Ahhh, yes. Its August, meaning that college football is right around the corner. Need to know who to watch this season? Well, we got you covered! Myself, The Big Socrates, and friend of The Thread MarkRod will break down the entire field by conference and tell you the players, teams, and dark horses to watch for this year. We’ll also let you know who is entirely overrated and won’t be making much noise come December. Today, we’ll break down the the New (and improved?) Pac-12. We’ll break down all of the conferences before the season kicks off, so check back with us! (Check out our past post on the ACC. And as always, leave us comments to voice your opinion. Now, lets dive right into the Pac-12…
Pacific 12 Conference (Pac-12) (MichaelYoungHistory)
Kiffin’s Excused Absence: Oregon, Stanford vie for Pac-12 Supremacy
Does the name “Pac-12″ seem a bit strange to you? Well, that’s because its brand spanking new. After the old Pac-10 and Texas could not come to an agreement, the Pac-10 added the likes of Utah and Colorado to make the conference an even 12 teams and split them into two divisions in order to add a championship game. Conference realignment has been a huge issue for the past few years, so the Pac-12’s preemptive strike set them up well. Utah is a great football program and has been since Urban Meyer was their coach in the early 2000s. The Utes have been to 2 BCS games, including a huge win over eventual Alabama in the Sugar Bowl a few years back; the same Alabama that won the title the next year. While Colorado hasn’t been good since Kordell Stewart left, they still play big time football in Boulder, and their fan base is very loyal. Their brand of football is a bit traditional compared to the wide open offenses in the Pac-12, but opening up the Colorado television market was a big gain for the conference.
The Pac-12 is composed of a North and South division, with both Washington and both Oregon schools joining Stanford and Cal in the North, and Both Arizona and both Los Angeles area schools joining Utah and Colorado in the South. The inaugural Pac-12 championship game is set to be played at the home stadium of the team with the best conference record, with one exception; it will not be played at USC’s Collisium because they are currently in the second year of a 2-year postseason ban. Thus, no matter how good Kiffin’s bunch is this year, they won’t be playing in any bowl or championship game. However, they’d love nothing more than to play spoiler. With the Trojans stuck in the wrapper, (ok, that was a bit lame) who will dominate the Pac-12?
While it would be great for the Pac-12 for their two national title contenders to square off for all the marbles in the inaugural Pac-12 championship, this won’t happen because Oregon and Stanford are both in the same division. Although they lost their coach to the NFL, Stanford still brings back one of the best players in the nation last year in Andrew Luck. Luck was a shoe-in to be drafted by Carolina with the #1 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft, but instead decided to stay in school to finish up his degree and get one last shot at the national championship. Last year, Stanford had its best season in 70 years which ended in a BCS slaughtering of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. They bring back 11 starters, including 4 preseason All Americans. However, Stanford did lose their head coach as well as 11 starters from last year’s team, including Luck’s two favorite targets and Owen Marecic, who played both sides of the ball. This may all mean nothing, as Luck is set to have an even better year than his last. The question boils down to whether Luck will be able to put his team on his back and take them all the way…plain and simple. Three games will determine their season: At USC, home against Oregon, and home against Notre Dame…
If Stanford was so good last year, exactly why didn’t they play in the national title game? Well, that’d be because of the other Pac-12 powerhouse going into the year; the Oregon Ducks, who beat Stanford by more than 20 points at Autzen Stadium after being down 21-3 at one point early in the game. This comeback victory propelled Oregon to an undefeated regular season and Pac-10 title, which gave them the opportunity to face off against Cash-Cam’s Auburn Tigers for the National Championship in Arizona. Although Oregon and Auburn both had offenses averaging over 50 points a game, the title game was more of a grind it out, low scoring affair, which was mostly attributed to turnovers and shaky QB play on both sides. When the final gun sounded, Auburn’s last second chip shot FG was enough to sink the Ducks.
Despite the loss, things look bright for Oregon (at least on the field) going into 2011. They retain 6 starters on offense, including their up-tempo backfield of Darren Thomas and preseason Heisman-hopeful LaMichael James. Oregon will most likely have the same high-octane offensive output, and with 5 key players coming back on defense, they are expected to be as good if not better on that side of the ball as last year’s second place team. However, the question looms large; can they compete with the speed, strength, and agility of the big boys in the SEC? Oregon managed a very mortal 19 points against Auburn’s defense (a defense that gave up 31 points to an awful Ole Miss team) in the biggest game in the school’s history, leading some to say that their offensive scheme may be ineffective against SEC defenses, especially up front. Well the good thing (or bad thing depending on who you ask) is that we’ll know the answer to this VERY soon; Oregon opens their season in Dallas against a stacked LSU defensive unit. The fact that the crowd in Dallas will be very pro-LSU won’t help matters, either. This game will tell us all we need to know about the 2011 version of the Ducks.
Lost in all of this is the potential for either NCAA sanctions or distractions from a recent scandal involving street agents that has rocked Eugene for the last few months. The NCAA has been investigating the matter since March, meaning that any fallout from the Lyles scandal could hit during the season. This is definitively something to keep our eye on…
The Dark Horse
USC is young is isnt as stacked as year’s previous, but they are probably as good as any team in the Pac-12. Kiffin, even under sanctions, has managed to land a top-5 recruiting class for 2011, and Matt Barkley, now a veteran leader on the team, is poised to have a break-out year. They return 13 starters who all have alot to play for, whether it be to impress pro scouts, solidify positions on next year’s team, or to spoil the seasons of all of their opponents. And they’ll have plenty of chances chances to play the Grinch, as they play 3 potential title contenders in Notre Dame, Stanford, and Oregon. Look out for the Trojans, who are looking for some momentum in order to position their program back where they used to be…
Players to Watch
I’ve already talked about the huge names such as Luck, Barkley, Thomas, and James, but there is other talent floating around the Pac-12, although not alot of other players garnering national attention. Oregon’s Cliff Harris is a First-Team Preseason All-American not only at CB, but also as a punt returner. He’s currently suspended indefinitely following a traffic incident, and Coach Kelly has said he’ll at least sit out for the season’s opener against LSU. When Harris comes back depends his behavior and commitment to the program. This is a huge loss for Oregon going into that monster game, but look for Harris to have a huge year if he’s ever able to get out of Coach Kelly’s doghouse.
Stanford has not one, but TWO preseason all-american offensive linemen in David Decastro and Jonathan Martin, meaning that Luck will have all day to sit in the pocket and find open receivers. Both of them are juniors, but with a big season for Stanford and Luck, look for these two guys to potentially go pro while the getting is good.
Lastly, Arizona WR Juron Criner is poised to have a breakout year for a Wildcats team that under-achieved last year, but is looking to redeem itself, and has as good a shot as any to win the Pac-12 South (thanks to Reggie Bush).
There are a handful of games that will determine the outcome of the Pac-12, and maybe even affect the national championship picture. However, the Pac-12 may be hurt ratings-wise because the big-time conference games don’t start until late October, when Stanford heads to USC. Oregon goes to Stanford a few weeks after that, and gets USC in Eugene the week after. Those 3 games (in 4 weeks) are the Pac-12’s golden goose and, assuming all these teams take care of business against a pretty weak Pac-12 overall, we should get some great games in late October/early November.
A few other interesting games: Utah at USC in week 2, Utah at BYU, and UCLA at home against Texas (GO HORNS! \m/)
The Black Sheep
Honestly, there really isnt one. I mean, I don’t see any other team making noise outside of the Big three two. However, since SOMEONE has to win the Pac-12 South and it can’t be USC, I’ll say Arizona State has an outside shot at a BCS bowl if they can get hot in the middle of the season. Its not likely, but ASU may have as good a shot as any at knocking off the Pac-12 North winner. ASU returns an unheard of 20 starters from last year, so experience will not be an issue. Last year, they had the 15th best passing and 28th best rushing offense in the nation, so they’ll look to outscored their opponents. Remember, this is pretty much the same team that took Wisconsin down to the wire last year and almost scraped out a win. Look out for the Sun Devils…But, don’t judge me if they go 4-8.
Washington State- They still have a football team? Really?
Washington- Jake Locker is on to greener pastures, meaning no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to find a Washington game or highlight on TV unless you live there. Not that you care…Now we’ll see how good Sarkisian really is…
Arizona- They went to the Elite 8 and had a player drafted in the top 3 in the NBA Draft. They’ll take that and forget all about how bad their football season was. Mike Stoops should be ready to jump ship soon…right? Oh, and they could lose 4 games in the Pac-12 and still play for the championship…
Utah- There is always one major upset on the Pac-10…always…Look for Utah and Coach Whittingham to make a splash in the Pac-12 in their first year. They’ve proven many times that they can hang with the big boys, AND they return 12 starters from last year. Don’t be surprised if they win the South and take on Oregon for the Pac-12 crown (yes, thats the third team i’ve predicted will win the South. Sue me!)
Colorado- They need to play with some pride so that the Pac-12 doesn’t realize how awful that program is and give them the boot. They play Ohio State at Columbus this year, but Ohio State will suck and some key players will be suspended, so a win there would make their season and make the Pac-12 proud!
Cal- They should beat Presbyterian…thats about all i got.
Oregon State- Jaquizz Rodgers is gone. Even with him last year, they didnt make a bowl game. I’m sure they’ll play well for 10 minutes or so against Oregon in the Civil War before losing by 50, and it’ll be the highlight of their season.
UCLA- They sucked last year, but they did go on the road and beat Texas (FML). I don’t know how good UT will be, but I KNOW UT will destroy UCLA at the Rose Bowl this year…Also, look for Rick Neuheisel’s seat to get a bit hot this year…
Although Andrew Luck is probably the best player in the Pac-12 and is likely your Heisman winner as long as they don’t lose too many games, I think Oregon, even with all the potential distractions, will win the Pac-12. Oregon might lose to LSU, but Stanford won’t have the horses on defense to slow down Coach Kelly’s offense. They’ll quickly dispose of whomever they see in the championship game and get a BCS bowl before the NCAA brings the hammer down.
Thoughts? Let us know what you think! And be on the lookout for our breakdown of the Big East/Independents coming soon!
-MichaelYoungHistory, The Big Socrates, & Markrod
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