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?

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.

September 1, 2009

2009 Pacific 10 Conference Preview

2009 Pacific Ten Conference Preview

A PiRate Look

Quick, can you name the last team to win the automatic BCS Bowl bid from the Pac-10 prior to Southern Cal’s long reign at the top?  Would you believe, it was Washington State in the 2002 season?  That was Mike Price’s last year in Pullman.  The fad this year on the West Coast is to jump off the Trojan bandwagon.  The so-called experts say that this is the year Southern Cal will be displaced at the top.  We don’t proclaim to be experts, but we have our opinion as well.  Read on to find out what we think.  Oh, and all five of us agree with this opinion too.  Our choices for first and second place were unanimous.

Here are the preseason PiRate ratings for the league.  The ratings have been rounded to the nearest whole number even though we calculate them to two decimal places.  Thus, when you see multiple teams with the same rating, they are not actually exactly even.  To understand what the rating means, it is set so that 100 is average.  Thus, a rating of 90 means the team is 10 points weaker than the average team in the FBS.  The average of all 120 FBS teams should round to 100 if the math has been successfully calculated.

For those who have not followed the PiRate Ratings before and wonder about the home field advantage, we do not assign set in stone advantages.  These are assigned on a game-by-game basis.  For instance, when UCLA hosts Southern Cal at the Rose Bowl, the Bruins may not get any home field advantage whatsoever.  However, if UCLA hosted Connecticut on a Saturday night at 7:30 PM Pacific Time just five days after Connecticut played at Rutgers, UCLA might get 7-10 points home field advantage. The PiRates think it’s ridiculous to issue a blank home field advantage for all teams or even assign a range of set home field advantages.

 

Pac-10 Conference Preseason PiRate Ratings

 
   

 

Prediction *

 
  Team

PiRate

Pac-10

Overall

  Southern Cal

125

9-0

11-1

  California

120

7-2

10-2

  Oregon State

109

5-4

8-4

  Arizona

109

6-3

8-4

  Stanford

109

5-4

6-6

  Oregon

108

5-4

7-5

  U C L A

104

4-5

6-6

  Arizona State

103

3-6

5-7

  Washington

99

1-8

2-10

  Washington State

84

0-9

2-10

   

 

 

 

 
 

*  Predictions not based on PiRate Rating but

 
 

on expected changes to rating during the year

 
             

 

Southern Cal: The Trojans own this league.  They have won seven consecutive Pac-10 titles.  However, the dominance hasn’t been all that dominating.  USC has actually lost five conference games in the last three years.

Many prognosticators think this is the year that another team finally ends the dominance and drops the Trojans out of first place.  After all, eight starters from the stellar defense are gone, and quarterback Mark Sanchez is the new Joe Namath/Brett Favre with the Jets.

Listen to us now, and believe us later: This Southern Cal team will not only make it eight wins in a row, they just might prove to be the best team in the nation by December.  We would pick USC to run the table and play at home in the National Championship Game, but they must make a September 12 road trip to the giant horseshoe to play Ohio State.  If that game were played in October, we would be confident that the Trojans would win.  In the second game of the season and first road trip, we think it’s too iffy to chalk that one as a win.  If the Trojans win that game, they could easily win the rest.  What would happen if USC, Oklahoma, and Florida were undefeated at the end of the season?  Of course, the Trojans did win a piece of the national title once before when they were the odd team out.  In our opinion, if there was an eight or 12-team playoff, USC might have won any or all of the last seven titles.

Let’s start at quarterback.  It’s impossible for a team to lose the top QB picked in the NFL draft and stay on an even keel, right?  Not right when it’s the men of Troy.  Understand this: USC had the number one recruiting classes for 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007.  They are a perpetual all-star team.  It’s like Joe DiMaggio giving way to Mickey Mantle.  The Trojans actually have three Mantle’s at quarterback.  Aaron Corp was the starter coming out of spring practice, but he’s been slowed by a leg injury.  True freshman Matt Barkley will begin the season as the starter. 

Now, to tell you a little something about Barkley: he could be the very best quarterback in all of USC history!  We’ve studied this situation at length the last few days, and it’s apparent that Coach Pete Carroll was waiting for any excuse to elevate him to first team.  New quarterback coach Jeremy Bates came from the Denver Broncos.  Jay Cutler credited Bates for the success he’s enjoyed in the NFL.  Well folks, Bates thinks Barkley is already close to Cutler in talent and ability.  He convinced Carroll to make the change.  Barkley is a gunslinger who may throw more interceptions than Corp, but he will be the Brett Favre (in his prime) of the Pac-10.  Southern Cal will average 250-300 yards passing this year.  Former Arkansas starter and top recruit in the nation Mitch Mustain may only see action in the fourth quarter of 56-0 games.

Barkley has a future NFL star as his top receiver.  Damian Williams led the Trojans with 58 receptions and 869 yards in ’08.  New starter Ronald Johnson may make USC fans forget Patrick Turner.  The speedster will keep defenses honest, and if they concentrate of stopping Williams, they will be watching USC’s placekicking unit come out on the field for the extra point.  Johnson average 17.3 yards on his 33 catches last year (8 TDs), and he should easily top 50 this season.  Tight end Anthony McCoy will contend for the Mackey Award this year.  He provides a mammoth-size target at 6-5 and 255.

Now for even better news: USC has the real top running back unit in the country (Oklahoma might argue the point, but we say it’s USC).  Their fourth string tailback could start for half the BCS conference teams.  Joe McKnight has a tendency to drop the ball, but if he fixes that problem, he could actually become a dark horse contender for the Heisman Trophy.  He may not get enough touches to gain 1,000 yards, but that’s because Stafon Johnson and C.J. Gable are just as talented.  The three backs should combine to rush for 2,250 or more yards this year.

To add to all these riches, Southern Cal’s offensive line is just plain scary.  There is no argument here: it is hands down the best OL in the nation, and no other team comes close.  Even with center Kristofer O’Dowd questionable for the first two weeks, the Trojans have stars-in-the-making to plug the hole.  When healthy, O’Dowd is the best center in college football and better than many starting centers in the NFL.  You can make that same statement about guard Jeff Byers.

We expect USC to score 35-45 points per game and average 450-500 total yards per game.

Okay, you say the defense is bound to take a major step backward with the top four tacklers from last season and all eight graduated starters picked in the NFL draft.  We’ll agree that USC won’t give up just nine points and 222 yards per game this year, but the drop-off may not be all that harsh.  Also, the Trojans will probably force more turnovers this year and convert them into points.

The strongest unit on this side of the ball is the secondary.  This is the third different unit that ranks number one in the nation.  In all the past in Troyland, there have been some fantastic defensive backfields.  The 1980 may have been the best ever with Ronnie Lott, Dennis Smith, Joey Browner, and Jeff Fisher starting.  We believe the current starting secondary could prove to be even better.

Cornerback Shareece Wright has been given the best compliment he can receive.  The USC receivers say they cannot get open against him in practice.  Since Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald won’t be playing in the Pac-10, Wright should be able to shut down the opponents’ top receivers every week.  Safety Taylor Mays strikes fear in the brains of all those who think for a second they can catch a ball in the middle of the field without experiencing great punishment.  He’s a safety in a middle linebacker’s body.

The three all-star linebackers from last year leave the biggest hole, but the Trojans won’t fall much in this department.  In fact, this trio ranks in the top 10 nationally as a unit.  They will be smaller but quicker and should guarantee that the Trojan pass defense stays number one.  Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan will be household names by November.

Up front, the Trojans took another beating to graduation, but the new starters are capable of picking up where the graduates left off.  Defensive tackle Armond Armstead will miss the first half of the season, but if he returns to form, this unit will be tough at the end of the year.  End Everson Griffen could record double digit sacks.

You will see that the rest of the team previews are considerably smaller than USC’s preview.  We just don’t see another team that can displace the Trojans this year.  Sure, there are a lot of new players to plug the holes left by player graduation, but all the other teams in the league have question marks as well.  Those teams don’t have three dozen highly-rated recruits available to choose their new starters.  

Late Note:  Shareece Wright will miss the season due to academic ineligibility.

California: Those prognosticators who believe USC will fall from first in the Pac-10 believe Cal is the team that will move up.  We believe the Bears will be terrific this year and probably will win 10 regular season games, but we just don’t see them topping the Trojans.  Coach Jeff Tedford’s squad could conceivably due what Oregon State did last year, but the Bears have holes to fill this season.  Road games against Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State, and Stanford spell at least one additional conference loss and maybe two.

Cal’s passing game didn’t live up to Tedford’s standards last year, averaging just 193 yards and a very unCal-like 52.6% completions.  Starter Kevin Riley faced a heated competition this August from Brock Mansion, and if Riley doesn’t improve his accuracy, expect to see Mansion taking over.  Cal absolutely must improve upon the 6.1 yards per attempt to move forward.

What could make the passing situation worse is the lack of a star at receiver.  Nyan Boateng and Verran Tucker return after combining for 801 yards and eight touchdowns.  One of them must step up and become the next DeSean Jackson for Cal to reach its offensive potential.  Freshman tight end Spencer Ladner has loads of potential, but he won’t be the answer this year.

The Cal running game is second only to USC in the Pac-10.  Jahvid Best is favored to win the league rushing title for the second straight season (1,580 yds/8.1 Avg./15 TD), and Shane Vereen is capable of rushing for 1,000 yards if given enough carries. 

The Bear offensive line will open holes for the two star backs.  Cal is well-endowed at tackle with Mike Tepper and Mitchell Schwartz, but the inside isn’t quite as strong.

Cal will score 30-35 points per game and pick up 375-425 yards per game, but the standard deviation of their scores and yardage will be higher than USC’s.  It will allow the Bears to win 66-3 against weak teams, but they will lose some games 35-27 (USC won’t have that type of up and down performance).

Defensively, Cal is strongest up front and not too far behind in the secondary.  There’s a bigger question mark at linebacker than the question mark at USC.

The secondary returns all four 2008 starters.  Cornerbacks Syd’Quan Thompson and Darian Hagan combined for seven interceptions and 29 deflected passes, as Cal limited opponents to just 51.6% completions.

Up front, Cal returns all three DL starters from a year ago.  Tackle Tyson Alualu and end Cameron Jordan have all-Pac 10 potential after teaming for 22 tackles behind the line.

Three great linebackers have used up their eligibility.  Michael Mohamed is the only holdover.  Nobody on the roster can replace Zack Follett’s 23 tackles for loss (10 ½ QB Sacks).

The Bears will have days where their defense shuts down the opposing offense, much like they did against Oregon last year when they held the Ducks to 84 passing yards.  There will also be days when they give up 400+ yards, like they did against Arizona last year.  This team will be better than 2008, but not enough to move from second to first.

Oregon State: We were puzzled when the PiRate mathematical equation spat out the Beavers as the third best preseason team in the Pac-10 ratings.  We still don’t believe it.  OSU lost eight defensive starters, including its entire secondary.

The Beavers gave up 23.1 points and 312 yards per game last year.  After dropping the opening two games and giving up 81 points and 755 yards, OSU’s defense toughened up and gave up 154 total points and just 244 yards per game over the next nine games. 

Linebackers Keaton Kristrick, Keith Pankey, and Dwight Roberson will lead the new defense.  The trio recorded 186 tackles a year ago.  Kristrick finished with 14 tackles behind the line, and he’ll have to be a monster this year for OSU’s defense to stay competitive in the league.  

Stephen Paea is the sole returning starter up front.  He sacked QBs five times and trapped six runners behind the line last year, but he will see double teams more this season.

The secondary hasn’t been this raw this decade, and we expect the enemy pass numbers to rocket upward.  OSU gave up 181 yards at a 51.7% completion rate last year, and the 2009 numbers could move to 250 yards and 60% completions allowed.

The offense has some issues as well, but they have one major asset.  Running back Jacquizz Rodgers deserves to be on the Heisman Trophy watch list.  As a freshman, he rushed for 1,253 yards and 11 scores and caught 29 passes in 11 games.  He’s so multi-talented, he will line up and take the direct snap from the wildcat formation.  His rushing totals may stay the same, but his receiving totals are going to head north this year.

Rodgers will help quarterback Sean Canfield to more easily knock the rust off after missing much of last season with a shoulder injury.  In limited action, Canfield posted the best stats of his career (66.7% accuracy, 8.4 yds/attempt).  Last year’s principle starter, Lyle Moevao, suffered a rotator cuff injury and won’t be ready at the start of the season.  Freshman Ryan Katz will back up Canfield until then.

James Rodgers, brother of Jacquizz, takes over as the number one receiver this year.  He’ll see multiple looks running the ball off motion.

The offensive line lost three starters, and guard Greg Peat is the only all-conference caliber player in the blocking corps.

Coach Mike Riley always seems to get his Beavers to exceed expectations, but this team is going to regress some this year.  OSU was one win away from a Rose Bowl berth last year, but this season, they will be fortunate to go 5-4 in the league.  Their non-conference slate includes Portland State, UNLV, and Cincinnati.  Reser Stadium is a great homefield edge for the Beavers, and they should beat the Bearcats to start 3-0.  By then, Canfield should be back to normal, and he will take enough heat off Rodgers to lead State to their seventh bowl in the last eight seasons.

Arizona: Just when it looked like Coach Mike Stoops had reached the end of the line in Tucson, his Wildcats turned it around and took off.  Arizona finished 5-7 in 2007, leaving Stoops on the hot seat.  The Wildcats opened 2008 with a 70-0 pasting of Idaho and never looked back, winning eight games, including a Las Vegas Bowl win over Brigham Young.  The Wildcats lost some key personnel, but enough talent returns to earn another bowl bid.

Replacing career passing leader Willie Tuitama is the first order of business.  Entering the final week of the preseason, Stoops has yet to name a starter and indicated he would use a platoon to start the season.  This school has a long history of 2nd string quarterbacks assuming starting duties and going on to long tenures as the starter, so maybe Matt Scott and Nick Foles will want to be the backup for the Central Michigan opener.

The running game is solid with the return of 1,153 yard rusher Nic Grigsby (13 TD) and backup Keola Antolin (525 yds/10 TD).  ‘Zona averaged 158 rushing yards per game last year, and we expect an improvement to 180 or more yards per game this year, as Stoops emphasizes the run this year.

When UA throws the ball, two returning starters will be running the routes.  Delashaun Dean and Terrell Turner teamed for 96 receptions and 1,173 yards.  The featured receiver this year could be tight end Rob Gronkowski.  He hauled in 47 passes for 672 yards and 10 scores last year, and he could top 70 receptions this year.  In two years, he will be a hot commodity in the NFL draft, possibly a 1st round pick.

The offensive line must replace both tackles and a guard, and the new starters are not as talented.  There would be an increase in sacks, but the ‘Cats won’t throw the ball as often.

The defense improved as much as the offense last year, and thanks to an excellent front four that returns all of its starters, chances are the 2009 edition will be just as competent.  Tackle Earl Mitchell and end Brooks Reed star in the trenches.  Reed led with eight sacks.

The second line of defense lost two of its three starters including team-leading tackler Ronnie Palmer.  The two new starters saw a lot of action, so there shouldn’t be too much drop-off.

The secondary welcomes back two starters with cornerback Devin Ross leading the way.  He broke up 13 passes and picked off three last year.

The schedule includes a non-conference game at Iowa.  That should be a loss.  Road games against Oregon State, Cal, and Southern Cal will keep the Wildcats from competing for second place with Cal and USC, but they can easily compete with the other seven teams in the league.

Stanford:  Here’s where we agree with the PiRate formula.  Stanford could be the sleeper in the Pac-10 this year.  By sleeper, we are talking about a sleeper contender for an upper division finish in the league and bowl bid.  The Cardinal started 4-3 and appeared to have two winnable games left to play, but a disheartening loss to UCLA put an end to those hopes.

This year, we expect Stanford to take the next step forward and get that important sixth win.  Because the Cardinal must play at Wake Forest and host Notre Dame out of conference, they will have to post a winning conference record to become bowl eligible.

Here’s why we believe Stanford will get it done this year: they have their next great quarterback in the fold.  Redshirt freshman Andrew Luck is going to be something special.  The son of former West Virginia star QB and NFL journeyman Oliver Luck, he’s beaten out 2008 starter Tavita Pritchard and will post much better numbers than Pritchard’s 2008 stats.  Stanford tallied just 152 passing yards per game last year, but that number will be easily surpassed this year.  Luck should top 2,500 yards through the air.

The top three receivers from last year are back, but one of them, tight end Coby Fleener, will lose his starting job to Jim Dray.  Dray is fully recovered from a knee injury that kept him on the sideling for much of the last 1 ½ seasons.  This unit will make it easier for Luck to shine in 2009. 

Stanford will not be one dimensional this year.  They averaged 200 rushing yards per game last year, and with Toby Gerhart returning (1,136 yds/15 TD), the Cardinal will have explosive balance.

The offensive line returns three starters and a couple of tested backups, so they will give Luck and Gerhart what they need to succeed.  Stanford should top 400 yards and 28 points per game this year.  The last time the Cardinal scored more than 28 points and produced more than 400 yards per game, they finished 9-3 and missed out on the Rose Bowl by one game.

How much the Cardinal improve this year depends on the progress of the defense.  SU gave up a generous 27.4 points and 380 yards per game last year.  With eight starters returning, we believe there will be some improvement on this side.

Each unit has potential all-conference players.  Stanford dumped enemy QBs 34 times last year, and end Tom Keiser led with six even though he wasn’t a starter.  As a sophomore, he could approach double digit dumps.

Clinton Snyder leads the second line of defense after recording 6 ½ tackles for loss last year.  Middle linebacker Nick Macaluso returns to the starting lineup after missing half the season with an injury, so SU should be okay here.

Three starters return to the secondary, and with an excellent pass rush coming up front, these guys should improve a great deal this year.  Free safety Bo McNally is the star of this unit, and he led the team with 76 tackles and four interceptions a year ago.

It looks like Stanford has all the horses needed to move into the upper half of the league standings.  Is the hometown Emerald Bowl in their near future?

Oregon: The biggest change in Eugene this year is on the sidelines.  Mike Bellotti unexpectedly stepped down earlier this year just before the start of spring practice.  For the first time in 15 seasons, the Ducks will have a new coach.  Chip Kelly was the offensive coordinator the last two seasons, and he moves up to assume control.  Kelly’s offenses proved to be difficult to slow down and impossible to stop.

Dual-threat quarterback Jeremiah Masoli returns after passing for 1,744 yards and 13 touchdowns against just five interceptions and rushing for 718 yards and 10 scores.  Backup Justin Roper transferred to FCS power Montana.

Two Ducks topped 1,000 yards rushing last year.  One returns.  LeGarrette Blount runs the ball like Eddie George.  Last year, he gained 1,002 yards and scored 17 touchdowns.  He should get 20 carries per game this year, and he could gain 1,500 yards if he stays healthy.

The Ducks’ passing numbers may decline some early, as there are some issues in the receiving unit.  Projected starter Chris Harper came to Oregon to play quarterback, but he realized that wasn’t going to happen.  He transferred to Kansas State.  Aaron Pflugrad, who was expected to contribute as a key reserve or possibly start, transferred to Arizona State.  Kelly fired his father as receiver’s coach after assuming control of the program.  Tight end Ed Dickson and wide out Jeff Maehl are not going to be confused for Anthony McCoy and Damian Williams.  Former USC receiver Jamere Holland must prove he is as good as advertised, or the Ducks are going to have trouble keeping defenses from stacking up to stop the run.

The offensive line was decimated by graduation, and there’s no way the new starters will be able to match the effort of the old.  Instead of being one of the best in the nation, they will be average.  Look for the yards per rush to drop by at least a yard and the sacks to balloon from 20 to the mid 20’s.

The defense wasn’t spectacular last year, giving up 28.2 points and 390 yards per game, but those number may look good compared to what they will give up this year.  The defensive line gave up just 119 rushing yards per game and provided a superb pass rush, but three of the four starters have moved on.  At least the starter returning is a great one.  Will Tukuafu led the team with 7 ½ sacks and added 10 other tackles for loss.

Linebacker Spencer Paysinger is a complete player, but he is not as talented as the best linebackers in the league (like Mohamed at Cal).  You can say the same thing about Casey Matthews.  This duo may have trouble matching last year’s stats because the front four won’t be as adept at keeping blockers away from them.

The secondary returns T. J. Ward, who is as good as any defensive back in the league.  Ward led the Ducks with 101 tackles and deflected eight passes.  The rest of the secondary is in sort of a shambles.  Two star players and second round draft picks will be replaced by much weaker and less experienced players.

Oregon opens the season with a Thursday night game at Boise State.  They host Purdue and Utah the next two weeks before conference play begins.  They should be 2-1, but if they are 1-2, or worse, 0-3, it’s going to be a long year in Eugene.  We think OU will get off to that 2-1 start and go on to post a winning season and bowl bid.  They won’t compete for the league title. 

U C L A: Year two in Westwood promises to be a return to bowl eligibility for the Bruins.  16 starters return from a team that won four games, and two more wins are certainly possible this year.

The offense didn’t get the job done last year.  The offensive line couldn’t keep pass rushers out of the backfield, and Bruin quarterbacks were introduced to the ground 35 times.  The 220 yards lost brought the rushing average down to 83 yards per game (using NFL rules, the Bruins rushed for 101 yards on 29 attempts, which wasn’t great either).

Last year’s starting quarterback, Kevin Craft, is now the third string passer.  Freshman Kevin Prince won the job in the spring, and true freshman Richard Brehut appears to be number two on the depth chart.  With Norm Chow and Coach Rick Neuheisel’s great knowledge of quarterback talent, it’s obvious that the passing game will be taking a step forward, even if they give up an experienced senior for an untested redshirt freshman.

Two starting wide receivers are back, and they should post better numbers this year.  Taylor Embree and Terrence Austin caught a combined 93 passes.  Tight end Ryan Moya should see more balls thrown his way this year after hauling in 38 passes a year ago.

The running game can only improve this year.  Derrick Coleman and Christian Ramirez should share the load, and we expect them to combine for 800-1,000 yards this year.  Fullback Shane Moline can convert on short yardage plays, and he is a rather strong lead blocker.

The offensive line should be much improved this year with four starters returning.  Guard Nick Ekbatani is going to miss a month or more with a sprained knee ligament. 

UCLA gave up 29 points per game last year, but not all of that can be laid at the 22 feet on the stop side.  The Bruins’ offense gave the ball away too many times, allowing opponents to enjoy excellent field position.  The defense gave up just 337 yards per game, and if they just repeat that amount, they should improve their points allowed per game by as many as five to seven points.

The true superstar of this side is cornerback Alterraun Verner.  He deflected a national best 18 passes and intercepted two others.  Middle linebacker Reggie Carter returns after leading the Bruins with 83 tackles.

Up front, end Korey Bosworth could join Brian Price on the all-Pac 10 team.  Bosworth registered 7 ½ sacks and five deflected passes, while Price had 4 ½ sacks and 14 total tackles behind the line.

An added weapon is kicker Kai Forbath, who is in range whenever the Bruins cross the opponent’s 40 yard line.

UCLA’s schedule is interesting.  Out of the conference, they host San Diego State and Kansas State, and they play at Tennessee.  All three teams have new coaches this year and may or may not be much better than last season.  The Bruin record could be 3-0, 2-1, 1-2, or 0-3, depending on the progress of the new coaches.  We think it will be 2-1.  In league play, the USC and Cal games are the only ones that appear out of reach.  The Bruins have a decent shot at going 5-2 in the other seven, but we think they will flop in one of those winnable games.  4-5 in the conference and 6-6 overall look like the best fit.

Arizona State:  After winning 10 games and challenging for a Rose Bowl berth in 2007, Coach Dennis Erickson’s Sun Devils won only half as many games last year.  We don’t think he will right the ship this year due to a tough schedule and a major drop-off at quarterback.

Rudy Carpenter started all four seasons in Tempe, and he departed as the number two all-time passer at ASU (as a frosh, he replaced the career leader, Andrew Walter).  Danny Sullivan inherits the job, but his career completion percentage is just 46%, albeit in limited action. 

If ASU had a strong running game, Sullivan might be able to enjoy some success with play-action passes and more one-on-one situations.  Unfortunately, the running game is a liability once again.  The Sun Devils rushed for just 89 yards per game in 2008, and improvement should be nominal this season.

The returning receivers won’t be as productive with the new QB, and to make matters worse, the top pass catcher from last year has graduated.  Michael Jones led with 61 passes, and the leading returnee, Chris McGaha, caught just 35.  Kyle Williams could be a game-breaker.  He caught only 19 passes last year, but he averaged 19.2 yards per reception and scored four times.

The offensive line returns four starters, so at least the new skill players might get a fraction of a second additional blocking time.  This is the one strength of the offense.

The defense will have to carry the load if ASU returns to the plus side of .500.  The front seven returns four starters who provided excellent play.  End Dexter Davis is the league’s leading returning sack master, having recorded 11 last year.  Tackle Lawrence Guy came up with two sacks and eight other tackles behind the line.  Linebackers Travis Goethel and Mike Nixon proved to be tough at stopping the run and the pass, teaming for 161 tackles, 15 ½ tackles behind the line, seven interceptions, and nine deflected passes.

The secondary lost its best player, Troy Nolan, to the NFL, but two players return who started last year.  Cornerback Omar Bolden could become a star.

Arizona State must make the return visit to play Georgia in Athens this year, and even with the loss of Matthew Stafford, the Bulldogs will hand it to the Sun Devils.  ASU will win the other non-conference games at home with Idaho State and Louisiana-Monroe.  They should be able to pick up a conference road win at Washington State and a home game with Washington.  Home games with Southern Cal and Cal will not go so well.  That leaves home games with Arizona and Oregon State and a road game with Stanford.  ASU must win two of these three games, and we see them coming up a game short of bowl eligibility.

Washington: There’s nowhere to go but up for Washington after finishing 2008 at 0-12.  It cost Tyrone Willingham his job, as he could only muster a four season record of 11-37.  New coach Steve Sarkisian comes from Southern Cal where the Trojans lost just nine games in his seven years as an offensive assistant, offensive coordinator, and assistant head coach.  His first year in Seattle could see his forces lose more than nine games in just three months.

Quarterback Jake Locker missed eight games with a broken thumb, and his replacement, Ronnie Fouch completed just 45% of his passes with a 4/13 TD/INT ratio.  Locker’s ability to run out of the spread made him a formidable dual threat, but Sarkisian’s style of play is not the best style for him.  He will take his lumps trying to set up in the pocket and pass like Matt Leinart or Mark Sanchez, because the offensive line in no way resembles the lines he saw in Trojanville.  Guard Ben Ossai is a stud, and tackle Cody Habben is better than average, but the rest of the unit would be third or fourth string at USC.

The running game could be better, but if Locker doesn’t get his share of rushes, the stats may not show it.  If none of the backs proves to be worthy of drawing away defensive attention from Locker, it’s going to be another very long season at Husky Stadium.

Locker has a couple of fine receivers holding over, and with enough protection, he can top 200 passing yards a game.  D’Andre Goodwin, Jermaine Kearse, and backup Devin Aguilar combined for 100 receptions and 1,239 yards.  Those receptions only led to three touchdowns.

Look for a much improved defense in Seattle, as 10 starters return to the fold.  The one new starter saw significant action last year, so every facet of the defense should be better.  Linebacker Mason Foster led the stop troops with 105 tackles including 12 for loss.  End Daniel Te’O-Nesheim recorded eight QB sacks and cornerback Quinton Richardson batted away seven passes and picked off one pass. 

The Huskies gave up 38.6 points and 452 yards per game last year, so they have a long way to go to return to respectability.  They could shave a touchdown and 50 yards off those stats and still lose double digit games.  The schedule gives them just one chance to win out of conference.  UW hosts LSU to open the season and plays at Notre Dame in October.  A home game with Idaho is the closest thing to a sure win.  In league play, they have a score to settle with their rival in the Apple Cup.  We think they will break their by then 17-game conference losing streak with a win. 

Washington State: Is it possible for a team that finished 1-8 in the conference and 2-11 overall to regress?  When that team averaged just 12.7 points per game and gave up 43.8 points per game, that team can improve statistically by quite a bit and still win just one or two games.

Last year, Washington State gave up the most points ever in a single season.  They averaged just 241 total yards per game and gave up 443.  Throw out the 48-9 win over Portland State, and those numbers become 208 yards gained and 460 yards allowed and an average score of 10-47!

Second year coach Paul Wulff doesn’t have a lot of talent to work with as the season begins, as numerous players on both sides of the ball have suffered injuries in practice.  It doesn’t bode well for any real improvement.

Quarterback Kevin Lopina threw 11 interceptions last year in 153 pass attempts.  That’s one interception every 14 passes.  How many touchdown passes did he complete?  Zero!  He suffered through two separate injuries, and he is capable of much more when healthy.  Quarterback option number two, Marshall Lobbesteal started until being lost for the season with an ACL injury.  He will see playing time this year as well.

The running back position appeared to be set as Cal transfer James Montgomery looked primed to take over the starting job.  However, he’s one of the aforementioned injured players, and he may not be ready to go in the season opener against Stanford.  Last year’s starter Dwight Tardy has been successful running out of the Cougar backfield in the past, but he’s not been the same since suffering a torn ACL two years ago.

More injury troubles abound at receiver where leading returning wide out Jeshua Anderson is also questionable for the first game.  This unit is considerably weaker without Brandon Gibson, who led the Cougars with 57 receptions last year.  True freshman Gino Simone may contribute immediately.

The offensive line was just plain offensive last year, surrendering 43 sacks and paving the way for a rushing average of 2.7 yards.  Four starters return to this unit, so there should be some improvement.  Center Kenny Alfred earned 3rd Team All-Pac 10 honors last year, and he could move to 2nd Team All-Pac 10 this year.

Only five starters return to the defense, and this unit could actually be a tad weaker this year, even after surrendering 58 or more points six times last year!  The secondary would have been much better than last year, but the two starting cornerbacks will not be around.  Devin Giles was dismissed and Romeo Pellum decided to transfer.  Brandon Jones ascended to the starting lineup, and he’s another one of the starters battling injuries.

The defensive line returns just one starter, and Coach Wulff will use true freshman Travis Long if not as a starter as a top reserve. 

At linebacker, Andy Mattingly has the potential to contend for all-league honors.  Freshmen will get a long look here as well.

The schedule is not kind.  The Cougars begin the season at home with Stanford, and they should immediately occupy 10th place in the league.  A game with Hawaii in Seattle should give them a decent shot at evening the record, and a home game with SMU could even allow WSU to have a winning record for one week.  Then, the Cougars visit USC in a game where they could lose by 70 points if the Trojans rub it in.  Losses should begin to pile up, and WSU should be 0-8 in the conference when they travel to Seattle for the Apple Cup game.  This year, we expect Washington to win that one, so Washington State should wear the collar in the Pac-10.

Next up: The Big 12 featured some of the most exciting offensive performances in the nation and produced the Heisman Trophy winner.  What will the South Division do for an encore, and will a North Division team be good enough this year to be the fifth best overall team in the league?

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