-20
3Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles9557-7
4Arizona Wildcats7231-24
5@Washington State Cougars7432-21
6Washington Huskies6231-26
8@Arizona State Sun Devils7331-22
9Colorado Buffaloes8232-18
10@USC Trojans3125-31
11@California Golden Bears7429-22
12Stanford Cardinal5928-25
13@Oregon State Beavers8130-20


Stepfan Taylor

Daniel Novinson of TheBootleg.com is our Stanford Cardinal insider:

Linemen David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, tight end Coby Fleener, and a guy named Andrew Luck each went in the first two rounds of this April’s draft, but sleep on Stanford at your own peril. The front seven might be the best in the country, with linebackers Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov leading the way, and running back Stepfan Taylor is also receiving preseason All-American mention. This February’s No. 7 recruiting class, which includes seven offensive linemen, could also make an immediate impact for a team that, even under Luck, has always been a run-first program.

Question marks are at quarterback and in the defensive backfield, and an early September 15 visit from USC will prove revealing. The schedule doesn’t do Stanford any favors, as the other big games are all on the road: at Washington (Thurs., Sept. 27), at Notre Dame (Oct. 13), at Cal (Oct. 20) and at Oregon (Nov. 17). The Ducks are rightfully Pac-12 North favorites, but as preseason No. 2 in the Pac-12 North, Stanford may well be one upset away from playing in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game.

For more from Daniel Novinson and the Cardinal, check out TheBootleg.com.

Absolute Schedule/Records

2012 Stanford Cardinal
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1San Jose State Spartans9534-13
2Duke Blue Devils8431-20
3USC Trojans2724-31
5@Washington Huskies5128-27
6Arizona Wildcats6428-24
7@Notre Dame Fighting Irish5226-23
8@California Golden Bears7127-20
9Washington State Cougars7629-22
10@Colorado Buffaloes7431-20
11Oregon State Beavers7429-21
12@Oregon Ducks4125-28
13@UCLA Bruins7526-19


Keith Price

Now that fourth-year head coach Steve Sarkisian has shown he can rebuild the U-Dub program, expectations are rising in Seattle. That’s a good thing, but it also adds a degree of pressure that this school—or its staff—hasn’t faced since Don James was on Montlake.

Sarkisian appears to be up to the challenge, provided he can get much better play out of his defense. In going 7-6 over the past two years, Washington’s first back-to-back winning seasons in a decade, very little of the support came from the D. A 67-56 Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor marked the unofficial end of the Huskies’ career of coordinator Nick Holt, who has since been replaced by Justin Wilcox.

There will be no shortcuts for the hotshot young coach who has yet to accept an assignment with such a high level of difficulty. Stopping the run will be doubly hard in 2012 now that the two all-stars in the middle, DT Alameda Ta’amu and ILB Cort Dennison, have graduated. Wilcox is in the process of installing a system that attacks, and makes the most of the speed and young legs that the school has signed in recent recruiting cycles.

Even marginal defensive gains will go a long way toward boosting the potential of a squad that’ll have few problems putting up points. QB Keith Price will be looking to build on an auspicious debut as the starter by teaming up with a collection of emerging sophomores, such as RB Bishop Sankey, WR Kasen Williams and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The offensive key for the Huskies, as is often the case, hinges on the line’s ability to protect the pocket and open holes better than it has in recent years.

The Huskies are thrilled to be regulars on the postseason dance card, but are anything but content. In fact, the program wants to be where Oregon and Stanford currently reside, as perennial contenders in the Pac-12 North. Sarkisian & Co. have excelled on the recruiting trail, and continue to do a crackerjack job of coaching up those young kids. Next up is executing with more precision on Saturdays, a required step for U-Dub to climb even higher in the conference pecking order.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2012 Washington Huskies
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1San Diego State Aztecs7930-19
2@LSU Tigers2220-30
3Portland State Vikings9549-9
5Stanford Cardinal4927-28
6@Oregon Ducks3826-31
7USC Trojans2525-33
8@Arizona Wildcats6230-26
9Oregon State Beavers6829-24
10@California Golden Bears6027-25
11Utah Utes5825-23
12@Colorado Buffaloes7129-22
13@Washington State Cougars6030-27

Washington State

Jeff Tuel

It’s been a long time since there’s been as much excitement on the Palouse about football as there is today. That’s the power of Mike Leach.

The Cougars landed a proven winner, a showman and a coach who’s capable of putting the program back on the radar for the first time since Mike Price was handing the baton to Bill Doba nearly a decade ago. While Wazzu is still clearly rebuilding, particularly on defense, don’t expect the transformation to be a protracted process. Leach doesn’t operate that way.

It’s going to help that he and his staff inherit the key pieces of a passing attack that should flourish early in the season. QB Jeff Tuel is a longtime starter, who looked in the spring as if he was groomed to operate the Air Raid system. And Marquess Wilson is one of the country’s most underrated wide receivers, an All-America talent, sans all of the hype and notoriety. Now all the program needs is for the O-line to begin pulling more of the weight, no small request on this campus.

The play of the defense and special teams have haunted Washington State for years, and will not likely be solved overnight. However, there are some valuable parts with which to build around, such as versatile Buck Travis Long, S Deone Bucannon and CB Damante Horton. However, at the end of the day, if the program is going to gradually emerge from its eight-year bowl-less ditch it’ll be the result of the revamped offense.

In getting one of college football’s premier free agent coaches, Washington State could not have landed a better fit for its dilapidated program. The coach needed a new university to begin resuscitating his career. The school was pining for new energy on the sidelines. And just like that, a very compelling marriage was born. While the Cougs are still a long way from primetime, it’s not going to take much, such as a high-profile upset or a late-season push for bowl eligibility, for them to turn a flicker of optimism into a full-blown movement in certain parts of the Pacific Northwest.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2012 Washington State Cougars
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1@Brigham Young Cougars5024-25
2Eastern Washington Eagles9550-8
3@UNLV Rebels9134-15
4Colorado Buffaloes7229-21
5Oregon Ducks2621-32
6@Oregon State Beavers4227-26
7California Golden Bears4224-26
9@Stanford Cardinal2422-29
10@Utah Utes5925-22
11UCLA Bruins6227-24
12@Arizona State Sun Devils5728-25
13Washington Huskies4027-30


Ise Sofele

Dan Greenspan of CalSportsDigest.com is our California Golden Bears insider:

No team in the Pac-12 has a greater disparity between its potential floor and ceiling in 2012 than California. With the top three teams in the North – Oregon, archrival Stanford, and Washington – all coming to renovated Memorial Stadium, the Golden Bears could sneak their way into the conference championship game if quarterback Zach Maynard continues his dramatic improvement from late last season, backed by All-America candidate Keenan Allen and 1,300-yard rusher Isi Sofele. But if Maynard regresses, opponents smother Allen and the young receiving corps around him doesn’t step up, and the defense cannot replace departed inside linebackers Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt, head coach Jeff Tedford could find himself out of a job after missing the postseason for the second time in three years. The real indication of which end of the spectrum Cal fits will come with back-to-back September road games at Ohio State and USC. Survive that stretch, or even come away with an upset, it will signal the Bears are again prepared to reach the Pac-12’s top tier.

For more from Dan Greenspan and the Golden Bears, check out CalSportsDigest.com.

Absolute Schedule/Records

2012 California Golden Bears
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Nevada Wolf Pack6126-22
2Southern Utah Thunderbirds9549-8
3@Ohio State Buckeyes3822-26
4@USC Trojans1320-33
5Arizona State Sun Devils5024-24
6UCLA Bruins4822-22
7@Washington State Cougars5826-24
8Stanford Cardinal2920-27
9@Utah Utes4621-21
10Washington Huskies4025-27
11Oregon Ducks2622-29
12@Oregon State Beavers5126-24

Oregon State

Mike Riley

The Beavers, the Pac-12’s one-time perennial overachievers, have failed to qualify for the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since the end of the last century. Head coach Mike Riley, one of the most popular figures in Corvallis, will need to stem the tide immediately in order to quiet his increasing number of critics. He should have the troops to at least get his program back to the .500 mark and into a bowl game. Or at least that’s the hope around campus.

A spate of injuries on both sides of the ball forced Oregon State to use far more true freshmen and unproven players in 2011 than it would normally prefer. The upshot, of course, is that this year’s roster is considerably more seasoned, welcoming back 16 starters and nearly five dozen Beavers who saw action last fall.

The program is guaranteed to be a year older, but will it be a year better on Saturdays? The poster child of last season’s youth movement was then-redshirt freshman QB Sean Mannion, who endured some rocky on-the-job training as he started every game, but threw more interceptions than touchdowns. He is one of many young Beavers being tasked with the responsibility of turning around a program that sunk to a new recent low after going 3-9. Riley and his staff have to parlay their improved depth and talent into results that show up in the standings … or else.

No one associated with this program, from the players and their parents to the administration and the backers want to contemplate a new figure on the sidelines. However, can a third straight losing season be tolerated at a school that used to script the manual on how to exceed expectations? The hope around Corvallis is that a winning campaign can make that question unnecessary.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2012 Oregon State Beavers
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Nicholls Colonels9550-9
2Wisconsin Badgers2321-32
4@UCLA Bruins5123-23
5@Arizona Wildcats4525-28
6Washington State Cougars5726-27
7@Brigham Young Cougars3922-26
8Utah Utes4120-23
9@Washington Huskies3224-29
10Arizona State Sun Devils5225-24
11@Stanford Cardinal2421-29
12California Golden Bears4924-26
13Oregon Ducks1920-30


Matt Barkley

Wasn’t it just yesterday that the Trojans were down and out, a little wobbly in the legs from the right cross delivered by the NCAA nearly two years ago? That was then, and this is now. Troy regrouped from its bowl ban and scholarship reduction with unexpected suddenness last fall, winning seven of its final eight games to ascend back into the national consciousness. After beating Oregon—at Autzen Stadium—and rival UCLA, 50-0, to put a bow on the season, it had become vividly clear that USC was once again set to join the game’s elite schools.

And then just before Christmas, QB Matt Barkley gave a beleaguered fan base exactly what it wanted, one more season behind center. All of the stars have aligned for the Trojans to explode back on to the grand stage. Barkley is the most prominent of 17 starters who’ll begin the 2012 campaign with a strong sense of purpose.

USC is going to feature one of the country’s two or three most talented rosters this fall; future pros and All-Americans are once again congregating in high numbers at the Coliseum. However, the program will not be without its concerns. Depth is going to be an unavoidable issue, the byproduct of those scholarship reductions over the past couple of years. Plus, there are legitimate question marks in the trenches, both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Matt Kalil was the country’s premier left tackle, providing flawless backside protection for Barkley, but now he’s being replaced by unproven sophomore Aundrey Walker. On defense, three starting linemen must be replaced, namely All-Pac-12 DE Nick Perry, who gave up his final season of eligibility.

Forget about simply returning to the postseason now that the ban has been lifted. No, USC will be shooting big in 2012, with the right mix of talent to contend for a Pac-12 crown and a national championship. Barkley and his teammates are back in cardinal and gold to take care of some unfinished business. And not one of these Trojans is going to be satisfied until the job is completed.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2012 USC Trojans
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Hawaii Warriors9538-15
2@Syracuse Orange8133-19
3@Stanford Cardinal7331-24
4California Golden Bears8733-20
6@Utah Utes8230-20
7@Washington Huskies7533-25
8Colorado Buffaloes9538-17
9@Arizona Wildcats8436-23
10Oregon Ducks6931-25
11Arizona State Sun Devils8134-21
12@UCLA Bruins7733-21
13Notre Dame Fighting Irish7834-23


John White

Last season had an obvious learning curve associated with the program’s shift in conference affiliation. The competition wasn’t just new; it was also significantly tougher than in the days of the Mountain West. And yet, Utah met the challenge about as well as could be expected, finishing 8-5, and winning four of its final five league games.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham wants to build on that success in 2012. In fact, he already has by assembling arguably the most talented recruiting class in school history. These are exciting times in Salt Lake City, with the personnel and the stakes finally beginning to approach the caliber of one of the most underrated coaching staffs in America.

On the field, the quarterbacks—past and present—will be getting a lot of the attention during the offseason. Junior Jordan Wynn is working on a return from his second season-ending shoulder injury in the last couple of years. When No. 3 is healthy, the Utes have a noticeably different spark about them. When he’s not, Utah is one-dimensional, riding the broad shoulders of star RB John White. Wynn’s new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, a former Utes hurler from just a few years ago, is only 25 years old, and about to undergo an intriguing baptism under fire.

On defense and special teams, there isn’t a lot that’s giving the assistants sleepless nights this offseason. The D has many of the parts, including All-America-caliber NT Star Lotulelei, needed to be the toughest in the Whittingham era. And the special teams unit has no glaring weaknesses.

In the year that USC comes off probation, Utah is probably not going to win the Pac-12 South Division. Still, the Utes are surging in a northerly direction by every possible measurement. Better league. Better players. More exposure. Same crackerjack staff that continues to guide this program on a steady course to prosperity.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2012 Utah Utes
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Northern Colorado Bears9546-8
2@Utah State Aggies7827-18
3Brigham Young Cougars4922-22
4@Arizona State Sun Devils5222-21
6USC Trojans1820-30
7@UCLA Bruins5321-20
8@Oregon State Beavers5823-20
9California Golden Bears5321-21
10Washington State Cougars4022-25
11@Washington Huskies4223-25
12Arizona Wildcats5525-23
13@Colorado Buffaloes7225-19


Jim Mora

In an effort to put the brakes on the program’s recent slide, UCLA went in an unconventional route by hiring longtime NFL coach Jim Mora. Unconventional results are now the goal on campus.

Although no games have been played, the coach and his staff have gotten off to a very fast start, hiring a quality collection of assistants, amassing a terrific first recruiting class and ever so gradually changing the culture of losing within the program. The Bruins needed a shock to the system. Mora has been the coaching equivalent of a stun gun for the holdovers.

He’s changing the way UCLA prepares, the way it practices and the way it approaches the game. He’s stripping away old habits, bad habits, and replacing them with what he learned for so many years on the staffs of five different NFL franchises.

The good news for the new regime is that the cupboard was far from empty when it arrived. UCLA houses a lot of former blue-chip talent on both sides of the ball. Say what you will about former coach Rick Neuheisel, but he sure could attract talented kids back to the program. Mora figures to be the beneficiary, provided he can coach up the young Bruins better than his predecessors did.

Naturally, no games have been played, but Mora brought with him a renewed sense of hope to a school that desperately needs it. Only time will tell if he’s UCLA’s version of former USC head man Pete Carroll, or just the next in a growing line of failed Bruins hires.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2012 UCLA Bruins
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1@Rice Owls8430-19
2Nebraska Cornhuskers4223-27
3Houston Cougars4628-30
4Oregon State Beavers4923-23
5@Colorado Buffaloes6125-20
6@California Golden Bears5222-22
7Utah Utes4720-21
9@Arizona State Sun Devils4723-24
10Arizona Wildcats6126-24
11@Washington State Cougars3824-27
12USC Trojans2321-33
13Stanford Cardinal2319-26

Arizona State

Cameron Marshall

Although there’s a new sheriff in Tempe, Todd Graham, he’ll have his hands full trying to turn around a program that had been mired in mediocrity for the past four seasons under Dennis Erickson. Last year was quintessential Arizona State. The program began the season as everyone’s sleeper in the Pac-12, flush with talent and a senior-laden depth chart. It ended it as the league’s biggest disappointment, losing the last five games, squandering the South Division in USC’s final year on probation and finishing below .500. The administration had reached its breaking point. So long, Erickson. Hello, Graham.

There will be countless challenges associated with the implementation of a completely new staff. For the Sun Devils, there are also the added complications of a hire that wasn’t met with universal praise, and the reality of extensive turnover on the roster. The two-deep will need to be rearranged now that so many starters have either used up their eligibility or left for the NFL with a season remaining.

In fact, of the seven Arizona State players who earned at least All-Pac-12 honorable mention in 2011, just one, RB Cameron Marshall, is still with the team. QB Brock Osweiler could have helped immensely with the transition, but opted instead to turn pro a year early. The identity of his successor won’t be known until sometime in August.

A drifter among college head coaches, Graham swears that Arizona State is his destination job, the place where he’ll begin to plant roots for the foreseeable future. It ought to be. A guy can recruit and win big in Tempe even if recent history suggests otherwise. Frank Kush did. So did Dan Devine and John Cooper. Of course, the problem is that none of those men were employed as head coaches of the school in the past quarter-century.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2012 Arizona State Sun Devils
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Northern Arizona Lumberjacks9548-7
2Illinois Fighting Illini5523-22
3@Missouri Tigers4622-24
4Utah Utes4721-22
5@California Golden Bears5024-24
7@Colorado Buffaloes6528-21
8Oregon Ducks2722-31
9UCLA Bruins5224-23
10@Oregon State Beavers4824-25
11@USC Trojans1921-34
12Washington State Cougars4325-28
13@Arizona Wildcats4626-27


Matt Scott

There’s enthusiasm once again in Tucson thanks to the arrival of Rich Rodriguez as the new head coach.

After eight disappointing seasons under Mike Stoops, the Wildcats were jonesing for a change at the top, and the new regime brings some much-needed fresh energy to Tucson. Stoops finished his tenure nine games below .500, winning just a single bowl game, and never surpassing mediocrity in the Pac-12.

With a different regime comes a sense of newness in every crevice of the struggling program. It’s out with the old and in with the new as it pertains to practice, recruiting and the type of players that Arizona will be targeting. Oh, and the locals might also need a quick crash course on the systems as well.

The Wildcats are making wholesale changes in philosophy, aiming to bring more speed and attacking to both sides of the ball. On offense, Arizona is installing Rich Rod’s spread-option, a run-based system that was wildly successful at West Virginia, yet failed to come through in the Big Ten at Michigan. The ‘Cats caught a break when multi-dimensional QB Matt Scott was redshirted in 2011, preserving one more season of eligibility. He harbors the right mix of athleticism and poise to click in the offense, but needs to prove that he can remain healthy for an entire year.

The defense is shifting to coordinator Jeff Casteel’s unique 3-3-5 stack alignment, which also received positive reviews in Morgantown. The next two months will be all about getting the staff better acclimated with the personnel, and getting those personnel gradually more comfortable with an unfamiliar playbook.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2012 Arizona Wildcats
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1Toledo Rockets6029-26
2Oklahoma State Cowboys3925-30
3South Carolina State Bulldogs9551-8
4@Oregon Ducks2824-31
5Oregon State Beavers5528-25
6@Stanford Cardinal3624-28
8Washington Huskies3726-30
9USC Trojans1623-36
10@UCLA Bruins3924-26
11Colorado Buffaloes6329-24
12@Utah Utes4423-25
13Arizona State Sun Devils5327-26


John Embree

Jon Embree’s first season as the head coach at his alma mater was supposed to be challenging. It was. Now, he and his staff are looking to gradually build on last year’s 3-10 campaign.

Last season was tough on Embree, who was accustomed to different results as a player and an assistant with the program. He knew his Buffaloes had slipped considerably under Dan Hawkins, but this far? The losing was a bitter pill to swallow, but so was the state of the program, which wasn’t ready to compete on a high level in its debut in the Pac-12. So, the coaches went to work with a bottom up approach, hitting the recruiting trail as hard as the practice field. Colorado may not have been bowl-ready in 2011, but it wouldn’t be because of a lack of trying.

The Buffs will likely remain on the outside of the postseason picture, but after a full season under the new regime, they should be better positioned to compete on a week-in, week-out basis. The stark reality is that Colorado simply lacks the depth and overall talent at this time to make a lot of noise in the conference.

On the bright side, the program used a slew of young kids who’ll be far less unsure of their assignments in the second year with Embree in charge, and closed out 2011 with a pair of November upsets. Hope can be found in those underclassmen, such as RB Tony Jones, CB Greg Henderson and former Texas Longhorns QB Connor Wood, who’ve bought into the staff’s teachings and energy.

- Richard Cirminiello, College Football News

Absolute Schedule/Records

2012 Colorado Buffaloes
WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
1@Colorado State Rams6525-18
2Sacramento State Hornets9543-8
3@Fresno State Bulldogs5025-24
4@Washington State Cougars2821-29
5UCLA Bruins3920-25
7Arizona State Sun Devils3421-28
8@USC Trojans517-38
9@Oregon Ducks1718-32
10Stanford Cardinal2620-31
11@Arizona Wildcats3724-29
12Washington Huskies2922-29
13Utah Utes2519-25

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Jake Westrich is the Digital Content Coordinator for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at jwestrich@whatifsports.com.

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