Friday, August 5, 2011

PAC-12 Preview

The PAC-10 became the PAC-12 with the additions of Utah and Colorado this past year.  It was almost the PAC-16 but Texas and their followers got cold feet and they remained in the Big 12…for now.  The PAC-12’s first championship game will be played this fall at the home field of the team with the best conference record, which is different than the neutral site games we see in all of the other Division I conferences with championship games.  USC is ineligible to play in the conference title game this year due to the Reggie Bush sanctions they received.  One more strange thing about the first PAC-12 conference season is that Colorado and California will be playing each other in a non-conference game although they are now in the same conference.  This is due to them scheduling this game before Colorado accepted an invitation to join the conference. 

Now on with the predictions…

North Division

  1. Stanford (12-0, 9-0 – Conference Champ):  Let me first say I’m a believer in Andrew Luck.  He is a once in a generation talent.  Watch last year’s Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech, and you will become a believer too.  I’m going against one of my rules here thinking very highly of a team with a new head coach.  Jim Harbaugh is gone to the NFL, and he no doubt was the reason why Stanford improved from a 1-11 team in 2006 to a top 5 team in 2010.  Think about how monumental of a task that was.  A very highly regarded academic school where they can’t recruit all of the same athletes as their competitors, and he managed to turn that around in four years.  Andrew Luck is one of those QBs that can be his own coach, and it doesn’t really matter what he has returning offensively around him.  He is just that great.  He is the reason you will see several NFL teams taking dives at the end of the season this year to secure the #1 pick in the draft so they can pick him up.  The Cardinal return 1,100 yard rusher Stepfan Taylor.  They have three linemen returning as well.  Luck will have to work with the receivers though because of the lack of experience, but he will make it happen.  The defense returns six starters and upperclassmen as depth all over the defense.  As you will see how most teams make a run at the national title, Stanford’s schedule is manageable.  They have Oregon and Notre Dame at home.  The toughest road games are at USC and at Oregon State back-to-back weeks.  I think they will survive these and go on to play in the national title game after they beat Arizona State in the conference title game.  This will make Luck a shoe-in for the Heisman and every other player of the year award.
  2. Oregon (10-2, 8-1):  Many teams on both the college and pro level lose their edge the year after they lose in the title game (see Texas last year and several NFL teams in a row in the 2000s).  I truly believe the Ducks will have a phenomenal offense once again this year with seven starters returning (Texarkana product LaMichael James being one of them), and the defense will be serviceable again.  I just think they will not have the same motivation throughout the season as they did last year.  What happens when they lose that second game of the year, and they know they don’t have a shot at a nation title this year?  They will probably start feeling sorry for themselves and lose another one.  They will, however, lose to the two teams in my opinion that will be playing for the national title – LSU and Stanford.  They have to go to Stanford, and the Cardinal owe them one from last year’s beatdown in Eugene.
  3. Oregon State (7-5, 5-4):  The Beavers have been a steady team under Mike Riley.  Last year they struggled while they were breaking in a new QB.  Jacquizz Rodgers is gone, but they do return seven starters on offense.  The defense will be losing a lot this year returning only three starters, and they were already bad last year.  Their road games are very tough this year – Wisconsin, Arizona State, Utah and Oregon.  I expect all four of those to be losses.  But they will manage to only lose at home to Stanford and will go bowling again this year after staying at home last year.
  4. Washington (5-7, 3-6):  Some experts have great things to say about Washington as an up-and-comer this year with Chris Polk returning from a 1,400 yard rushing year.  I just don’t see it because a team doesn’t lose a talent like Jake Locker and improve.  The road schedule is brutal this year:  at Nebraska, Utah, Stanford, USC, and Oregon State.  Good luck with that!  That will keep them from going bowling this year.  
  5. California (4-8, 2-7):  Despite the Berkeley treehugger’s pleas over the years, Cal is getting renovations done on their dump of a stadium this year.  So the Golden Bears will be playing their home games at the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park this year, which will at least make for a cool setting to watch their home games.  That won’t keep Jeff Tedford’s seat from getting any warmer though.  It was just a couple of years ago that these guys were a perennial top 20 team.  What has happened?  Mainly, it has been due to their lack of consistent playmakers on offense.  It is gonna get even worse for Tedford this year.  I don’t’ know if he will make after a two win conference season.
  6. Washington State (3-9, 1-8):  Wow, they’re still bad.  But QB Jeff Tuel may be able to pull out a couple of surprises this year.

South Division

  1. Arizona State (9-3, 7-2):  Dennis Erickson has had a winning program just about everywhere he has been throughout his 22 years as a college head coach.  He is in his 5th year at Arizona State and only has a record of 25-24.  But I think this will be his year where he gets the Sun Devils headed in the right direction.  Leading the charge is the best defender in college football - linebacker Vontaze Burfict.  Watch this video of him ( and many others like that are on YouTube.  This guy is a violent tackler with a bad attitude.  Just the type of player a team needs to lead them to a championship.  In addition to Burfict, the defense returns five other starters.  On the offensive side of the ball, the line is in good shape with four starters returning and Cameron Marshall returns to run the ball who had almost 800 yards rushing last year.  The bad news is the receiving corp is unproven for the most part and projected starting QB Brock Osweiler (who is 6’8” by the way) has only started two games in his college career.  Steven Threet, transfer from Michigan, started most of last year but had to give up football because of concussions.  Overall, in a weak division, I think the Sun Devils will have enough to win the division.  They have USC, Oregon State, and rival Arizona at home and have to travel to Utah and Oregon in back-to-back weeks, which I think will be their only losses in conference.   
  2. USC (8-4, 6-3):  I am still not sure how good or bad of a coach Lane Kiffin is.  He had a talented team last year in his first season and managed to lead them to an uninspired 8-5 record last year.  Part of the reason may be the fact they knew they couldn’t go to a bowl last year; well they can’t this year either.  In Kiffin’s only year in Tennessee and first year at USC, he had a total of 15 players drafted in the NFL draft and led those teams to a combined 15-13 record.  The 15 players is more than any single college had drafted in the two year period.  The closest school to have that many draft picks was Florida who had 13 players drafted and went 21-5.  That’s also more than Alabama, Ohio State, and Oregon who all had more than 20 wins in that time period.  Looks like Kiffin has had some talent to play with but for some reason it hasn’t translated to wins on the field.  So maybe he isn’t as good of a coach as he believes he is.  They do have Matt Barkley back along with a good, young receiving corp and Marc Tyler back to run the ball.  The defense returns seven starters from a porous group last year.  I’m still not sure of their motivation though, and Barkley has to be ready to move on to the NFL.  Games at Arizona State, Oregon and Notre Dame are losses.  A home game with Stanford and Andrew Luck is also a loss.  USC will start to be hit with scholarship reductions next year so 2nd place in the division could be their highest finish in the near future.  
  3. Utah (6-6, 5-4):  One of the most debated topics in the BCS era will start to be answered this year.  Can the non-automatic qualifier schools who have reached the BCS, such as Utah, Boise State, TCU and Hawaii play in a big boy conference and succeed week in and week out?  This has been debated for several years even though these teams have done fairly well in their BCS bowls when given a shot.  But that is where the weekly argument comes in.  It is easy for these teams to sleepwalk through their conference and get up for a couple of games a year.  Well starting this year, Utah gets a chance to shut up the critics once and for all.  I respect these programs regardless, but I think Utah will struggle at times this year especially toward the end when injuries start to mount up.  I see them being a hard team to predict this year because they have never played these teams on a consistent basis.  With six returning starters on offense, including the next good QB at Utah (Jordan Wynn), they are not lacking experience on that side of the ball.  The defense is the question mark though, and I think they will struggle to keep up with some of these PAC-12 offenses even though they luck out on the schedule and do not have to play Stanford or Oregon.
  4. Arizona (6-6, 4-5):  Just when Mike Stoops looked like he had the program turned around, they lost their last five games last season.  They return senior QB Nick Foles (who I think is a little overrated) but not much else on offense.  The defense has five guys coming back from a pretty good defense last year.  The schedule is not kind as they play at Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon, at USC and at Oregon State in successive weeks all before the middle of October.  That can put a damper on a season and will put Mike Stoops officially back on the hot seat after this season is all said and done.
  5. UCLA (4-8, 3-6):  Speaking of hot seat, how is Rick Neuheisel still at UCLA.  He is only 15-22 in three years at the school but has had a couple of highly rated recruiting classes that he is still waiting to develop.  He has also had some bad luck at the QB position.  Kevin Prince is somehow only a junior and schedule to start this year along with six other returning starters on offense.  In that group is underrated Johnathan Franklin who rushed for 1,100 yards and 8 TDs last year.  Another less than stellar season for the Rick though.
  6. Colorado (3-10, 1-8):  Dan “10 wins, no excuses” Hawkins has finally been fired.  Different conference, same crappy team. It will be a forgettable first season for the Buffs in the new PAC-12.

ACC up next…until then keep counting the days down.


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