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Welcome back to the NCAA preview show. Today we’ll focus on the Pac 12. This is a division that had been dominated by USC for a solid decade, but Pete Carroll is gone and the program is essential defunct (we will cover them however). The rest of the conference has caught up with teams like Oregon and Stanford excelling. USC is still a juggernaut in this division, even if they’re not eligible for any titles.

Stanford lost their head coach and defensive coordinator, but David Shaw’s first year struggles would’ve been a lot worse if he didn’t have the top Heisman candidate, quarterback Andrew Luck, returning. Let’s face facts, Luck is the next 1st overall pick. His game is too sound for there to be much detraction from him. Sure there will be holes found in his game, but he operates out of a pro style, west coast similar offense, utilizes a compact throwing motion with a very powerful arm, and has twice the mobility of quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Chris Owusu is the primary target for Luck, but there’s not a lot of depth behind him. They have a sound running back in Stepfan Taylor returning (1100 yards last year) to keep opposing defenses honest, and their defense is very underrated. Expect more than a few linebackers and ends showing up in the NFL draft next April. This team will go as far as their coaching staff lets them. The team is generally loaded (Oline and secondary might be slight concerns, but they have a lot of experience in both places), it’s the coaching staff that could let them down. Shaw will have to run the ship as well as Jim Harbaugh did before turning Pro himself.

Oregon is bringing back most of their high-octane offense this season. LeMichael James is another Heisman Candidate while Darron Thomas has another year under his belt. Their passing game should actually improve and their receivers are explosive. Chip Kelly also features an underrated defensive unit. They lost a lot on their defensive line (three starters) but have a lot of talent behind them to step up. If that transition isn’t as quick then look for them to be winning shootouts, instead of blowouts. They don’t start off with a whimper either. They’ll face defense heavy LSU to open, which should help their defense get up to speed, but will give their offense a challenge early on. Oregon is a national contender again, but their defense is not quite as good as it was last season, expect them to ramp up the offense even more this year to compensate.

The Trojans are not title contenders, but would be were it not for sanctions on the program. To be honest, I’m not sure if quarterback Matt Barkley is eligible for the Heisman, but if he is he should end up at the award show next to his Pac 12 cohorts. This is still a loaded team, but their depth has become minimal. The offensive line lost several starters, Tyron Smith being the biggest name. Still, Matt Kalil is a first round talent tackle that should keep Barkley’s blind side clean and it is USC after all. Their skill positions, as usual, are pretty explosive. You won’t see Reggie Bush like figures, but they all bring NFL talent to the table. On defense, mastermind Monte Kiffin is still working the defense over. They struggled last year with the system change and talent and depth are not up to traditional USC standards, but most of the unit returns this year. The secondary is the biggest concern, but Monte Kiffin should be able to turn this unit around (he had a lot of success in Tampa with developing secondaries). USC would be a Pac 12 contender, but instead will be a spoiler for some bigger teams trying to stay in the National Championship hunt.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your dark horse candidate from the Pac 12: Arizona State. I know, I know. There’s a lot of hype around this program, but that’s because they’ve finally got something to hype. Let’s start with the defense, which should be stellar. This is one of the best units in the conference and features Vontaze Burfict is certainly in the Dick Butkus talk, and maybe the Bronko Nagurski award talk as well. He’s a phenomenal linebacker and will lead a veteran defense against some talented quarterback play. The secondary is anchored by Omar Bolden, a four-year starter at cornerback. This is a defense that will scare some teams and shut them down frequently. If they struggle it’ll look similar to Coach Dennis Erickson’s whole tenure. They come out firing early and fade down the stretch. Their quarterback has been inconsistent and their offensive line is mediocre, but if they can keep Brock Osweiler or Steven Threet upright they have a shot at sneaking into a conference title game.

California has generally finished in the upper parts of the conference, but never seems to pull it all together to take the title. The offense is being overhauled after several years of under preforming. Kevin Riley, perennial underachiever, is finally out but they don’t have a big name taking over. They’re introducing a new running back as well. Shane Vereen is now a Patriot and the Golden Bears have to replace a fair amount of production. Their defense should be solid, but doesn’t sport top flight talent. Still Clancy Pendergast gets the most out of his guys and should this year as well. Their season hinges on the offense turning it around, but they’re likely a few years off of real contention.

Another team that generally fails to live up to preseason hype is Arizona. Pro style quarterback Nick Foles is in his swan song year, but provides a lot of veteran leadership. He’s also training the gun behind him which should make that transition behind him easier. They ended last year losing 5 straight games. It doesn’t get better from there. Almost their entire offensive line has graduated. Defense has traditionally been the strength of this team, and this year figures to have another solid unit. Still, they’ve lost some of the big names that you typically see on a Wildcat defense. Their defensive line in particular is going through a transition and lacks star power. Foles should keep them in the hunt, but only time will tell if he can carry the team long enough to take a shot at the conference title.

Washington has looked better under coach Steve Sarkisian since he took over. They’ve certainly developed top quarterbacks, which should be the case when you bring in the USC offensive coordinator and quarterback coach to run the program. This year, however, they’ll feature a strong running game behind Chris Polk. Their line was sub-par last year, but has a year of experience to work with. Their top WR, Jermaine Kearse also returns, but whose the man at the helm this year? Keith Price and Nick Montana (yes, that Montana). Price has been given the nod thus far, but reports are Montana isn’t out of the running yet. On defense they’ve lost a lot of pieces. Two linebackers need to be replaced and their front line has stayed relatively weak the last few years. The offense may not have the firepower to carry this team as it has in the past. The Huskies are well coached, but haven’t brought in enough talent to keep them in the hunt this year. Look for a resurgence in a year or two.

Oregon State has been up and down the last few years. It’s a program on the rise, backed by the Rodgers brothers – James and Jacquizz. James may be out for most of the year, ruining his 6th season and Quizz is now a Falcon. Their quarterback returns, but without big play-makers around him he could be in trouble. Quizz was the star and James had been electric when healthy, but their three returners from last year – Joe Halahuni, Markus Wheaton, and Jordan Bishop – didn’t give them enough firepower to step up with the elite in the former Pac 10. Top defensive player Stephen Paea is off to the NFL, and their front four will be relatively inexperienced this year. Oregon State figures to find their way into a bowl game, but not much more than that.

Washington State has taken over Washington’s former role as runt of the Pac 12. Their coach is on the hot seat after several bad years in a tough conference and this year doesn’t look too good. He’s 5-32 in three seasons and without a significant improvement it’ll be Paul Wulff’s last. Still, he isn’t holding back, as most positions are up for grabs. Their rushing attack was woeful last year, partially because they were so pass heavy, and there isn’t a lot of new blood to be excited about. Their defense features a transfer from a community college that could provide a boost on defense – Ian Knight – but beyond that, much of the team looks to be the same. Grim as it might be, Wulff is likely on the outs this year without real talent to propel him to a bowl game.

UCLA features another coach on the hot seat. Rick Neuheisel usually steals a big recruit a year from USC or Stanford, but he hasn’t consistently brought top classes in from a very talented base. Incumbent quarterback Kevin Prince is in a fight with freshman Brett Hundley and with Prince’s injury issues it’s more than likely that Hundley will find his way onto the field sooner than later. Their offensive line is experienced, but has not played particularly well and it will be the key to the offense if they plan on contending.Neuheisel cleaned house last year and brought in new offensive and defensive coordinators. Their defense has some players on it, but not much that will bring home awards. It’s a unit that needs more talent, which is the primary reason rumblings have begun about Rick Neuheisel’s ouster from UCLA.

Colorado looks to have a rough go of it their first year in the Pac 12. This was a unit that won (almost 50% of the time) on defense. Despite corners Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown playing last year, they did not cover the pass particularly well. Now, without those two corners, they could be in trouble against a conference loaded with quarterbacks. Corner is still a deep position for the Buffaloes, but it lacks experience which is particularly valuable to a corner. On offense, Tyler Hansen has thrown more interceptions that touchdowns. Somehow, he still has the job, but if he can’t get the ship righted quickly he could get pulled quickly. They’ve got a nice recruit in Stevie Dorman coming in (Scout.com’s 78th ranked quarterback, 3 star prospect by Rivals.com), but that help wont get there for another year. Expect the Buffaloes to fight out some wins against bigger schools in year one because they’re looking to impress in the Pac 12, but they won’t competing for a title year one.

Utah snagged Norm Chow from UCLA who is installing a new offense this season. He should provide some insight into the Pac 12 defenses because he’s seen them the last few years. They’re moving from a spread oriented offense to a more pro style system under Chow. The transition will be tougher because they have lost most of their running back play from last season. On defense they’re suffering from losing a couple of top corners to the NFL. Heading into a conference of strong quarterback play and strong wide receivers will make that loss even more noticeable. The defense has been solid the last few years, but the transition into the Pac 12 will be tough early. Still Utah has a lot of talent and has been well coached, they should hang around late in the season but shouldn’t compete for the title early on.

 

This is a strong year for the Pac 12, and an exciting one with the additions of Utah and Colorado. Not to mention a brand new championship game. Stanford and Oregon are national title contenders, and USC would be if not for sanctions. The state of Arizona will bring two wildcard teams to the mix that could exceed expectations or under preform. This is also a very deep conference. Oregon State, California, and Utah can beat any team when they want to, but likely won’t compete for the title this year. Expect the big November 12th showdown between Oregon and Stanford at Stanford to be the decider of the North’s champion.

North                                                      South
1. Oregon                                               1. Arizona State
2. Stanford                                            2. Arizona
3. Oregon State                                    3, USC
4. California                                          4. Utah
5. Washington                                      5. UCLA
6. Washington State                           6. Colorado

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