This year the Pacific 12 conference has a new name and format but the same favorite.
The Oregon Ducks are the two time defending conference champs and come off an undefeated regular season which saw them dominate the majority of the conference with relative ease. They’re back looking to take the conference again and this time finally break through in a BCS Bowl game.
The Ducks return many of the same key players who helped lead Oregon to an undefeated regular season and the nation’s #1 scoring offense and lead the nation in yards/game. The Ducks return their Heisman Trophy finalist running back, LaMichael James, who led the nation in rushing with 1731 yards and he had 21 rushing touchdowns. He along with returning running back Kenjon Barner, will help lead the nation’s fourth leading rushing attack.
The Ducks will also be returning QB Darron Thomas. He was third in the Pac-10 last season with 2881 passing yards and he threw for 30 touchdowns. He also ran for 486 yards on the ground and 5 touchdowns.
The Ducks however, will need someone at wide receiver to step up. They lost their best wideout Jeff Maehl, who led the team in receiving with 1076 yards on 77 catches and 12 touchdowns. DJ Davis added 42 catches for 470 yards and three touchdowns. They’re gone now and need somebody to take over as “the guy“. Lavasier Tuinei had 36 catches and 396 yards and Josh Huff had 19 catches for 303 yards. But other receiver on the team had even 5 catches. Wide receiver is without a doubt the a weak point for the Ducks, who need a guy to step up and take some pressure off the run game, if even just slightly.
The Ducks will count on veterans Cliff Harris and John Boyett in the secondary for leadership and make big plays for a young Oregon secondary that may struggle early on. The Ducks are very young on the defensive line and look for guys like Ricky Heimuli to make a big impact.
Oregon is 1 team that makes up the new Pac-12 North division, which I believe has the bets three teams in the conference in Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State, not necessarily in that order. The other three teams that make up the north will be Washington, Washington State and California. I don’t see any of those three being much of a threat to the top three.
Stanford: The Cardinal return their All American QB and Heisman Trophy finalist, Andrew Luck. He led the conference with 3338 yards passing for 32 touchdowns. He also ran for 453 yards on the ground. He is one of, if not the best quarterback in college football. Stanford will need him to be just that. Stanford lost their head coach, Jim Harbaugh to the 49ers following the Cardinal’s Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech. They lost many of their key assistants as well. David Shaw the offensive coordinator, was promoted to head coach and will be in charge of keeping things going for the Cardinal, which will be a challenge.
Stepfan Taylor will again be the man the Cardinal count on to get the job done at running back. He rushed for 1137 yards and 15 touchdowns for Stanford and will look to do even more. Chris Owusu returns and he had 25 catches and 396 yards this year. They will need more from him, considering how young the team is at the wide receiver position.
Delano Howell and Johnson Bademosi will lead the secondary for the Cardinal who will be replacing a lot of talented guys back there.
Oregon State: The Beavers return many offensive players that should make the offense explosive at times. Ryan Katz struggled in his first year under center for the Beavers. He threw for 2401 yards and 18 touchdowns for the Beavers but he also had 11 interceptions. That’s a number coach Mike Riley would like to see come down a little bit. The Beavers also return wide receivers Markus Wheaton and James Rodgers. Rodgers is coming off a torn acl and may start off slow coming back from injury and trying to mentally get over the injury. Markus Wheaton however, is healthy and should have a monster year. He had 55 catches and 675 yards receiving, those numbers could come close to doubling this year. He will also be a big time threat running the ball on fly sweeps.
The Beavers lost running back Jacquizz Rodgers to the NFL and are looking for a running back to step up. It will probably come down Jordan Jenkins, Terron Ward and Jovan Stevenson.
The Beavers offensive line struggled last year but they should be able to “Jel” more this year. OT Michael Phillipp and OG Josh Andrews should lead the way. The defense will be led by senior free safety Lance Mitchell, CB Jordan Poyer and OLB Cameron Collins. All three should have big years.
Washington: The Huskies have to replace Jake Locker, who had an up and down four years for the Huskies but finally got them back to a bowl game and won. He won’t be easily replaced. Keith Price gets the task of replacing him. Price had a good showing against Oregon last year but is still inexperienced and that could be a major issue for him this year. He does get some pretty talent at wideout in Devin Aguilar and Jermaine Kearse. Kearse had 63 catches for 1005 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Aguilar added 28 catches for 352 yards. Chris Polk returns as well, coming off a season in which he ran for 1415 yards and 9 touchdowns. He can do much more.
Cort Dennison and Desmond Trufant will lead the Huskies defense which has lost some key talent like Mason Foster.
Washington State: The Cougars return QB Jeff Tuel who threw for 2780 yards and 18 touchdowns last year. He is capable for more this year and should make the step into being a high caliber QB in this league. The Cougars return their top two wideout targets as well. Marquess Wilson returns after a season in which he had 55 catches, 1066 yards and 6 touchdowns. Jared Karsetter led the team with 62 catches for 658 yards and 7 touchdowns.
California: Cal has a lot of uncertainty on the offensive side of the ball heading into this year. They lost Kevin Riley at QB and Shane Vereen at running back and the latter was a huge part of their offense. Zach Maynard, a Buffalo Bull transfer, is the likely starting quarterback, he’s a bit of an unknown at this point. Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen return as wide receivers for Cal and the only real sure thing Cal has offensively. Jones had 50 catches for 765 yards and 4 touchdowns. Allen had 46 catches for 490 yards and 5 touchdowns. Sean Cattouse and Chris McClain lead the Cal defense.
The south division has some big names but isn’t quite on par with the north division. The south division is made up of Southern California, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and the two newest members, Colorado and Utah.
USC: The Trojans return quarterback Matt Barkley, who threw 2791 and 26 touchdowns. The Trojans also return running back Marc Tyler, who rushed for 913 yards and 9 touchdowns.
UCLA: The Bruins coming off another down year return both quarterbacks, Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut. Both quarterbacks struggled last season. Kevin Prince had 3 touchdowns and 5 interceptions before having a season-ending injury. Brehaut threw for 1296 yards and 6 touchdowns but threw for 7 interceptions. Both have struggled so far in their careers and it doesn’t appear they’ll improve all that much for this season. They should have a good running game though. Johnathan Franklin led the Bruins in rushing with 1127 yards and 8 touchdowns. Datone Jones and Owamagbe Odighizuwa are the key defensive players for the Bruins on the defensive line.
Arizona: Nick Foles returns at quarterback for the Wildcats and he’s looking to improve on last year. He threw for 3191 yards and 20 touchdowns, while battling injuries. Keola Antolin returns as the starting running back. He rushed for 668 yards and 7 touchdowns. The Wildcats also return wide receiver Juron Criner, who had 82 catches for 1233 yards and 11 touchdowns. They also will have Dan Buckner, transfer from the University of Texas.
Trevin Wade and Jonathon McKnight will be the key defensive players in the secondary.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils will have to replace a lot of key players offensively. Steven Threet, a QB who was impressive last season, was forced to give up football due to receiving too many concussions. Brock Osweiler for the first time at ASU is the full time starter and will be asked to do a lot. He threw for 797 yards and 5 touchdowns once Threet went down last season. It will be a test for him to do that for an entire season. Cameron Marshall returns at running back for the Sun Devils. Last year he ran for 787 yards and 9 touchdowns. He will be asked to do a lot more for the Devils this year. The receiving core will be mostly back, they did lose their best wideout in Kerry Taylor and are looking for more from returning receivers, Mike Willie, TJ Simpson, Jamal Miles and Gerell Robinson. Willie had the best production out of the group last year with 36 catches for 442 yards and 6 touchdowns.
On defense the Sun Devils return their key guys. Vontaze Burfict and Omar Bolden are back and should be All-Pac-12 first team selections. The defense has a ton of talent and should be a good one, as long as they’re able to keep their emotions in check. Dennis Erickson has always had defenses high on energy but many times can’t keep their cool and commit dumb penalties. For ASU’s sake they better hope that’s different this year.
Utah: The Utes left the Mount West Conference to join the Pac-12 conference. They wanted a fair shot at a national title and now they will get just that. They wanted to play against the big dogs and this is their shot to prove they belong. They do return QB Jordan Wynn who will be entering his third year as the starter and should make a big jump this year. He threw for 2334 yards and 17 touchdowns. Much more should be expected this year. Utah lost their top two running backs and will rely on Junior Sausan Shakerin to have a breakout year. He had 105 yards rushing last year. The receiving core will be led by DeVonte Christopher who should have a monster year as the main target.
Defensively the Utes will be led by middle linebacker Chaz Walker, who’s expected to have a big year.
Colorado: The Buffaloes are starting a brand new era in more ways than 1. The Buffaloes decided to make the jump to the Pac-12 and breakaway from long time rivalries in the Big 12. Colorado decided to fire Dan Hawkins as head coach which was a result of the team not winning enough games. John Embree, the former tight ends coach of the Redskins was hired as his replacement. The Buffaloes return QB Tyler Hansen, who split time with Cody Hawkins last year, but this season will be the full time QB for the first time. He threw for 1102 yards and 6 touchdowns last season. Colorado also returns a great running back in Rodney Stewart. He rushed for 1318 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and can do more this season. Colorado returns a veteran receiving core with Toney Clemons leading the way. Clemons had 43 catches for 482 and 3 touchdowns last season.
Defensively, the Buffaloes will be led by Senior defensive end Josh Hartigan who’s looking to have a big season.
With the best teams residing in the north, that is the division to watch. This is the year the old reputation of the Pac-10/12 being a league about quarterbacks shows up again. The Pac-12 has numerous guys capable of being All Pac-12 selections. Matt Barkley(USC), Darron Thomas(Oregon), Nick Foles(Arizona), Jeff Tuel(WSU), Ryan Katz(Oregon State) and Andrew Luck(Stanford) are all capable and probably will have monster seasons. There will be many shootouts this season and the conference will be a thrill to watch.
November will be the most entertaining month of football in the conference. Utah plays @Arizona which is likely to decide the south division. Stanford plays @Oregon State, Oregon goes to Palo Alto to take on the Cardinal and the Beavers head to Eugene
Pac-12’s Top 10 Games To Watch In 2011
#1 Oregon@Stanford November 12. This will be the game everyone will look forward to seeing. It’s speed vs strength, Heisman caliber players going against each other, national title contenders taking on each other, for most likely the Pac-12 North title. It should be a classic.
#2 Oregon State @Oregon November 26. These games are always great. The Civil War is one of the most underrated rivalries in college football. Oregon State has lost three in a row in the series and will be looking to possibly win a Pac-12 North division title and knock the Ducks out of the conference title game and possibly a BCS Bowl. The Beavers will have a ton of motivation. Oregon State is the one team in the conference who shows up to Autzen Stadium without any fear and will not be intimidated by the Ducks’ fans.
#3 Stanford @Oregon State November 5. There will be plenty on the line in this one. Both teams will be competing for a Pac-12 North title and looking for revenge. The Beavers will be looking to payback the Cardinal for a 38-0 loss in Palo Alto last season. The Cardinal will be looking to get revenge after a dominating win for the Beavers the last time they squared off in Corvallis.
#4 Utah @Arizona November 5. This will be a battle between, what I believe is the two best teams in the south division. This will likely determine the south champ. Plenty of points should be put on the board with outstanding quarterbacks on both sides.
#5 Oregon @Arizona September 24. This will be an early test for the Ducks. They have to go on the road and play the Wildcats in a much warmer environment than they’re used to and face a good Arizona team. The Ducks barely escaped Tucson two years ago. A similar game may happen.
#6 Stanford @USC October 29. USC got handled easily by Stanford at home in 2009 and barely missed beating the Cardinal last season. They will be looking for revenge and to derail a possible national championship season for Stanford. USC has the offense to beat Stanford with returning stud quarterback Matt Barkley, they just need the defense to improve to pull this one off.
#7 Oregon State @Utah October 29. The Beavers lost the last time they played in SLC and will be looking for a big road win. Both teams should have terrific offenses and could get into a shootout with such tremendous quarterbacks. With the game being @Utah this should come down to the final few minutes.
#8 USC @Oregon November 19. USC has been embarrassed the last two years by the Ducks and will be looking to exact revenge. This game should be more competitive this year because USC is improved and will put up a better fight.
#9 Oregon @Washington November 5. On paper this looks like one Oregon should dominate throughout. However, this is a rivalry game and the Huskies will be fired up in front of the home crowd and will give the Ducks a good game. In these type of games the underdog can win on emotion. You never know what happens in a rivalry game.
#10 Arizona @Arizona State November 19. This game will mean a lot. If Arizona wants to win the south division they’ll need to win this game. This is a rivalry game so ASU will not make anything easy. UA will be looking for revenge after a disappointing loss to the Sun Devils at home last season. Both teams will have good offenses so there will be fireworks in this one.
Pac-12 Order of Finish Predictions:
1) Stanford (Three way tie for first but Stanford advances to Pac-12 Championship Game thanks to having highest BCS ranking). Wins: San Jose State, @Duke, @Arizona, UCLA, Colorado, @Washington State, Washington, @USC, Oregon, California and Notre Dame. Losses: @Oregon State
Wins: Nevada, Missouri State, @Arizona, California, Arizona State, @Colorado, Washington State, @Washington, USC and Oregon State. Losses: @LSU, @Stanford
Overall Record: 10-2. At-Large BCS team
Wins: Sacramento State, UCLA, @Arizona State, Arizona, BYU, @Washington State, @Utah, Stanford, California, Washington. Losses: @Wisconsin, @Oregon
Overall Record: 10-2, berth in the Alamo Bowl
Wins: Eastern Washington, Hawaii, California, Colorado, Washington State. Losses: @Nebraska, @Utah, @Stanford, Arizona, Oregon, @USC, @Oregon State.
Overall record: 5-7
Wins: Fresno State, @Colorado, Presbyterian, @UCLA, Washington State. Losses: @Washington, @Oregon, USC, Utah, Oregon State, @Stanford, @Arizona State.
Overall record: 5-7
6) Washington State
Wins: Idaho State, UNLV, @San Diego State, @UCLA. Losses: @Colorado, Stanford, Oregon State, @Oregon, @California, Arizona State, Utah, @Washington
Overall record: 4-8
Wins: Montana State, Washington, Arizona State, @Pittsburgh, @Cal, Arizona, UCLA. @Washington State, Colorado. Losses: @USC, @BYU, Oregon State.
Overall record: 9-3, berth in Pac-12 Championship Game.
Wins: Minnesota, Utah, Syracuse, Arizona, @California, @Colorado, Washington, UCLA. Losses: @Arizona State, @Notre Dame, Stanford, @Oregon
Overall record: 8-4, banned from postseason.
3) Arizona State
Wins: UC Davis, Missouri, @Illinois, USC, Colorado, @UCLA, @Washington State, California. Losses: Oregon State, @Utah, @Oregon, Arizona.
Overall record: 8-4, berth in Sun Bowl.
Wins: Northern Arizona, UCLA, @Washington, @Colorado, @Arizona State, Louisana-Lafayette. Losses: Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon, @USC, @Oregon State, Utah.
Overall record: 6-6, berth in the Maaco Bowl.
Wins: @Hawaii, Colorado State, Washington State, @UCLA. Losses: California, @Ohio State, @Stanford, @Washington, Oregon, @Arizona State, USC, Arizona, @Utah.
Overall record: 4-9
Wins: San Jose State, Losses:@Houston, Texas, @Oregon State, @Stanford, Washington State, @Arizona, California, Arizona State, @Utah, Colorado, @USC.
Overall record: 1-11
Pac-12 Championship Game: Stanford vs Utah. Prediction: Stanford 34, Utah 20
Stanford advances to the Rose Bowl, Utah gets a berth to the Holiday Bowl.
Stanford’s overall record: 12-1
Utah’s overall record: 9-4
In all I expect to see 6 teams from the conference going to the postseason and make a good showing.