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2010 FINAL PAC-10 STANDINGS

Oregon 12-1 (9-0)

Stanford 12-1 (8-1)

Washington 7-6 (5-4)

USC 8-5 (5-4)

Oregon State 5-7 (4-5)

Arizona State 6-6 (4-5)

Arizona 7-6 (4-5)

California 5-7 (3-6)

UCLA 4-8 (2-7)

Washington State 2-10 (1-8)


RETURNING STATISTICAL LEADERS

Returning Leaders: Passing

Andrew Luck, Stanford, Jr (263 of 372 for 3,332 yds, 32 TD, 8 INT)

Darron Thomas, Oregon, Jr (221 of 360 for 2,863 yds, 30 TD, 9 INT)

Matt Barkley, USC, Jr (236 of 377 for 2,791 yds, 26 TD, 12 INT)

Nick Foles, Arizona, Sr (286 of 426 for 3,191 yds, 20 TD, 10 INT)

Jordan Wynn, Utah, Jr (186 of 299 for 2,334, 17 TD, 10 INT)


Returning Leaders: Rushing

LaMichael James, Oregon, Jr (294 carries for 1,731 yds, 5.8 ypc, 21 TD)

Chris Polk, Washington, Jr (260 carries for 1,415 yds, 5.4 ypc, 9 TD)

Rodney Stewart, Colorado, Sr (290 carries for 1,316 yds, 4.5 ypc, 10 TD)

Johnathan Franklin, UCLA, Jr (214 carries for 1,127 yds, 5.2 ypc, 8 TD)

Stepfan Taylor, Stanford, Jr (223 carries for 1,137 yds, 5.1 ypc, 15 TD)



Returning Leaders: Receiving

Juron Criner, Arizona, Sr (83 rec for 1,244 yds, 11 TD)

Robert Woods, USC, Soph (64 rec for 786 yds, 6 TD)

Jermaine Kearse, Washington, Sr (63 rec for 1,005 yds, 12 TD)

Jared Karstetter, Wash St, Sr (62 rec for 658 yds, 7 TD)

Marquess Wilson, Wash St, Soph (55 rec for 1,006, 6 TD)


Returning Leaders: Tackles

Chaz Walker, Utah, LB, Sr (113 total, 8.69 tackles/game)

Tony Dye, UCLA, Sr, S (96 total, 8.00 tackles/game)

Paul Vassallo, Arizona, Sr, LB (102 total, 7.85 tackles/game)

Cort Dennison, Wash, Sr, LB (92 total, 7.67 tackles/game)

Sean Westgate, UCLA, Sr, LB (90 total, 7.50 tackles/game


Returning Leaders: Sacks

Mychal Kendricks, Cal, Sr, LB (7.0 sacks)

Chase Thomas, Stanford, LB, Sr (7.0)

Shayne Skov, Stanford, LB. Jr (7.0)

Josh Hartigan, Colorado, DE, Sr (7.0)

Junior Onyeali, Arizona St, Soph, DE (6.5)

 

Returning Leaders: Interceptions

Cliff Harris, Oregon, Jr, CB (6 interceptions)

Delano Howell, Stanford, Sr, S (5)

John Boyett, Oregon, Jr, S (5)

Nate Fellner, Wash, Jr, S (5)

 

BREAKING DOWN THE PAC-12 WITH THE ZEALOTS

To help us out with our Pac-12 Preview we enlisted the services of Kyle Kensing from the Fansided Blog Saturday Blitz. Make sure you follow them on Twitter @SaturdayBlitz and also follow Kyle on Twitter @Kensing45. Kyle also writes for Onside Kick and the SB Nation based Arizona Wildcats blog Arizona Desert Swarm. So make sure you drop by and show them some love during the college football season. Now onto the team-by-team zealot-by-zealot thoughts (and make sure you click on the team name if you want to read their pre-season preview):

 

Arizona

Kyle (Prediction: #2 Pac-12 South): The question about this team is was the 7-1 start more indicative of it, or the 0-5 finish? UA was a few points (or kicks) removed from winning games, but conversely could have finished out of the bowl picture. The offensive line lost all five starters, but is replenished with experienced second stringers and highly touted recruits. This offense should actually be the best since the late 1990s, assuming Ka’Deem Carey can be the complement to Keola Antolin a healthy Nicolas Grigsby was. Nick Foles will be UA’s first NFL quarterback, and his connection with Juron Criner will produce bunches of points. UA struggled to score in the red zone last year, and that’s going to be a major issue to follow early in the year during the team’s make or break stretch.

Jay (Prediction: #5 Pac-12 South): I don't know if any team will frustrate it's fans more than the Wildcats.  They are loaded with stud skill position players on offense.  I think Nick Foles is a bit overrated, but he puts a lot of flashy stats on the board.  Juron Criner should playing WR in the NFL this year, and Dan Buckner is a physical freak who would be a big star today if he didn't have to sit out last year after transferring from Texas.  The problem is...everything else.  I'm struggling to think of the last time I saw an offensive line that was starting over completely from scratch like this unit is.  It's going to kill offensive productivity, and maybe Foles, too.  Meanwhile, the losses on defense are extensive.  With Mike Stoops in charge, I don't see a total meltdown on that side of things, but it's going to be a struggle.  And their schedule is unforgiving.  How's this for an opening conference slate:  vs.Stanford, vs.Oregon, @USC, @Oregon St.  If they can survive that stretch with their psyche intact, and maybe cobble together a decent OL, they have a back 6 that's manageable.  But they'll need to win almost all of them to go bowling.

Kevin (Prediction: #2 Pac-12 South): I was just looking at Phil Steele's magazine and it says that Arizona has 1 career start returning on the OL. Are you kidding me? That has to be a mis-print, they are the only team on the entire page in single digits in that metric. I am no selling that and I'm sticking with the Wildcats to finish second and thus play in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game. It's not that I love Arizona, I just don't trust the other guys.

Ross (Prediction: #5 Pac-12 South): 'Zona returns a lot of skill players, but almost no one along the offensive and defensive lines, which is a red flag.  They also have a nasty league schedule: they open with home games against Stanford and Oregon and follow that up with road trips to USC and Oregon State.  It's not hard to imagine them opening up 0-4 and out of the Pac-12 race before October is even half-done and if that happens it's going to be hard for Mike Stoops to get them up for the rest of the season.

 

Arizona State

Kyle (Prediction: #1 Pac-12 South): I have my trepidations about tabbing A-State atop the division. The offense was more explosive with Steven Threet at quarterback than with Brock Osweiler. Osweiler is less turnover prone, but lacks Threet’s big play ability. ASU has also struggled in the run game much of Dennis Erickson’s tenure. And there are the lingering issues about Vontaze Burfict. Otherwise though, Burfict is the most talented defender in the nation and ASU is dangerous on that side of the ball. The offensive line is stout and should buoy the run game, which will allow Osweiler to play his style.

Jay (Prediction: #3 Pac-12 South): The Sun Devils seem like the fashionable pick to slip into the void left by USC's championship ban.  And I could definitely see that happening.  I think there's a logjam of solid teams behind USC in the South, any of them capable of putting together the 5 wins it will take to claim the #2 spot.  I think what is ultimately going to separate these teams is the schedule.  Arizona State's schedule is very favorable with two key exceptions:  1) They must go on the road to play division rivals Utah and UCLA.  2)  They draw a road game to Oregon out of the North.  The latter is almost a sure loss.  And the best we can do for the Sun Devils is give them a split on the former.  I mean, they look good on paper and all, but not so good that I can award them a road sweep over two key rivals at this point.  Despite that 10-3 debut, Dennis Erickson is still stuck in the "show me" phase at Arizona State.  This team has talent, but I remain unconvinced Erickson is the coach to get results out of them.

Kevin (Prediction: #3 in Pac-12 South): Every year we hear that this is the year for the Sun Devils and every year the Sun Devils turn in a mediocre performance. And now we've got Vontaze Burfict going nuts on people (allegedly). Couple that with all of the injuries and I'm staying away from the Sun Devils.

Ross (Prediction: #3 Pac-12 South): Arizona State was a trendy pick to win the South in 2011 thanks to a host of returning starters (as many as 15), but that was before injuries ravaged the team (it seems like they've lost almost a player a week over the off-season).  A healthy Sun Devil team would be a real threat to take this division, but I just can't put my faith behind the MASH unit that they're going to be rolling with in 2011.

 

California

Kyle (Prediction: #5 Pac-12 North): Cal had a top flight defense with a mediocre offense last season, and the result was Jeff Tedford’s first sub-.500 finish. The loss of Shane Vereen does nothing to help that situation, as now for the first time in the Tedford era, the Golden Bears are without a clear-cut top rushing option. Meanwhile, Cal quarterbacks have struggled mightily since Aaron Rodgers’ departure. Tedford overhauled his staff, mostly bringing back coordinators who were with him in better years. Whether that revitalizes the struggling offense, I don’t know. Zach Maynard is a dual threat quarterback, which Cal’s never really had. The defense should still be solid, but the myriad questions on offense should force it into the same situations it faced last year.

Jay (Prediction: #5 Pac-12 North): Once renowned as a bonafide groomer of future NFL quarterbacks, Jeff Tedford has struggled to develop a star signal-caller in recent years.  The situation seems to have reached rock-bottom this year, as he has turned the reins over to Buffalo refugee Zach Maynard, a minor talent who was mostly brought in to secure the commitment of his superstar kin, Keenan Allen.  And Allen is definitely a talent worth giving a bench warmer a free ride, but if the bench warmer ends up being the guy charged with getting him the ball...well, that's a problem.  What's worse, despite these past few seasons of pedestrian QB play, Cal has at least managed to maintain a stable of terrific running backs to carry the load, one following neatly after the other.  This year, that next stud RB isn't readily apparent.  The defense looks solid, but not more than that, and that's not going to be good enough to rescue a floundering offense.  It will be a struggle for this Golden Bear squad to return to bowl play.

Kevin (Prediction: #5 Pac-12 North): Quick question guys, which team in the Pac-10 last year beat Colorado by 45 points? If you guessed the 5-7 Golden Bears then you cheated. Cal just feels to me like a team that's lost it's swagger and I don't think they get it back this year. Oh yeah, they have to play at Oregon and at Stanford. Ugh.

Ross (Prediction: #5 Pac-12 North): Cal was pretty unlucky at times last year, but it's unclear how much better their offense is going to be with brand-new starters at QB and RB. They also have the disadvantage of having no real home games (they're playing home games at Pac Bell Park) and have to go on the road to Oregon, Stanford, and Arizona State.  Looks like another rough year for the Fightin' Tedfords.

 

Colorado

Kyle (Prediction: #6 Pac-12 South): Colorado joins the conference with an entirely new staff. Jon Embree has an NFL background, as do many of his assistants. How that translates to Boulder will be an intriguing storyline. Rodney Stewart is in the same situation as UCLA’s Franklin. Both are superbly talented, but lack help in the passing game.

Jay (Prediction: #6 Pac-12 South): Just awful.  They should just give up on football all together.  It's fairly obvious to everybody else that they don't really care about it in Boulder.  They followed up one of the worst hires of the last five years with what I'm sure we'll be calling "one of the worst hires of the last five years" in 2016.  Last year, they flirted with a bowl game.  This year, they won't even come close.  I think I'm done talking about Colorado football until they get serious over there.

Kevin (Prediction: #5 Pac-12 South): I'm a little higher than the rest of the guys on the Buffaloes. Maybe it's because they beat my Dawgs last year (even though we had a chip shot FG set up for the win when the frackin OL forgot to block their DL and Caleb King got blown up at hand-off and fumbled the game away). I think Colorado will be able to find some games where they can run the ball down certain teams throats. The Pac-12 isn't big on DL strength and I think Colorado can use that to their advantage if they are smart. They have an experienced OL and a really good RB. They key for Colorado will be to stay away from shootouts and control the pigskin. If they can do that then they might surprise some. Until then, they are my pick for fifth in the South.

Ross (Prediction: #6 Pac-12 South): 16 returning starters?  That's good!  Road games at Stanford, Washington, Arizona State, and Utah?  That's bad!  Throw in tough home games against Oregon and USC and the Buffs could hardly have asked for a tougher introduction to the Pac-12.  Not to mention the fact that they have a new, totally unproven coaching staff. They should eventually climb out of the cellar, but it probably won't be this year.

 

Oregon 

Kyle (Prediction: #1 Pac-12 North): The two-time defending conference champions and reigning runners-up face a lot of uncertainty. Cliff Harris’ off-field transgressions are just a fraction of possible problems for the Duck defense, which was an important catalyst to last season’s success. This year’s defense is inexperienced, as is the offensive line. That said, Oregon remains the most talented team in the conference and boasts two legitimate Heisman candidates in LaMichael James and Darron Thomas. Combine that with the West’s most daunting home field advantage, and UO again heads the field.

Jay (Prediction: #1 Pac-12 North): I've tried to make convincing arguments in my head for other teams to win the inaugural Pac-12 championship, but it really looks like the Ducks are headed for a 3-peat out west.  Yes, this year's team is dealing with a lot of turnover on defense and the offensive line, but the numbers are actually very similar to the 2009 team, which went to the Rose Bowl.  Much like other spread gurus like Dana Holgorsen and Gus Malzahn, Chip Kelly's system is simple enough (and I don't mean that as a pejorative) that he can plug in new pieces with a very slight learning curve and keep that point machine churning.  And that is the name of the game at Oregon.  If they happen to get a strong year out of the defense like they did in 2010, that's just gravy.  They're going to put a ton of points on the board in Darron Thomas' second year at the helm, and I doubt the Willie Lyles scandal will have much of an effect on anything.  Now, are they going to go undefeated and play for the BCS title again?  No.  LSU will put an end to that in Week 1.  But it will still be a highly successful year in Eugene.  The only question will be if it still counts in a few years.

Kevin (Prediction: #1 Pac-12 North): The only thing standing in the way of Oregon and another Pac-12 Championship is Willie Lyles and he seems to be vanishing like Lache Seastrunk back to Texas. Yes, Oregon lost some defense but they still are locked, stocked and loaded on offense. I've got them returning to the National Championship game this year so of course I have them winning the Pac-12.

Ross (Prediction: #1 Pac-12 North): There are reasons to be leery of Oregon this year: they lose six starters on the offensive and defensive lines, they have to play Stanford on the road, and they have the looming threat of NCAA sanctions, but they still get the edge to win the division.  They have a slightly easier conference schedule than Stanford, they didn't lose their coach, and they return star performers on both sides of the ball (Darron Thomas and LaMichael James on offense, Cliff Harris on defense).  They won't go undefeated again, but they shouldn't need to do that to win the division.

 

Oregon State

Kyle (Prediction: #3 Pac-12 North): Injuries and a tendency to play down to lesser competition (Washington State, anyone?) really hampered last season’s Beavers. Considering how often Mike Riley teams overachieve, that was shocking. This season’s team has more questions than last, namely who will replace Jacquizz Rodgers. But in that sense, it reminds me a lot of 2008 when OSU was in the Pac-10 title hunt with a freshman Rodgers surprisingly breaking out in replacement of Yvenson Bernard. Should ‘Quizz’s brother James be healthy off a knee injury suffered midway through last year, he should return to All Conference form with the talented Ryan Katz passing to him. OSU should improve tremendously on defensive from last year’s underwhelming 27 PPG allowance, as this year’s unit is much more experienced. The Beavs also benefit from hosting key games including Arizona, Washington and Stanford.

Kyle (Prediction: #3 Pac-12 North): Mike Riley is another one of those extremely consistent coaches that I love.  It may seem a little odd to give him props for that after delivering a losing season in 2010, but it should be noted that the Beavers played a vicious schedule (including early non-conference games against TCU and Boise State and an end of the year gauntlet of USC, Stanford, and Oregon) while struggling through the growing pains of a first-year starter in Ryan Katz.  And even despite their losing record, they still finished in the top half of the conference.  With a much more manageable schedule (they miss USC in inter-divisional play) and a more seasoned Katz returning, I expect the Beavers to return to their 8-9 win form.

Kevin (Prediction: #4 Pac-12 North): The defense scares me. Especially in a division with Oregon and Stanford and that Sarkisian guy just up the road. They also lost the Quizz. I think they are similar to last year, maybe a win better.

Ross (Prediction: #4 Pac-12 North): The Beavers return 8 starters on offense and should have one of the league's most potent attacks, but a porous defense (only 4 returning starters) will make it tough to gain ground in the North division.  They also have brutally tough road games at Utah and Oregon late in the year.

 

Stanford

Kyle (Prediction: #2 Pac-12 North): Andrew Luck would have been the No. 1 pick in this past NFL Draft, and will likely go first next spring. Luck is just one of a very experienced and very talented corps that includes running back Stepfan Taylor, an excellent run-and-catch option. The receiving unit took some hits though, as did the offensive line. SU may take a step back in offensive production from that facet, as well as from the coaching change. David Shaw did a great job last season and this year’s Cardinal will be successful. I do wonder about the impact losing Jim Harbaugh though. While the Pioneer League and Pac-10/12 are entirely different animals, San Diego took a slight step back after Harbaugh (and coincidentally, Shaw) left for Stanford. I suspect there will be a similar slight downward tick. That said, with the two toughest opponents SU will face coming into Stanford (Oregon and Notre Dame), should Luck lead it to a Pac-12 title it won’t be a surprise.

Jay (Prediction: #2 Pac-12 North): I hope Andrew Luck truly enjoys going to college at Stanford as much as he claims, because he's not going out on a high note.  Between the Cardinal's easy non-conference slate and this looking like a bit of a down year for the rest of the Pac-12, Stanford will still win around 10 games and go to a nice bowl for the 3rd year in a row, but if Luck has grander dreams of trophies and championships, I think he'll be sorely disappointed.  It's going to be much more difficult to complete anything close to 70% of his passes behind a depleted offensive line and without his favorite receiving threats.  It's also highly unlikely the Cardinal D matches last year's performance, which set 7 year highs in nearly every category, meaning Luck will see fewer possessions and longer fields than he did when he put up 32 TDs and led the offense to 40 points per game in 2010.  And while the overall program will be largely the same under David Shaw, you can't underestimate the effect of the loss of Jim Harbaugh, who's grit and swagger completely redefined Stanford football.  It was more than X's and O's that fueled his success, and I can't see anyone else imitating that.

Kevin (Prediction: #2 Pac-12 North): Stanford is locked in as the #2 team in the Pac-12 until Andrew Luck decides it's time to hang them up and head for the NFL. I think they take a small step back because of their second set of drastic coaching changes in as many years (this time replacing the Head Coach as well). It's tough to retain consistency when you are constantly changing parts. I like Stanford, but I'm not in love with them.

Ross (Prediction: #2 Pac-12 North): Like Oregon, Stanford loses a lot along the lines (only three combined starters return) and they also have the misfortune of losing the coach who had elevated them to such lofty heights.  On the other hand, they do return arguably the best player in CFB (Andrew Luck) and get Oregon at home.  Their schedule has a nasty stretch in late October and early November which will define their season: home games against Washington and Oregon sandwich tricky road trips to USC and Oregon State.  Running that gauntlet will prove to be a bit too much for them, I think.

 

UCLA

Kyle (Prediction: #5 Pac-12 South): The Bruin defense boasts some genuine star power, but when the offense is as sluggish as UCLA’s, that doesn't mean much. Running back Jonathan Franklin is the conference’s second or third best at his position, but weak quarterback play allows defenses to stack the box against him. Kevin Prince will get the starting nod in all likelihood, but has had durability issues. That doesn't bode well for a Pistol quarterback. And in regard to that talented defense, UCLA had two top flight defenders leave from last year’s unit that was actually right near the bottom of the conference.

Jay (Prediction: #4 Pac-12 South): I really struggled with the Bruins.  They're the most experienced and talented of the three main teams jockeying behind USC, yet I have them finishing the lowest of them all.  Defensively, I think 2010's 30ppg/400+ypg performance was an aberration, and I expect them to be much more competitive on that side of things.  But that offense.  Man, that offense.  UCLA is one of those really strange cases where an offensive brainiac seems utterly incapable of generating much productivity.  Neuheisel may have found a go-to running back in Johnathan Franklin, who went for 1,000 last year, but until he can find a good QB and keep him healthy, the Bruins are never going to break out of this 20ppg rut they've been in for the duration of his tenure.  And without that breakthrough, they're never going to do more than hover around .500, maybe slipping into a bowl every other year if the cards fall right.  Switching OC's from Norm Chow to this Mike Johnson guy doesn't seem like a step in the right direction.  The Bruins may slip into a bowl this year, but I doubt they do it impressively enough to save Neuheisel.

Kevin (Prediction: #6 Pac-12 South): I need Rick Neuheisel to show me he's still got it. This team went 2-7 in the Pac-10 and 4-8 overall last year. Finding a QB is the key to their season. Let's take a look at the teams that threw for less yards then them last year...Navy, Air Force, Georgia Tech and Army. All of those teams finished in the Top 8 in the Nation in rushing, UCLA wasn't in the Top 30. You should be ashamed of yourself Mr Neuheisel. UCLA returns a ton of experience, but that experience was pretty awful last year. UCLA could surprise this year but until they do I'm not buying into the hype.

Ross (Prediction: #4 Pac-12 South): The Bruins return 17 starters, which would normally be cause for lofty predictions.  So why pick them in the middle of the Pac 12 South?  Call it a lack of faith in Rick Neuheisal, whose hot seat credentials are well-established by now.  Maybe this is the year they put it all together... but I'm not banking on it.

 

USC

Kyle (Prediction: #3 Pac-12 South): The Trojans are getting a lot of preseason buzz. That’s hardly anything new, though it does surprise me. The offense has a lot to like: Matt Barkley is bound for the NFL and should have his most productive season yet throwing to a talented receiving corps. I do have questions about the run game. Marc Tyler’s shown flashes of brilliance, but so have many others in the post-Reggie Bush era. The question is if he can sustain it. If not, Barkley will be forced into the kind of predicaments that have led him to double-digit interception seasons each of the last two. But it’s the defense that truly has questions. There is top tier talent among the first 11, but the unit is as thin as a supermodel. Last year, USC was in the bottom half of the conference defensively and graduated a sizable portion of its players. Given the offenses in this conference, that’s a bad sign.

Jay (Prediction: #1 Pac-12 South): The Trojans have yet to really feel the sting of scholarship reductions from the Reggie Bush, and they remain the most talented team in the conference.  So, despite a tough draw of Stanford and Oregon in inter-divisional play, I see nothing to stop them from winning 9 games this season.  I expect a big bump in productivity out of Matt Barkley in his second year of Lane Kiffin's system.  It would probably help them if they could find a go-to guy at running back, but it's never been a necessity at USC.  Of course, the interesting factor here is that USC isn't eligible for the conference championship game, so one of the several mediocre teams in a weak South division is going to get a free pass to play spoiler in the title game.

Ross (Prediction: #1 Pac-12 South): USC finishes with the best record in the division, but can't go to the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game because of NCAA sanctions.  It's concerning to put this much faith in a Lane Kiffin-led team, especially with tough road games at Arizona State and Oregon and the notion that it might be hard for them to get motivated without a conference title or bowl game to play for.  But they still have quite a bit of talent on the team and, frankly, the other teams in the South have bigger question marks.

 

Utah

Kyle (Prediction: #4 Pac-12 South): It’s really tough picking Utah this low. Kyle Whittingham has done a masterful job since taking the reins from Urban Meyer, and UU has three straight double-digit win seasons. There are moments when I think the Utes will win the South, but Utah plays a daunting schedule. It must travel to both USC and Arizona, and does so with a completely new offensive line and running back corps. Jordan Wynn is a very talented quarterback but how far can that carry an unproven unit? The defense started off last year strong, but has to tighten up after being exposed over the final month.

Jay (Prediction: #2 Pac-12 South): I generally hold to the much-repeated theory that all these little BCS buster teams would struggle to do as well over the course of an entire season if they played a full BCS conference schedule.  But whoever generated the Utes' first Pac-12 schedule was definitely not trying to help us make that point.  Utah misses both Oregon and Stanford in inter-divisional play and gets 3 out of their 5 intradivisional opponents at home.  And check out this November slate:  @Arizona, vs.UCLA, @Washington State, vs. Colorado.  Not exactly a murderer's row there.  If you're struggling with the rigors of a BCS conference schedule come the last month of the season, that's almost the exact schedule you want to see.  The team itself looks like most Utah teams.  Not a lot of guys jump out at you athletically, and they don't overwhelm you with experience, but whatever they've got, it generally adds up to enough to win a bunch of games.  And, at least for this first year, that should be enough to allow them to slip in the back door of the championship game.

Kevin (Prediction: #4 Pac-12 South): Utah didn't really impress me last year when they played competition that was better than them. They got shelled by TCU, Notre Dame and Boise. The good news is that they get the easiest Pac-12 schedule in the history of the Pac-12. No Oregon and no Stanford. Are you kidding me? It's like playing in the Pac-12 without playing a Pac-12 schedule. Don't get me wrong I like a few of Utah's players but I'm not sure they are ready for full-time Pac-12 action, good thing for them they got a break in the scheduling department.

Ross (Prediction: #2 Pac-12 South): Utah finishes second in the division, but gets to go represent the South in the Pac-12 Championship Game thanks to USC's sanctions.  Utah returns seven starters on offense (including their QB), has a favorable schedule (they skip out on Stanford and Oregon and aside from USC, their road games should be against Pac-12 also-rans), and has the added benefit of being able to introduce Pac-12 teams to playing at altitude when they visit the Utes.  That should be enough to get them to second in 2011.

 

Washington

Kyle (Prediction: #4 Pac-12 North): This Washington team is better than last season’s. And yet, this Washington team will finish further down in the standings. That isn’t a knock on these Huskies, who finished on a positive swing. Chris Polk rivals LaMichael James as the league’s best rusher, and I suspect Keith Price will actually be an upgrade from Jake Locker. Though Locker went high in the Draft, he wasn’t very good last season, particularly in the final stretch. The defense really came on in the final five games, but those were all against bad offenses and a Nebraska team that really hit the skids late in the season. I have lingering questions about the D; meanwhile UW must travel to Oregon State so head-to-head I give that nod to OSU.

Jay (Prediction: #4 Pac-12 North): This is a very solid looking team.  They return solid numbers on defense, including nearly every starter on the defensive line and the secondary, meaning it should be very difficult to gash them for big plays through the air and force teams to put together drives in order to get in the endzone.  They'll need to replace most of their sack productivity from 2010 if they want to take the next step to being a very good defense, but the simple act of making opponents work hard to score is very underrated.  The Huskies' offense has all the pieces in place to be a very solid unit in it's own right, except for the uncertainty at quarterback.  That said, it's not like Jake Locker was every a terribly consistent performer in his own right, so as long Sarkisian can find someone who can manage the game effectively, I don't see much dropoff there, even with a first-year starter.  In fact, I'd like this team's odds to finish higher if they hadn't gotten a tough draw in their first Pac-12 schedule, including road games at inter-divisional opponents Utah and USC.  Nonetheless, they should make a second straight bowl game and look to be headed in the right direction.

Kevin (Prediction: #3 Pac-12 North): I like what Sark is doing up in Seattle. Overall, Washington is not that experienced but they do return a lot of starters on their first team and I don't think they take a step back this year despite the loss of Jake Locker. Keith Price will take some lumps but he's got Chris Polk and Jermaine Kearse at the skill positions and they are weapons. I think Washington is 5-1 headed into their date at Stanford. 8-4 is not out of the realm of possibility here.

Ross (Prediction: #3 Pac-12 North): They lose one first-round draft pick (Jake Locker), but return 15 other starters and, frankly, dropping Locker may actually enhance their passing attack.  They probably aren't good enough to topple Oregon and Stanford yet, but they should keep trucking along the path to success under Sarkisian.

 

Washington State

Kyle (Prediction: #6 Pac-12 North): This is the best WSU team since Paul Wulff took over the dumpster fire Bill Doba left behind. Granted that isn’t saying too much, but the Cougars are steadily improving. Jeff Tuel is among the upper tier of Pac-12 quarterbacks but desperately needs help in the run game. WSU is anemic in that facet, and its inability to control the ball forces what is already a thin defense into precarious positions. The Cougars are still going to be dwelling in the cellar, but a team or two is going to fall victim to them this season.

Jay (Prediction: #6 Pac-12 North): Little by little, these guys are starting to resemble a respectable ball club.  They're still not going to be a threat to BCS teams with a pulse, but they're to the point where they can start beating mid-major teams with greater regularity.  In fact, I bet they win more games in the first month of this season than they did all last year.  I don't know if that will be enough to allow Paul Wulff to continue his project here, but it's gotta count for something.

Kevin (Prediction: #6 Pac-12 North): Next....

Ross (Prediction: #6 Pac-12 North): The more things change, the more they stay the same. Someday, Washington State will stop sucking and stop being the laughingstock of the Pac 12. This year is probably not that year, although they may not be quite as hilariously terrible as in years past, thanks to 17 returning starters.

 

PLAYER OF THE YEAR PREDICTIONS:

Kyle: Obviously Andrew Luck is at the forefront of any Pac-12 Player of the Year discussion. He was the conference’s best player last season and will have ample opportunity to prove he is once again. LaMichael James is close on his heels. James suits Chip Kelly’s quick strike offense perfectly, but so does quarterback Darron Thomas. You could call the duo Batman and Robin, only that implies one is lesser. It’s more like a Batman and Batman 2 partnership. Vontaze Burfict is recognized as the most talented defensively player in college football, and has a profound impact on the Sun Devil defense. If he can keep his emotions both on and off field in check, he’ll be in the conversation by season’s end.   For dark horse candidates, Jordan Wynn, Nick Foles and Ryan Katz will all be worth watching. Each is quarterbacking a team flying pretty low below the radar, but all three teams could surprise. Should one of these three teams emerge in the conference championship hunt, its quarterback will enter that Player of the Year chase.

Jay: Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon.  Don't get me wrong.  LaMichael James is going to have a huge year.  But Thomas had a huge statistical year in 2010 (close to 3,500 total yards and 35 total TDs), and I think he's going to put up even bigger numbers in his second year of running the show for Chip Kelly.  He's going to be more efficient, and thus more productive, in the passing game, and I think you'll find that his greater understanding of the offense will lead to more keeps in the option game or the distribution of the ball to other players besides James, whereas perhaps he would have deferred the ball to James last year.  It all adds up to slightly lower (but still big) numbers for James, and an increase for Thomas.

Kevin: LaMichael James, Oregon, RB. He had over 1,700 yards rushing last year and missed the first game. Are you kidding me? Mark this down.

Ross: Andrew Luck, Stanford QB.  Assuming his offensive line is decent and he doesn't get the 2009 Sam Bradford treatment, he should once again put up boffo numbers.

 

BREAKOUT PLAYER OF THE YEAR PREDICTIONS:

Kyle: Keith Price could be invaluable to Washington this season. Jake Locker garnered mounds of attention, though by season’s end it was obvious Polk was that team’s offensive MVP. Polk returning gives the first year starter Price some leeway as he learns the ropes. He showed some potential in his limited appearances last season, throwing two touchdowns with no interceptions. 

Jay: Dan Buckner, WR, Arizona.  At 6'4" 220lbs, he's physically comparable to someone like Julio Jones.  At Texas, they actually used him as sort of a hybrid tight end.  Now imagine a player with that physicality playing in a spread offense where he'll be in a lot of one-on-one situations against players who can't match-up with him either in terms of size or speed (or both).  He's a match-up problem all over the field, and I anticipate him feasting on secondaries that choose to focus their coverages around Juron Criner.

Kevin: Marquis Lee, WR, USC. Last year it was Robert Woods who broke out at WR for USC. This year there will be someone that steps up beside him and becomes his tag-team partner and a legit 1-2 combo for Matt Barkley. Markeith Ambles left school and Kyle Prater seems to be struggling with injuries. Lane Kiffin seems to be high on this kid and even let him change his number saying "In order to get the number you want, you have to work for it."

 

CFBZ PREDICTED 2011 PAC-12 FINISH

Pac-12 South:

1. USC*

2. Arizona State

3. Utah

4. Arizona

5. UCLA

6. Colorado

*ineligible for Post-Season

 

Pac-12 North:

1. Oregon

2. Stanford

3 (tie). Washington

3 (tie). Oregon State

5. California

6. Washington State

 

Pac-12 Championship Game: Oregon over Arizona State