The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 25, 2011

2011 Pac-12 Conference Preview

2011 Pacific 12 Conference Preview

 

Larry Scott didn’t start the fire, but he did ignite it.  After Nebraska bolted the Big 12 for the Big Ten, Scott tried to lure Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado to form the first 16-team super-conference.  Sure, the Western Athletic Conference tried a 16-team setup in the 1990’s but the winner did not receive a bid to a major bowl.

 

Although Scott had to settle for Colorado and Utah, he fired the first shot toward what could become four major conferences of 16 teams.  It isn’t far beyond the imagination to see a four-team playoff down the road with a “plus one” format.

 

The strength of the league is in the North Division this year.  The South is faced with the strong possibility of sending its number two team to the first Pac-12 Championship Game, since Southern Cal is still on probation and prohibited from appearing in post-season games.

 

NORTH DIVISION

Stanford

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Stanford has a reputation for producing great quarterbacks over the decades.  Four past passers are in the College Football Hall of Fame—Frankie Albert, John Brodie, Jim Plunkett, and John Elway.  Add Trent Edwards, Steve Stentstrom, Turk Schonert, and others.  Could the current quarterback actually be the best of the bunch?  If you believe A-Rod is better than Gehrig and Ruth or Pujols is better than Musial, then maybe you can say the same about Andrew Luck.

 

Luck is the best college quarterback in 2011, and he is the prohibitive favorite to cart off the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Award, and most importantly, the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.  A joke is already going around NFL circles that one or more teams may deliberately “sandbag” this year in an attempt to post the worst record and take the next Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.

 

Luck completed almost 71% of his passes last year for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns.  He averaged almost nine yards per attempt, which is almost unstoppable.  As a runner, he added over 500 yards when sacks are factored out.  As long as he stays 100% healthy, he is the player you want to watch every week—the modern day Babe Ruth of college football.

 

Receivers

Luck lost his top two targets from 2010, but we do not believe it will greatly affect his production.  Great QBs can take average receivers and make them look like stars; just ask Indianapolis Colts fans. 

 

Unlike almost every other college team, Stanford actively includes two tight ends for a considerable amount of playing time.  It allows the Cardinal to get extra blocking for the running game, and it makes it very difficult on diminutive safeties trying to stop 250-pound receivers.

 

The Cardinal have three excellent tight ends capable of making a big play.  Coby Fleener caught 28 passes and averaged 15.5 yards per catch with seven touchdowns last year; he became a star in the Orange Bowl with three touchdown receptions.  Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz will also see significant amounts of playing time.

 

Stanford’s new wideouts will do just fine and will not be a liability.  Griff Whalen and Chris Owusu should average about 14-18 yards per catch and combine for about 90-110 receptions.  There is ample depth here with Jemari Roberts, Jamaal-Rashad Patterson, and Drew Terrell.  Terrell is a sleeper; he could emerge as a star.

 

Running Backs

What makes the offense so unstoppable is the running game.  Defenses cannot forget it is there, because the Cardinal can beat you on the ground.  Stepfan Taylor returns after gaining 1,137 yards with 15 touchdowns.  Taylor is also a big weapon in the passing game, and he grabbed 28 passes.  Defenses forget him on a running fake, but Luck is great at faking to him and then passing to him when the defense covers the downfield receivers.

 

Behind Taylor are three other competent backs that will receive playing time.  Anthony Wilkerson, Tyler Gaffney, and Usua Amanam teamed for 789 yards and seven scores in 2010.  This unit is loaded.

 

Stanford uses a fullback, but he is a blocker 99% of the time.  Last year’s “third guard,” Owen Marecic, was so good, he was a fourth round draft pick.  He also played full-time at linebacker, frequently playing 90-100 scrimmage plays in a game.  The new Marecic will be Ryan Hewitt, but he will only play on this side of the ball.

 

Offensive Line

The line must replace three excellent players from last year, including 1st Team All-American Chase Beeler at center.  Khalil Wilkes and Sam Schwartzstein are battling neck and neck to replace him.

 

David DeCastro is entrenched at one guard spot after earning 1st Team All-Pac-10 honors in 2010.  Kevin Danser will start on the other side.  At tackle, Jonathan Martin earned 1st Team All-Pac-10 accolades last year.  Tyler Mabry and Cameron Fleming are in a heated battle for the other tackle position. 

 

While not as talented overall as last year, this unit will still be an asset.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Stanford gave up just 56 points in their final six games last year, and the defensive line really toughened up down the stretch.  They allowed just 89.7 yards rushing 276.8 total yards per game in that stretch.

 

New head coach David Shaw appointed defensive back coach Derek Mason and former San Francisco 49er defensive coach Jason Tarver as co-defensive coordinators.  With the change comes a switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense.

 

Terrence Stephens will start at the nose.  At 290 pounds, he is a little on the light side for a two-gap defender.  Ben Gardner and Matthew Masifilo start at the end positions.  This unit is the weakest link on the team, and it will be here where Stanford either wins or loses the Pac-12 title.

 

Linebackers

Two starters return from last year, and of course, there will be an extra linebacker in the alignment this year.  Shayne Skov will start at one inside position, while Chase Thomas will start at an outside position.  They led the Cardinal with 84 and 70 tackles respectively.  Both players co-led the team with 7 ½ sacks, and they combined for 22 tackles behind the line.  They also showed prowess for stopping passes, combining for nine passes defended.

 

Trent Murphy and Max Bergen will be the new starters on this unit.  Bergen made 21 tackles in limited playing time last year.  Blake Lueders could crack the starting lineup this year.  Keep an eye on Alex Debniak.

 

Secondary

Three starters return to this unit, and it should be in good shape.  Safety Delano Howell is the stud of this unit.  He led the Cardinal with five interceptions and 10 passes defended.  Michael Thomas returns to the other safety spot after finishing third on the team with 61 tackles.

 

At cornerback, Johnson Bademosi started nine times last year, while Barry Browning takes over for Richard Sherman, another NFL draft choice.

 

OTHER

Stanford lost a lot of talent via graduation, but the biggest loss will be coach Jim Harbaugh, who graduated to the 49ers.  Shaw has never been a head coach, but we believe he has enough talent to learn on the job without losing a game due to inexperience.

 

The Cardinal were one of four teams to average better than 40 points per game and give up less than 20 points per game (Oregon, Boise St., and TCU were the others).  In the 21st Century, any team that can pull off this feat is capable of contending for a national title.  We believe Stanford’s offense could be just strong enough to control the ball and the clock and allow the defense to mature without giving up 25 points per game.  We would not be surprised if Stanford repeats their averages of last year.

 

SUMMARY

Stanford has a dream schedule for a Pac-12 team.  They open the season with area rival San Jose State and then go on the road to Duke.  They should be 2-0 before opening conference play on the road at a rebuilding Arizona.  They then get a week off before hosting UCLA and Colorado.  A road game with Washington State follows, before Washington, without Jake Locker, comes to Palo Alto.  Stanford should be 7-0 when they head to the Coliseum to face Southern Cal in the first of a tough closing schedule.  By then, the defense should be up to snuff.  Following USC, Stanford has a trap game with Oregon State in Corvallis.  Then, on November 12 is the big rematch with Oregon, and this time it is at Stanford Stadium.  Arch-rival Cal comes in the following week, and then the Cardinal close out at home with Notre Dame, in what could be a battle of 11-0 teams.

 

Stanford has not run the table with a bowl win since 1940 when they became the first college team to use the modern T-Formation.  Could it happen again?  We believe it could, but chances are the defense will stumble at least one time.  The Pac-12 does not get its due in the eastern half of the country, but there is a lot of talent spread throughout the teams, and upsets are more prevalent here than in any of the Big Six conferences.

 

Oregon

Oregon is another of the teams that faced off-the-field issues during the summer.  The football program made several thousand dollars in payments to a recruiting service in Texas for what appeared to look like a third grade art project given in return, as well as the delivery of multiple key recruits out of the Lone Star State.  Running back Lache Seastrunk left UO over the controversy.  The NCAA is investigating.

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Darron Thomas made fans forget Jeremiah Masoli.  Thomas made the Ducks fly last year.  He passed for 2,881 yards and 30 touchdowns and rushed for more than 550 yards (sacks not included).  He can only hope for a repeat as a 2nd Team All-Pac-12 choice, but he is the best quarterback in the league after the new “franchise” down the road.

 

Receivers

Like Mr. Luck, Thomas loses his top two targets from a year ago.  Jeff Maehl and D. J. Davis teamed for 119 receptions and 15 touchdowns, but their replacements will be quicker and more elusive this season.

 

One of those speedy guys is not quite 100% as of this writing.  Josh Huff has the talent and potential to play on Sundays.  He is recuperating from an ankle injury.  Rahsaan Vaughn will fill in for him until he is ready.  Justin Hoffman will see significant time and will use his size and speed to make big plays.  Lavasier Tuinei is more of a possession receiver, and he is the leading returning pass-catcher with 36 receptions. 

 

Tight end David Paulson returns after catching 24 passes and showing some ability to run to daylight.  He earned 1st Team All-Pac-12 honors last year.

 

Running Backs

Oregon’s Heisman Trophy candidate is LaMichael James.  James led the league with 1,731 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.  If Oregon ran the ball 70% of the time (instead of 61%), James might be a serious candidate to top 2,000 yards on the ground.  James also caught 17 passes, with three going for touchdowns.

 

Slot back Kenjon Barner should change his name to “Burner.”  The track sprinter is a hybrid running back/receiver.  He rushed for 551 yards and six touchdowns (6.1 yds/rush) and caught 13 passes with two more scores.

 

This dynamic duo plus the running ability of Thomas gives the Ducks the best running game in the league and one of the best in the nation—the best of the non-triple option teams.

 

Offensive Line

It will be hard to replace the three graduated stars from this unit, but the Ducks could still have the best blocking corps in the Pac-12.  Carson York is a returning 1st Team All-Pac-12 at guard.  Ryan Clanton will be the new starter at the other guard spot.  Mark Asper and Darrion Weems will start at tackle, while the center position is still a two-man race between Hroniss Grasu and Karrington Armstrong.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Here is the first question mark in 2011.  Three starters must be replaced.  End Terrell Turner returns after recording just 32 tackles and 2 ½ sacks.  At the other end spot, Dion Jordan saw limited action in 2010, making 33 tackles and two sacks.  The two new tackles will be Ricky Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi, who combined for 27 tackles.  The defensive line was exposed by Auburn in the Championship Game, but the Ducks gave up only 117.5 rushing yards per game in the regular season.  Expect that number to jump by about 20 to 25 yards this year.

 

Linebackers

This is the second and even bigger question mark.  The Ducks will be without their top two linebackers from last year.  Casey Matthews led in tackles and played both the run and pass better than most.  Spencer Paysinger was almost as talented.

 

Josh Kaddu is the lone holdover.  He was the weakest of the three starters last year and is not a candidate to become an all-conference player.  Dewitt Stuckey and Michael Clay will be the two new starters.  Clay saw as much time as Kaddu and made 42 tackles.

 

Secondary

This was to be the best defensive backfield in the league, but it is not now.  The front seven may not provide a decent pass rush, diminishing the secondary’s effectiveness.  The bigger factor in the decline is the suspension of one of its key components; cornerback Cliff Harris is out indefinitely after running afoul of the law, and Oregon’s defense begins to show a couple of holes and enough vulnerability to be exploited by quality teams (like LSU, USC, and Stanford) with these factors.  Harris was the premier cover corner in the nation last year.  He intercepted six passes and had an unbelievable 23 passed defended.  He is not replaceable.  He also led the nation with four punts returned for a touchdown, so his loss is worth about as much as Stanford losing Luck.

 

Anthony Gildon will start at one corner after seeing limited action last year.  Eddie Pleasant and John Boyett make a decent pair of safeties, but without Harris, this secondary will be lit up against quality passers.

 

OTHER

It is hard to predict what the investigatory cloud hanging over the program might do for team morale.  Oregon figured to be a top contender for the National Championship Game following their narrow loss to Auburn last year.  However, the cloud hanging over is definitely a black one.  It could eventually cost Coach Chip Kelly his job.  Other players could be implicated as the season progresses.

 

SUMMARY

The schedule is a bit more difficult this season, and we cannot see the Ducks running the table in the regular season.  An opener with LSU at Jerry Jones’ Cowboys’ Stadium in Arlington could be interesting if only for the fact that both teams have off-the-field issues.  The Ducks could get lucky if more than one key opponent is unable to play.  Oregon has to play at Stanford, and they host Southern Cal.  We believe at least one of those teams will get them this year.

 

Oregon State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

In a league with multiple NFL quarterback prospects, Ryan Katz gets overlooked.  Katz might be a contender for all-conference designation in other leagues, but in the Pac-12, he does not even challenge for third team.

 

Katz completed 60% of his passes for 2,401 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.  He should improve upon those numbers in his second season as a starter. 

 

Backup Cody Vaz has potential, but he is nursing a bad back and will miss the start of the season.

 

Receivers

Katz’s top three receivers (Markus Wheaton, Jordan Bishop, and tight end Joe Halahuni) are back for more after teaming for 107 catches and 12 touchdowns.  However, the sensation of the August practices has been a true freshman.  Brandin Cooks was challenging for a starting bid until he injured his ankle.  When he is fully recovered, look for him to contribute immediately.

 

James Rodgers caught only 16 passes last year in limited action, as he missed most of the season with knee injuries.  He has undergone two surgeries earlier this year, so he may not be ready to play.  He was a star in 2009 when he was last healthy.  Redshirt freshman Obum Gwachman could start in Rodgers place.  This unit will allow Katz to surpass his stats of last year.

 

Halahuni had shoulder surgery earlier this season, and he will miss all of September.  Backup tight ends Tyler Perry and Connor Hamlett face one game suspensions that will be staggered.  Tight end will be a concern in the early part of the season.

 

Running Backs

“The Quizz” is gone.  Jacquizz Rodgers left early and was a fifth round NFL Draft choice.  There will be a drop in talent and production here this year, as Coach Mike Riley uses the committee approach to replace him.

 

True freshman Malcolm Agnew may be the surprise opening day starter for OSU.  Terron Ward and Ryan McCants are contending with Agnew, but all three should see ample playing time. 

 

Offensive Line

Four of the five positions are set in stone.  The four holdovers from last year are center Grant Johnson, guard Burke Ellis, and tackles Michael Philipp and Mike Remmers.  Philipp and Remmers have the potential to become all-conference blockers.  Joshua Andrews was set to start at the vacant guard slot, but he suffered a concussion in practice and could be out for the opener.  Grant Enger had been moved to tight end but was moved back to guard and may start. 

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Injuries and academics are causing Riley some headaches this pre-season.  Both of his projected starting tackles will not be available for the opening of the season.  Dominic Glover, who recorded 43 tackles with 7 ½ for loss, is not academically eligible, and Riley is not sure when he will be available.  Kevin Frahm injured his meniscus and could be out four weeks. 

 

Redshirt freshman Scott Crichton will start at one end, while Taylor Henry should start at the other spot.  Henry started four games last year.  Rusty Fernando will become the designated pass rusher and come in on passing downs.

 

Manu Tuivailala should start at one of the tackle positions, with the other one still up for grabs as of this writing.  The Beavers will struggle here for the first month of the season.

 

Linebackers

The trio in this unit better overachieve, or else OSU’s defense will give up an increase in points per game for the fifth year in a row.

 

Rueben Robinson returns to the middle linebacker spot after registering 35 tackles in seven starts.  Cameron Collins started twice and saw considerable action in the other games.  He made 39 tackles.  Michael Doctor played in every game as a reserve and registered 11 tackles.  This group is not a top trio, but it is the best unit on this side of the ball.

 

Secondary

Once again, here is a unit that has been hit with injuries.  Top cornerback Brandon Hardin suffered a shoulder injury that required surgical repair.  He is out until October.  Two reserves are out for the season.

 

Safety Lance Mitchell finished third with 74 tackles last year.  He intercepted two passes and knocked away three others.  Anthony Watkins will start at the other safety position.  He got in on 27 tackles as a key reserve last year.  Ryan Murphy should see plenty of playing time.

 

Jordan Poyer figures to start at one cornerback position.  As a reserve in 2010, he had six passes defended.  Rashaad Reynolds will replace Hardin at the other corner.  He made 14 tackles and had no passes defended last year.

 

OTHER

The Beavers have seen their points allowed increase from 22.2 to 22.6 to 23.1 to 25.0 to 26.8 in the last five seasons.  The possibility of extending that negative streak to six is very high.  OSU could give up more than 28 points per game this season with all their injury troubles and a tough schedule against high-scoring opponents.

 

SUMMARY

The Beavers took a step backward last season, finishing with seven losses for the first time in over a decade.  This program has been on a small decline since 2006. 

 

Oregon State was once one of the weakest programs in major college football.  They went close to three decades without a winning season.  There was a quick transition from winning seasons in the 1960’s to losing seasons for the next 30 years.  Could the Beavers be on the cusp of repeating history?  We don’t know the answer, but we are a little pessimistic about 2011.

 

Katz is going to have to improve to a level similar to Thomas at Oregon if the Beavers are to score enough points to win most games.

 

The schedule gives them one cupcake—the opener with Sacramento State.  Conference games at home against UCLA, Arizona, and Washington are winnable, and road games with Cal and Washington State are winnable.  The Beavers must win all five of these games to become bowl eligible, and we cannot see this happening.

 

Washington

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Jake Locker had his critics.  He threw too many off-target passes; he held onto the ball too long and took a lot of sacks; he ran the ball when he could have passed it, etc.

 

A quarterback at Southern Mississippi in the late 1980’s had many of the same criticisms bestowed on him.  His name was Favre.  Locker is Favre redux, and the Huskies will quickly realize how much he is missed.  Locker completed just 55.4% of his passes, for 2,265 yards and 17 touchdowns in his final year at UW.  He added over 500 rushing yards (sacks removed) and six touchdowns. 

 

Keith Price takes over after completing 19 of 37 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman.  He has talent and potential, but he will not duplicate Locker’s performance.

 

Receivers

Coach Steve Sarkisian welcomes back two stars on this side of the ball.  One of them is wideout Jermaine Kearse.  Kearse hauled in 63 passes for 1,005 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2010. 

 

Devin Aguilar and Kevin Smith will supplement Kearse.  Aguilar caught 28 balls and averaged 12.6 yards per catch. 

 

The Huskies have two young, but inexperienced, quality tight ends; Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the top incoming recruit and should play right away, while redshirt freshman Michael Hartvigson will see significant playing time.

 

Running Backs

The other star on this offense is Chris Polk.  As a sophomore, he rushed for 1,415 yards and nine touchdowns, and he nabbed 22 passes for 180 yards.  Polk recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and will miss the start of the season.  Jesse Callier will replace him.  Callier rushed for 400+ yards and actually averaged a little more per rush than Polk.  Fullback Jonathan Amosa will open holes for Polk and Callier.

 

Offensive Line

Three starters return to the blocking corps.  Center Drew Schaffer, guard Coline Porter, and Tackle Senio Kelemente combined for 36 starts with Kelemente earning some all-conference consideration.

 

Erik Kohler should start at the vacant tackle position, while redshirt freshman Colin Tanigawa will take the vacant guard position.  Overall, this is a fair unit. 

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Huskies gave up more rushing yards last year than the year before, but four tough opponents accounted for most of that deterioration. 

 

The Huskies have depth here.  All four starters return from last year, but one or two may be supplanted by others.  Alameda Ta’Amu is the big man in the trenches.  The 6-3, 330-pound tackle plugs multiple gaps.  True freshman Danny Shelton could start opposite him.  Hau’oli Jamora and Everette Thompson should start at end, with Josh Shirley serving as a designated pass rusher.  Providing depth in the line are Sione Potoa’e and Talia Crichton.  This unit will perform better in 2011.

 

Linebackers

Here is Sarkisian’s headache, and the reason the defense may not improve overall.  Middle linebacker Cort Dennison is a good defender, having made 93 tackles with 8 ½ behind the line and defending five passes.  John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono are untested.  Garret Gilliland is available here as well.  This is the weakest trio in the Pac-12, and replacing Mason Foster and his league-leading 161 tackles will be impossible.

 

Secondary

When healthy, this is a tough unit.  However, as of this writing, one of its key components is recuperating from an ankle injury that may prevent him from starting the season opener.  Cornerback Quinton Richardson intercepted two passes among his 10 passed defended, and he will likely be replaced by Greg Ducre for the Eastern Washington game.

 

Safety Nathan Fellner led the Huskies with five interceptions and 13 passes defended.  Cornerback Desmond Trufant posted 48 tackles and defended five passes.  His counterpart will be sophomore Sean Parker, who picked off one pass in limited duty.

 

OTHER

2011 presents UW with a tough schedule.  The non-conference slate includes games with Hawaii and Nebraska (in Lincoln).  In conference play, the Huskies must play at Utah, Stanford, USC, and Oregon State.  The Apple Cup game with WSU has been moved to Qwest Field and will not be as much of a home field advantage.

 

 

SUMMARY

We have a lot of confidence in Sarkisian and his two coordinators, Doug Nussmeier on offense and Nick Holt on defense.  They have just enough talent to compete against everybody but Stanford and Oregon.  UW could win six or seven games again even without Locker at quarterback.

 

California

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Coach Jeff Tedford has developed some outstanding quarterbacks here, including current Super Bowl Champion QB Aaron Rodgers, Kyle Boller.  As OC at Oregon, he had Joey Harrington, A. J. Feely, and Akili Smith.  At Fresno State before that, he tutored Trent Dilfer, David Carr, and Billy Volek.  In other words, Tedford knows a thing or two about quarterback development.

 

This year, he welcomes Zach Maynard from the University of Buffalo.  Maynard has beaten out last year’s starter Brock Mansion and sophomore Allan Bridgford.  Look for Maynard to easily surpass last year’s off-season for Cal in yardage and touchdowns (2,101 yards and 15 touchdowns).  Look for a return of 200+ yards through the air and 20 touchdowns or more.

 

Receivers

The Bears’ top two receivers return in Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen, who teamed for 96 receptions and 1,255 yards.  Michael Calvin started three times and caught 13 passes.  Anthony Miller returns at tight end after hauling in 13 passes.  Look for steady improvement here with Maynard throwing the pigskin.

 

Running Backs

Tedford is also known for developing 1,000-yard rushing backs.  Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, and the just departed Shane Vereen are prime examples.  Vereen does not have a likely 1,000-yard back replacing him this year.

 

This could be a year in which Cal uses a running back by committee.  Isi Sofele, Covauhgn DeBoskie-Johnson, and C. J. Anderson could split the carries, but the freshman Anderson has the skills to eventually become the feature back.  Cal averaged just 159 yards on the ground, which is a multi-year low in the Tedford era.  Look for better overall results, with the new trio combining for about 175 yards per game.

 

Offensive Line

This will be an improved unit in 2011.  Three starters return, including 1st Team All-Pac-12 tackle Mitchell Schwartz.  Guards Brian Schwenke and Matt Summers-Gavin are the other two veterans of the line.  Dominic Galas will start at center.  He started once in 2009.  Matt Williams is a famous sports name in the Bay area; Cal’s version will start at the vacant tackle position.  This group could give up less than 20 sacks and block well enough for the backs to average better than 4.5 yards per rush.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

There is rebuilding to do all throughout the defense this year, and the Bears will take a step backward on this side of the ball.  The line returns just one starter from the 3-man unit and loses a 1st team all-conference player in Cameron Jordan.

 

DeAndre Coleman returns at end after registering 18 tackles as a platoon player.  He did not make a sack or hurry a quarterback.  Trevor Guyton started four games and played in seven more, getting in on 29 tackles with 8 ½ for loss.  At the nose position is a human eclipse.  Viliami Moala is 6-3 and 350 pounds.  The true freshman is one of Cal’s most prized recruits, and he has won the starting job from day one.

 

Linebackers

Two starters return to this four-man unit, one of whom is a legitimate star.  The Bears lose another star with the departure of leading tackler Mike Mohamed to the NFL Draft.

 

Mychal Kendricks led the Bears with 8 ½ sacks and 15 total tackles for loss.  His fellow inside linebacker mate, D. J. Holt, returns after making 85 tackles.  On the outside, redshirt freshman David Wilkerson will man one spot, while the other one is up for grabs between Chris McCain, Ryan Davis, and Cecil Whiteside, none of whom have played here.

 

Secondary

Two starters return to the back line of defense.  Safety Sean Cattouse is the closest thing to a star on this unit.  He intercepted a pass and broke up seven others last year.  D. J. Campbell will start opposite him after making 21 tackles in reserve last year.

 

Marc Anthony returns at one cornerback slot.  He was credited with eight passes defended with two interceptions.  The new corner will be Steve Williams, who intercepted a pass and knocked away four others in reserve.  Overall, this is a reliable but not spectacular secondary.

 

OTHER

The kicking game is in good shape with the return of two quality players.  Bryan Anger narrowly missed leading the league in punting, while Giorgio Tavecchio has a strong leg and was 4-6 on field goal attempts from beyonf 40 yards.

 

Cal will have to play its home games away from campus this season, as Memorial Stadium undergoes some surgery.  The Bears will host Fresno State at Candlestick Park and play the rest of their home games at AT&T (Giants baseball) Park.  If the Giants are in the NLCS, Cal will have to move its game with USC.

 

SUMMARY

It all depends on the rebuilt defense.  Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast knows his stuff, and we believe he will mold the new players into a cohesive unit.  They will not stop everybody on the schedule, but just remember what Cal did to Oregon’s offense last year—15 points and 317 yards (Oregon gained almost 450 yards against Auburn).

 

The offense will be much improved and will easily top last season’s averages.  We would not be shocked if the Bears top 28 points per game and 400 total yards per game.

 

The schedule has just one cupcake—a week three game with Presbyterian.  Cal opens with Fresno State at Candlestick Park, and that is a trap game for sure.  Through a quirk in the schedule, the Bears will play 10 conference games this year.  The Colorado game will not count in the league standings, as this game was already on the schedule before the Buffs joined the Pac-12. 

 

Here is the catch.  Cal was 1-4 on the road last year, and in effect, all 12 games this year will be on the road.  If the two municipal parks provide them with the same homefield advantage as Memorial Stadium, then the Bears will go bowling in El Paso, Las Vegas, or a similar venue.  If not, then Tedford could be sitting on a hot seat.

 

Washington State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Jeff Tuel is not another Jason Gesser or Alex Brink, but he is going to have a year not too different than the two former stars.  Tuel completed almost 60% of his passes for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns last year, and he has the potential to top 3,000 yards in 2011.

 

Marshall Lobbestael has starting experience, and if Tuel is injured, all will not be lost.  He does not have the accuracy of Tuel, but he will not be a deer in the headlights if he must go in.

 

Receivers

The Cougars return three starters here, one of whom was a Freshman All-American last year.  Marquess Wilson could be a 1st Team All-Pac-12 member this year after taking in 55 passes for 1,006 yards and six touchdowns.  He is a threat to take even a one yard pass and turn it into a long touchdown bolt.

 

Jared Karstetter hauled in a team-leading 62 passes and scored seven times.  He is strictly a possession receiver and uses his height to his advantage over smaller cornerbacks.  Isiah Barton and Gino Simone teamed up for 32 receptions and will supplement the two primary options.  Look for true freshman Henry Eaddy to challenge for a starting spot early in the season.

 

A new tight end/h-back must be found.  Coach Paul Wulff will choose between Jared Byers, Andrei Lintz, and Aaron Dunn.  This unit is in good shape overall.

 

Running Backs

WSU has not been able to generate a running game in six years.  The last three seasons have seen the Cougars rush for an average of less than 86 yards!  Of course, giving up 51 sacks in a season is enough to skew those rushing stats.  Removing the sacks, WSU rushed for about 115 yards per game with an average of 3.8 yards per rush.

 

Wulff will rely on a three-man platoon this year and hope to take enough heat off Tuel to prevent defenses from lining up and coming with five and six pass rushers.  Rickey Galvin, Logwone Mintz, and Carl Winston will split the load.  Look for the Cougars to top 100 yards rushing, but only by a little bit.

 

Offensive Line

This won’t be a major asset, but the blocking corps is going to be quite a bit improved in 2011.  Three starters return to this unit, but the new starters have enough experience to be considered quasi-starters.

 

Guard B. J. Guerra is the leader of this unit. He could challenge for 1st team all-conference honors this year.  Fellow guard John Fullington takes over on the other side after starting six times as a freshman.

 

Wade Jacobson and David Gonzales will man the tackle positions.  Jacobson started every game last year, while Gonzales has started seven games in the past.  He missed last season with an injury.

 

Andrew Roxas will be the new starting center.  He has nine career starts under his belt. 

 

This unit is not the equal of Oregon’s or Stanford’s, but they are no longer the weakest in the league here.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Cougars are still in need of a lot of improvement on this side of the line.  They gave up 220 yards per game on the ground (average of 5.6/rush) and made just 23 sacks. 

 

Two starters return to the trenches this year.  End Travis Long led the team with five sacks and 10 ½ tackles for loss.  Tackle Brandon Rankin made just 19 stops, but five were for losses.  The new starters figure to be Anthony Laurenzi at tackle and Adam Coerper at end.  Coerper is a fast developer; he moved from number four to number one in just a couple weeks.

 

Linebackers

This unit is a little stronger than the one in front.  Two starters return here.  Alex Hoffman-Ellis finished second on the squad with 81 tackles, while middle linebacker C. J. Mizell added 57 stops with six for loss.  Sekope Kaufusi is the new starter at the Sam position.  He made 22 tackles in a limited role last year.

 

Secondary

If there is a strong unit on this side of the ball, this is it.  However, it is hard to call this quartet a major asset. 

 

It is never great when your leading tackler is your strong safety.  Deone Bucannon led WSU with 84 tackles.  He intercepted a couple passes and knocked away five more.  Tyree Toomer is the other starting safety.  He is adequate against the pass but better supporting the run.

 

Cornerbacks Daniel Simmons and Nolan Washington combined for 62 tackles but only seven passes defended.  Washington is nursing a sore hamstring, so he will be slow to start the season.

 

OTHER

Washington State’s last winning season was 2003, which was the third consecutive 10-win season.  The Cougars have fallen on rough times since.  Defense has been the major problem, as WSU has given 35 or more points per game the last three years.  We believe that streak will come to an end this season, but not by much.

 

SUMMARY

The schedule should allow Wulff’s Cougars to start 2-0 after they open with Idaho State and UNLV.  Game three will be the bell-weather game.  When the Cougars go to San Diego State, they might even be favored.  If they win the game to move to 3-0, then there is a chance, albeit small, that they could find a way to win three in the conference and make it to a bowl.  We tend to believe they will fall short this year, but they could easily double their win total from last year.

 

SOUTH DIVISION

Southern California

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Matt Barkley is the best second best quarterback in a league since Colt McCoy at Texas in 2008 and 2009.  He might be the top quarterback in every other conference in America.  Last year even though he missed a game and parts of another, he completed 62.6% of his passes for 2,791 yards and 26 touchdowns. 

 

The Trojans are stocked here with three other quality passers.  Jesse Scroggins is out indefinitely with an injured hand, but true freshmen Max Wittek and Cody Kessler have star potential.  The Trojans will rely more on the pass this year, and we expect them to average more than 250 yards per game through the air.

 

Receivers

As a freshman, Robert Woods may have been one of the three best receivers in the league.  He finished with 65 receptions and six touchdowns last year and could top 80 receptions this season.

 

Behind him, the Trojans are inexperienced.  Marqise Lee could start as a true freshman.  Kyle Prater is a redshirt freshman, but at 6-05, he will be a tough matchup problem.  Brice Butler has played sparingly in two seasons.

 

Tight end/H-back Rhett Ellison hauled in 21 passes and scored three times in 2010.  Look for him to get more balls thrown his way this year.

 

Running Backs

Who would have thought that an internet gossip site could affect a college football team?  Starting tailback Marc Tyler ran his mouth off to TMZ.com, and it cost him his spot in the lineup.  Coach Lane Kiffin suspended him indefinitely over his remarks.  Funny, Kiffin’s name has been dragged through the mud from coast to coast in numerous internet sites, yet he still has a job.

 

Tyler led the Trojans’ ground game with 913 yards and nine touchdowns.  Curtis McNeal figured to be his replacement, but he injured his knee and is doubtful for the season opener.  Dillon Baxter and C. J. Morgan will share the reps at running back until one of the other two is able to play again. 

 

Offensive Line

The Trojans are deep here.  Their two-deep is almost as good as Oregon’s, even though just two starters return.  Center Khaled Holmes is one of the best in the league.  Ditto for tackle Matt Kalil.  John Martinez and Abe Markowitz will start at the vacant guard positions, while Kevin Graf will man the vacant tackle spot.  Look for this group to provide excellent pass coverage for Barkley and surrender less than 20 sacks for the seventh year in a row.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Any defense with Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron coaching is going to be tough up front.  The Trojans have the top defensive line in the league and one of the best in the country.

 

Three starters return, but nose tackle Armond Armstead will have to share his spot with newcomer George Uko, and DaJohn Harris may be relegated to the second team in favor of Christian Tupou.

 

Nick Perry starts at one end, while Wes Horton inherits the other end spot.  Devon Kennard and Kevin Greene will spell the two starters and allow the Trojans to have fresh anchors on the edge.

 

Linebackers

If there is an Achilles’ heel in the defense, it is in the linebacker unit.  It would be hard to find the heel here, because the Trojans’ linebackers are going to make a lot of plays this year.

 

Devon Kennard returns to the middle after making 72 tackles with seven for losses.  Chris Galippo was a part-time starter and made 29 tackles.  Marquis Simmons will split time with Hayes Pullard at the other outside spot.

 

Secondary

This unit is almost as strong as the front line.  The loss of Shareece Wright and his 10 passes defended will be hard to overcome, but new starting cornerback Tony Burnett saw a lot of action last year and made 26 tackles.  He will join Nickell Robey, who led the team with four picks.

 

The two starting safeties are back for more.  Jawanza Starling and T. J. McDonald combined for 126 tackles and nine passes defended.

 

Nickel back Torrin Harris is good enough to be a regular for most teams.

 

OTHER

Kiffin was cleared in the recent investigation of the Tennessee football program.  The Trojans will be off probation after this season, and they will not be eligible for the Pac-12 Championship Game this year.

 

SUMMARY

USC should be 6-0 when they travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame on October 22, although they must face Arizona State in Tempe on September 24.  They follow that game with Stanford at the Coliseum. A trip to Eugene to face the Quack Attack in November is followed by a visit from cross-town rival UCLA. 

 

Southern Cal should win at least eight games this year, and we would not be surprised if they go 10-2.

 

Arizona State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

When healthy, Brock Osweiler is an effective quarterback.  At 6-08, he has no trouble seeing over the line, but he is mobile enough to be an effective runner.  In limited action last year, he completed 57% of his passes for 797 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.

 

The Sun Devils will be in a heap of trouble if Osweiler is absent for any length of time.  Redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly is the next best option, but he is not ready for Pac-12 football.

 

Receivers

Coach Dennis Erickson has loads of depth here but no true stars.  His projected three starters, Aaron Pflugrad, Mike Willie, and Gerell Robinson, all topped 25 receptions and combined for 94 total with 13 touchdowns.  T. J. Simpson caught 29 passes for 481 yards, but he is still recovering from ACL surgery in the spring.  Juco Transfer George Bell could see action early.

 

Tevor Kohl and Christopher Coyle could form a double tight end set, but ASU does not throw to their tight ends and uses them basically for blocking.

 

Running Backs

The Sun Devils have some depth here.  Cameron Marshall returns after leading the team with 787 yards and nine touchdowns.  James Morrison saw limited action in 2010, but he will move to number two on the depth chart.  Deantre Lewis will not be ready for the start of the season after suffering a gunshot wound that damaged his hamstring.  He finished second with 539 rushing yards.

 

Look for Marshall to threaten the 1,000 yard mark if Lewis does not see the field this year.

 

Offensive Line

Arizona State welcomes back all five starters from 2010, and this is why the Sun Devils have an excellent shot of advancing to the first Pac-12 Championship Game.

 

Center Garth Gerhart is a Remington Trophy contender.  Tackle Evan Finkenberg could contend for all-conference honors.  Guards Andrew Sampson and Mike Marcisz and tackle Aderious Simmons round out the unit.  Look for the total number of sacks allowed to drop by 5-10 from a rather high 31 in 2010.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Erickson’s front four performed admirably last year, giving up just 120 rushing yards, but they did not provide enough of a pass rush.  Both ends, Junior Onyeali and Jamaar Jarrett, return after teaming for 22 tackles for loss and 11 sacks.  Bo Moos and William Sutton will be the new tackles.  They are one-gap aggressors and not big beefeaters.  Corey Adams is making a charge to replace Moos.

 

Linebackers

This could have been one of the top units in the nation, but the loss of key starter Brandon Magee with a torn Achilles’ tendon has dropped it several rungs on the national ladder.  Vontaze Burfict led the team with 90 tackles last year, but he did not record a sack and only knocked away three passes.  Colin Parker made 57 tackles, while Oliver Aaron made 47 with 7 ½ for losses.  Aaron replaces Magee.  Shelly Lyons could crack the starting lineup in place of Parker.

 

Secondary

Here is the problem with the defense.  ASU gave up 245 passing yards per game and allowed a completion percentage of 63.2%.  Two full-time and one part-time starter must be replaced.  Cornerback Deveron Carr started part-time and made just eight tackles.  At the opposite corner, Osahon Irabor made 40 tackles with three passes defended.  Safety Eddie Elder registered 64 tackles with 5 ½ stops for loss and five passes defended.  Clint Floyd will start at the other safety spot after recording 30 tackles.

 

OTHER

The Sun Devils had a -6 turnover margin last year, and a lot of that had to do with a defense that could not create turnovers.  Expect some improvement on that side of the ball but not much.

 

SUMMARY

This is Arizona State’s year to shine, but injuries could hamper the process.  With Southern Cal ineligible for the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Sun Devils are the best of the rest in this weaker division. 

 

ASU may not have a gaudy record, because their out of conference slate includes games against Missouri and Illinois.  They could easily start 1-3, because their first conference game is against the Trojans.  Even if that happens, the Sun Devils can still rebound and go 6-3 in the league.  That should be good enough for second in this division, and at 7-5, they would be playing Oregon or Stanford for the Pac-12’s automatic BCS bowl berth.

 

Arizona

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Nick Foles returns after passing for 3,191 yards and 20 touchdowns.  He completed 67+% of his passes.  The situation is muddled after Foles.  Expected backup Bryson Beirne sprained his ACL and is out for several weeks.  Last year’s backup Matt Scott plans to redshirt this year, and that leaves true freshman Daxx Garman as the only other choice should Foles go down.

 

Receivers

Coach Mike Stoops has quality talent here with the return of his top four receivers.  Juron Criner, David Douglas, David Roberts, and Terrence Miller teamed for 207 receptions and 18 touchdowns.  Criner was the breakaway threat, while the other three were excellent possession receivers.

 

Dan Buckner joins the group after transferring from Texas.  He had starting experience with the Longhorns.

 

Running Backs

One of UA’s two platoon backs return this season.  Keola Antolin rushed for a team-leading 668 yards; he scored seven times.  Antolin also caught 28 passes with two more touchdowns.  The talent behind him is average.

 

Offensive Line

Oh no!  That’s the best way to describe this unit, as all five starters are missing.  Center Kyle Quinn is the only player to ever start a game, and he started a grand total of one.  Guards Trace Biskin and Chris Putton are as green as any starter in college football.  Tackles Fabbians Ebbele and Mickey Baucus are redshirt freshmen.  ‘Zona is going to regress by a considerable amount, and Foles is in danger of having to run for his life.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The front line is almost in the same boat as the offensive line.  The Wildcats lose two NFL Draft choices.  Tackle Justin Washington is the lone returnee.  He made 46 stops with 11 ½ for loss and will contend for 1st Team All-Pac-12 honors this year. 

 

Sione Tuihalamaka starts at the other tackle position.  He made 23 stops with three going for losses.  The ends will be Mohammed Usman and C. J. Parrish.

 

Linebackers

Paul Vassallo returns to his Will linebacker position after leading the team with 102 tackles and eight for loss.  Derek Earls returns at the middle spot after making 44 tackles.  David Lopez will be the new starter at the Sam position.  This is an average unit.

 

Secondary

If Arizona has a strength on this side of the ball, it is in the secondary.  Free safety Robert Golden finished tied for third in the league with 13 passes defended, but he only intercepted one pass.  He’ll team with Marquis Flowers, who made 11 tackles as a freshman.

 

At Cornerback, Trevin Wade needs to improve on his four passes defended, while Shaquille Richardson becomes a full-timer after coming up with nine passes defended.  Without a strong pass rush, this unit will struggle a little.  

 

OTHER

Arizona has to visit Oklahoma State just prior to playing Stanford, Oregon, and USC in consecutive weeks.  This four-game losing streak could damage the morale of the new starters and doom Arizona to a losing season.

 

SUMMARY

The only sure wins on the schedule are the opener with Northern Arizona and the finale with Louisiana.  There are chances for maybe four conference wins, so the Wildcats could get to 6-6.  Who knows?  When Arizona faces Arizona State, if they are 4-4 in league play, the game could even be for a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

 

U C L A

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Stanford is noted for its great tradition of outstanding quarterbacks.  UCLA is noted for its awful tradition of injured quarterbacks.  It seems like every starter since Cade McNown graduated in the 1990’s has suffered some injury.

 

Kevin Prince is just the latest in that trend.  He made it through five games last year, passing for 384 yards out of the new pistol offense.  His knee was not well enough to allow him to set and throw quickly, and the extra running from the new formation sent him to the sidelines. 

 

Backup Richard Brehaut returns after leading the Bruins with almost 1,300 passing yards.

 

Two more QBs could see playing time this year; that is if tradition holds, and quarterbacks go out with injuries.  Nick Crissman was a highly sought-after passer four years ago, while true freshman Brett Hundley is a dual threat.  Hundley might have challenged for a starting spot, but he tore his meniscus playing basketball and will not be ready at the start of the season.  Even before he suited up, the injury bugaboo hit him.  Expect more of the jinx in 2011.

 

Late Note: Brehaut sprained his foot in practice and will miss a few days.  JINX!

 

Receivers

If a healthy quarterback can get in a rhythm and start several games, he will be happy with the group of receivers on hand.  Nearly everybody that caught or even dropped a pass in 2010 is back in 2011.  Leading receiver Taylor Embree strained a calf muscle and will be slowed to start the season.  Embree made 32 receptions but did not convert any into touchdowns.

 

Anthony Barr and Nelson Rosario will start at the other two receiver spots; they teamed for 38 receptions but just one touchdown.  Tight end Cory Harkey made 14 catches.  How many touchdowns did he score? Zero!  Of course, the Bruins only scored nine times through the air.  Randall Carroll is the one legitimate long ball threat.  He will see a lot of action after averaging 16.2 yards on his 15 receptions—and with two whole touchdowns!

 

Running Backs

At last, here is one position that will not cause Coach Rick Neuheisel nightmares.  Jonathan Franklin rushed for 1,127 yards and eight scores, while averaging 5.3 yards per rush.  Backup Derrick Coleman added 487 yards and five scores.  If the passing game develops like it could, the running game could see its yardage drop a little, but the average per carry could top 4.5 yards.

 

Offensive Line

Additional injuries and academic issues have put a dark cloud over this unit.  Guard Stan Hasiak had to enroll in a junior college due to grades.  His expected replacement, Jeff Baca, will miss the start of the season with an ankle injury.  The other guard spot was expected to be filled by Chris Ward.  He suffered a sprained ankle and will miss some practice time.

 

At least tackles Mike Harris and Sean Sheller are healthy and experienced.  Center Kai Maiava missed all of last year, but his healthy return is the one bright spot here.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Bruins are in good shape here with a lot of depth and decent talent.  Damien Holmes and Datone Jones make up a quality pair of ends.  That is, if Jones can make a 100% comeback after a medical redshirt year in 2010.  Justin Edison and Cassius Marsh can plug a lot of gaps from their tackle positions. 

 

Linebackers

Will linebacker Sean Westgate made 90 tackles with four sacks and 11 total for losses.  He played tough against the short pass, knocking away four passes.  The unit will build around him.  Patrick Larimore missed Spring Practice, but he should be ready for the start of the season.  Glenn Love will start at the other linebacker spot after making 16 tackles as a reserve.

 

While not spectacular, this trio will not be the reason UCLA loses games this year.

 

Secondary

What looked like a possible strength has taken a pounding through injuries.  Somebody needs to investigate UCLA’s practice field.  Are they going on pavement or something?

 

Three starters return to the defensive backfield, including strong safety Tony Dye.  Dye led the Bruins with 96 tackles (remember what we said about strong safeties leading in tackles), while breaking up nine passes and pilfering one other.  His counterpart will be Dietrich Riley, who made 21 stops in reserve last year.

 

The cornerbacks are set with Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price.  The duo teamed for 51 tackles and 14 passes defended.  Jamie Graham figured to contend for a lot of playing time after transferring from Vanderbilt, but he suffered a meniscus tear that requires surgery and will be out until at least October.  Anthony Jefferson had to have surgery for a herniated disk in his back and will also be out all of September.

 

OTHER

Neuheisel is on the hot seat.  His three years in Westwood have produced a pair of 4-8 seasons with a 7-6 season in between.  He has two new coordinators this year.  Norm Chow went to Utah, so former 49ers’ offensive guru Mike Johnson takes over.  Joe Tresey is the new DC.  He was Brian Kelly’s DC at Cincinnati for two years.

 

SUMMARY

An opening game against Houston will be very interesting and reveal if UCLA has any chance of moving up from the dregs of the conference.  The next game against San Jose State should produce a win, but game three is against Texas.  The Bruins could be 1-2 and looking at another losing season; they could be 2-1 with a chance to get to seven wins.  If the quarterback play comes around with no injuries, they could even be 3-0.  If that’s the case, and the jinx can be avoided, they could be a dark horse for the South Division title, or at least the eligible team title.

 

Utah

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Welcome to the Pac-12 Jordan Wynn.  Wynn is 1-1 lifetime against conference opponents.  The Utes beat California in the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl, and he almost upset Oregon in the 2009 regular season.

 

Last year in the Mountain West Conference, Wynn completed 62.2% of his passes for 2,334 yards and 17 touchdowns.  He missed Spring Practice, but he should be ready for the start of the season.  With new offensive coordinator Norm Chow tutoring him, he should produce better numbers even in a tougher league.

 

Juco transfer Jon Hayes will be the primary backup this year.

 

Receivers

Utah does not have exceptional talent here this year.  The depth is not there.  DeVonte Christopher is a gem; he led the Utes with 660 yards in receptions, averaging almost 17 yards per catch.

 

H-Back Luke Matthews is another big play receiver, but he only got his hand on 18 passes last year.  He will be called on to block more than catch passes. 

 

Reggie Dunn will split time with Dres Anderson at the flanker position, while Kendrick Moeai starts at tight end.

 

Running Backs

Utah must replace its two-platoon set of runners.  They combined for more than 1,400 yards on the ground and 19 touchdowns.  Juco transfer John White will get first crack at starting, but Tauni Vakapuna should get a lot of attempts in short yardage situations.  He’s 5-09 and 229 pounds, so tackling him will be like stopping a large boulder coming down a mountain.

 

Offensive Line

This is not a strong unit.  Center Tevita Stevens is more than capable after earning 3rd Team All-MWC honors last year.  Tackles John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom have the experience with Bergstrom earning 2nd Team All-MWC honors.  Both projected starting guards will miss the start of the season, and Coach Kyle Whittingham has not yet settled on one of the replacements.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

There is some talent here, but overall, this is not an exceptional unit.  Star Lotulelei may one day live up to his name, but the nose tackle is an unknown commodity at the moment.  The other tackle will see a platoon between James Aiono and Dave Kruger.

 

Derrick Shelby and Joe Kruger will start at end.  Shelby made 6 ½ stops for loss last year. 

 

Linebackers

This is the strongest unit of a weak defense.  All three starters from last year return, and they finished one, two, and four in tackles.

 

Chaz Walker led the Utes with 113 tackles, while making seven for losses.  Hybrid linebacker/safety Matt Martinez made 91 tackles, while Brian Blechen added 67 stops and proved to be excellent against the pass with nine passes defended, four of them interceptions.

 

Secondary

The Utes have to start over here, as all four 2010 starters are gone.  Cornerbacks Conroy Black and Ryan Lacy have some experience, and Lacy has sprinter’s speed, so he will make up for a few mistakes before it can hurt the team.

 

Juco transfer Keith McGill will join true freshman Eric Rowe and sophomore Michael Walker at safety.

 

OTHER

Whittingham has expressed some concerns with his place kickers, as Coleman Petersen and Nick Marsh have been inconsistent in practice.

 

The Utes will miss punt returner Shaky Smithson, who took two back the distance last year, while averaging 19.1 yards per return to lead the nation.

 

SUMMARY

It is going to be a rough first season in the Pac-12 for the Utes.  Their offense will not equal last season’s production of 33 points and 389 yards, and their defense will give up more than 2010’s 20 points and 337 yards.

 

After an opening game with Montana State, Utah faces USC and BYU on the road.  They get a week off before starting conference play in earnest.  Mixed in the middle of the schedule is a trip to Pittsburgh. 

 

We see a 1-2 non-league record and then a struggle to win three more games.  At least, the Utes play neither Oregon nor Stanford.

 

Colorado

OFFENSE

Quarterback

New coach Jon Embree and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy return to their alma mater to light a fire in the Buffaloes’ offense.  They inherit co-starter Tyler Hansen, who completed 68% of his passes but averaged less than 10 yards per completion.

 

Juco transfer Brent Burnette could challenge Hansen for the job.  Overall, this is the weakest QB roster in the Pac-12.

 

Receivers

Paul Richardson is sure to start after leading the Buffs with a 15.1 yard average per catch.  He grabbed 34 passes and scored six times.  Logan Gray, a former QB at Georgia, is immediately eligible and will start.  The other position will be split between Toney Clemons and true freshman Tyler McCulloch.  There is potential here, but they may need another season of experience.

 

Running Backs

Rodney Stewart is “the man.”  He was the Buffaloes’ offense last year, rushing for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Bieniemy may sound like a broken record calling his number over and over again this year.

 

Offensive Line

Three starters return to a rather decent unit.  Ryan Miller and Ethan Adkins form a formidable pair of guards, while David Bakhtiari is a plus at tackle.  Jack Harris earned the other starting tackle nod, but he has never played in a college game in two years at CU.  There is a two-man battle to fill the center spot that would have belonged to Mike Iltis had he not given up football.  Daniel Munyer and Gus Handler are neck and neck.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Buffs are hurting on this side of the ball.  They will have a weaker defense than Washington State this year.  However, the four-man D-line is not all that bad.

 

Josh Hartigan and Chidera Uzo Diribe will make a decent pair of ends.  Hartigan made seven QB sacks as a designated pass rusher last year and will be more of a linebacker than end, while Will Pericak will play more like an end than a tackle.  Curtis Cunningham and Conrad Obi will play inside.  This unit has depth and some talent.

 

Linebackers

Unless you count Hartigan as a true linebacker, this unit is in need of a transfusion.  Jon Major made 57 tackles at the Will position last year, but too many of them were after nice gains by the enemy.  Derrick Webb and Douglas Rippy are not the answer and will be exploited.

 

Secondary

CU will be lit up via the passing game, as the secondary is not Pac-12 caliber.  Safeties Ray Polk and Anthony Perkins will make a lot of tackles, but officials will be signaling “first down” on most of them.  Travis Sandesfeld and Greg Henderson are subpar at cornerback.

 

OTHER

Colorado plays at Hawaii, so the Buffs will have 13 games on their schedule.  The contest with California in week two will not count as a Pac-12 game, since it was previously scheduled as a non-conference game.

 

SUMMARY

Because they play 13 games, there is a good chance CU will suffer through a double-digit loss season.  They play at Hawaii and at Ohio State outside of the league, and they face rival Colorado State at Invesco Field in Denver.  It will be a long first year for Embree.

 

2011 Pacific 12 Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

North Division

 

 

Oregon

29

239

Stanford

13

220

Washington

 

142

Oregon State

 

120

California

 

110

Washington St.

 

51

 

 

 

South Division

 

 

Southern Cal

24

230

Arizona St.

13

207

Utah

4

170

Arizona

1

140

U C L A

 

89

Colorado

 

46

 

 

 

Pac-12 Championship

 

Oregon

 

28

Stanford

 

11

Arizona State

 

3

 

 

2011 Pac-12 Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

North Division

 

 

Stanford

126.4

9-0/13-0*

Oregon

125.6

8-1/11-1

Oregon State

112.9

5-4/6-6

Washington

112.9

5-4/7-5

California

111.3

3-6/6-6

Washington St.

102.8

3-6/5-7

   

 

South Division  

 

Southern Cal

117.2

7-2/9-3

Arizona St.

116.6

6-3/8-5

Arizona

113.1

3-6/5-7

U C L A

110.9

3-6/4-8

Utah

108.4

2-7/3-9

Colorado

101.8

0-9/1-12

   

 

* Stanford picked to defeat Arizona State
in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game.

 Coming Friday Night: A look at what’s left of the Big 12 Conference.

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