After sending two teams to BCS bowls last season (it should have been three), the Pac-12 is poised to have another excellent season in 2012.
USC and Oregon are both squads full of studs, and despite losing Andrew Luck to the NFL, Stanford should still be solid. There are plenty of teams that could surprise too (see: California Golden Bears).
The Pac-12 will have multiple All-Americans by the end of the season and is home to the Heisman Trophy front-runner, Matt Barkley.
Without further ado, here are my top eight Pac-12 upperclassmen for 2012.
Keith Price had a stellar campaign last year as a sophomore. He threw for over 3000 yards with 33 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while leading the Huskies to a record of 7-6.
Some say he outplayed Robert Griffin III in the Alamo Bowl. Statistically this is true, but Griffin got the win so I have to give him the edge.
Regardless, Price could be the next RG3. I expect Price to have a solid season but he will have his work cut out for him.
The Huskies have a depleted offensive line and no Chris Polk to carry the ball. Still, Price will be the second best QB in the conference behind Matt Barkley (unless Sean Mannion or Jeff Tuel shock the world).
ASU fans looking for a reprieve from their string of disappointing seasons aren't going to find it this season.
Nonetheless, Cameron Marshall will be a bright spot for the Sun Devils this season. Marshall finished with 1050 yards and 18 TDs last season and will undoubtedly improve this year. I expect him to finish in the top three in the conference for rushing yards and TDs by the end of the year.
With the loss of gunslinger Brock Osweiler and the addition of new head coach Todd Graham, the Sun Devils will look to run the ball early and often in 2012.
Whoever starts at quarterback for Stanford in the fall (either Brett Nottingham or Josh Nunes) will be relying heavily Stepfan Taylor to move the ball.
In the last two seasons he has 2467 yards rushing, 53 receptions and a combined 28 touchdowns. Coming into his senior year, and with no Andrew Luck, Taylor figures to have the best season of his career.
According to Tom Fitzgerald of the San Francisco Chronicle, Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said of Taylor, "We have in my opinion the best running back in the country."
Stanford won't regress as much as people expect them to in 2012 and, as long as Taylor can handle the increased workload, he will be an absolute stud.
Remember when Dwayne Jarrett was making catches like this? Remember when Mike Williams absolutely dominated everyone when he was a Trojan from 2003-2004?
Get ready for more of that with Robert Woods this season. In fact, I shouldn't even have to tell you that because Woods was making spectacular catches all of last season.
As a sophomore last season, Woods had 15 touchdown catches and was an All-Pac-12 First-Teamer. With the Pac-12 big-man-on-campus Matt Barkley as his quarterback again, the sky is the limit for Woods.
Star Lotulelei probably would have been a first-round draft pick if he had gone pro after the 2011 season. Last year he was First Team All-Pac-12 and the winner of the Morris Trophy for best defensive lineman in the conference.
Lotulelei is back and will end up being the best defensive lineman in the nation in 2012.
I don't have much faith in the Utes outside of him so I expect Lotulelei to be the focal point of planning for opponents. This might lower his numbers but he will still undoubtedly be the kind of player that changes games.
ESPN draft guru Todd McShay currently has him going No. 1 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. Expect big things out of this star next season.
Marquess Wilson is like the girl that no one pays much attention to in high school and then—BOOM—she gets to college and everyone she graduated with realizes that they completely overlooked her. She was always extremely attractive and they never even noticed.
Now they are regretting it.
Outside of the Pac-12 (and even in a lot of circles within the Pac-12), few know who Marquess Wilson is.The fact of the matter is that he led the conference in receiving last year and was second in the entire NCAA.
Wilson is a stud who has been thrown into the best of situations for his senior year. With aerial-attack guru Mike Leach as the head coach, Washington State will be throwing the ball more often than the Kardashians appear on E! Network.
I would not be surprised in the least bit if Wilson won the Biletnikoff Award in 2012.
Most of you will be surprised to see Poyer this high on the list. He is a six-foot-tall cornerback who plays for Oregon State—a team that went 3-9 last year.
He is also on the preseason watch list for the Ronnie Lott Award and was named to Phil Steele's preseason First Team All-Pac-12. He's arguably the most explosive player in the Pac-12.
Poyer is a threat to run an interception back for a touchdown, return a kickoff 60 yards or lay a (legal) hit that takes an opposing player out of the game.
The kid is a game changer. Oregon State knows it, a lot of the Pac-12 knows it and in 2012 the entire nation will know it.
Matt Barkley is the best player in the Pac-12.
Matt Barkley is probably the best player in the nation.
Barring a complete meltdown or catastrophic injury, Matt Barkley will win the Heisman Trophy and USC will win the national title.
I don't need to throw around stats to explain why Matt Barkley is number one on this list.
Thank you and drive home safely.