The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 26, 2012

2012 Pac-12 Conference Preview

The Pac-12 last produced a national champion in 2004, when Southern Cal blew Oklahoma out of the Orange Bowl 55-19.  The Trojans rode the arm of Matt Leinart and the legs of Reggie Bush and LenDale White.

 

Oregon played for the national title two years ago, giving Auburn a great game (lost 22-19).

 

Stanford has lost twice to Oregon in the last two year, but the Cardinal have won their 11 other regular season games both years.

 

The Pac-12 is slowly becoming important again.  This year, the league has two legitimate national title contenders.  However, the big story in this league is the new blood that should make this league the most exciting of all.

 

Rich Rodriguez brings his spread offense to Arizona.  Todd Graham is attempting to become the Larry Brown of college football.  His latest nomadic travel brings him to Tempe, Arizona.  Jim Mora, Jr. takes over in Westwood and tries to make UCLA important again.  However, the biggest new face settled in Pullman, Washington.  The Pirate, Mike Leach, returns to coaching, and Washington State fans will get to see the Cougars go wild this year.

 

Yes, this just may be the most exciting league in college football.  The PiRate Ratings show the Pac-12 to be the third strongest league, just a field goal weaker than the SEC and two points weaker than the Big 12.

 

The Media Poll was released a month ago, and the members of the press had this to say about the 2012 Pac-12 race:

 

 

Pac-12 North

Votes

 

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

 

1

Oregon

117

732

(18)

2

Stanford

5

533

 

3

Washington

0

502

 

4

California

1

382

 

5

Washington State

0

228

 

6

Oregon State

0

205

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pac-12 South

 

 

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

 

1

Southern Cal

117

729

(102)

2

Utah

1

514

 

3

U C L A

2

435

 

4

Arizona

0

385

 

5

Arizona State

3

353

(3)

6

Colorado

0

164

 

 

 

 

 

 

Numbers in ( ) are votes to win Pac-12 Championship Game

 

 

The PiRate Ratings agree with the belief that the top two teams in the league are dominant this year.

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

Pac-12 North

PiRate

1

Oregon

122.1

2

Stanford

119.1

3

California

109.1

4

Oregon State

106.0

5

Washington

105.8

6

Washington State

102.1

 

   

Rank

Pac-12 South

PiRate

1

Southern Cal

130.5

2

Utah

111.6

3

U C L A

110.5

4

Arizona

105.6

5

Arizona State

99.3

6

Colorado

92.6

 

 

The PiRate Vintage Ratings differ only slightly from the two above, but they agree that the top two teams are national title contenders.

 

 

Vintage Ratings

 

Rank

Pac-12 North

Vintage

1

Oregon

116

2

California

112

3

Stanford

111

4

Washington

107

5

Oregon State

105

6

Washington State

100

 

   

Rank

Pac-12 South

Vintage

1

Southern Cal

118

2

Utah

110

3

U C L A

108

4

Arizona

108

5

Arizona State

103

6

Colorado

96

 

 

Team

California Golden Bears

               
Head Coach

Jeff Tedford

               
Colors

Blue and Gold

               
City

Berkeley, CA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-5

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

109.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

34

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

112

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

16

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-5

Overall

6-6

 

After going 52-24 from 2004 to 2009, the Bears have come close to going into hibernation the last two seasons, going 12-13.  Coach Jeff Tedford returns his quarterback and top running back, but he must find a new set of complimentary receivers on offense.  He must rebuild a defense that was one of the best in the league.  This looks like another year of mediocrity in Berkeley.

 

Zach Maynard has a decent arm and nice accuracy, but he needs open receivers.  Maynard completed 57% of his passes for 2,990 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2011.  If he gets injured, Cal will be in trouble, because there are no quality passers with game experience behind him.  True freshman Zach Line and seldom used Allan Bridgford could not lead the Bears to a bowl.

 

Tedford prefers a balanced offense with something close to a 50-50 run-pass percentage.  If Cal plans to throw the ball 30-35 times per game this year, Tedford is going to need to find four or five receivers that can create open space and catch the football.  He has one star that he can count on.  Kennan Allen finished second in the league last year with 98 receptions, and he could easily top 100 this year.  Allen combines excellent hands with good speed.  He can catch the tough passes on third down, and he can split a seam and break free for a long gain.

 

The drop in talent is significant after Allen.  Expect a true freshman, Bryce Treggs to start from the beginning.  Some have compared Treggs to DeSean Jackson, and if he lives up to the hype, Cal’s offense will soar this year.

 

The ground game has been consistently strong under Tedford’s watch.  Justin Forsett and Marshawn Lynch  gave the Bears a top-notch double punch for three years.  Cal relies mostly on one back these days, and Isi Sofele is that man.  Sofele rushed for 1,322 yards and 10 scores last season.  C. J. Anderson finished second with just 345, but he scored eight times on 72 carries.

 

The Bears return three starters to the offensive line, but guard Dominic Glass will be out at least until October following surgery for a torn pectoral muscle.  Center Brian Schwenke and tackle Matt Summers-Gavin are the two holdovers.  A redshirt freshman and true freshman will contribute here.

 

Cal averaged 28 points and 400 yards per game last year, and if the receiving corps shapes up, the Bears should replicate those numbers again this year.

 

If Tedford can defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast can get a repeat of the defensive numbers, they will have earned a raise, because the top four tacklers from 2011 are no longer around.  Cal played a lot of people on this side of the ball, so the rebuilding should not be as harsh as it could have been.

 

Up front in the 3-4 defense, the Bears have just one starter returning.  Aaron Tipoti can play inside and outside on the line.  He will line up at end this year, and he needs to become a better pass rusher.  Deandre Coleman is a better pass rusher, and he inherits the other terminal spot, while experienced backup Kendrick Payne becomes the new starter at the nose.  This shapes up to be a decent front line.

 

The Bears have to replace one of the top linebackers in the nation from last year, as leading tackler Mychal Kendricks now works for the Philadelphia Eagles.  Number two tackler D. J. Holt has used up his eligibility as well.  Projected starting outside linebacker Cecil Whiteside was expelled from the team for violating team rules.  This leaves Chris McCain as the lone starter in the group.  McCain made just six tackles for loss and 29 tackles total in 2011 (he did miss three games).  Brennan Scarlett starts for Whiteside, even after he missed Spring Practice.  J. P. Hurell and Robert Mullins will man the other two linebacker spots.  This unit is considerably weaker than it was last year, but the Bears add former Penn State reserve Khairi Fortt, who has the potential to develop into a fine defender.

 

The secondary is the strongest part of this year’s defense, but if the Bears fail to generate a decent pass rush, it won’t be strong enough to stop enemy passing games. Cornerbacks Mark Anthony and Steve Williams combined both registered 13 defended passes, and Anthony proved to be an excellent run stuffer on the perimeter.  Safety Josh Hill is the leading returning tackler, and he was equally competent covering receivers.

 

The opening game is a trap game for the Bears.  Nevada knows it can compete with the Bears; they blew Cal off the field two years ago when they last played.  Cal also has to play Ohio State in Columbus, so the Bears will enter Pac-12 play with at least one loss.  They have to follow up the trip to Columbus with a trip to the Coliseum to face USC.  The Schedule is not friendly, but we believe the Bears will sneak into bowl eligibility with a 6-6 record.  Cal had to vacate their home stadium last year so that it could be remodeled into a 21st Century venue.  They return to Memorial Stadium this year, and that should be worth an extra win.

 

 

Team

Oregon Ducks

               
Head Coach

Chip Kelly

               
Colors

Green and Yellow

               
City

Eugene, OR

               
2011 Record              
Conference

8-1

Overall

12-2

               
PiRate Rating

122.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

116

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

5

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

8-1

Overall

11-1

 

At first glance, 2012 would appear to be a rebuilding season in Eugene.  At Oregon, they no longer rebuild; they reload.  Oregon has a lot of positions to plug new bodies into, but the Ducks have faced this twice in recent years and reloaded with little effect on the stat sheet.  The Ducks have averaged better than 42 points per game over the last four seasons, and in two of those, they entered the year with the same number of new starters.

 

Coach Chip Kelly has loads of talent on the offensive side of the ball.  When your team leads by more than 30 points with plenty of time to play, the reserves get a lot of playing time.

 

Quarterback Bryan Bennett is one of those seasoned reserves.  As a freshman last year, he played in eight games, starting once (Oregon won that won 45-2).  Bennett attempted 45 passes.  Six scored touchdowns.  The Ducks will not miss Darron Thomas; there will not be a falloff in the passing game, and there could actually be an increase in yardage. 

 

The receiving corps lost two excellent pass-catchers, but the Ducks always have a plethora of riches here.  Add to this the fact that Kelly uses his backs as lethal receivers, and opponents cannot stop the passing game; they can only hope to slow it down.  Josh Huff leads a deep contingent here.  He caught 31 passes for 430 yards last year, and he should top 50 this season.  Speedy Keanon Lowe will become a key contributor this year, as will Daryle Hawkins, who is a lethal deep threat with the ability to steal an interception away from a defensive back.  The Ducks have two talented tight ends as well.  Colt Lyerla has flanker skills in a fullback’s body.  True freshman Terrence Daniel is an aggressive fighter (a defensive end playing offense).  Two more player could press for playing time here.  Look for the tight ends to combine for 40-50 receptions.

 

Defenses will have to stop the passing game first, and that will make a very good running game great.  LaMichael James may help the San Francisco 49ers get to the Super Bowl, but Oregon has another future NFL back in Kenjon Burner.  As the number two back last year, Burner rushed for 939 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 6.2 yards per rush.  When does a team’s number three running back earn Freshman Player of the Year awards, especially when said team runs a one-back offense and not the triple option?  De’Anthony Thomas gained 595 yards on the ground and scored seven touchdowns.  Against Wisconsin in last year’s Rose Bowl, he took a handoff on the nine yard line and waltzed into the end zone; oh, that was his own team’s nine yard line, and the play broke the game open.  Thomas was the team’s top receiver last year, grabbing 46 passes for 605 yards and nine touchdowns.  He didn’t stop there.  He scored two more times on kick returns.  18 touchdowns from the number three option in the backfield?  It is just plain crazy!

 

The offensive line gives the running back big running lanes and keeps pressure off the quarterbacks better than at least 10 other Pac-12 schools and as competently as their top rival in the City of Angels.  Three starters return from last year, but the top blocker and former 1st Team All-Pac guard, Carson York, will begin the year on the sidelines, as he has not fully recovered from the knee injury he sustained in Pasadena.

 

This looks like another 40-point team for Kelly.  It would not surprise us one bit if the Ducks rush for 250+ and pass for 250+ this year or rush for 300+ and pass for 200+. 

 

Defensively, Oregon goes for the big play, be it a QB sack, a forced fumble, an interception, or a big tackle for loss on a blitz.  Occasionally, the defense gives up a big play, but over time, they give the ball to the offense with a short field.  The Ducks can run the table if they give up an average of 22-24 points per game.

 

There are holes to plug in all three areas, but defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has a lot of talent remaining.  Starting up front, Taylor Hart is an end in a tackle’s body.  He is not the strongest pass rusher, but he will make it hard to run the ball into the off-tackle hole on his side of the line.  Dion Jordan is probably the best pass rusher in the Pac-12.  He returns after producing 7 ½ sacks and 13 tackles for loss.  Tackle Wade Keliikipi is a run-plugger in the middle.

 

Two new starters are needed at linebacker, but the one holdover could become a 1st team All-Pac player.  Michael Clay finished with 102 tackles last year with 8 ½ for losses.  He picked off a couple of passes as well.  The two new starters, Kiko Alonso and Boseko Lokombo have seen considerable action in the past, so there should not be much concern here.

 

The Ducks have a potential All-American in the secondary.  Safety John Boyett led the Ducks with 108 tackles and defended seven passes.  Cornerback Terrance Mitchell defended a dozen passes, picking off two. 

 

The schedule presents just a handful of difficult games.  Instead of opening with LSU, Oregon gets Arkansas State this year.  Add Fresno State and Tennessee Tech the next two weeks, and Oregon will be 3-0 with a cumulative score of about 180-45.  The Ducks should go to the Coliseum on November 3 with a 8-0 record.  The game with the Trojans could be the “Game of the Century” for 2012.  Unlike last year’s Alabama-LSU game, this one could produce 80-100 points.  If the Ducks are not 12-0 or 11-1, it will be a major disappointment.

 

 

 

Team

Oregon State Beavers

               
Head Coach

Mike Riley

               
Colors

Orange and Black

               
City

Corvallis, OR

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-6

Overall

3-9

               
PiRate Rating

106.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

42

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

105

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

47

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-5

Overall

5-7

 

The past couple of years have not been fun in Corvallis, as the Beavers have started to lose ground against their rivals.  OSU fell to 3-9 last year, and there are worries that this trend could continue this year.  Several players have left the program, sustained an injury, or have been suspended for various reasons.  The offensive line has taken a major hit and is very thin.  Just an injury or two could force players into the lineup that might find it hard to start at a school like New Mexico.

 

Guard Grant Enger and tackle Colin Kelly return as starters up front, but neither is an all-conference performer.  True freshman Isaac Seumalo has all-conference potential, but that may occur in 2014.  He opens the season at center.  The Beavers found it hard to run the ball last year, and more of the same can be expected this season.

 

Redshirt freshman Storm Woods has ascended to starting running back after OSU rushed for just 86.9 yards per game.  It is hard to gain yardage when defensive players meet the running back at the handoff point.  Woods will have a difficult time averaging more than last year’s starter Malcolm Agnew averaged.  Agnew is still around, and he will still see significant time here.  Fullback Clayton York will be used more this year to provide support at the point of attack.

 

The Beavers can still move the ball and score points thanks to a decent passing game, but quarterback Sean Mannion needs to cut down on his interceptions.  He frequently tried to force the ball where he should not have thrown, but he had little alternative, as it was either pass or punt last year.  Mannion completed almost 65% of his passes for more than 3,300 yards and 16 touchdowns, but he was picked off 18 times.  OSU passed the ball 42 times per game, and Mannion may have to resort to that strategy again this year, even though Coach Mike Riley has set a goal of 150 rushing yards per game.  We don’t see that happening.

 

Mannion’s receiving corps is credible but not spectacular.  Markus Wheaton has all-conference potential.  He led the Beavers with 73 receptions and 986 yards, but he crossed the goal line just one time.  Brandon Cooks should come close to doubling his receptions this year as a full-time starter.  As a freshman, he caught 31 passes.  Tight end Colby Prince caught just 12 passes last year, and Riley brought in a good recruit here in Caleb Smith.  Mannion will get more production out of this position.

 

The defense was asked to stay on the field too long last year, because the offense could not sustain long drives.  Part of the 31 points and 400+ yards surrendered rested on the offense’s liabilities.  Expect some improvement on this side of the ball. 

 

The Beavers have solid players in all three units.  Perhaps the best player on the team is safety Anthony Watkins.  He led the Beavers with 85 tackles, but too many times it came at the end of a first down play for the opponent.  A new starter plugs into the vacant safety position, but Ryan Murphy showed he was up to the task last year in reserve.  Cornerback Jordan Poyer led the league in passes defended with 16, including a team-leading four interceptions (tied for Pac-12 lead too).  He is also a dangerous punt returner.

 

At linebacker, there is a doctor in the house at Reser Stadium, and nobody will file malpractice claims against him.  Michael Doctor might send enemy combatants to the hospital.  He is aptly qualified as a run-stopper and pass defender. The rest of this unit is not as talented.

 

One of the better ends in the league returns as OSU’s leading pass rusher.  Scott Crichton finished eighth in the league with six sacks and third with 14 ½ TFL.  Tackle Andrew Seumalo and end Dylan Wynn give this unit experience and decent talent.

 

The Beavers will find it hard to move back above .500 in the league and overall, as the schedule does them no favors this year.  They avoid USC, but they must play at UCLA and Arizona.  Outside of league play, games against Wisconsin and BYU (in Provo) will be tough.  The Beavers could enter the Civil War game needing to pull of a huge upset against the Duck in order to become bowl eligible.

 

 

Team

Stanford Cardinal

               
Head Coach

David Shaw

               
Colors

Cardinal and White

               
City

Palo Alto, CA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

8-1

Overall

11-2

               
PiRate Rating

119.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

111

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

19

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-4

Overall

7-5

 

Stanford has been in this situation before.  The Cardinal have a history of producing All-American quarterbacks that go on to NFL careers.  Let’s look at what happened with five former consensus All-American Stanford quarterbacks.

 

Frankie Albert was the first major star at this position, but his departure cannot be used in this example.  After leading SU to an undefeated season in 1940 and two very good follow-up seasons in 1941 and 1942, Stanford did not field official football teams the next three seasons during WWII.

 

Bobby Garrett became the next star quarterback in Palo Alto.  As a senior in 1953, he guided SU (then known as the Indians) to a 6-3-1 record with 246 points scored.  Without him the next season, Stanford fell to 4-6 and scored exactly half the points from the year before.

 

In 1956, John Brodie was the best passing quarterback in the nation.  Stanford did not have a quality defense, and the record was just 4-6 with 218 points produced.  The following year, with a better defense, SU went 6-4 and scored nine more points.

 

Jim Plunkett won the school’s one Heisman Trophy in 1970, as he teamed with end Randy Vataha to form the top pass combination.  Stanford displaced USC as the top team on the Coast, and the Indians won the conference championship.  They topped off the season with an upset over undefeated Ohio State in the Rose Bowl to finish 9-3.  The offense scored 343 points.  Stanford was picked to finish in the lower half of the standings in 1971, as Plunkett’s replacement, Don Bunce, guided SU back to the Rose Bowl with an identical record.  Stanford scored 82 fewer points, but the defense was improved.  In the Rose Bowl, Bunce looked like a future superstar named Elway, when he guided Stanford on a final drive that produced the winning field goal to upset undefeated Michigan.

 

Speaking of Elway, his career ended on a sour note—the emphasis multiple lateral kick return that ended with a Stanford band-member failing to make a proper tackle.  Elway departed as the star of a 5-6 team that scored 328 points.  SU went 1-10 with just 159 points in 1983.

 

That brings us to the present day.  Andrew Luck is now the new Peyton Manning in Indy, and Josh Nunes hopes to become the next Don Bunce.  Stanford went 23-3 in the last two seasons, averaging 42 points and 480 yards per game.  Nunes, a redshirt freshman, must also deal with the graduation of the top three pass receivers, including tight end Coby Fleener, who often served as the prime target for Luck.  Expect Coach David Shaw to rely even more on his big targets, as Stanford relies on its two tight end formations more than any other college team.  Levine Toilolo caught 25 passes last year, and his backup Zach Ertz grabbed 27.  This duo may need to catch 75-80 passes this year.  Ty Montgomery is the best holdover on the outside.  He caught 24 passes and scored twice.

 

The running game became the big reason the 1971 Stanford team was able to score less and win the same amount of games.  Shaw will hope history can repeat itself in Palo Alto.  Stepfan Taylor returns after gaining 1,330 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns.  Expect sophomore Anthony Wilkerson to get more reps this year after rushing for 282 yards and three scores last year.  He can open holes that are not already there. 

 

The offensive line must replace two talented blockers, but Shaw did a great job on the recruiting trail and landed perhaps the best duo of blockers in the high school ranks.  Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy should see significant playing time right off the bat, and it would not surprise us if both are starters by November.  Guard David Yankey and tackle Cameron Fleming both earned all-conference consideration last year, so if the recruits live up to their press clippings, Stanford will be in good shape on this side of the ball.

 

There are some holes to plug on the defensive side of the ball, but the Cardinal have enough talent returning to improvise a decent stop unit.  The defense will be built around a strong linebacker unit.  Chase Thomas could become a 1st team All-American if he builds upon a season that saw him lead the league with 17 ½ stops for loss.  He finished with 8 ½ sacks.  Trent Murphy had 10 tackles for loss and returns to the opposite outside linebacker spot.  Shayne Skov was off to a great start last year before tearing his ACL.  If he is healthy this year, he should eventually work his way back onto the first team.  James Vaughters and A.J. Tarpley are two more high-quality linebackers.  This unit is so strong, last year’s leading tackler Jarek Lancaster has lost his starting job this year.

 

Up front, Ben Gardner is one of the two or three best ends in the league.  He was credited with 4 ½ sacks and 10 TFL with six additional QB hurries.  Nose tackle Terrence Stephens made just 11 tackles last year, but he has a very important job, keeping blockers away from the linebackers.

 

Terrence Brown is the lone starter returning to a secondary that has some questions.  Brown will not show up on any all-conference teams.

 

Make no mistake: there will be slippage this season, but the Cardinal have enough talent leftover to return to a bowl game this year.  SU should be good for two non-conference wins (San Jose State and Duke), and they should be competitive at Notre Dame.  SU draws USC and UCLA from the South Division and must face Oregon at Autzen Stadium.  We tend to believe that Cal will be ready to avenge a close loss from last year, so we could see Stanford losing four or five games this year.

 

 

Team

Washington Huskies

               
Head Coach

Steve Sarkisian

               
Colors

Purple and Gold

               
City

Seattle, WA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-4

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

105.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

46

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

107

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

107

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-6

Overall

5-7

 

It has been a rough preseason for the Huskies, as they faced the same situation that Oregon State faced—numerous players expected to contribute suffered injuries, were disciplined for rules violations, or opted to leave the program.  Coach Steve Sarkisian had to alter his working depth chart every week for reasons other than talent evaluation.

 

Hit the hardest were the offensive skill positions, where UW received bad news in their receiving corps.  James Johnson injured his wrist, and it required surgery.  He is out until October at the earliest.  Kevin Smith has not been able to return from an ACL injury.  Until those two can return, Sarkisian will call on a pair of tight ends to carry more weight.  Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Michael Hartvigson are up to the challenge.  Seferian-Jenkins is the top returning receiver with 41 receptions and 538 yards.  Hartvigson could see his receptions triple this year (eight last year).

 

Quarterback Keith Price not only replaced Jake Locker, he improved on the stats left by the 1st round draft pick.  Price finished with 3,063 yards passing and 33 touchdowns with a 67% completion rate, averaging 8.5 yards per attempt.  He actually finished slightly ahead of Matt Barkley in passing efficiency.  Should Price be injured, UW is going to struggle.  Sarkisian has many untested options to choose from, including true freshman Cyler Miles and redshirt freshman Derrick Brown.

 

The Husky ground game averaged better than 150 yards per contest last year, but the top back has moved on.  Trying to replace Chris Polk’s 1,488 yards and 12 touchdowns are a pair of players with potential.  Expect Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey to team for at least 1,200 yards, more if the top blocker can recover from injury.

 

That top blocker happens to be guard Eric Kohler.  Kohler hurt his knee on the first day of practice and may not be ready for the start of the season.  When he returns, he will supply an instant upgrade in the trenches, where the inside should be strong.  Center Drew Schaefer and guard Colin Tanigawa will team with Kohler to make the power running game work.

 

Defensively, UW has not been a powerhouse under Sarkisian.  In fact, the stats have gotten worse each year.  Last year, the Huskies gave up 36 points and 450+ yards per game, but they had to face Nebraska, Stanford, Oregon, USC, and Baylor.  They gave up 51.4 points per game to those five powers, and 26.3 points to the rest of the schedule.

 

None of the three units can be considered outstanding, but the secondary is better than average.  Cornerback Desmond Trufant tied for the conference lead with 16 passes defended, while safety Sean Parker tied for the conference lead with four interceptions.  Look for 5-star recruit Shaq Thompson to eventually supplant Justin Glenn at free safety, but for now he will be the nickel and a return specialist.

 

Three starters return to the four-man linebacker unit.  Josh Shirley and Princeton Fuimaono are fine outside ‘backers. Shirley finished second in the league with 8 ½ sacks.  John Timu starts on the inside; he is a plus in pass coverage, as well as shooting the gaps to dump running backs for losses.

 

Multiple injuries in the trenches make the defensive line a questionable unit.  Danny Shelton gets the job done inside and allows his linebackers time to pursue the ball.  Andrew Hudson has been moved from linebacker to fill in at end.

 

 The Huskies don’t have to play Nebraska this year.  They replace them with LSU.  It guarantees them one loss as they enter conference play.  Somebody at the Pac-12 must not like Sarkisian, as they saddled him with Stanford, Oregon, and USC in consecutive weeks.  The trip to Tucson in the fourth week won’t be a picnic either.  We believe the Apple Cup game in Pullman will decide which team from the Evergreen State will become bowl eligible.  Us PiRates have to stick together, so sorry Husky fans.

 

 

Team

Washington State Cougars

               
Head Coach

Mike Leach

               
Colors

Crimson and Gray

               
City

Pullman, WA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-7

Overall

4-8

               
PiRate Rating

102.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

55

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

100

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

65

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-5

Overall

6-6

 

Tickets to Martin Stadium just got a lot more difficult to come by, as the collegiate greatest show on turf debuts in Pullman this year.  Mike Leach returns to the coaching ranks after a two-year exile.  In the two years after his firing in Lubbock, the Red Raiders have gone 13-12.  He was 84-43 in his 10 years at the outpost in the middle of the plains.

 

Leach brings his fabulous “Air Raid” offense to Wazoo, and he inherits an excellent situation.  The Cougars have a quarterback ready to challenge for the national lead in passing yards.  Jeff Tuel just needs to stay healthy.  He suffered two different injuries last year, and only played in three games.  If he starts 12 games this year, we expect him to toss for 4,200 to 4,500 yards   Backup Connor Halliday dealt with a lacerated liver, so the expected close competition here never developed.

 

Who will be the beneficiary of the aerial assault?  Start with Marquess Wilson, who led the Pac-12 with 1,388 receiving yards in 2011.  His reception total could top 100 this year, and he could approach 1,500 yards in catches.  Great things are expected from two true freshmen.  Gabriel Marks could become the second leading receiver this year, while Rahmel Dockery should contribute immediately.  Throw former tight end Andrei Lintz into a slot or flex position, and he should catch as much as five times more balls this year (7 rec. 96 yds in 2011).

 

Leach believes running backs are best used as safety valve receivers.  Rickey Galvin will not run for 1,000 yards, but he could top 500, catch 50 passes, and gain 1,000 total yards.

 

Expect immediate improvement in the offensive line, because teams will think twice about sending more than four pass rushers after Tuel.  The Air-Raid can burn a defense that sends five or six pass rushers at the QB.  Left tackle John Fullington is the best blocker on the team, and that bodes well for the passing game.

 

If WSU is to challenge for a bowl this year, the defense has to improve on the 6.2 yards per play it allowed last season.  This was actually the best figure by this defense since 2007. 

 

There are no exceptionally talented units on this side of the ball, but there is one exceptionally talented player.  Linebacker Travis Long returns for his senior season, after playing end in the previous coaching tenure.  Long led the Cougars with four sacks and 12 tackles for loss, and he earned 2nd Team All-Pac honors.  Look for Chester Su’a to possibly have a breakthrough year as a sophomore.  He had his moments as a true freshman last year, and he has good instincts.

 

All four starters return from the secondary.  Considering there was virtually no pass rush other than that generated by Long, this quartet did a decent job.  Cornerback Damante Horton would get a lot of press coverage if he wore a green and gold uniform.  Horton tied for the conference lead with four interceptions.  Safety Deone Bucannon added three picks.

 

Kicker Andrew Furney returns after proving to be a weapon from 50 yards out.  He connected on 14-16 field goals last year.

 

It will be a Cougarfest in Provo, Utah, to begin the season, as Washington State faces BYU.  Wazoo should prove to be a tough out for the favored home team.  The Cougars should move to 2-1 before conference play starts. Can they find four conference wins?  We think they will have three in the books when they face Washington on Friday, November 23.  Leach guided Texas Tech to bowls in all 10 seasons in Lubbock, and the Pirate just may make it 11 for 11.

 

 

Team

Arizona Wildcats

               
Head Coach

Rich Rodriguez

               
Colors

Cardinal and Navy

               
City

Tucson, AZ

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-7

Overall

4-8

               
PiRate Rating

105.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

47

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

108

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

33

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-5

Overall

6-6

 

Rich Rodriguez was ridden out of Ann Arbor on a rail, because the Michiganders did not want and would not support a non-Michigan man.  Poor Rich Rod:  he had to move from Michigan to Tucson, Arizona, where he will be able to play golf in January in 70-degree weather. 

 

Coach Rodriguez brings his famed spread offense to the Pac-12.  It went unnoticed that Michigan ran for 239 and passed for 250 yards during his final year there, and he made Denard Robinson into the star that he became.  He inherits no Robinson’s at UA.  He begins his career here with a senior quarterback that has hardly seen game action and a junior college transfer that was not that highly recruited.  Matt Scott is the only viable option to run the UA offense this year.  He missed all of last year and was out a good bit of 2010.  Scott is an aggressive player, but he may need to “take a dive” and sacrifice a yard or two at times this year.  The Wildcats need him to stay on the field.

 

Small but powerful Daniel Jenkins has leap-frogged over Ka’Deem Carey in the depth chart, but both backs should see a lot of action this year.  Coach Rod will bring back the fullback to the offense, and Taimi Tutogi is a load in the backfield.

 

The Wildcats’ are hurting a little at receiver, but the emphasis on the passing game has been replaced by a more balanced approach with a slight emphasis on the running game.  UA passed the ball 48 times per game last year and gained 371 yards through the air.  That amount could be cut in half in 2012.  Dan Buckner is the best of the returnees.  He caught 42 passes for 606 yards to finish fourth on the team.  He could repeat that amount this year and finish first!  Austin Hill could become the long ball threat. 

 

All five starters return to the blocking corps, but not all five are expected to start in 2012.   Center Kyle Quinn, guard Trace Biskin, and tackles Chris Putton (a former guard) expect to be joined by new starters Addison Bachman at guard and Jacob Arzouman at tackle.  This group should be more mobile and able to carry out the blocking needed to make the zone read work.

 

Arizona games featured 146 scrimmage plays last year, and that hurt the defensive numbers.  Expect the total plays to drop by more than a dozen this year, so UA’s defense figures to defend at least a half dozen fewer plays. 

 

The greatest amount of improvement needed is in the secondary, where UA gave up 299 passing yards per game last year.  UA had its Pac-12 interception co-leader, Shaquille Richardson, and he returns at one cornerback position.  Besides intercepting four passes, he knocked away five others.  Tra’Mayne Bondurant had seven passed defended as a true freshman last year, and he will team with Richardson and safety Marquis Flowers (see below) to form 3/5 of a decent five-man secondary.  If cornerback Jonathan McKnight has recovered adequately from an ACL injury that forced him to miss 2011, this secondary all of a sudden becomes rather talented.

 

The secondary must have more help from the pass rush, as Arizona introduced enemy quarterbacks to the turf just 10 times all season.  No player on the roster recorded more than one sack last year (Bondurant is the leading returner with 3 ½ TFL).  Rodriguez hopes that new starters Tevin Hood and Dominique Allen can establish a better pass rush.  Kirifi Taula was supposed to be a sack monster, but he did not show up last year in his four starts.

 

Rodriguez thought he had the answer at middle linebacker, when Brian Wagner transferred from Akron as a graduate student.  Wagner was coming off three consecutive triple digit tackle years (409 total), but he burned out on the game and decided to give up football.  That leaves the Wildcats in a bit of a bind, as undersized Jake Fischer was forced to move inside on short notice.  Hank Hobson will start on the outside, while safety Flowers has been pressed into emergency duty as the other outside linebacker.  This trio averaged just 220 pounds.

 

Arizona should go 2-1 outside of Pac-12 play.  Like the two Washington schools and their in-state rival, they will need to find four conference victories.  We believe they will have three when they host the Sun Devils on Friday, November 23.  Like the Apple Cup game, this one should be for a bowl.

 

 

Team

Arizona State Sun Devils

               
Head Coach

Todd Graham

               
Colors

Maroon and Gold

               
City

Tempe, AZ

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-5

Overall

6-7

               
PiRate Rating

99.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

65

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

103

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

55

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-6

Overall

5-7

 

Todd Graham guided Rice to a bowl in his only season with the Owls.  It was Rice’s first bowl game since 1961.  He went to Tulsa and led the Golden Hurricane to back-to-back CUSA West Division championships while leading TU to record-setting offensive showings.  After four years there, he moved to Pittsburgh, but his stay there was just one season.  His wide open offense didn’t click in the Big East.  Will it work in Tempe, Arizona?  Only time will tell, but his first year at Sun Devil Stadium may not be the cat’s meow.  ASU has a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball.

 

Brock Osweiler would have been a contender with Matt Barkley and Keith Price for top passer in the league if he had returned for his senior season.  The star QB was chosen to become an understudy to Peyton Manning in Denver.  Osweiler threw for more than 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns last year.  New starter Taylor Kelly saw very limited action last year, completing all four of his passes.  He has the tools to run the spread option offense.  Freshman Michael Eubank backs him up.

 

The Sun Devils lost a lot of their receiving corps from last season.  While they return the player with the second most receptions, he only averaged six yards per catch.  You might think Jamal Miles has no speed and can only be used to throw the quick, short pass to.  Oh, but you would be so wrong!  Miles was always getting open as the safety valve receiver, and his yards per catch will head north this year.  He is a model of versatility.  He ran the ball 29 times for 237 yards.  He averaged 16.6 yards returning punts, taking one 78 yards to the house.  He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, and because that wasn’t enough, he has attempted three passes in his career; they were all completed for touchdowns.

 

Rashad Ross may be the best newcomer to the starting receiving corps.  He caught 18 passes in limited action last year.

 

The ASU running game accounted for less than 130 yards per game last year, and that number will rise by at least 50% in the new offense.  Cameron Marshall could top 1,200 rushing yards after gaining 2,050 last year, but Graham removed him from contact drills last week citing fatigue.  Yes, the summers in the desert are brutal.

 

The offensive line has some rebuilding to do.  Tackle Evan Finkenberg is one of two returning starters.  Guard Andrew Sampson is the other.  They will be charged with leading the new blocking philosophy.

 

Graham’s teams usually top 450 total yards per game, surpassing 200 yards in both running and passing.  The Sun Devils will need to produce numbers like that to have any shot at bowl eligibility, because the defense is not ready to dominate any Pac-12 team, especially in the all-important secondary, where even Colorado topped 300 passing yards against them last year.

 

Both starting cornerbacks return this year, but only one of the rest of the back eight in Graham’s 3-3-5 will have a returning starter.  Deveron Carr and Osahon Irabor teamed up for 17 passes defended (just one interception by Irabor).   Kealon Johnson figures to contribute more after making 48 tackles in reserve last year.

 

The only other starters returning are tackle Will Sutton and Devil linebacker Junior Onyeali.  Onyeali started just seven games last year and made just 11 tackles.  Sutton performed a little better with 33 tackles.

 

There is room for a true freshman to earn a spot in the lineup this year, and as of this writing, the leading candidate is defensive lineman Jaxon Hood.

 

After opening with an easy win against Northern Arizona in a couple of days, the Sun Devils have two tough non-league games.  They lost to Illinois and beat Missouri last year, and they could do the opposite this season.  We believe ASU will be 3-5/5-6 when they close the regular season at Arizona.  It should be an exciting bowl elimination game.

 

 

Team

Colorado Buffaloes

               
Head Coach

Jon Embree

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Boulder, CO

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-7

Overall

3-10

               
PiRate Rating

92.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

84

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

96

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

82

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

1-8

Overall

3-9

 

Since Gary Barnett was let go at Colorado, the Buffs have fallen on hard times.  It seems like it has been a generation since CU ran undefeated and top-ranked Nebraska off the field by a score of 62-36 (it was 2001, and yours truly saw that game on the CU sideline).

 

The Buffaloes face a major revamping on the attack side this year, as every skill starter from last year is missing.  At least, there is some good news at quarterback.  Former Kansas QB Jordan Webb left Kansas when Dayne Crist left Notre Dame for Lawrence.  He is eligible immediately and has beaten out Texas transfer Connor Wood.  Webb produced so-so stats at KU (1,884 yards 13/12 TD/Int), and he should put up slightly better numbers in a more passer friendly offense. 

 

With the return of three offensive line starters, including 2nd team All-Pac tackle David Bakhtiari, Webb should get adequate passing protection.  However, CU needs to supplement the pass with something better than its poor rushing attack of the last three years (3.4 yards per attempt).  Tony Jones is the leading returnee with 297 yards rushing, but he is too small to carry the ball more than 10-12 times per game.  D. D. Goodson is even tinier, but he is number two as of now.  This team needs a bulky back that can pick up two yards up the middle on third and one. 

 

The already thin and inexperienced receiving corps expected to ride the legs of speedster Paul Richardson, but a torn ACL in spring practice was a dagger in Coach Jon Embree’s back.  It was feared Richardson would be lost for the season, but he has rehabbed well ahead of schedule and could eventually take the field at some point this season.  Without him, CU has no Pac-12 quality talent at this position.

 

The news is slightly better on the other side of the ball, but nobody will confuse the Buff defense for USC’s, Stanford’s, or Oregon’s.  When your number one and three tacklers are defensive backs, you know your team is giving up a lot of points and yards.  Safety Ray Polk and cornerback Greg Henderson teamed up for 127 tackles last year.  Henderson was a decent pass defender with nine passes defended.  Embree is high on three true freshmen that could contribute immediately in the secondary.  Yuri Wright, Kenneth Crawley, and Marquis Mosley should see the field in the opening weeks.

 

Another true freshman could see a lot of time in the front line.  Justin Solis could be a starter at one of the vacant tackle spots.  Will Pericak returns at the other inside post.  One d-lineman that will definitely start full time this year is end Chidera Uzo-Diribe, who finished with 5 ½ sacks last year.

 

All three starters return at linebacker this year.  Derrick Webb, Douglas Rippy, and Jon Major teamed for 15 TFL and 154 total tackles.

 

Colorado’s schedule is easier this year because Ohio State has been replaced with Sacramento State.  Colorado State and Fresno State are beatable, but we believe CU will split these two games.  Once conference play begins, wins will be hard to come by.  We think CU can get fired up and win one, so three wins is their ceiling this year.

 

 

 

Team

Southern California Trojans

               
Head Coach

Lane Kiffin

               
Colors

Cardinal and Gold

               
City

Los Angeles, CA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-2

Overall

10-2

               
PiRate Rating

130.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

118

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

3

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

8-1

Overall

11-1

 

Southern Cal has been pointing to this season for two years.  The Trojans are eligible once again for the conference championship and a bowl.  They are very eligible for the National Championship Game this season, if they can take care of Oregon—probably twice!

 

USC has at least a dozen players this year that could become NFL players in the next couple of years.  Coming into this season, the only question that needed to be answered was who would be the number two running back.  That’s no longer a worry, so this team is loaded at every position.

 

Coach Lane Kiffin has seen his two USC offenses improve on the previous year’s production by four to five points and 25-30 yards per game.  There is no reason to think the men of Troy won’t improve that much again this year, or even more.

 

It all starts with the early Heisman Trophy favorite.  Quarterback Matt Barkley will leave USC as the all-time leading passer, surpassing Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer in career passing yards (assuming he stays healthy).  Barkley gained 3,528 yards through the air last year, completing 69% of his attempts and tossing 39 touchdown passes.  Backup Cody Kessler might start for 75 other FBS teams, but he will only see the field in mop-up duty this season.

 

Barkley has the nation’s best receiver and best duo of receivers coming back this year.  Robert Woods caught 111 passes for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, and he was never 100% healthy!  Imagine what he might do if he is 100%.  We bet he fails to match last year’s production, because there are going to be weeks where he doesn’t play much in the second half.  Marqise Lee caught 73 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he was just a freshman.  Tight end Randall Telfer isn’t the top player in the league at his position, but he isn’t too far behind.  He caught 26 passes and scored five times.  He might eventually be passed in the lineup by Xavier Grumble, who will see extended playing time in double tight end formations.  There’s a new star to add to this unit.  True freshman Nelson Agholor looks just as talented as Woods and Lee.

 

The running back situation went from really good to outstanding when Penn State tailback Silas Redd left State College and enrolled in Los Angeles after the big scandal.  He will team with Curtis McNeal to form the top tandem in the nation.  Both players topped 1,000 yards on the ground last year.  McNeal is the better outside speed back, while Redd is the stronger inside runner. 

 

It would be interesting to put USC’s offensive line up against Oregon’s in some form of agility and strength competition.  Both are among the tops in the nation.  Southern Cal has four returning starters up front, led by center Khaled Holmes, one of the top five candidates for the Outland Trophy this year.  Tackle Kevin Graf has an NFL future.

 

The only problem this offense might have this year is finding enough playing time for the skill position players.  USC should average 35-40 points and 480-500 total yards per game this season.

 

The defense will not remind anybody of the Wild Bunch, or Wild Bunch II of four season’s ago, but the Trojans should be improved on this side of the ball.  If defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s troops give up 20 points and 350 yards per game, the Trojans should be very happy in early January.

 

Start in the secondary, where the Trojan have an embarrassment of riches.  Prior to this year, most USC fans figured to never see a secondary as talented as the group from 1979 and 1980.  Three defensive backs on that team (Dennis Smith, Joey Browner, and Ronnie Lott) became All-Pro backs in the NFL (the fourth member of that secondary is still getting an NFL paycheck—Jeff Fisher). 

 

If this year’s secondary isn’t the equal of that great one from the past, it isn’t far from it.  Safety T. J. McDonald has all the tools.  Cornerback Nickell Robey joined McDonald on the All-Pac first team last year.  Fellow cornerback Torin Harris could be a star in the next two years, but he will have to split time with another potential star, Anthony Brown.  Jawanza Starling has a possible NFL future as well.  Look for this group to post better numbers than last year, but they will give up 250 yards because opponents will be forced to throw the ball 40 times a game.

 

The only reason why USC is not our preseason number one team this year is because of a defensive line that is missing all four starters from last year, at least until the last few weeks of the season.  End Devon Kennard tore a pectoral muscle in July, and he is expected to be shelved until Thanksgiving at the earliest.  He might miss the entire season.  He was only the third best defensive lineman last year.  Now Wes Horton will become the leader of this unit.  He finished with four sacks in a reserve role last year.  Because there will be two new defensive tackles, teams with big backs and strong centers and guards might stand a chance of finding chinks in the Trojans’ armor.

 

Lamar Dawson beat out last year’s starter to take over at the middle linebacker spot in the middle of the year.  He teams with Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey to form a linebacker unit almost as talented as the trio at Stanford.

 

The schedule has its dangerous spots this year.  A 2-0 start is a given with games against Hawaii at home and Syracuse at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey (Where the Giants & Jets play).  The first key game comes a week later, when USC has to fly 3,000 miles home and then play at Stanford the following Saturday.  The Cardinal won an exciting triple overtime game last year.  The only other team that has the talent to go head-to-head with USC is Oregon, and they come to the Coliseum on November 3.  There are two more potential trap games.  Arizona is not nearly as talented, but the Wildcats could get up and put a scare in the Trojans.  Then, there is arch-rival UCLA.  After beating the Bruins 50-0 last year, every player on the UCLA team will be ready in ambush at the Rose Bowl. 

 

Remember this:  in 1968, Ohio State was 8-0 entering their big match with 8-1 Michigan.  They not only destroyed the Wolverines, they rubbed it in by going for two points late in the game when they were up by more than 30 points; they won 50-14.  Coach Woody Hayes was asked why he went for two in that situation, and he yelled back, “Because I couldn’t go for three.”  The following year, Ohio State was 8-0 again, entering their big game against 7-2 Michigan.  This Buckeye team was as dominant as the USC team will be this year, but Michigan was ready to play like Kamikazes in this game.  They knocked off the Buckeyes 24-12.  USC better watch out for UCLA this year.  It could happen again.

 

 

 

 

Team

U C L A  Bruins

               
Head Coach

Jim Nora, JR

               
Colors

Blue and Gold

               
City

Los Angeles, CA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-4

Overall

6-8

               
PiRate Rating

110.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

33

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

108

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

30

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-4

Overall

7-5

 

The Sons of Westwood have been disappointed more years than not since Terry Donahue left UCLA in 1995.  Donahue took the Bruins to four Rose Bowls and a Cotton Bowl (when it was still one of the big four).  Since he left, the Bruins have been to just One Rose Bowl, and that came 14 years ago.  In the last 13 years, the program has suffered through six losing seasons, one .500 season, and two winning seasons where they won just one more game than they lost.  In the only double-digit winning season in the 21st Century, the Bruins gave up 410 points.  That team was not a powerhouse.  USC beat them 66-19.

 

After dismissing a couple of former Bruin players as head coach (Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel), the Bruins turn to a Washington Alum, Jim Mora, Jr.  Mora’s dad was an assistant to Dick Vermeill at UCLA in the early 1970’s, so there is a small family tie.

 

Mora is a defensive guru from the NFL, and he hired an experienced college offensive coordinator to put together the attack troops.  Noel Mazzone is a multiple, pro-set advocate.

 

Being the quarterback at UCLA has been about as dangerous as being on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  Whereas the Sports Illustrated jinx tends to lead toward mediocrity, being the UCLA quarterback has been disadvantageous to the passer’s health.  It was so bad at one point, that two quarterbacks were injured in the same drill in practice—and that was spring practice!

 

There are still two quarterbacks on the roster that were part of the QB injury jinx, but neither is expected to start this season.  Mora named redshirt freshman Brett Hundley as his starter.  Hundley is the same size as Tom Brady, and Mora prefers an NFL-style passer over a dual threat type.

 

Hundley has two fairly talented receivers returning from last season.  Shaquelle Evans caught just 19 passes in the previous pistol formation offense, and he averaged better than 16 yards per catch.  Tight end Joseph Fauria caught 39 passes and scored six touchdowns.  Redshirt freshman Steven Manfro has jumped over several others on the depth chart and will begin the season as a starter.

 

Jonathan Franklin returns at running back after narrowly missing the 1,000-yard mark last year.  He will see the ball more often this year, as UCLA goes with a more traditional approach.  Lithe little Damien Thigpen missed 2011 with a medical redshirt, and he has impressed coaches enough to move to number two on the depth chart.  He will provide the Bruins with an excellent change of pace when they need a quicker, more elusive runner and can sacrifice the power they get from Franklin.  Thigpen will also be called upon to catch passes out of the backfield.

 

If guard Jeff Baca is okay to play after suffering an August concussion, the Bruins have the making of a rather good offensive line.  Joining Baca in the line will be center Greg Capella, guard Xavier Su’a-Filo (returning from a mission), and tackles Torian White and true freshman Simon Goines.

 

It has been six years since UCLA scored more than 24 points per game.  That streak should end this year, and the Bruins should smash through that barrier with 28-32 points per game.

 

The Bruin defense fell apart the last two years, and Mora was hired to fix the problem.  He welcomes back most of the parts to last year’s defense, but they are the same guys that gave up 31 points and close to 420 yards per game.

 

The Bruins have talented players throughout the defensive lineup.  Ends Cassius Marsh and Datone Jones should have much better seasons this year.  They combined for 63 tackles, five sacks, and 10 ½ TFL).  Nose tackle Seali’i Epenesa will plug the A-gaps with his 325-pound body.

 

The four-man linebacking contingent took a major blow when the expected leader of this group, Patrick Larimore, gave up football due to multiple concussions.  UCLA will try to plug his loss by moving safety Dalton Hilliard to inside linebacker.  Hilliard, the son of the former outstanding college and NFL running back, weighs just 205 pounds, so he will be given free rein to visit the pizza parlor and the milkshake shop.  Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt combined for 137 tackles last year.  Joining this group will be converted running back Anthony Barr.  Barr and Hilliard make this quartet a quicker group.

 

All four secondary starters return this year.  Cornerbacks Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price and safeties Andrew Abbott and Tevin McDonald combined to intercept nine passes and break up 26 more. Abbott was one of the Pac-12 co-leaders with four picks.  True freshman Fabian Moreau could emerge as a key contributor this year.

 

UCLA represented the Pac-12 South in the championship game because USC was ineligible.  The Bruins finished 5-4 in conference play, and after they lost to Oregon in the title game and to Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, they finished 6-8.  Expect the Bruins to get back to a bowl again this year and finish with a record north of .500.

 

 

Team

Utah Utes

               
Head Coach

Kyle Whittingham

               
Colors

Crimson and White

               
City

Salt Lake City, UT

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-5

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

111.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

29

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

110

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

22

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-4

Overall

8-4

 

Utah’s first year in the Pac-12 was rather successful.  The Utes proved they could compete weekly in a power conference.  Were it not for an upset to Colorado in the season finale (Utah was a three-touchdown favorite), the Utes would have earned the South’s spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game.  A win over Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl left the Utes with eight wins, which gave them six consecutive seasons with eight or more victories.

 

The Utes have to be considered a sleeper team this season, as they return a lot of exceptional talent from last year including two battle-tested quarterbacks.   Jordan Wynn’s first year in a BCS conference ended prematurely due to an injury suffered against Washington.  Wynn was off to a decent season when he was shelved for the year.  Jon Hayes took over, and the Utah offense kept going without missing a beat.  The two QBs combined for 2,186 passing yards and 18 touchdowns.

 

What will make the passing game better this year is the return of almost every receiver that caught a pass.  Devonte Christopher, Dres Anderson, and Luke Mathews all averaged between 15 and 16 yards per reception and scored 10 touchdowns on their 82 combined receptions.  Coach Kyle Whittingham has five tight ends that could play this year.  2011 starter Kendrick Moeai has given way to two others this year.  David Rolf and Jake Murphy begin the season as the top two TEs.

 

With McNeal and Redd splitting time at USC, Ute running back John White could win the Pac-12 rushing title.  He ran for 1,519 yards and 15 touchdowns last year.  Junior college transfer Kelvin York will get some carries in short yardage and goal line situations. 

 

Three starters return up front, led by center Tevita Stevens and guard Sam Brenner.

 

Utah averaged 25 points and just 311 yards per game last year, the lowest production in SLC in many years.  Expect considerable improvement this year.

 

Utah won eight games last year thanks to a consistently good defense.  For the sixth year in a row, the Utes gave up less than 21 points per game.  They held USC to 23, BYU to 10, and UCLA to six.

 

The key to the Ute defense is a tenacious defensive line that makes life miserable on enemy running backs and pressures passers.  Brothers Dave and Joe Kruger start at tackle and end respectively.  The siblings get to see a real star lining up with them at the nose.  Star Lotulelei lived up to his name last year with nine tackles for loss.  He earned 1st team all-Pac honors, as opponents had a hard time moving the 325-pound wide body out of the way.

 

The second line of defense is the one liability from among the starting units on either side of the ball.  One experienced linebacker returns.  Trevor Reilly tied for the team lead with five sacks.  It will be hard to replace former middle linebacker Chaz Walker.  New starter V. J. Fehoko made four tackles last year.

 

The secondary will not be at full strength at the beginning of the season, as the top player will miss the first three games.  Safety Brian Blechen has been suspended for those games.  Cornerback Ryan Lacy led the team with a dozen defended passes, while safety Eric Rowe added 10.

 

The non-conference schedule begins with a breeze game against Northern Colorado, but the other two are toughies.  The Utes play at Utah State and then host BYU in back-to-back weeks before beginning Pac-12 play.  Utah could go 3-0 outside the league.  If so, then the Utes will win eight or more games yet again.

 

Coming Monday night, August 27: Once thought to be a dead-conference walking, the Big 12 not only survived, it brought in two quality programs to replace the two they lost this year.  Can Oklahoma get back to the National Championship Game?

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2 Comments »

  1. I hardly drop responses, however i did some searching and wound up
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    Comment by mobile casino games no deposit Bonus — September 2, 2012 @ 1:03 pm

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