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

College Football Preview: Big XII*

The Big XII now has ten teams in it. Which is an X in Roman numerals. So maybe they should change their name to the Big "X" (pronounced 'ex'). Anyway, the Big XII no longer has a title game, so all the teams will be facing each other every year.

1. Oklahoma Sooners

The Sooners' pass-happy offense would make any coach smile. QB Landry Jones finally started to mature last season, and he has weapons like All-American WR Ryan Broyles (131 catches, 1622 yards, 14 TDs) among others. The defense has some soft-spots, but it's good enough for the Big XII. The biggest challenge will be winning tough games on the road. OU's only 2 losses alst year came in Columbia, MO and College Station, TX. This year they have games in Tallahassee, FL and Stillwater, OK to deal with.

But this team is really, really good.

Key Games:
9/17 @ Florida State
9/24 vs. Missouri
11/5 vs. Texas A&M
12/3 @ Oklahoma State

Prediction: 11-1, Big XII winner, National title game contender

2. Texas A&M Aggies

The Aggies bring back 18 starters from a 9 win team. They're strong at all offensive positions. For example, WR Jeff Fuller was the first Aggie in history with a 1,000+ yard season. They do need the defense to step up just a bit if they want to win the conference. Because Oklahoma's offense is simply that good. In a slugfest against OU, the Aggies come up just a bit short. So if that defense can gel, and they can slow down the Sooners a bit, they'll win their first conference title since 1998.

Key Games:
9/29 vs. Oklahoma State
10/1 vs. Arkansas (in Arlington, TX)
10/29 vs. Missouri
11/5 @ Oklahoma

Prediction: 11-1, 2nd in Big XII

3. Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Cowboys might have the best offense in the Big XII. They were 3rd in the country last year. QB Brandon Weeden threw 4,277 yards and 34 TDs. WR Justin Blackmon caught 111 passes for 1,782 yards and 20 TDs. The Cowboys' Achilles heel is their defense. Their front 7 is young. Ultimately, their defense will let them down, and keep them out of a BCS bowl. I do think they'll beat Oklahoma, but they'll lose 2 conference games before then.

Key Games:
9/24 @ Texas A&M
10/22 @ Missouri
12/3 vs. Oklahoma

4. Missouri Tigers

The Tigers bring back 9 offensive starters from a unit that was already solid last year. Whoever they find to step up as quarterback will be blessed with riches. They'll be good receivers to throw to, good RBs to hand-off to, and a good line to protect him. The Tigers also bring back 7 defensive starters from a unit that was better than solid last year. They're a dark horse to win the Big XII, although they have some tough road games to endure.

Key Games:
9/9 @ Arizona State
9/24 @ Oklahoma
10/22 vs. Oklahoma State
10/29 @ Texas A&M

Prediction: 9-3

5. Baylor Bears

If you haven't been able to watch QB Robert Griffin, you've been missing out. Last year he threw for 3,501 yards and 22 TDs, and also ran for 625 yards and 8 more TDs. He should have a good 2011 as Baylor boasts some quality WRs. They do need to find some RBs to move the ball on the ground. And unfortunately, their defense will be their undoing. They'll be fun to watch, because games will be high scoring, back-to-back slugfests, but they'll wind up on the wrong end of those against the better teams in the conference.

The Big XII needs teams like Baylor to step up and become solid programs. And in case the Big XX disintegrates, Baylor needs to impress new potential conferences.

Prediction: 7-5

6. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Tech's up-tempo offense will struggle unless they figure out who is going to throw the ball and who'll catch it. They simply don't have the horses this year. And their defense continues to be a mess. They'll be using their 3rd coordinator in 3 years. They'll beat the weak teams of the conference with ease, but will then be casually brushed aside by the powerhouses.

Prediction: 7-5

7. Texas Longhorns

The Longhorns have turnover problems, and no clear QB. Their entire offense is a one big question mark. However, their defense is something to be proud of. They've got a core of good LBs, and they should keep Texas in games until the start of the 2nd quarter. What's ironic is that everyone gets to watch UT's rebuilding process on TV, thanks to the new Longhorn Network. That channel and the football program might have been better off if it started broadcasting in 2012, instead of 2011.

Prediction: 7-5

8. Kansas State Wildcats

K-State has no clue who their QB will be. They have no clue who their RB will me. And the RB mystery is worse because they relied heavily on the run last year. Even the offensive line is full of holes. The defense will likely improve thanks to its linebackers. But still, this is simply an untalented team without any sense of direction.

Prediction: 3-9

9. Iowa State Cyclones

There really isn't any talent in the skill positions, whatsoever. At least the defense will improve and mount some pressure on opposing QBs.

Prediction: 3-9

10. Kansas Jayhawks

If KU is going to be a contender again, it certainly won't be this year. They've got some talent in the pipeline, but it will take time to develop it. The defense lost its best pass rusher, and looks to be worse than it was last year. Which sucks because it was the 103rd scoring defense in the country.

Prediction: 2-10