Pac-12 Football: 3 Sleeper Rose Bowl Contenders for 2013
Without question, Stanford and Oregon are the favorites to win the Pac-12 title in 2013. However, as we all know, college football can be crazy sometimes, and anything can happen. A few teams could really surprise us and sneak into the Rose Bowl this year.
Beyond the top two teams, UCLA and Oregon State have to be thought of as having a chance at a Rose Bowl bid. The Bruins won the South Division two years in a row, while the Beavers return a lot of talent from a 9-4 team that showed promise last season.
When looking even deeper into the conference, a few teams start to emerge as possible sleepers for 2013. If any of the top teams should falter, look for one of the following teams to have a chance at stealing a spot in the Rose Bowl.
This year could be very interesting as far as bowl bids go in the Pac-12, as either Stanford or Oregon could end up playing in the national title game. If that were to happen, then the No. 2 team in the conference would get the Rose Bowl bid, as long it was ranked in the Top 14.
This slideshow takes a look at three sleeper teams that could have a shot at playing in Pasadena come January.
Arizona State Sun Devils
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The Sun Devils finished just 5-4 in the conference in 2012 but finished on a three-game winning streak. The stretch included a win at then-No. 24 Arizona and a 62-28 dominating performance over Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
Quarterback Taylor Kelly, who threw for 3,039 yards as a sophomore last year, returns to lead Arizona State on offense. He also ran for 516 yards and added a score on the ground. He will once again have support from leading receiver Chris Coyle, who had 696 yards receiving with five touchdowns last season.
Running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster should combine to form a productive backfield. Grice led the team with 11 rushing touchdowns in 2012, while Foster rushed for 493 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman.
Key for the Sun Devils in 2013 is the return of top defensive tackle Will Sutton. He will anchor a defensive line that should be one of the best in the Pac-12. Last season, Arizona State's defense was second in the nation in tackles for loss.
Like all Pac-12 teams, Arizona State faces a tough conference schedule. Fortunately for the Sun Devils, they don't have to play Oregon and have the luxury of hosting USC and in-state rival Arizona. Trips to Stanford and UCLA will be major tests and could go a long way in determining who competes for a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Arizona State is a team on the rise, and a Rose Bowl birth this year isn't out of the question.
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When's the last time a USC team was ever considered a sleeper?
However, after a disappointing 2012 and some key losses, especially on offense, few would label the Trojans a favorite to win the Pac-12. After starting last season as the preseason No. 1, USC finished unranked with a record of 7-6.
Although quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Robert Woods have moved on, things are looking up in Southern California. Key starters such as running back Silas Redd and wide receiver Marqise Lee will lead what should be a potent offense.
Last season, Redd rushed for 905 yards and nine touchdowns. That was a down year for the junior, as his sophomore season saw him put up 1,241 yards at Penn State. After having a year to adjust to a new system, look for him to put up huge numbers in 2013.
Lee has impressed as a wide receiver during his first two seasons at USC. As a freshman, he racked up 1,143 receiving yards with 11 touchdowns. Last year, he totaled 1,721 yards and scored 14 times.
The only real question mark is at quarterback. Max Wittek should be considered the favorite if he's healthy, but don't be surprised if Cody Kessler or Max Browne pass him in the spring.
On defense, the Trojans will return eight starters from a unit that finished fourth in the conference last year in points against. However, leading tackler T.J. McDonald will need to be replaced in the secondary.
The defensive front should be solid, led by defensive end Morgan Breslin. The Trojans did a good job last year getting to the quarterback, finishing fourth in the nation with 45 sacks.
USC does not have to play Oregon in the regular season but does have to travel to Arizona State and Oregon State. Stanford and UCLA are two tough conference opponents that will visit the Coliseum in 2013.
This team definitely has talent. Perhaps Lane Kiffin can find a way to put it all together and get this team to surprise a lot of people in the Pac-12 this season.
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So this one is a reach, but the Washington Huskies are a team on the rise in the Pac-12. The team has been improving and has now made three straight bowl appearances under head coach Steve Sarkisian.
2013 could finally be the year that Washington is a legit conference contender. Several key starters, including quarterback Keith Price and running back Bishop Sankey, return on a team that went 7-6 (5-4) a year ago.
Sankey is a stud in the backfield and will give the Huskies a chance to win every game. He finished last season with 1,439 yards and 16 touchdowns. In the season finale, a loss in the Las Vegas Bowl to Boise State, he rushed for 205 yards and a score.
Price, who returns for his senior season, will look to take a step forward and rival his sophomore year that saw him rack up 3,063 passing yards with 33 touchdowns. If Price can have a solid season, this team is going to surprise a lot of people.
The Huskies will be able to put up points on offense, but they can also stop teams form scoring on defense. They return eight starters from a year ago and will look to add to the improvements made last season.
Getting to the Rose Bowl won't be easy for the Huskies. Their schedule includes road dates at Stanford, UCLA and Arizona State. Washington gets to host Oregon and opens the new season at home with a nonconference rematch against Boise State.
While the Pac-12 North is loaded up top with both Stanford and Oregon, anything can happen. Don't sleep on the Huskies in 2013.