Pac-12 Football 2012: The USC Trojans and 3 Most Dangerous Teams
The Pac-12 is by no means a powerhouse division. While there are always a few teams competing for one of the top spots on the BCS polls, they always seem to be underdogs going up against the Big 12, Big Ten and the SEC.
2012 will be different.
There are four Pac-12 teams ready to duke it out for the conference's top spot and a trip to a BCS bowl game.
This slide show will introduce the nation to the Pac-12's best teams. The ones looking to upset the BCS and spoil LSU and Alabama's hopes at competing for another SEC vs. SEC National Championship snore-fest.
The USC Trojans are BCS favorites now that they are playing for a bowl game.
There is no telling what records will fall in 2012 with Matt Barkley slinging the ball to Robert Woods and Marqise Lee—a combination that makes Southern California a likely destination for next year's Heisman Trophy.
As long as USC can find a replacement for Matt Kalil at tackle, the offense should be even more dominant in 2012.
USC's defense houses one of the best safeties and corners in the Pac-12 in T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey. Their presence behind a young but talented front seven should be enough to at least slow down college football's best offenses.
The Trojans are overwhelming favorites to win the Pac-12 South. The Pacific Conference title game seems to be the only thing standing in their way of a National Championship appearance next January.
Andrew Luck, Jonathan Martin, David DeCastro and Coby Fleener will all be picked in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft. Needless to say, Stanford needs to replace a lot of talent on offense if they want to be competitive next season.
Brett Nottingham looks poised to be the starting quarterback. He is a heady athlete with a strong arm and quick release.
He will benefit from a strong running game led by Stepfan Taylor who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards and at least 10 touchdowns the last two seasons.
Do not forget Barry Sanders Jr. who committed to Stanford this spring. Even as a true freshman, Sanders Jr. has the same smooth wiggle moves that made his father famous.
Both running backs have good hands and can help their young quarterback by turning dump off passes into long gains.
Stanford will rely on its defense more than ever in 2012. They have an experienced front seven that can make up for an emerging secondary.
The biggest game of the season will be November 11 when they travel to Eugene, Oregon to play the Ducks. At this point in the season the defense should be in top gear, and the new offensive starters will be comfortable with their new responsibilities.
Despite losing four offensive players to the first round of the NFL draft, Stanford will be ready to make a run at the Pac-12 title in 2012.
The loss of Darron Thomas and LaMichael James on offense will not stop the Oregon Ducks from being even better in 2012.
Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota will compete to be Thomas' replacement next season. Both quarterbacks are just as dangerous throwing the ball as they are running it. While Bennett has experience, Mariota may get the promotion due to his superior athleticism and ability to heave the ball while on the run.
With De'Anthony Thomas, Kenjon Barner and Josh Huff on the field, there should be no shortage of big time plays.
The main reason why Oregon will be better in 2012 is the defense.
Cornerbacks Troy Hill and Terrance Mitchell both started as freshman last season. They both gave up big plays in 2011 but should come back strong with a full years worth of starts under their belts.
Linebacker Kiko Alonso will emerge as one of the nation's best next season. One does not have to look any further than his diving interception (pictured above) in last year's Rose Bowl to see how special he is.
With safety John Boyett governing the middle of the field and Dion Jordan rushing the passer, this defense will have plenty of momentum shifting plays in 2012.
The Ducks' travel to Southern California to play the Trojans on November 3. This should serve as a precursor to a Pac-12 Championship rematch. One the Ducks would love to host at Autzen Stadium.
The loss of Chris Polk on offense will not be as critical as some fans fear.
Keith Price will be phenomenal in his second year as a starter. After an impressive season, Price wowed in the Alamo Bowl where he went toe-to-toe with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. While Griffin stole the spotlight, it was Price who was the most impressive quarterback. He threw for four touchdowns and ran for three more.
With young physical targets such as Kasen Williams (WR) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE), the Huskies' pass attack should make up for the loss of Polk.
The success of this team will come down to their defense.
Cornerback Desmond Trufant and safety Sean Parker both have the potential to be playmakers in the secondary. Shaq Thompson (a 5-star 2012 recruit) can be a stud right off the bat if he can quickly make the adjustment from high school to college ball.
The X-factor on defense is Josh Shirley. He is a crafty speed rusher who will bother quarterbacks with his ability to blow past offensive tackles. Sacking Griffin three times in the Alamo Bowl is a testament to how special he could be.
The Huskies are not going to have an easy time surviving the Pac-12 next season. They play Stanford, Oregon and USC before the midpoint of the year. Not to mention LSU week two. If they can pull out a home win against Stanford and an upset over USC or Oregon, they will have a shot at a their first BCS birth in a long time.
While it seems unlikely, you do not have to look any further than Price's Alamo Bowl stats to see the potential this team has.