College Football Conference Preview: The PAC-12

By: Justin Rockhold - 92.3 The Fan
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The 99th Rose Bowl Game - Wisconsin v Stanford

Moving on from the Big 10, we now continue our preview of the upcoming college football season by heading west to the sunshine and waves (and rain in the case of the Washington schools) of the PAC-12.

Did you miss anything since Chip Kelly ran away in fear from left Oregon to head to Philadelphia? Here’s a look at what you might’ve missed:

– Jeff Tedford was fired from Cal (replaced by Sonny Dykes), Jon Embree was fired from Colorado (replaced by Mike MacIntyre) and Chip Kelly bolted from Eugene to the NFL (replaced by Mark Helfrich).

– Monte Kiffin left his son Lane at USC to go to the NFL and be the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys.

– Stanford Head Coach David Shaw stayed put. I was shocked.

– Kenjon Barner graduated from Oregon. His replacement De’Anthony Thomas may be even more terrifying; he starts the season as a Heisman favorite.

– Cal was 3-9 last season. As a reward for their accomplishments, they have signed a deal with the PAC-12 Network to have their own Hard Knocks-type showed based on their season. As society has shown, mediocrity can occasionally be rewarding.

– Oregon State corner Tyler Hasty was kicked off the team after leading police on a chase in his automobile, and eventually on foot before being arrested for  “attempt to elude arrest by vehicle and on foot.” The key word=attempt.

– Utah’s four-star recruit Gaius Vaenuku tragically lost his life in an automobile accent before ever playing a snap for the Utes.

– Arizona’s coaching staff did this.

For the rest of the PAC 12 – Arizona State, Washington, Washington State, and UCLA – the offseason came and went without much noise. Usually that’s a good sign. So, with just 24 days until the College football season kicks off in the PAC-12 for Utah and USC, we look at what you should expect in this upcoming season.

Games to Watch

Week 1: Northwestern @California 7:30 P.M, August 31st  –I expect big things out of Northwestern this season, and I expect Cal to be a much improved team. If both teams live up to expectations, you could get a pretty entertaining game to watch. If Cal isn’t as good as expected (definitely possible) then you’ll get to see Northwestern tune up their offense.

Week 2: Oregon @Virginia, 12:30 P.M, September 7th  – Anytime there’s nothing too interesting going on, I’ll insert Oregon’s game. Because who doesn’t want to watch the Ducks put up 60?

Week 3: UCLA @ Nebraska, 12:00 P.M, September 14th  – This will be one of the games of the week in all of college football. Two teams with loads of potential, and both are expected to challenge for their respective conference crowns. UCLA’s Defense is going to have its hands full with Taylor Martinez and the wicked Huskers offense, but Anthony Barr and company will be ready.

Week 4: Utah @BYU, 3:30 P.M, September 21st  – Bronco Mendenhall’s Cougars are always a tough team to play, and this year’s Utes should be playing with a chip on their shoulder because they’re potentially being underestimated by the media. There’s not much else going on in Week 4 of the PAC-12, so catch these two former Mountain West rivals duke it out in the afternoon.

Week 5: Stanford @Washington St., September 28th  – This is a coaching duel that you won’t want to miss. Stanford’s David Shaw is one of the top coaches in college football, with a pro style offense, and a whirlwind defense that resembles most NFL teams. Mike Leach’s Cougars play the “gimmicky” offense that you’d expect from a college team, but gimmick or not, Leach’s team will score a heck of a lot of points in year 2 of the system, and that can lead to some major upsets. Stanford will be a big favorite, but if you’re the betting type, take the cougars against the spread.

Week 6: Oregon @Colorado, October 5th  – Insert Oregon game here….Mariota will be out of this game by the start of the second half.

Week 7: Arizona @USC. 7:30 P.M, October 10h  – Now the fun begins in the PAC-12. USC’s a program that’s in the midst of a potential fall from grace, while Arizona, behind Rich Rodriguez and his coaching cowboys, is the upstart program of the conference (think Oregon in 1999 behind Mike Bellotti). There’s a strong chance that this game could be a symbolic changing of the guard, especially in retrospect.

Week 8: UCLA @Stanford and USC @Notre Dame, TBD and 4:30 P.M, October 19th  – It’s too tough to choose. In one game, you have a rematch of last year’s conference championship, that could possibly end up also being a preview of this year’s conference championship. On the other side, you have one of the best games of the year annually, especially if Notre Dame lives up to the preseason hype. Get the DVR ready, because you won’t want to miss this one.

Week 9: UCLA @ Oregon, October 26th  – If the previous week isn’t a preview of the PAC-12 Championship game, then this one is. Oregon’s high powered offense goes up against UCLA’s steadfast defense. Two great young quarterbacks. This should be a fun one to watch, and it should be fun to watch for the next few years as well.

Week 10: USC @Oregon St., November 1st  – Oregon State’s been on the cusp of “Best Team In The Conference” for the last 4-5 years, but they haven’t broken through that barrier quite yet. They won’t break through this season either, but they can definitely mark their territory against the Trojans in the Beaver Dam. (Is that Reser Stadium’s nickname? It should be.)

Week 11: Oregon @Stanford, 9:00 November 9th  –Bold Prediction #1: This will be the best game of the college football season. #3 and #4 in the Coaches Poll will meet, in Stanford, with both teams likely undefeated at this point of the season. If everything goes according to plan – and it should – you’ll get to see a doozy of a match-up.

Week 12: Stanford @USC., November 16th  –Stanford gets no weeks off, and if they win over the Ducks, they may be susceptible to a let down. But, this game is about the Trojans. Depending on how this season goes, they’ll either be vying for a conference title, or playing to ruin someone else’s season. Either way, you don’t want to travel into Pasadena with a target on your back (4 straight victories for the Cards, full of trash talking).

Week 13: Oregon @Arizona, November 23rd  – This is not another “insert Oregon” game. As mentioned earlier, Arizona’s going to be a team to watch this season. With Ka’Deem Carey in the backfield, and Rich Rod on the sidelines, the Wildcats may have just as much offense as the Ducks. Over-Under: 75.

Week 14: Notre Dame @Stanford, November 30th  – Look,  this weekend has the following three games: UCLA vs. USC, and Oregon vs. Oregon State, and Arizona State vs. Arizona. That doesn’t matter. This game will more than likely be for at least a bid to a BCS bowl, and possibly more. Stanford’s seeking revenge after falling just short in last year’s nail biter (20-13 Final-OT), and this time there may be even more on the line.

 

10 Players to Watch

1. De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon, RB, Junior  – Thomas may not be the best player in the conference (that title belongs to #2 on the list), he may not be the best running back in the conference (that title belongs to #5 on the list), but he is certainly the most exciting player to watch. He’s in a supremely talented backfield, but the barn burner from Crenshaw, who shares a nickname with Kobe Bryant is going to make the most of his touches (7.6 ypc, 9.9 ypc) and keep opposing defenses on their toes depending on where he lines up. Oh, and he’s a monster in the return game too (2 TDs). Whether it be in the slot, in the backfield, or elsewhere on the field, keep an eye on Thomas to make his mark on the game each play.

2. Marquise Lee, USC, WR, Junior  – Lets take a look back at what Marquise Lee did as a sophomore at USC last year: 118 receptions, 1,712 yards, and 14 Touchdowns. Damn. Lee’s going to be adjusting to a new quarterback – more on that later – this season, but don’t think that will slow down Lee’s production. He’s a near sure thing to catch anything thrown his way, he has a penchant for the big stage, and has Top-10 pick written all over him. What’s not to love?

3. Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA, Senior  –Daniel Jeremiah listed Barr as his third most talented player in all of college football, and I’m just as high as he is. Barr’s 6’4, 245, and runs a 4.43 40. He wreaks as much havoc in the backfield as any player in the country (13.5 sacks, 21.5 TFL last season), and is also very active in the passing lanes when he drops back into coverage. He covers more ground than any line backer in the country, and, if promoted right, could have the more catch phrases/nick names than any other player in the country. “Raising the Barr”, “Hammered at the Barr”, “Passed the Barr” “Barr none” “No Holds Barred”…

4. David Yankey, OL, Stanford, Senior – Mark your calendar for the date that Anthony Barr goes against David Yankey (Look! That’s in this article!). The 6’5, 300 lb tackle is one of the most unmovable forces in the country, and it’s a joy to watch him block. Shaw’s pro-style offense is predicated on good lineman that can create the time and space his backfield needs to make their more complex plays work, and Yankey is the anchor on that valuable line.

5. Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona, Junior  – Ka’Deem Carey is the best player in college football that most people have never heard of. He piled up 366 yards (That’s not a typo) against Colorado last season, 204 against Utah, and broken the century mark 10 times last season. Now that coaches will be game-planning a bit more for the sophomore, you may see those numbers slide a little bit, but there’s a good chance you won’t. Rich Rod is one of the best read-option coaches in the country, and Carey’s 5’10, sub-200 lb frame is suited for the misdirection game. If DAT is the do-everything man for Oregon, Carey’s that player for the Wildcats. He’s a dark horse Heisman candidate too.

6. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona St., Senior  – Fact: Jadeveon Clowney had 23.5 tackles for loss last season. Fact: Will Sutton had 23.5 tackles for loss last season. Sutton’s a special talent at Defensive Tackle, and the numbers are there to support it. He’s arguably the most explosive guy off the snap in the country outside of the other guy who also had 23.5 tackles for loss, and he’s playing for a team with something to prove this season. Sutton has the attitude, the talent, and the hair for the title of “Best Tackle in the Country”, be sure to watch him back it up.

7. USC’s Starting quarterback   – USC’s starting quarterback lineage since the start of the new millenium has been more than impressive: Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, John David Booty, Mark Sanchez, and Matt Barkley were some of the best quarterbacks to pass through the conference in the last 15 years, and now were here. There’s not even an announced starter yet – the favorite is Max Wittek who started 2 games for the Trojans last season after Barkley’s should injury – and the poor quarterback has plenty of expectations already on his shoulders. Whoever takes over this job, I wish you the best of luck.

8. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State, Junior  – His Freshman season: 14.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks. His sophomore season: 17.5 TFL, 9.0 sacks. What do you expect this year? Going by his improvement rate: 20.5 TFL, 12 sacks. If that happens, expect Crichton to be a top ten pick in next year’s draft.

9. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA, Sophomore  – Hundley threw for 3,700 yards and 29 touchdowns with a 66 percent completion percentage. As a redshirt freshman. Oh, and he’s incredibly mobile too. Marcus Mariota may be receiving all the hype, but it may be Hundley who ends up being the best quarterback in the conference, especially if the Bruins can live up to all the expectations placed upon them this season.

10. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon, Sophomore – Some people consider him to be the top player in the conference, and for good reason; Mariota exploded onto the Eugene Scene last season with over 3,400 yards of total offense. The numbers are impressive, but it’s the efficiency that Mariota does it that’s most impressive. He completed an astonishing 68.5 percent of his passes, he average 7 yards a rush, and he only turned the ball over 6 times through the air. In year two of the spread option, look for Mariota to be even better, especially if he can hold onto the ball a bit better this year (5 fumbles lost last season, T-3rd highest total in NCAA).

Conference Prediction (Regular season, Conference recond)

North:
1.  Stanford (12-0, 9-0)

2. Oregon (11-1, 8-1)

3. Oregon State (9-3, 6-3)

4. California (8-4, 5-4)

5. Washington State (5-7, 2-7)

6. Washington (2-10, 1-8)

– This is Stanford’s year. After near misses in three straight seasons where they went 35-5, this is the year they don’t have a slip up. David Shaw is the best young coach in all of college football, and it’s him who will lead this team to the promise land. Oh, that and the fact that they return 5 lineman who have started a combined 70 games, one of the finest linebacking cores in all of college football, and they get to play their toughest opponents (Oregon and Notre Dame) at home. The Ducks are going to be something fun to watch, and there’s a good chance that they – instead of Stanford – run the gauntlet and end up undefeated, but it’s going to be tough without Kelly running their chaotic offense. As for the rest of the divison, look for Cal to make a big leap this season, and Oregon State to just barely fall short against both the Ducks and the Cardinals.

South:
1. UCLA (9-3, 7-2)

2. Arizona (10-2, 7-2)

3. Arizona State (6-6, 5-4)

4. Utah (6-6, 4-5)

5. USC (6-7, 3-5)

6. Colorado (3-9, 0-9)

– UCLA at the top shouldn’t be much of a surprise. They have two of the most talented players in the league on both sides of the ball, and Jim Mora Jr. has proven to be not just a good X’s and O’s guy, but one heck of a recruiter, stealing away talent from the Southern California rival Trojans. For the Trojans, I’m expecting a pretty big down year; their first sub-500 season since 2000. The Arizona Wildcats should be the surprise team of the conference, but they have a favorable schedule against the much weaker South division. The surprise of the segment is my prediction of UCLA eventually winning the title. I just don’t see Mora losing four straight to Shaw and the Cardinals. I believe that Stanford knocks off the Bruins in the regular season, but Stanford falls to the Bruins in the title.

Conference Champion: – UCLA Bruins

Final Notes

– There’s a lot of talk about offense from the PAC-12, and for good reason, but don’t let that fool you. Stanford has maybe the stingiest defense outside the SEC, USC, even without Monte Kiffin, will always present a very formidable front seven, that is heavy on blitzing, and Oregon led the country in interceptions last season.

– Maybe the most fun thing about the PAC-12 is the in-state rivalry between Washington and Washington State. Neither team is going to be relevant in that National Championship discussion this year, but both teams treat that game like it’s a championship match-up. It’s a game that’s always fun to tune-in to on the final week of the season.

– Speaking of in-state match ups, the conference is composed of 12 teams from 6 states. 4 of those teams are from California. Lesson learned: California is gigantic.

– Have you seen Oregon’s facilities? You should. If you’re an athletic quarterback, running back, or defensive player with unlimited conditioning, Why would you not want to play for them?

– The NCAA also investigated Oregon for 27 months for possible violations. The final result was the revoking of one scholarship for each of the next two years. That means that the NCAA took away .04 scholarships for every month they investigated the Ducks. Good work NCAA, you suck again.

– If you didn’t watch that Arizona coaching staff video, you should. Here you go.

Tell me these guys aren’t going 10-2.

____________________________________________________

Follow Justin on Twitter here:
Email him at Justin.Rockhold@CBSRadio.com to ask questions for an upcoming College Football Mailbag

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