Wednesday, August 31, 2011

College Football Preview: Pac-12*

The Pac-10 grew to the Pac-12 by adding Utah from the Mountain West and Colorado from the Big XII. And even though these states are nowhere near the Pacific, the Pac-10/12 has always been a geographically dispersed conference. You've got teams from Washington and Oregon playing against teams from Arizona and southern California. So adding Utah and Colorado isn't too absurd.

Here's the alignment of the Pac-12, divided into two divisions:

Oregon State
Washington State

Arizona State

Teams will play 9 conference games (5 within the division, 4 from the other division). The Championship Game will be on December 2, and will be played at the home of the team with the best conference record.

1. Stanford Cardinal
Andrew Luck is the best player in the Pac-12, and perhaps the country. He'll have to play behind a rebuilt offensive line and a new group of WRs, but the Cardinal have some quality tight-ends, and they can run the ball. Last year, Stepfan Taylor ran for 1,137 yards and scored 15 times.

Their defense is good, and I think it's good enough to allow the offense to keep pace with Oregon when they meet in November (in Stanford, CA). Meanwhile, Oregon's defense will have trouble with Luck and the Cardinal's offense.

Stanford will beat Oregon head-to-head.

Key Games:
11/29 @ USC
11/12 vs. Oregon
11/26 vs. Notre Dame

Prediction: 12-1, Pac-12 North winner, Pac-12 title game winner, National Title contender

2. Oregon Ducks
It's hard not to be dazzled by UO's talent at the skill positions. RB LaMichael James ran for 1,731 yards and 21 TDs. QB Damon Thomas threw for 2,881 yards and 30 TDs. The Ducks averaged 47 points and over 530 yards of offense per game. There's little reason to think that their offense won't score at will.

However, their defense was only solid last year, and it's lost some key pieces. Only 5 starters return. While they'll be able to roll over most teams on their schedule, this one slight weakness will keep them out of the Pac-12 title game, and out of the BCS title game.

Key Games:
9/3 vs. LSU (in Arlington, TX)
11/12 @ Stanford
11/19 vs. USC

Prediction: 11-1, 2nd in Pac-12 North, National Title contender

3. USC Trojans
QB Matt Barkley (26 TDs as a sophomore) and WR Robert Woods (65 catches, 792 yards as a freshman) are rising stars in Hollywood's football program. However, unlike the Pete Carroll days, defense is no longer a strength at USC. The Trojans allowed 400.1 yards per game last year, and there doesn't seem to be many signs of improvement on that side of the ball. Thankfully for USC, they're in the South Division.

Key Games:
10/22 @ Notre Dame
10/29 vs. Stanford
11/19 @ Oregon

Prediction: 9-4, Pac-12 South winner, loss in Pac-12 title game

4. Utah Utes
It will be a challenge for Utah to rebuild after losing so much talent, even though the Utes won 10 games last year. Hiring Norm Chow as offensive coordinator can't hurt. And QB Jordan Wynn shows some promise. But they still need to replace their RBs. They also struggled against good defenses, which they'll see plenty of in the Pac-12.

Prediction: 8-4

5. Arizona State Sun Devils
ASU is good on the ground, bad in the air, on both sides of the ball. They have several good RBs, and 4 offensive linemen return. But the QB situation is still a mystery. On the other side of the ball, a good D-line and all 3 LBs returning bodes well for run stopping. The Sun Devils must also find a way to slow down opposing passing games. They were 101st against the pass last year.

Prediction: 8-4

6. Arizona Wildcats
If Arizona wants to reach a school record 4th straight bowl, they'll need QB Nick Foles to continue to excel. He threw over 3,000 yards and 20 TDs last year. The offensive line protecting him has 1 combined start among them, and the rushing game was awful last year. The defense was solid last year and should be just as good in 2011. Despite a tough start (games against Stanford, Oregon, and USC), the Wildcats should go bowling.

Prediction: 7-5

7. Washington Huskies
It's impossible to replace the likes of Jake Locker, but at least Washington has a 1,000 yard back and a 1,000 yard receiver. Their defense can rush the passer, and their DBs also know what they're doing. With the QB talent Washington will face in the Pac-12, those are two very nice defensive assets.

Prediction: 7-5

8. California Golden Bears
The Bears were 73rd in scoring offense last year, have no clear QB, no experienced RB, and little depth at WR. However, they possess one of the best defenses in the Pac-12. It won't be good enough to carry their feeble offense, but it might allow them to win one huge upset game.

Prediction: 6-6

9. Oregon State Beavers
QB Ryan Katz along with some good receivers should improve the passing game. That will be a necessity because their running game will struggle with little talent in the backfield and a suspect line. The defense is a big mess. Losing Jacquizz Rodgers and Stephen Paea has put the Beavers on life support until more talent can arrive.

Prediction: 5-7

10. UCLA Bruins
The Bruins had a shamefully bad passing offense, 116th in the country. They were also -11 in turnovers. Thankfully for them, the defense is likely to improve. Rick Neuheisel replaced his coordinators, and seems to know that he's the next to be replaced if things don't turn around in Westwood.

Prediction: 4-8

11. Colorado Buffaloes
I know why CU wanted to join the Pac-12, to get some exposure in big West Coast markets and to return to the national stage (instead of being dominated by Texas, then ignored when they play Missouri). But I don't know why the Pac-12 wanted Colorado. The Buffaloes have lost 18 straight outside of their state. They can run the ball well, which won't do them any good because the defense is so bad (especially against the pass) that they'll just be running down the clock for their opponents. Their schedule is also quite dumb. 13 games in 13 weeks, including road trips to Honolulu and Columbus, OH.

Prediction: 3-10

12. Washington State Cougars
Both the offensive and defensive lines are pushovers, which is too bad because the Cougars have a good QB, a couple of WRs, and some decent RBs. It won't matter though because they'll lose the game in the trenches.

Prediction: 1-11

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