Oregon has dominated the Pac-12 the last three seasons as they have been to two Rose Bowls and a BCS Title game. USC has weathered the storm of their NCAA infractions and are bowl eligible. There are some teams on the rise as this is no longer a conference that has been considered soft in the past. Oregon, USC, Stanford are all contenders. Let’s look at how we project the Pac-12 for 2012.
1 – USC – The Trojans are loaded this year. When we say loaded, we mean LOADED. They are coming off a 2-year probation which included no bowl games but seem to still have tremendous talent. All-American QB Eric Barkley is back for his senior year and wants a BCS Title in the worst way. HC Lane Kiffin has a great job in recruiting and several of his top players are underclassmen. The offense has 9 returning starters are one of the most potent offenses in the country. The defense has 7 returning starters back and will be much better this year. This is a team that will be in the top 5 all year and has an excellent chance at winning the national championship. With a loaded team returning and excellent recruiting class USC is back on top of their game in 2012.
2 – UCLA – Jim Mora steps in as the new HC and is bringing a no-nonsense approach to UCLA. He has a very good team that he needs to mold in how to win close games. 16 returning starters back including 9 on defense. The defense needs to improve and will under Mora’s defensive schemes. They have talent on that side of the ball led by 6 senior starters. QB Kevin Prince will be pushed this year by some good young talent. The non-league schedule is tough, but the Bruins get Nebraska and Houston at home. They are one of the most improved teams in the country as we really like the hiring if Jim Mora, Jr. and will make football relevant again at UCLA.
3 – Utah – This is another talented team with a lot of returning starters that are undervalued. 9 on offense and 7 on defense return from an 8-5 team. Utah held their own in year one of being in the Pac-12 and they will continue to make great strides in year two. They do get UCLA at home and if can pull the upset will have an excellent shot at finishing 2nd in the South. The Utes have been to nine straight bowl games. Make it 10 this year and have a very talented squad.
4 – Arizona – The Rich Rodriguez experiment didn’t last too long at Michigan. He brings his spread-run offense to Arizona. The funny thing about the Wildcats is that they were a spread offense that liked to chuck it up and down the field. Hopefully, Rich Rod will play to the talents he has but you never know with him. 12 starters return from a 4-8 team as the defense was dreadful last year. No the defense has to learn a completely new 3-3-5 scheme that won’t be easy. This is a team that will be improved this year as it will be difficult to defend their spread offense. They have an excellent shot at being bowl eligible this year.
5 – Arizona St – New HC Todd Graham is really excited about being in Tempe as he made no bones about it by leaving Pittsburgh and telling his team through text messages that he was leaving. He brings his no huddle fast paced offense with him but the problem is the talent level. We think he will be able to recruit west coast talent to Tempe with his style but that doesn’t answer how this year will be. Only 8 returning starters back so there will be an adjustment period. They do have a good shot at being bowl eligible and they will need a lot of their underclassmen to perform and get with the new schemes quickly.
6 – Colorado – This team has had five straight losing seasons and 2012 will be their 6th. Looking for bright spots there is hard to find some. HC Jon Embree needs 2 more years of his recruits to really change the culture of the team. To be competitive this year the Buffs are going to need to improve on their TO Margin as they were -4 and their defense as they allowed 36.5-ppg last year.
1 – Oregon – The offensive juggernaut in Eugene, OR continues. This team is once again one of the most prolific offensive teams in the country. Led by RB De’Anthony Thomas, they have speed, speed and more speed. The last two years they have avg 47.0-ppg and 46.1-ppg. We don’t expect any drop-off this year. The defense is loaded with 6 returning starters back and they are deep. This is a BCS Title contending team and all eyes will be on November 3rd when they go to USC. Chip Kelly has done a tremendous job and it’s hard to believe that this is only his 4th years HC.
2 – Stanford – Andrew Luck is gone to the NFL and everyone in Palo Alto will be in panic mode. There really shouldn’t be much panic because HC Dvid Shaw is not panicking. They do return 6 starters on offense from a team that avg 43.2-ppg. We don’t expect those types of numbers this year but they will still be explosive enough to help them win many games. The defense is rock solid this year with 7 starters back and they only allowed 337.6-ypg last year. This is a potential 9 or 10 win team in 2012.
3 – Oregon St – Mike Riley needs a big year or he could be out of a job at the end of the season. He has a team in 2012 that could save his job. The Beavers have 15 returning starters back and are vastly improved on both sides of the ball. They do have a very difficult schedule but Mike Riley usually does his best with his back up against the wall. He has pulled off some solid upsets in the past and we think he can do so this year. This is an undervalued team that we feel will surprise many people. They don’t have a lot of stars but they have solid players that play hard. They will be bowl eligible this year.
4 – California – This have been an average team the last couple of seasons and the Bears will need to be better than average if they want to have a successful season. The one plus is that they return to their home stadium after a year of renovations. Teford is on the hot seat and must produce this year or he will be out. We don’t like their chance to be great but they will be average. Look for a 6 or 7 win team in 2012. That won’t be good enough to keep his job.
5 – Washington – The Huskies have 13 returning starters back and there are high expectations in Seattle for 2012. This could be a make or break year for Steve Sarkisian as he is only 19-19 his first three years as HC. They have some talent on offense as they avg 33.4-ppg and they return QB Keith Price. They have a brutal schedule this year and to be 6-6 and bowl eligible could be a major accomplishment. The Huskies have road games at LSU, Oregon, Arizona, and California. They do get USC, Oregon St and Utah at home. Brutal schedule.
6 – Washington St – Let the Mike Leach era in Pullman begin. We love this guy as a HC and feel he WILL turn the Cougars around. They may not win a lot this year but they will have some fun as they will pass, pass and pass some more. Give Leach a couple of years with his recruits and he will re-build this program. With 14 returning starters back from a 4-8 team, this could be a bowl team in 2012. QB Jeff Tuel will thrive in the pass-happy offense and could top 4,000 yards passing this year. They will be fun to watch this year.
Pac-12 Championship Game: USC over Oregon