PAC-12 Preview: Front-Runners, Contenders And Dark Horses
Is this the year the PAC-12 finally gives the SEC a run for its money?
With two teams ranked in the top five, the conference may indeed be returning to its glory days. With USC now eligible for a bowl game, an influx of extremely talented players conference-wide, and four new head coaches, the PAC-12 should be exciting to watch this upcoming season.
Let’s take a look at the front-runner, contenders and dark horses for the 2012 season.
Ranked No.1 in the AP Poll, USC is coming off its bowl ban with BCS title aspirations. As if the Trojans weren’t loaded enough, they’ve added Penn State transfer Silas Redd – someone who could be the difference in a tight race between USC and Oregon. Redd should have an immediate impact and divert opposing defenses’ attention from star receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Lee.
But the biggest reason why USC is the team to beat can be summed up in one name: Matt Barkley. Barkley, a Heisman Trophy favorite, showed his determination, leadership and Trojan pride by coming back for his senior year instead of leaving for the NFL. Barkley hopes to validate his decision with a strong final season.
Contenders: Oregon, Stanford
Oregon, ranked No. 5, is another juggernaut in the PAC-12. With a quick defense and efficient offense, Oregon should cruise to victory in most of its PAC-12 games; though its trip down to Southern California to play USC will not be one of them. Will the Ducks be able to exact revenge for last year’s loss and make their own run at the BCS title? Depending upon how things shake out, Oregon might even get two chances to beat USC; in conference play and potentially the PAC-12 Championship.
Stanford will also be a contender, even with the loss of Andrew Luck to the NFL. Stanford’s defense returns six of its front seven from a year ago, while Stephan Taylor makes the Cardinal running game lethal; both of which should help to alleviate pressure on new quarterback Josh Nunes. Also, Stanford added the fifth best recruiting class to its roster under David Shaw’s leadership, so, Stanford’s glory days are far from over. While it may be difficult to replace a quarterback who was the No. 1 NFL draft pick, Stanford should still compete and give Oregon and USC something to worry about.
Dark Horses: Washington, Utah
Washington should not be overlooked. Quarterback Keith Price led the Huskies to a winning season and a bowl game last year. The Huskies slugged it out with Baylor in the Alamo Bowl last season, losing 67-56, but they had the lead at half time and gave the Bears a good fight. In fact, Price outperformed Robert Griffin III with 438 yards and 4 touchdowns. With an offense that can score early and often, the Huskies will put up a fight in the PAC-12 North.
With a year in the PAC-12 under their belt and star quarterback Jordan Wynn back from injury, Utah deserves mention. Morris Award winner Star Lotulelei leads the Utes’ veteran defense. Utah’s bowls chances are enhanced by the fact that it does not play Stanford or Oregon.
The Bruins will have yet another rebuilding year, but this one has more promise than most. UCLA’s program took a hit during summer and fall training after losing key figures to its defense. Defensive end Sam Tai will be out for the season after tearing his ACL. Starting linebacker and captain, Patrick Larimore, decided to retire after his second concussion in the past six months.
Yet, UCLA’s future still looks bright even with the recent loss those star players. UCLA had the No. 13 recruiting class this year according to Rivals.com, so help is on the way. But the biggest addition for the Bruins this off-season? Head Coach Jim Mora. UCLA may not contend this year, but 2013 may be a different story.
USC @ Stanford September 15th
USC @ Utah October 4th
Oregon @ USC November 3rd
Utah @ Washington November 10th
Stanford @ Oregon November 17th