2011 FINAL PAC-12 STANDINGS
Oregon 12-2 (8-1)
Stanford 11-2 (8-1)
Washington 7-6 (5-4)
California 7-6 (4-5)
Oregon State 3-9 (3-6)
Washington State 4-8 (2-7)
USC 10-2 (7-2)
UCLA 6-8 (5-4)
Arizona State 6-7 (4-5)
Utah 8-5 (4-5)
Arizona 4-8 (2-7)
Colorado 3-10 (2-7)
2011 Championship Game: Oregon 49 UCLA 31
RETURNING STATISTICAL LEADERS
Returning Leaders: Passing
Keith Price, Washington, Jr (242 of 362 for 3063 yds, 33 TD, 11 INT)
Matt Barkley, USC, Sr (308 of 446 for 3528 yds, 39 TD, 7 INT)
Kevin Prince, UCLA, Sr (126 of 224 for 1828 yds, 12 TD, 8 INT)
Sean Mannion, Oregon St, Soph (305 of 473 for 3328 yds, 16 TD, 18 INT)
Returning Leaders: Rushing
John White, Utah, Sr (316 carries for 1520 yds, 4.81 ypc, 15 TD)
Stepfan Taylor, Stanford, Sr (242 carries for 1330 yds, 5.5 ypc, 10 TD)
Isi Sofele, Cal, Sr (252 carries for 1322 yds, 5.25 ypc, 10 TD)
Silas Redd, USC, Jr (244 carries for 1241 yds, 5.09 ypc, 7 TD)
Curtis McNeal, USC, Sr (145 carries for 1005 yds, 6.93 ypc, 6 TD)
Returning Leaders: Receiving
Robert Woods, USC, Jr (111 rec, 1292 yds, 15 TD)
Keenan Allen, Cal, Jr (98 rec, 1343 yds, 6 TD)
Marquess Wilson, Wazzu, Jr (82 rec, 1388 yds, 12 TD)
Marquse Lee, USC, Soph (73 rec, 1143 yds, 11 TD)
Markus Wheaton, Oregon St, Sr (73 rec, 986 yds, 1 TD)
Returning Leaders: Tackles
Michael Clay, Oregon, Sr (102 total, 9.27 tackles/game)
John Boyett, Oregon, Sr (108 total, 8.31 tackles/game)
Feti Unga, Oregon St, Sr (67 total, 7.44 tackles/game)
Dion Bailey, USC, Soph (81 total, 7.36 tackles/game)
Returning Leaders: Sacks
Josh Shirley, Washington, Soph (8.5 sacks)
Dion Jordan, Oregon, Sr (7.5)
Trent Murphy, Stanford, Sr (6.5)
Scott Crichton, Oregon St, Soph (6.0)
Returning Leaders: Interceptions
Shaquille Richardson, Arizona, Jr (4 interceptions)
Damante Horton, Wazzu, Jr (4)
Jordan Poyer, Oregon St, Sr (4)
Andrew Abbott, UCLA, Sr (4)
Sean Parker, Washington, Jr (4)
BREAKING DOWN THE PAC-12 WITH THE ZEALOTS AND THE SATURDAY EDGE:
Jay (Prediction: #4, South): I hear too many people overstating the quality of hand that Rich Rodriguez has been dealt here at Arizona. Yes, it helps that he's not having to completely scrap a pro-style offense, but the Wildcats were a pass-first spread and they weren't particularly good at running the ball (averaged fewer than 100 rushing yards per game in 2011). So there's a lot of work to be done there. And, sure, Matt Scott is much more suited for RichRod's scheme than Steven Threet or Nick Sheridan were at Michigan, but he's still not the ideal quarterback for that system to be successful. More so than any other run-first spread, this scheme requires a lightning-in-a-bottle playmaker like Pat White or Denard Robinson to really be dangerous. Otherwise, it's fairly easy to contain because the passing component isn't very sophisticated. 2012 won't be the 3-9 debacle for Arizona that 2008 was for Michigan, but with the offense likely to take a step back and a poor defense likely to struggle with their own scheme change, six wins will not come easy for the Wildcats.
Ross (Prediction: #4, South): For once, RichRod appears to have a QB actually suited to his offense from his first day on the job. Matt Scott is no Denard Robinson or Pat White, but he's a mobile QB and should be far better than some of the square pegs Rodriguez has tried to jam into round holes in his past head coaching stops. That's enough for me to put them ahead of ASU.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #5, South): Rich Rodriguez takes over in Tucson and he has a potential gem at the QB position in Matt Scott ready to direct RichRod’s version of the spread. Scott should flourish in this offense and the Cats have some good running backs and five starters returning on the OL to lend support. However the receiver position looks a little thin with only WR Dan Buckner as the only experienced option on hand. Nevertheless, I expect Arizona to put plenty of points on the board this season. I also expect Arizona’s opponents to score their fair share of points this season too. Last year the Arizona defense was brutally bad, allowing nearly 38 ppg and 474 ypg in PAC 12 play. Early reports out of Tucson indicate that defense could be even worse, if that is even possible. Arizona had just 10 sacks last year (last in the PAC 12 and 115th in the nation) and not only do they lose both starting DE’s, they have no one with experience or proven talent to replace them. The Wildcats will need to score a lot of points this season to have any chance at qualifying for a bowl game.
Kevin (Prediction: #3 (tie), South): This is a re-building year for Arizona but I would look for some improvement over last year depending on how quickly RichRod and Matt Scott can get the offense going.
Jay (Prediction: # 5, South): Looks like a really difficult transition season for the Sun Devils. They're switching to The Hated 3-3-5 on defense and Todd Graham's preferred variation on the spread, which is quite different (more of a Malzahn-esque interior run/play-action game) from the Noel Mazzone system that Dennis Erickson has been running here (where most of the action was on the edges). Unfortunately for Graham, virtually all of ASU's stars departed following Erickson's ouster, so this transition is going to go about as badly as possible. Not that anyone is going to feel sorry for him or anything.
Ross (Prediction: #5, South): The good news for Todd Graham is that it should be relatively easy for him to start from scratch and implement his systems -- ASU returns fewer starters (8 total) than any other P12 team. The bad news is... this is not a very experienced team. That's probably going to hurt.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #4, South): New HC Todd Graham has energized the fan base and begun to change the culture in Tempe. But this is clearly a program in transition from the one that existed last year (which is a good thing). The Sun Devils return some offensive talent including one of the best running back groups in the PAC 12, led by Cameron Marshall, Deantre Lewis, Kyle Middlebrooks and James Morrison. The QB position is short on experience, but long on potential and as I projected here in early July, sophomore Taylor Kelly will be the starter. Defense could be an issue this season for ASU. The Sun Devils lose a lot of starters from last season’s defense, but that defense wasn’t really that good in the first place. The DL does have some talent, Brandon McGhee returns from injury at LB and the secondary is capable, so ASU has some pieces in place to improve on last year’s poor showing.
Kevin (Prediction: #3 (tie), South): After you get past USC in the Pac-12 South, and possibly Utah, it's wide open. There are four teams that really don't distance themselves too much from each other (although Colorado will probably be the choice of most for last place). All of these teams have a chance to have bad years or surprisingly good years. What concerns me the most about Arizona State is their schedule (27th toughest in the Nation according to Phil Steele). They play Northern Arizona and then it's into the grinder for the rest of the season.
Jay (Prediction: # 2 (tie), North): Keenan Allen is a fantastic wide receiver. Isi Sofele has lived up to expectations in the long line of Cal 1,000-yard rushers. And the Bears return enough quality experience on the offensive line for both of them to continue being just as productive in 2012. The one problem Cal has on offense is Zach Maynard. Man, is he not good. I'm tempted to say that this is the price they paid to pull Allen in the first place. But then again, nobody said they actually had to play the guy after they gave him a scholarship. And the fact that he continues to play should give Cal fans pause, for the present and the future. Whatever happened to Jeff Tedford: QB Guru? All that said, this Cal team looks more than talented enough to continue meeting what I can only assume are the very low standards for success at Cal.
Ross (Prediction: #6, North): They could (and possibly should) outperform this prediction, but it's hard to have much faith in Tedford after the last few years. They return only 11 starters total and returning QB Zach Maynard has run hot and cold so far. They also have a nasty schedule: back-to-back road games at Ohio State and USC will test them before September is out and road games at Utah, Washington State, and Oregon State all look tricky.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #2, North): Cal has one of the better running back groups in the PAC 12. The Bears return Isi Sofele (1322y rushing & 10 TDs last year), C.J. Anderson and speedy Brandon Bigelow is a potential playmaker. Keenun Allen is one of the best receivers in the conference and the offensive line returns three starters off of last year’s group. The real key to Cal’s offensive success will be QB Zach Maynard who should show improvement in his second season as a PAC 12 starter. Defensively Cal has led the PAC 12 the past two seasons and should be extremely talented on that side of the ball again. The Bear defensive line could be the best in the PAC 12. Defensive ends DeAndre Coleman and Mustafa Jalil have all-conference talent and the line depth has been bolstered by several years of excellent recruiting. The Bears also have a lot of young talent at linebacker and three starters return to the secondary. After spending all of last season away from Memorial Stadium, the Bears should be sky high for their seven home encounters (5 PAC 12 games) in their revamped stadium.
Kevin (Prediction: #4, North): The big concern is the defense. Believe it or not, Cal's defense has been number one in the Pac-12 for the last two years in total defense. This year they lose a ton of senior leadership as their top four tacklers last year were seniors and they accounted for over 40% of Cal's solo tackles. Breaking in new defensive starters and stars will be a concern and the third and fourth games of the season (at Ohio State and at USC) will be big tests for this team. I think Cal will be very competitive on the field this year but I see them taking a very small step backwards in terms of their overall regular season record.
Jay (Prediction: # 6, South): I'm still not wasting precious keystrokes on Colorado.
Ross (Prediction: #6, South): At some point, things will turn around for Colorado. Probably not this year, though, with just three returning starters on offense. This looks like another year rough year for the Buffaloes.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #6, South): Year number 2 in the PAC 12 doesn’t look like it will be any easier for the Buffs. Colorado will once again be one of the youngest teams in the nation this year. The Buffs have only eight seniors and it’s possible that nearly 30 true and redshirt freshmen could see playing time this season. Kansas transfer Jordan Webb won the QB battle this past week, but with star wide receiver Paul Richardson likely out for the season with a knee injury, the Buffs are going to have some major issues on offense. Sophomore RB Tony Jones and an offensive line that returns 6 players with starting experience do offer a glimmer of hope. Unfortunately for the Buffs it doesn’t get any better on the defensive side of the ball either. Colorado was 102nd in the nation last year in total defense and 109th in scoring defense. The defensive line will likely be stocked with freshmen, but there could be some improvement from a more experienced back seven.
Kevin (Prediction: #6, South): The schedule makers did no favors to Colorado. They play at USC, at Oregon and they pick up Stanford and Washington from the North as well. The good news is that the schedule opens up well for the Buffaloes. They start out with three straight non-conference games, two of which could be tough but the Buffs should win them. Then they play three teams that all have new coaches. After the first six games is where the going gets very tough but the opportunity is there for the Buffaloes to get some positive momentum and gain some confidence. Colorado will be improved this year but they still have a long way to go before they can get back in the mix in the Pac-12.
Jay (Prediction: # 1, North): The gap between Oregon and the rest of the Pac-12 North has not narrowed. In fact, it may be wider this year than it was last year. (Yes, the standings say Stanford was right there with the Ducks. The scoreboard said otherwise.) Chip Kelly has his variation of the run-first spread option down so cold, he can plug and play at just about every position without missing a beat. Defensively, I think this could be the Ducks' best in a long time. While I understand the pressure that the Oregon offense puts on it's defense, and thus why you might choose to go with a smaller, more athletic defense that can run all day and not get tired, I think their lack of size in the front seven has been a definite detriment in recent years. But this season, the Ducks look much bigger, especially along the defensive line, and if those guys play as tough as they look, it will eliminate the need for some of Nick Aliotti's wild risk-taking playcalling and make Oregon the most complete team Kelly has fielded yet.
Ross (Prediction: #1, North): No LaMichael James? No Darron Thomas? No problem. Chip Kelly has done an expert job of replacing key cogs in his offense before and while James and Thomas were good, Oregon has talented replacements waiting in the wings. Oregon also returns several starters on both sides of the line, which is a plus.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #1, North, Conference Champion): This team is loaded. From everything I am reading and hearing this will be Chip Kelly’s best defense at Oregon. The DL returns 3 starters including first team All-Conference DE/OLB Dion Jordan. They also add 5* recruit Arik Armstead, one of the best recruits to ever come to Oregon. The linebacker group is one of the best in the PAC 12. The Ducks lose QB Darron Thomas and RB LaMichael James, but the quarterback position may actually be improved as both Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota bring more speed and elusiveness to the position. Kenyon Barner is a playmaker at the running back position and De’Anthony Thomas can score from anywhere on the field at anytime. The OL is deep and has better size and skill than in recent seasons. This team should be 8-0 before their big showdown with USC in the LA Coliseum. If the Ducks win that game they very well could be playing for the NC in January.
Kevin (Prediction: #1, North): What does Chip Kelly have to show for three years in Eugene? Just two Rose Bowls and a National Championship Game. Oh yeah, and a dominant 25-2 Pac-10/12 record. Kelly and his Ducks had won 19 straight before they fell the Trojans of USC last November. The Ducks are still heavy favorites to win their half of the Pac-12 but in order to remain the kingpins of the Pac-12 they will have to fight off the resurgent Trojans. There is a lot of early season hype around USC but don't discount the Ducks.
Jay (Prediction: #5, North): As you chart Oregon State's decline since the Beavers' high water mark of 10-4 in 2006, you see that each subsequent year, the defense's ppg total increased, and their win total decreased (except from 07 to 08, when it held steady at 9), culminating in the 2011 season, in which the defense gave up 30 points a game and the team only managed 3 wins. So my working theory is that it doesn't really matter if the offense sees an uptick in Sean Mannion's second year under center. If the Beavers can't get it turned around on defense this season, they're going to suffer their third straight losing season and probably be looking for a new coach this offseason. But I think the odds are in their favor. They return 8 starters on that side of the ball, and a number of reserves saw expanded playing time last season due to a rash of injuries. It'll be close, but I think the Beavers will return to the postseason in 2012.
Ross (Prediction: #3, North): Oregon State returns multiple starters on both sides of the ball and was particularly unfortunate when it came to injuries last year; they seem ripe for a bounce-back this year.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #5, North): Last year the Beavers were a very young (they played a school record 10 true freshmen) and an unlucky team (according to Phil Steele they lost 54 starts due to injury and were a -8 in turnover ratio). This year the Beavers return 15 starters. The passing game looks formidable with QB Sean Mannion entering his second year as a starter and a good receiver group led by All-conference WR Markus Wheaton to throw to. But the Beavers’ rushing attack was brutal last year, ranking 118th nationally at 86.9 yards per game. Oregon State scored just 12 rushing touchdowns. The Beavers will need to become better balanced in order to improve offensively. The defensive line is a question mark after the Beavers surrendered 196.8 rushing yards per game last year. But with three starters returning, the unit can only improve. The linebacker corps is stacked and should be one of the stronger units in the conference and the secondary will be better.
Kevin (Prediction: #6, North): One thing that could potentially be a turning point for the Beavers is health. A lot of youngsters got action in 2011 and according to Phil Steele, Oregon State is now the third most experienced team in the Pac-12. Two big questions are: can the Beavers stay healthy in 2012 and will that experience translate on the field?
Jay (Prediction: # 4, North): People picking Stanford to be a contender in the Pac-12 this season must not think much of Andrew Luck. Like it was really Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo who were making him look good all this time. Don't get me wrong, they aren't going to fall off a cliff without Luck. I like Stepfan Taylor at running back, and they play a very physical game on offense that's a great contrast to the rest of the conference and difficult for opponents to prepare for, in it's own way. But there is no dynamic talent at wide receiver. It wasn't a problem for Luck, because he was great enough to make all those tight ends and fullbacks legitimate threats. It will be a problem for whichever new guy eventually locks down that job. I expect a drastic drop-off in Stanford's points per game. The Cardinal defense will continue to be what it's been for the past several years: physical enough to bully around middling competition but not athletic enough to hang with teams that have dynamic skill position players.
Ross (Prediction: #2, North): This is as much a vote of confidence in Stanford as it is a vote of no confidence in the rest of the Pac-12 North. There will be a drop-off after losing Andrew Luck, several NFL offensive linemen, and a very good tight end like Coby Fleener... but Stanford has recruited exceptionally well under Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw and, frankly, they're just more of a proven commodity than the other P12 North teams. On the other hand, the schedule isn't easy: they get most of the tough P12 North opponents (Oregon, Washington, Cal) on the road and draw USC from the South.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #3, North): I believe Stanford will take a step back this year, but not as much as the prognosticators seem to think. The loss of Andrew Luck and his Heisman caliber production will certainly be difficult to replace, but this team is loaded at just about every other position. They have one of the better defenses in the PAC 12, led by All-American candidates Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov at linebacker. The Stanford offense will stick to their physical, smash mouth style. They have solid RBs, TEs, and their OL should still be one of the better units in the PAC 12. If their QB becomes at least a good game manager, who doesn’t make mistakes and can also make some plays in the passing game, the Cardinal offense will be fine.
Kevin (Prediction: #2, North): What Stanford will lose without Andrew Luck is offensive efficiency. They won't be as successful in the red zone and they won't be as good on third down. That will hurt when they play the tougher teams on their schedule. The Cardinal's success will come down to the defense. Stanford's defense was among the best in the Pac-12 last year (second in points allowed, first against the run, second in total defense, first in third down conversions). I don't see Stanford taking much of a step back on defense. Stanford should be able to ground and pound their way past a lot of their Pac-12 opponents. Where they will struggle is when they are faced with teams who have potent offenses (Oregon, USC, Washington). Without Andrew Luck, can they score enough points to keep up with these teams?
Jay (Prediction: #2 (tie), South): I'm not entirely sure what to expect out of Jim Mora, Jr as a college head coach, but I am pretty sure of three things: 1. Rick Neuheisel didn't leave the cupboard bare. Mora will have a lot of talent to play with right out of the gate. 2. New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone runs a very QB-friendly offense and instantly added 10 points per game to Arizona State's average when he walked on campus there two years ago. 3. The Bruins return a wealth of experience on defense (9 starters and 16 of their top 20 tacklers). If new defensive coordinator Doug Spanos can shake things up and knock as little as 5 points per game off UCLA's average from last season, the Bruins will be a touch matchup for anybody in this conference, except USC.
Ross (Prediction: #3, South): Consider this a pick based on the hope that UCLA actually has some decent luck when it comes to injuries this year. If they do, Jim Mora Jr. could have a solid debut because they return several starters and benefit from some good recruiting classes (from Mora and his predecessor, Neuheisal). That is a fairly big "if" where UCLA is concerned, but it's August, so let's be optimistic.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #2, South): UCLA could be one of the most improved teams in the PAC 12 this season, due mainly to the recent coaching change. Jim Mora, Jr. brings in a whole new attitude of toughness and competitiveness that was sorely lacking for the last several seasons. UCLA boasts one of the best RB groups in the PAC 12 conference. Jonathan Franklin is the leader at the position, followed by Malcolm Jones and Steven Manfro. New Bruin QB Brett Hundley has some solid options to turn to at receiver in wide-outs Jerry Johnson and Shaquelle Evans and TE Joseph Fauria caught 39 passes last year. On Defense, linebacker Eric Kendricks should bolster a much-improved unit with quickness and excellent field awareness. Four starters return to the secondary where FS Tevin McDonald has a nose for the ball. Two starters return to what should be a solid and improved defensive line.
Kevin (Prediction: #3 (tie), South): I think we will see flashes out of this UCLA team in 2012. Flashes of being a really good team and flashes of not being ready for prime-time. Mora has come in and he is changing a culture and also philosophies on both sides of the football. Generally speaking, that's not going to result in a huge immediate impact but if he does it the right way it could work very well over time. Look for UCLA to be competitive with the rest of the Pac-12 South, other than USC, this year and expect them to get to some type of bowl.
Jay (Prediction: #1; South; Conference Champion): I'm struggling to think of something I could tell you about this team that you haven't already heard. Offensively, the Trojans look ready to be legends. They'll probably average 40+ per game for the first time since the 2005 season. The defense doesn't look all that spectacular, but it's easy to forget that the 2005 team's defense wasn't all that spectacular either. They gave up over 20 points and close to 400 yards per game, but it didn't seem to slow them down much (at least not until they ran into Vince Young at the end). I think that's what I'll be interested to see this season. Will these guys play like the 04/05 Trojans, or the 2006-2011 Trojans, who even when they were great were also good for a random head-scratching loss. And if they do suffer such a loss in 2012, I'm putting my money on it coming against Washington. The Huskies are a solid team, it's on the road, it's the second of back-to-back away games for the Trojans, and the Huskies topped the Trojans at home last time they played in Seattle. But even if they do lose a game like that, the addition of the Pac-12 title game will give this year's team the opportunity to play their way back into the national title picture that Pete Carroll's latter day USC teams didn't.
Ross (Prediction: #1 South, Conference Champion): If healthy, this USC team is a juggernaut. They return multiple starters on offense and defense, including Heisman front-runner Matt Barkley at QB and his two favorite targets at WR (Robert Woods and Marqise Lee). They added Penn State transfer Silas Redd to add a little more power to their running attack (incumbent Curtis McNeal has plenty of speed), and they have quite a bit of talent on defense, especially in the back seven. The question mark is the defensive line, which will need to grow up in a hurry. The one thing USC lacks is depth, so if too many injuries hit, they could be in trouble. But on talent alone, USC is the clear front-runner.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #1, South): This team is talented, and they played well down the stretch last season, but defensive depth is already becoming an issue and I am still not sold on Lane Kiffin. The offense is led by senior Matt Barkley, the best college QB in the country and the Heisman Trophy front-runner. Roberts Woods and Marqise Lee are the best WR duo in the nation; the OL returns 4 starters and 1000 yard rusher Curtis McNeal joins former Penn State star and fellow 1000 yard rusher Silas Redd to form one of the best 1-2 RB combos in the country. This offense should be lethal. Where the cracks become to show for the AP Poll # 1 ranked team is on the defensive line. Both starting tackles from last season are gone, so the Trojans are inexperienced and undersized on the interior. To make matters worse, Devon Kennard, the Trojans best defensive lineman and potential All-American DE was lost to a season ending injury pectoral injury last month. I have my doubts whether this is a National Championship caliber defensive line and I really doubt this line is able to stop Oregon not only once, but possibly twice this season.
Kevin (Prediction: #1, South, Conference Champion):
Jay (Prediction: #2 (tie); South): The Utes slightly underachieved by my expectations last year, but on the whole, you'd have to say they held their own in their first year playing with the big boys. And now, with that initial culture shock behind them and a veteran team, are they ready to take the next step and be a real contender? Probably not, but mainly because USC looks so unstoppable. I would give them, at worst, even odds against everyone else on their schedule (they miss Oregon and Stanford out of the North). They do have 5 conference away games, but two of those are against Arizona State and Colorado. If you're going on the road in the Pac-12 this year, those are the places you want to visit.
Ross (Prediction: #2, South): If injuries wreck USC's team, Utah is well-poised to swoop in and take this division. They return a host of starters on both sides of the ball and schedule-wise, they avoid Oregon and Stanford out of the North, which is a huge plus. I have them behind USC, but only because of USC's superior talent -- if something happens to that talent, Utah could definitely overtake them.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #3, South): Utah returns seven starters from last year’s # 1 scoring PAC 12 defense. All-American DT Star Lotulelei is the best player of arguably the league’s best defensive line which also includes 27 game starter David Kruger at DE. The Utes do lose their two top linebackers from an outstanding unit, so it is fair to expect a step back, however, Utah only loses one starter from an excellent 2011 secondary. Utah struggled offensively last year, finishing last in the PAC 12 in total offense and failing to score more than 14 points in any of their five losses. However, the return of QB Jordan Wynn from injury provides the Utes with hope that the offense can improve upon last season’s dismal numbers. Joining Wynn in the backfield will be RB John White who rushed for 1519 yards on 316 carries (4.8 avg) and scored 15 TDs last year. Utah also has a solid receiving group led by DeVonte Christopher to work with and the offensive line is big and experienced. I expect this offense to improve in 2012. Utah’s biggest strength this season is their schedule. The Utes get USC and Cal at home, they don’t play Oregon or Stanford from the North and their road games are against ASU, UCLA, Oregon State, Washington and Colorado – 5 teams with a combined record of 25-40 and 0-3 in bowl games last year.
Kevin (Prediction: #2, South): Utah looks like the second best team in the Pac-12 South and unless one of the new coaches in the Pac-12 has a really quick turnaround I would expect them to have a successful season. One big key for Utah is who they avoid. Stanford and Oregon are once again not on the schedule this season. Look for the Utes to capitalize on that this year.
Jay (Prediction: # 2 (tie), North): I think the Huskies are a really underrated team heading into the season. Keith Price came out of nowhere in 2011, and I look for another big year from him in 2012, with help from impressive rising sophomores Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Jenkins, in particular, is an absolute freak at tight end and is likely two years way from being a 1st round draft pick and the next Gronkowski/Graham-type of tight end. I liked Steve Sarkisian's decision to shake things up on the defensive side of the ball. I don't expect a huge turnaround on defense, but with a lot of Sarkisian's recruits finally getting on the field and a new scheme that is going to put more athletes on the field, I expect fewer outright embarrassing performances out of them in 2012. Chris Polk will definitely be missed in the running game, which is why I can't completely get behind a Washington dark horse candidacy in the North.
Ross (Prediction: #5, North): Washington returns a fair amount of talent (including standout QB Keith Price), but they draw a nasty schedule. In addition to going to LSU in non-conference play, their first four conference games are: Stanford (home), Oregon (away), USC (home), and Arizona (away). They could easily dig themselves a deep hole in P12 play well before Halloween.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #4, North): UW has the second best QB in the conference, potential All-America TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and three starters returning to a solid OL, but the loss of RB Polk leaves a huge void. His offensive production will be difficult to replace. UW struggled on defense last year, so an entirely new defensive coaching staff headed by Justin Wilcox should eventually pay dividends. However with four of their first six games against LSU, Stanford, Oregon and USC, any defensive improvement may not be evident until the second half of the season.
Kevin (Prediction: #3, North): One key for this Huskies team is not to get down if they get off to a rough start. Why might they get off to a rough start? They play at LSU on September 8th and then they run the Pac-12 gauntlet as they face the trifecta of Stanford, Oregon and USC in back-to-back-to-back weeks from Sept 27th through Oct 13th. The Huskies could come out of their first six games with a record of just 2-4. The good news is that they have a very good chance of running the table after that USC game. They will have some tough match-ups against the likes of Cal, Wazzu and Utah but on paper they more than match-up with anybody on the tail end of their schedule. This is a team to watch out for in 2012 and they aren't a team that opponents will look forward to having on their schedule.
Jay (Prediction: # 6, North): Mike Leach walks into a great situation at Washington State from a skill position perspective. He has a veteran QB to work with and a strong receiving corps. His system isn't really all that complicated, so it's something that I think they can adapt to and have some success with right off the bat. But I do have concerns about the offensive line. It's an experienced line with 3 starters back, but those guys have never played like Leach is going to ask them to. Leach plays with very wide line splits, which has it's advantages, but also often turns line play into 5 separate individual battles. I question whether the Cougar OL is talented enough to win those sorts of battles against the athletic fronts they'll see. If they're not, Wazzu's upward trend is going to falter. Recent history suggests they're not, as they've given up 40+ sacks each of the last 4 years. I'll call for a Leach team to miss a bowl game for the first time in his career.
Ross (Prediction: #4, North): In Leach I trust? Yep. The talent in Pullman still needs upgrading, but Leach has a strong track record of getting a lot out of a little (at Texas Tech) and the schedule is pretty favorable -- Washington, Cal, and Oregon all come to Pullman and he draws Colorado and UCLA (plus Arizona State and Utah) from the South.
The Saturday Edge: (Prediction: #6, North): New HC Mike Leach has a lot of talent to work with for his “Air Raid” offense. Look for QB Jeff Tuel to have a monster season. He’ll be throwing to a talented group of receivers led by All-Conference WR Marquess Wilson who caught 82 passes last year and led the PAC with 1388 receiving yards. The problem for WSU is on the defensive side of the ball. New DC Mike Breske said that the LB corps is going to be the strength of the defense, especially after moving DE Travis Long to the "buck" linebacker. But the Cougars have major issues on the DL and despite returning every significant piece of last year’s secondary, these same players were ripped to shreds last fall.
Kevin (Prediction: #5, North): The difference between having Mike Leach and having Paul Wulff should mean a win or two for the Cougars. It will be interesting to see how quickly they pick up the offensive and defensive schemes and I'm sure there will be lots of ups and downs in Pullman this year. Look for improvement and look for Wazzu to flirt with a bowl game this year.
CFBZ PREDICTED 2012 PAC-12 FINISH
5. Arizona State
3 (tie). California
3 (tie). Washington
5. Oregon State
6. Washington State
Conference Championship Game: USC over Oregon