Thursday, September 1, 2011
2011 Pac-12 preview and predictions
This year the Pacific coast conference has added two teams making them the Pac-12 conference. For the first time in the Pac's history you'll see divisional play and a Pac-12 championship game. The team with the best conference record will host that championship game. Not only will teams try to win their division but they'll also try to win the top spot in the conference to host the title game. This year the Pac-12 features two teams who ranked in the top 10 who happen to be in the same division. Last year both the Oregon Ducks and Stanford Cardinal played in BCS games. This year both the Ducks and Cardinal are hoping to return to a BCS game with a possible trip to the National championship.
The Pac-12 championship game should be interesting as Oregon won't be able to play Stanford. What also throws a wrench into this is that the USC Trojans who are picked to win the Pac-12 south aren't eligible to play for the title. So there is a good chance that the fourth best team in the conference will play for the right to play in the Rose Bowl. The last team from the Pacific Coast conference to win the Rose Bowl was the 2008 USC Trojans. The conference has two heavy weights in the Oregon Ducks who have won the conference the last two years and the Stanford Cardinal who feature the best NFL prospect in Andrew Luck. This conference also welcomes in the Utah Utes who have done very well in the past and the Colorado Buffaloes who have won a national championship just 20 years ago.
In this following post I'll break down each team while dividing them up into divisions. I'll also offer up my predictions as will several other people who I've interacted with through my blog. The Pac-12 is pretty balanced but now with the teams going to 12 schedules play a big part in how a team will do in conference play. For an example the Utah Utes get a huge gift as they avoid the Oregon Ducks and Stanford Cardinal who are both ranked in the top 10. While due to already scheduled to play each other in non conference the Colorado Buffaloes and California Golden Bears will play 10 Pac-12 games this year. So I'll break down the teams starting with the South in alphabetical order.
The Arizona Wildcats under Mike Stoops appear to be a program stuck in the middle. Two years ago the Wildcats were knocking on the door of their first ever Rose Bowl trip but lost to the Oregon Ducks in double overtime at home. Then last year the Wildcats started off red hot going 7-1 before losing their final five games of the year including one to rival Arizona State at home. Now things don't get any easier for the Wildcats who begin their season playing their second game five days after their opening at 9th ranked Oklahoma State, then host seventh ranked Stanford, then hosts third ranked Oregon, then travels to #25 USC Trojans. When that stretch is over very likely chance the Wildcats will be 1-4 and dating back to last year that would make them losers of 9 out of 10 games.
What is working in the Wildcats favor is they have senior quarterback Nick Foles. As a sophomore Foles completed 63.4% of his passes for 2,485 yards with 19 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Then as a junior he didn't take that big of a jump as he completed 67.1% of his passes for 3,191 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The Wildcats also have running back Keola Antolin. As a freshman he ran for 525 yards(4.5 YPC) and 10 touchdowns with seven receptions. Then as a sophomore he ran for 638 yards(5.6 YPC) with four touchdowns and 17 receptions. Then last year he ran for 641 yards with seven touchdowns and 28 receptions including two for touchdowns. Last year for a team who threw quite a bit they also ran for 20 touchdowns. The Wildcats have an explosive offense although the defense has to worry many fans. The schedule out of the gate could destroy the Wildcats season.
Arizona State Sun Devils (6-6,4-5)
The Arizona State Sun Devils are the trendy pick to appear in the Pac-12 championship game this year. Dennis Erickson has had a bumpy ride since in his first year in 2007. The Sun Devils last season started the year off slow going 4-6 and 2-5 in conference play before winning their final two games. The Sun Devils won all five games that quarterback Brock Osweiler appeared in and won both of the starts that he made. The face of the Sun Devils program right now is outstanding middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Burfict can be a knucklehead at times but he is talented as he won Pac-10 freshman defensive player of the year award in 2009. Then as a sophomore he was named second team all pac-10 linebacker and sporting news named him the Pac-10 defensive MVP. Due to Burfict many think the Sun Devils will have a powerful defense that if not for six turnovers last year would have upset the Oregon Ducks last season.
Another reason fans are excited down in Tempe is quarterback Brock Osweiler. He took over for the injured but ineffective Steven Threet and performed quite well. He threw completed 56.9% of his passes for 797 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. In his last two starts of the season he threw for 647 yards with 68 yards rushing. He threw for five touchdowns and ran for a touchdown while not turning the ball over once. The Sun Devils also return Cameron Marshall who last year rushed for 761 yards(5.1 YPC) with nine touchdowns. Even though Erickson is on the hot seat it appears he has a pretty talented squad this year with Burfict leading the team.
Colorado Buffaloes (5-7,2-6)
The Colorado Buffaloes will be entering the new Pac-12 with pretty low expectations. Most experts think they'll take last place in the South and battle the Washington State Cougars for being the worst team in the conference. The Buffaloes last year after upsetting the SEC's Georgia Bulldogs dropped five straight games in the big 12 conference. Now the Buffaloes will have to play in the Pac-12 conference which will be just as tough as the Big 12 was. The Buffaloes were once a proud program much like the Washington Huskies who have fallen on hard times. Like the Huskies the falling apart started under Rich Neuheisel as well.
The one guy who can give other teams matchup problems for the Buffaloes is running back Rodney Stewart. Far as college goes he is the second or third best running back in the conference depending who you are reading. Stewart as a freshman ran for 622 yards(4.7 YPC) with two touchdowns and seven receptions. Then as a sophomore ran for 804 yards(4.1 YPC) with nine touchdowns and 12 receptions. Then as a junior he continued to improve rushing for 1,272 yards(4.4 YPC) with 10 touchdowns and 29 receptions. The Buffaloes also return starting quarterback Tyler Hansen who has a rough career throwing 15 touchdowns to 17 interceptions in three seasons while completing 59.3% of his passes. Last year he did complete 68.3% for 1,102 yards but had just six touchdowns and six interceptions. The Buffaloes are headed for a long year in the Pac-12 this season.
Utah Utes (10-3,7-1)
The Utah Utes enter the conference as a very successful team over the past years. The Utes went 10-3 last season, 10-3 in 2009 and 13-0 in 2008. The Utes have been one of the most successful program in all of college football and they proved in 2008 by destroying Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Utes finished that year ranked second in the nation and have won two BCS bowl games since 2004. The Utes last year were enjoying a great season as well starting the year off 8-0 and ranked fifth in the nation. They had a showdown at home against TCU where they lost badly then the following week lost badly to Notre Dame. They finished their season losing to another little giant in Boise State. Now the Utes will be coming to the Pac-12 as they caught a break in avoiding the #3 Oregon Ducks and #7 Stanford Cardinal.
The Utes return quarterback Jordan Wynn who completed 62.2% of his passes last season for 2,334 yards with 17 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. His main target will be Devonte Christopher who had 39 receptions last season for 660 yards with six touchdowns in 11 games. Utah to improve on their offense hired two-time national championship offensive coordinator and former NFL offensive coordinator Norm Chow. Now are they getting the Chow from USC or the Chow who failed with the Tennessee Titans and then UCLA Bruins? The defense has questions on their defensive line but due to the coaching staff they should be fine. The Utes caught a break with the schedule and look for them to make some noise in the Pac-12.
UCLA Bruins (4-8,2-6)
The UCLA Bruins enter year four of the Rick Neuheisel experience which hasn't produce as well as they'd like. Neuheisel finds himself on the hot seat as he is only 15-22 in his three years at UCLA. The program appears to be on the decline and has fallen into mediocrity or worse. The conferences only Rose Bowl winning coach has yet to produce a good offense which was what made him a good coach at Colorado and Washington. The Bruins best player is probably safety Tony Dye who many project to be second team all Pac-12. The Bruins don't return much on offense either.
Last season the Bruins had trouble on offense but the only strength was the running game. The Bruins return Jonathan Franklin who last season ran for 1,061 yards(5.0 YPC) with 8 touchdowns. The Bruins also return backup running back Derrick Coleman who ran for 476 yards(5.8 YPC) with five rushing touchdowns. Neuheisel did bring in highly touted Brett Hundley at quarterback but he is probably a year away. For now the Bruins will go with Kevin Prince. Last season Prince completed 44.7% of his passes for 384 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions. As a freshman Prince had completed 56.2% of his passes for 2,050 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Bruins are hoping to surprise some people this year but with no passing attack that will be tough in the conference. This could be the final season for Neuheisel at UCLA.
USC Trojans (8-5,5-4)
1. USC (24 first-place votes), 230 points*
2. ASU (13), 207
3. Utah (4), 170
4. Arizona (1), 140
5. UCLA, 89
6. Colorado, 46
1. Oregon (29 first-place votes), 239 points
2. Stanford (13), 220
3. Washington, 142
4. Oregon State, 120
5. California, 110
6. Washington State, 51