The Saturday Edge participated in a 2012 PAC 12 preview with the guys over at College Football Zealots. Below are some of my additional thoughts on the PAC 12 race this year along with my predicted order of finish for each team.
This team is loaded. From everything I am reading and hearing this will be Chip Kelly’s best defense at Oregon. The DL returns 3 starters including first team All-Conference DE/OLB Dion Jordan. They also add 5* recruit Arik Armstead, one of the best recruits to ever come to Oregon. The linebacker group is one of the best in the PAC 12.
The Ducks lose QB Darron Thomas and RB LaMichael James, but the quarterback position may actually be improved as both Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota bring more speed and elusiveness to the position. Kenyon Barner is a playmaker at the running back position and De’Anthony Thomas can score from anywhere on the field at anytime. The OL is deep and has better size and skill than in recent seasons.
This team should be 8-0 before their big showdown with USC in the LA Coliseum. If the Ducks win that game they very well could be playing for the NC in January.
Cal has one of the better running back groups in the PAC 12. The Bears return Isi Sofele (1322y rushing & 10 TDs last year), C.J. Anderson and speedy Brandon Bigelow is a potential playmaker.
Keenun Allen is one of the best receivers in the conference and the offensive line returns three starters off of last year’s group. The real key to Cal’s offensive success will be QB Zach Maynard who should show improvement in his second season as a PAC 12 starter.
Defensively Cal has led the PAC 12 the past two seasons and should be extremely talented on that side of the ball again. The Bear defensive line could be the best in the PAC 12. Defensive ends DeAndre Coleman and Mustafa Jalil have all-conference talent and the line depth has been bolstered by several years of excellent recruiting. The Bears also have a lot of young talent at linebacker and three starters return to the secondary.
After spending all of last season away from Memorial Stadium, the Bears should be sky high for their seven home encounters (5 PAC 12 games) in their revamped stadium.
I believe Stanford will take a step back this year, but not as much as the prognosticators seem to think. The loss of Andrew Luck and his Heisman caliber production will certainly be difficult to replace, but this team is loaded at just about every other position. They have one of the better defenses in the PAC 12, led by All-American candidates Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov at linebacker.
The Stanford offense will stick to their physical, smash mouth style. They have solid RBs, TEs, and their OL should still be one of the better units in the PAC 12. If their QB becomes at least a good game manager, who doesn’t make mistakes and can also make some plays in the passing game, the Cardinal offense will be fine.
UW has the second best QB in the conference, potential All-America TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and three starters returning to a solid OL, but the loss of RB Polk leaves a huge void. His offensive production will be difficult to replace.
UW struggled on defense last year, so an entirely new defensive coaching staff headed by Justin Wilcox should eventually pay dividends. However with four of their first six games against LSU, Stanford, Oregon and USC, any defensive improvement may not be evident until the second half of the season.
Last year the Beavers were a very young (they played a school record 10 true freshmen) and an unlucky team (according to Phil Steele they lost 54 starts due to injury and were a -8 in turnover ratio).
This year the Beavers return 15 starters. The passing game looks formidable with QB Sean Mannion entering his second year as a starter and a good receiver group led by All-conference WR Markus Wheaton to throw to. But the Beavers’ rushing attack was brutal last year, ranking 118th nationally at 86.9 yards per game. Oregon State scored just 12 rushing touchdowns. The Beavers will need to become better balanced in order to improve offensively.
The defensive line is a question mark after the Beavers surrendered 196.8 rushing yards per game last year. But with three starters returning, the unit can only improve. The linebacker corps is stacked and should be one of the stronger units in the conference and the secondary will be better.
New HC Mike Leach has a lot of talent to work with for his “Air Raid” offense. Look for QB Jeff Tuel to have a monster season. He’ll be throwing to a talented group of receivers led by All-Conference WR Marquess Wilson who caught 82 passes last year and led the PAC with 1388 receiving yards.
The problem for WSU is on the defensive side of the ball. New DC Mike Breske said that the LB corps is going to be the strength of the defense, especially after moving DE Travis Long to the “buck” linebacker. But the Cougars have major issues on the DL and despite returning every significant piece of last year’s secondary, these same players were ripped to shreds last fall.
This team is talented, and they played well down the stretch last season, but defensive depth is already becoming an issue and I am still not sold on Lane Kiffin.
The offense is led by senior Matt Barkley, the best college QB in the country and the Heisman Trophy front-runner. Roberts Woods and Marqise Lee are the best WR duo in the nation; the OL returns 4 starters and 1000 yard rusher Curtis McNeal joins former Penn State star and fellow 1000 yard rusher Silas Redd to form one of the best 1-2 RB combos in the country. This offense should be lethal.
Where the cracks become to show for the AP Poll # 1 ranked team is on the defensive line. Both starting tackles from last season are gone, so the Trojans are inexperienced and undersized on the interior. To make matters worse, Devon Kennard, the Trojans best defensive lineman and potential All-American DE was lost to a season ending injury pectoral injury last month.
I have my doubts whether this is a National Championship caliber defensive line and I really doubt this line is able to stop Oregon not only once, but possibly twice this season.
UCLA could be one of the most improved teams in the PAC 12 this season, due mainly to the recent coaching change. Jim Mora, Jr. brings in a whole new attitude of toughness and competitiveness that was sorely lacking for the last several seasons.
UCLA boasts one of the best RB groups in the PAC 12 conference. Jonathan Franklin is the leader at the position, followed by Malcolm Jones and Steven Manfro. New Bruin QB Brett Hundley has some solid options to turn to at receiver in wide-outs Jerry Johnson and Shaquelle Evans and TE Joseph Fauria caught 39 passes last year.
On Defense, linebacker Eric Kendricks should bolster a much-improved unit with quickness and excellent field awareness. Four starters return to the secondary where FS Tevin McDonald has a nose for the ball. Two starters return to what should be a solid and improved defensive line.
Utah returns seven starters from last year’s # 1 scoring PAC 12 defense. All-American DT Star Lotulelei is the best player of arguably the league’s best defensive line which also includes 27 game starter David Kruger at DE. The Utes do lose their two top linebackers from an outstanding unit, so it is fair to expect a step back, however, Utah only loses one starter from an excellent 2011 secondary.
Utah struggled offensively last year, finishing last in the PAC 12 in total offense and failing to score more than 14 points in any of their five losses. However, the return of QB Jordan Wynn from injury provides the Utes with hope that the offense can improve upon last season’s dismal numbers. Joining Wynn in the backfield will be RB John White who rushed for 1519 yards on 316 carries (4.8 avg) and scored 15 TDs last year. Utah also has a solid receiving group led by DeVonte Christopher to work with and the offensive line is big and experienced. I expect this offense to improve in 2012.
Utah’s biggest strength this season is their schedule. The Utes get USC and Cal at home, they don’t play Oregon or Stanford from the North and their road games are against ASU, UCLA, Oregon State, Washington and Colorado – 5 teams with a combined record of 25-40 and 0-3 in bowl games last year.
New HC Todd Graham has energized the fan base and begun to change the culture in Tempe. But this is clearly a program in transition.
The Sun Devils return some offensive talent including one of the best running back groups in the PAC 12, led by Cameron Marshall, Deantre Lewis, Kyle Middlebrooks and James Morrison. The QB position is short on experience, but long on potential and as I projected here in early July, sophomore Taylor Kelly will be the starter.
Defense could be an issue this season for ASU. The Sun Devils lose a lot of starters from last season’s defense, but that defense wasn’t really that good in the first place. The DL does have some talent, Brandon McGhee returns from injury at LB and the secondary is capable, so ASU has some pieces in place to improve on last year’s poor showing.
Rich Rodriguez takes over in Tucson and he has a potential gem at the QB position in Matt Scott ready to direct RichRod’s version of the spread. Scott should flourish in this offense and the Cats have some good running backs and five starters returning on the OL to lend support. However the receiver position looks a little thin with only WR Dan Buckner as the only experienced option on hand. Nevertheless, I expect Arizona to put plenty of points on the board this season.
I also expect Arizona’s opponents to score their fair share of points this season too. Last year the Arizona defense was brutally bad, allowing nearly 38 ppg and 474 ypg in PAC 12 play. Early reports out of Tucson indicate that defense could be even worse, if that is even possible. Arizona had just 10 sacks last year (last in the PAC 12 and 115th in the nation) and not only do they lose both starting DE’s, they have no one with experience or proven talent to replace them.
The Wildcats will need to score a lot of points this season to have any chance at qualifying for a bowl game.
Year number 2 in the PAC 12 doesn’t look like it will be any easier for the Buffs. Colorado will once again be one of the youngest teams in the nation this year. The Buffs have only eight seniors and it’s possible that nearly 30 true and redshirt freshmen could see playing time this season.
Kansas transfer Jordan Webb won the QB battle this past week, but with star wide receiver Paul Richardson likely out for the season with a knee injury, the Buffs are going to have some major issues on offense. Sophomore RB Tony Jones and an offensive line that returns 6 players with starting experience do offer a glimmer of hope.
Unfortunately for the Buffs it doesn’t get any better on the defensive side of the ball either. Colorado was 102nd in the nation last year in total defense and 109th in scoring defense. The defensive line will likely be stocked with freshmen, but there could be some improvement from a more experienced back seven.
USC at Oregon. Oregon beats USC for the second time this season.
That is my preseason take on the PAC 12 this year. Please check out more PAC 12 information and read the entire 2012 PAC 12 Preview article College Football Zealots. Also, for a complete breakdown of each PAC 12 team’s projected 2012 season win totals, check out this article.
Please leave me your thoughts and questions on the 2012 PAC 12 preview below. Thanks.