I’ve never claimed to have a perfect crystal ball, but I won’t say I’m pulling names out of a hat either. With the season coming soon, here’s my stab at predicting the Pac-12 this year. I’ll never claim to be perfect either, but here’s my take on how the Pac-12 standings will be come Bowl Season, starting with the North division:
#1 Oregon: It’s hard to argue with anyone who picks Oregon as front runner to win the Pac-12, but this is not a team devoid of flaws either. While Carson York and Mark Asper are back, the offensive line is missing 3 starters and a poor offensive line can sink the Oregon offense. Their receiving corps are shaky, and they lose 3 out of their 4 top tacklers from a year ago. In the end though, Darron Thomas, LaMichael James, and the rest of the bunch are good enough to win the North.
#2 Washington: Jake Locker will be missed, but 17 returning starters and some potent skill players put the Huskies at #2. Chris Polk and Jermaine Kearse could start for any team in the conference, and with Steve Sarkisan’s recruiting there’s even depth behind them. 4 returning starters on the defensive line means teams will have a hard time getting the ball past the line of scrimmage, and a talented and experienced secondary means they’ll have problems going deep.
#3 California: Go ahead, call me a sunshine pumper. I almost had us #2. The talent level is perhaps as high as it has ever been, with Jeff Tedford recruiting well in the past two years. The sole problem is that much of the talent is raw, unproven, or hasn’t provided much production. If the talent is as advertised early on, then this could be a very good year and third isn’t all that unrealistic. If not, and everything goes wrong, then we could be looking like a year similar to that of last year. Question marks at QB and RB hamper the offense; getting a productive answer could hold the key to the season.
#4 Oregon State: Mike Riley had a mystique going into last year, churning out winning season after winning season. Much like Tedford, he suffered the first real chink in his armor with a 5-7 campaign. Now Jacquizz Rodgers is gone, and the whole offense goes with him. It’s not all bad, though; his older brother James is still around and still explosive, Ryan Katz wasn’t all that bad last year, and the offensive line return 4 starters. The defense loses a bunch of starters, including defensive linemen and all-around stud Stephen Paea. If the defense doesn’t get blown apart (a major if), then things could be looking up in Corvallis.
#5 Washington State: Things get better, Coug fans. No, you’re still not a bowl team, but there should be a minimum of 3 wins this year due to a poor OOC slate. That’s improvement, and with Jeff Tuel and several other key players with eligibility remaining the strides will continue. 8 return from last year’s starting defense, so it would seem the days of 66-3 are over.
#6 Stanford: Andrew Luck flunks out, the rest of the team quits in disgust over being forced to actually go to class, and David Shaw brings back the days of Walt Harris. I’d place the Cardinal at #2 if their name didn’t spell S-T-A-N-F-O-R-D on the front, but last place is destiny for them.
And now the South:
#1 USC: My hate for USC doesn’t run as deep as it does for Stanford, so I can make a reasonable prediction for the Trojans. Their offense probably still won’t bring back the days of Matt Leinart; Matt Barkley is no ballroom dancer, Marc Tyler is no LenDale White, Dillon Baxter is no Reggie Bush. Robert Woods is still an animal at wide receiver, and Matt Kalil is a solid left tackle. A ton of experience is back on defense, which should be ferocious this season.
#2 Arizona State: This is more of a vote of non-confidence in the rest of the division then it is of confidence for the Sun Devils, but I’m forced to say that ASU will be in the Pac-12 championship game. 5 returning starters on the offensive line, experienced skill players, and a beastly linebacker corps are all fine elements of a championship team. But I can’t get the vision of them losing to 5-7 us 50-17; I was there, after all, and they looked awful. But who else am I going to pick? UCLA? Utah?
#3 Utah: I find it hilarious in a Sporting News article that they cited the Utes 4-3 record against Pac-12 foes as a plus for their candidacy for the crown. There’s still a chance that they win the division, but using a .500 mark against teams in conference is not the right way to make that case. As for the team, they return Jordan Wynn, the QB, but lose their top 2 rushers and their top receiver on offense. Their secondary doesn’t return a starter; that’s a recipe for disaster, even if the Pac-12 is a bit weak in terms of quarterbacks.
#4 Arizona: Nick Foles needs to cut his hair, but he’s a solid quarterback, the likes of which can tear apart a secondary like Utah’s. Juron Criner is a terrific receiver, as we saw up close and personal, and the leading pass-catchers return. That doesn’t even mention Dan Buckner, former Longhorn, entering the receiving fold. The catch is that the team has no returning starters on the line and the defense isn’t anything to write home about, which leaves them far away from a Pac-12 South title.
#5 UCLA: If UCLA had gone 6-6 last year instead of 4-8, I would be much more confident in their chances. But fact of the matter is they were 4-8, and returning all the talent from a 4-8 team isn’t necessarily a good thing. I can easily, very easily, see this team finish in the upper division, but I can just as easily see them tanking and getting Neuheisel fired. It will be interesting to see how things shake out in LA this year, at the very least.
#6 Colorado: Sorry, new guy. 52-7 a year ago against our beloved Golden Bears skews our view of you. They play an incredibly tough schedule, including road dates with Hawai’I and Ohio State outside of conference, and I can see this team getting worn down from a long, hard year. There’s talent; Rodney Stewart ran for 1300 yards last year, and Tyler Hanson isn’t exactly a bad quarterback. It’s not enough talent to get anything more than last place, but it should be enough to beat Colorado State.
There you have it, my predictions. Agree? Disagree? Just want to join me in hating on Stanford? Post in the comments and tell us what you think.