10 burning questions for the 2016 Pac-12 season

Will UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen be as good as we think he'll be? John Cordes/Icon Sportswire

1. Will it be two years in a row with no Pac-12 team in the College Football Playoff?

Yes, that’s the unfortunate answer for Pac-12 fans. Combine the league’s nine-game conference schedule with growing parity in the North, and the table is set for a logjam of teams with multiple losses. UCLA and USC are the projected favorites in the South, but neither of those teams has finished with fewer than three losses in the College Football Playoff era. In the North, perennial winners Stanford and Oregon are both replacing successful starting quarterbacks, while Washington, Washington State, and California all look to pose legitimate threats. ESPN's Football Power Index projects an 82 percent that the Pac-12 champion finishes with two losses, which doesn't bode well for the league's playoff chances. -- David Lombardi

2. Can the South end the North’s title hegemony?

The team most likely to end the North's streak of league championships is UCLA. The Bruins get the nod over the other likeliest contender, USC, because the schedule breaks a little better in that they miss Oregon and Washington and play Stanford and USC at home. If that gives UCLA a slightly easier path to reaching the title game, there's still the small matter of upending the North winner. -- Chantel Jennings

3. Will the Pac-12 have a Heisman winner?

Let's call this the Christian McCaffrey question. There’s an unwritten rule when it comes to the Heisman Trophy that deserving Stanford candidates can finish no higher than second. If McCaffrey couldn’t win the award last year, when he turned in one of the best seasons in the history of college football, it’s hard to have faith the voters will get it right if he mimics that otherworldly production again this season. -- Kyle Bonagura

4. Who will end the season as a first-team selection in the 'League of Quarterbacks'?

Josh Rosen. It’ll be a hard-fought battle for the most impressive performances between Rosen and Washington State quarterback Luke Falk, but eventually the scales will tilt toward the quarterback who leads his team to the Pac-12 title game. And that QB will be Rosen. -- Jennings

5. Are reports of Oregon’s demise/decline premature?

Probably. Coach Mark Helfrich is 33-8 overall and 22-5 in Pac-12 play, which just happens to be the best record of any conference coach over the past three years. Two years ago, the Ducks overcame a significant number of injuries to play for the national title. So he’s really messing things up, right? No question, the Ducks have issues on defense. If they improve there this fall under new coordinator Brady Hoke, they will be in the thick of the North Division race. Oregon’s so-called decline may, in fact, prove to be more about teams like Washington, Washington State and California gaining on the Ducks (and Stanford) rather than the Ducks truly regressing. -- Ted Miller

6. What will the mood of the league be after Week 1’s nonconference games?

Pretty good, we think. Arizona (BYU), Colorado (Colorado State), Stanford (Kansas State) and Washington (Rutgers) should win their games, while USC (Alabama) is likely to lose as is Oregon State (Minnesota). The key swing game is the seeming toss-up between UCLA and Texas A&M, an important Pac-12-SEC matchup. We favor Josh Rosen and the Bruins, who have been good on the road under Jim Mora, which should give the Pac-12 a nice boost. It wouldn’t hurt either if USC is competitive with the Crimson Tide into the fourth quarter. -- Miller

7. Is Washington ready for prime time?

Yes. Any team with the Pac-12’s best defense is a threat to do damage in the league. This year, Washington gets to add veteran pieces on offense into the mix. Quarterback Jake Browning isn’t a freshman anymore, and neither is Myles Gaskin, who was actually one of the top running backs in the country in the back half of 2015. Combine those two pieces with four returning offensive linemen, and it’s clear that the Huskies are a well-balanced team that’s ready for a relatively manageable schedule. -- Lombardi

8. What underrated storyline are we not talking about enough?

Washington! (Just kidding.) While the Huskies are getting an abundance of preseason love, it’s their neighbors in the eastern part of the state that should be giving the rest of the North plenty to be nervous about. The Washington State offense grows more efficient with each season under Mike Leach. And with Luke Falk and his 69.4 completion percentage coming back, look for the offense to operate at the highest level of the Leach era. And the defense -- which shaved nearly 11 points per game between 2014 and 2015 -- continues to evolve under Alex Grinch. There's no reason why the Cougars should be left out of the North/conference title discussion. -- Kevin Gemmell

9. It’s been quiet on the coaching front -- but will we see a vacancy by season’s end?

Unless it’s a coach leaving on his own -- not likely. The two “perceived” bottom teams in the conference -- Oregon State and Colorado -- aren’t anywhere near coaching changes yet. Gary Andersen is in just his second season, and everyone in Corvallis is well aware that the dice were loaded when he took over. As for Colorado, Mike MacIntyre has definitely changed the culture and there have been improvements that are more than subtle. All that’s left is to get some wins. He’ll be given at least another season after this one to try to make that happen. I guess we always have to keep our eye on USC because, well, USC. -- Gemmell

10. Will Josh Rosen be as good as we think (and UCLA hopes) he'll be?

Betting against Rosen at this point would just be silly. The addition of Marques Tuiasosopo as the quarterbacks coach should only improve his development, which considering he already looked like a future No. 1 overall pick is scary to consider. The next two seasons will be something to savor for UCLA fans. -- Bonagura