Top players, games and champions – Orange County Register

Can the Pac-12 become more than a two-horse race?

Or are USC and Washington destined to meet for the Pac-12 championship in Santa Clara in early December, the Trojans shouldered by their Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Sam Darnold, the Huskies an emerging Pacific Northwest powerhouse led by a shrewd coach in Chris Petersen?

The former scenario might make for a more compelling regular season, filled with upsets and competitive late-night shootouts. The latter might improve the national perception for the conference, which has not seen one of its teams win a national championship since USC did in 2004.

Here is how USC reporter Joey Kaufman, UCLA reporter Thuc Nhi Nguyen and USC analyst Scott Wolf see it going this season:

HOW USC WILL FARE

Kaufman: USC again sees a slow start, but a November push leaves it 10-2 to end the regular season.

Nguyen: With whispers of a College Football Playoff run, the Trojans pick up a loss early but recover for an 11-1 finish.

Wolf: The Trojans will be favored in every game, but two look dangerous: at Washington State with one fewer day to prepare and at Colorado the week before the UCLA game. Two losses look possible. One too many for College Football Playoff?

HOW UCLA WILL FARE

Kaufman: The schedule is challenging, drawing Oregon and Washington in the Pac-12 North, and non-conference dates with Texas A&M and Memphis, but A healthy Josh Rosen helps the Bruins go 8-4.

Nguyen: Jedd Fisch’s mind and Josh Rosen’s healthy arm elevate the UCLA offense, but a lack of other playmakers holds the Bruins back and another strong defense is squandered in a seven-win season.

Wolf: A healthy Josh Rosen sounds great after last season. But is there a running game to complement him? Jim Mora sure needs one. As usual, beating USC and going 7-5 feels good.

PAC-12 GAME OF THE YEAR

Kaufman: Washington at Stanford on Nov. 10 — It looks like this will determine the North representative in the conference championship game.

Nguyen: Washington at Stanford on Nov. 10 — With no Washington-USC matchup on the regular-season docket, the battle of the past two Pac-12 North champions is the heavyweight bout of the conference.

Wolf: Washington at Stanford on Nov. 10 — The Huskies’ schedule is so easy this is the only plausible loss.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Kaufman: Jake Browning, QB, Washington — Browning threw 43 touchdowns to nine interceptions last season, and he’ll put up similarly gaudy numbers en route to his second…

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