Pac-12 Football: Post Spring Practice Power Rankings
The Pac-12 finished spring with a lot of promise heading into 2013.
Stanford saw the return of Tyler Gaffney, and UCLA continued the return to the top under the guidance of Jim Mora Jr. Oregon entered a new era under new coach Mark Helfrich, hoping to keep the offensive speed alive out of Eugene.
This is the conference that can end the reign of the SEC this season. Here is a look at what's to offer from the Pac-12.
No. 12: Colorado Buffaloes
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The Colorado Buffaloes are struggling.
After an unsuccessful run for Jon Embree, the team has chosen Mike MacIntyre to bring the Buffs back to prominence.
This program has a long way to go before it becomes a contender in the Pac-12, and just one spring and summer won't be enough.
The departure of Nick Hirschman after spring put a damper on the offensive progress and will set this program back a few steps.
The Buffs will head into summer with the most to prove in the Pac-12, leading the bottom dwellers for spring of 2013.
No. 11: Washington State Cougars
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It is a new day in Pullman with Mike Leach entering his second year guiding the program.
The Cougars finished last season 3-9 with some glimmers of brilliance occasionally showing through. This season, the Cougars will have more depth on the roster and one year in the proven Leach offense.
Connor Halliday took over the race for the No.1 spot at quarterback, and the offensive line is stacked with returning talent. The defense also showed improvement over last year.
This may not be a title-contending team, but it is one that will surprise a few stars in the conference and win games it shouldn’t. Look for the Cougars to start the year strong against Auburn and to battle toe-to-toe with the best the Pac-12 has to offer every Saturday.
No. 10: Cal Golden Bears
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The Cal program was a disappointment last year under Jeff Tedford. The 3-9 season ended his head coaching run with the Bears and led to the hire of rising star Sonny Dykes.
Dykes is taking over a broken offense that needs repair, and it led to a showdown at quarterback. Zach Kline finished the spring as the leader, but there is still a lot left to accomplish before he is the starter.
The Bears are near the bottom of the Pac-12 after falling hard under Tedford. It will take more than one season to right the ship, though it seems Dykes has the program headed in the right direction.
No. 9: Utah Utes
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Utah was baptized by fire in its first season in the Pac-12, finishing the 2012 campaign with a modest 5-7 record and a 3-6 conference mark.
This is a big boy league and the Utes learned that quickly. Heading out of spring, this program has made some improvements, but there is still a huge hill to climb to hide mediocrity in this conference.
Head coach Kyle Whittingham told reporters (h/t Salt Lake Tribune) that "It was a very productive spring. We improved as a whole and made some big strides in areas we needed to.” He is confident in his programs return to prominence saying "We’re going to be better than a lot of people think we are.”
A major point of emphasis for this spring was the offensive line. There was a lot of growth and developing depth that will help this team improve in its sophomore season in the Pac-12.
No. 8: Arizona Wildcats
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We all know that Rich Rodriguez can do big things with the right tools, but he loses Matt Scott heading into the new year. He was the driver of the offense last season, and without him calling the shots, you have to question how good this offense can be.
Ka’Deem Carey was a stud last year for the offense, but recent issues with the local court system (h/t Seattle Times) have made his presence on the team less and less visible. He has to get things in order or his time may be limited in the offense.
There was some progression at quarterback with JUCO transfer B.J. Denker which should continue this fall.
Entering year two, Rodriguez has more questions than answers in Tucson.
No. 7: Arizona State Sun Devils
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Todd Graham is in great position to make the Sun Devils a big winner in the Pac-12, but the jury is still out on whether this team can win the big games.
There are 14 returning starters for this squad, and it is loaded with defensive talent. One area of concern this spring was replacing all-everything safety Keelan Johnson. There was some movement in the ranks, but there is still a lot of development left for the summer.
This offense has been the workhorse for the team under Graham, and that will continue in the fall. This could either be a breakout year for the team or another mediocre showing that finishes short of expectations.
No. 6: Oregon State Beavers
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Oregon State jumped onto the national map last fall with a big home win over Wisconsin in Week 2. This year the expectations are running high for Mike Riley’s squad as they are outside shots for a Pac-12 title.
There is an obvious quarterback controversy that will follow the program into the spring with Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz fighting for time, but the combo effort is one of the best in the country.
This group is experienced on both sides of the ball, and it has the look of a surprise contender for 2013.
Riley has the offense ticking, and with a little improvement in key areas on defense over the summer, this team will be a nasty contender in the Pac-12.
No. 5: USC Trojans
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Let’s be honest: USC isn’t what it used to be.
Hiring Lane Kiffin was supposed to bring Pete Carroll-type results, and instead it has brought a little more scandal and bad press.
This may be the last year for Kiffin to prove that he can lead the Trojans team, but without a title run it may not be enough. This roster is hurting for bodies, and all spring the team battled through injuries that thinned out an already light lineup.
The key development was at quarterback with Cody Kessler. Yes, Kessler and not Max Wittek.
Kessler showed a lot of promise throughout the 15 practices, taking advantage of an injury to Wittek that sidelined him for a few practices. The race will continue into the fall.
USC has a lot of talent, but most of it is young and inexperienced. A lot of growth needs to happen this summer or another mediocre season will unfold.
No. 4: Washington Huskies
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Talent is everywhere in Seattle right now. Steve Sarkisian took a few plays out of the Pete Carroll recruiting handbook and is landing a lot of top talent for the Huskies.
His offense has become one of the best in the country, and with returning starter Keith Price back ready to shred defenses, this team has all the makings of title contender.
The defense has been a big part of the recent success for this program, and this fall it will help secure the Huskies big wins. Shaq Thompson leads a nasty and talented defensive group.
As 2013 approaches the eyes of the country will track to Washington as they begin to challenge inside the Pac-12 for legitimacy.
No. 3: UCLA Bruins
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Love him or hate him, he doesn’t care. Jim Mora Jr. is a no-nonsense type of coach, and that approach has turned UCLA back into a winner overnight.
No one claimed that Rick Neuheisel couldn’t recruit; he just couldn’t coach and win at UCLA.
Brett Hundley is a rising star in the conference, and after a solid first year leading the offense, is set to break records for the Bruins. There are a lot of questions at running back and at offensive line that have to be addressed, but overall spring was a success offensively.
The defense will be much improved with a host of returning talent and the development occurring this spring in the secondary.
This will be a strong season for the Bruins that could lead to a second Pac-12 South title.
No. 2: Oregon Ducks
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Oregon witnessed an unexpected change at head coach when Chip Kelly left for the NFL, but not much has changed with Mark Helfrich taking over the program.
This has been a spring that has produced more off-the-field news with the NCAA recruiting scandal than anything, but this team is still expected to be a leader in the conference next fall.
The Ducks will compete for the Pac-12 this fall, but making it past Stanford and Oregon State will be tough.
Spring produced depth on defense and helped polish up the game of starting quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota thrived a year ago, but he should be more technically sound this season than ever before.
Look for the Ducks to have little to no drop-off with the coaching change. This offense may even be faster.
No. 1: Stanford Cardinal
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Having a talented starting quarterback return is always a positive, but when he is surrounded by a league-leading backfield, a team should win championships.
Stanford is looking to do just that this fall with Kevin Hogan returning as the starter.
To the surprise of many, the Cardinal also received news that former star Tyler Gaffney is returning for a senior season after a short hiatus with pro baseball (h/t SI.com). He will battle for the starting tailback spot with Anthony Wilkerson.
This team has a stacked offense and returns a lot of proven starters on the defense. Look for the Cardinal to pull off a title this fall after the impressive spring that went down in Palo Alto.