Andrew Luck's departure to the NFL after the 2011 season had many wondering if the balance of power would shift away from Stanford in the Pac-12. It didn't. Now, that question is appropriate again in 2013 as it pertains to Chip Kelly's departure from Oregon. Can Mark Helfrich keep the Ducks on top of the Pac-12 for the foreseeable future?
Just like in recent seasons, Stanford and Oregon are expected to be the class of the Pac-12. Unfortunately for both schools, they play in the North division of the conference and cannot meet in the conference's title game.
A pair of second-year coaches in the South division, UCLA's Jim Mora and Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, each appear to have their respective schools headed in the right direction.
With the first Pac-12 game of the season just 79 days away, here is a look at how each team will fare in their first game.
The Pac-12 season gets underway on a Thursday night as the USC Trojans head to paradise to play the Hawaii Warriors.
Before you think this will be a shootout, remember, these aren't June Jones' Warriors we're talking about. Head coach Norm Chow, one of the most innovative offensive minds in the history of college football and a former offensive coordinator at USC, enters his second season in charge at Hawaii. Things were rough in year one as the Warriors finished 3-9.
USC has their own personnel losses to deal with as well. Four-year starter Matt Barkley is gone at quarterback. However, a potential Heisman Trophy winner, wide receiver Marqise Lee, is back. Lee can change a game by himself.
While the Warriors will be improved from last year when they lost to USC 49-10, they have little chance of pulling the upset.
USC 38, Hawaii 20
Kyle Whittingham finished 2012 with his first losing record in seven years as head coach of Utah. The Utes went 5-7 and were inept offensively.
Enter veteran coach Dennis Erickson. Erickson will be co-offensive coordinator along with Brian Johnson, and Whittingham's hope is Erickson's up-tempo style will be a better fit with the Utes' personnel.
Their cross-state rival, Utah State, will present quite the test for the Utes. The Aggies won last year's matchup and completed 2012 with a record of 11-2, arguably the best season in school history.
The Aggies return 15 starters, including clutch quarterback Chuckie Keeton. The Utes, meanwhile, replace a bevy of starters on defense, and those changes will be too much in the first game to defeat a good Utah State squad.
This may be the most compelling matchup in Week 1.
Utah State 23, Utah 17
Rich Rodriguez's first season at the helm of Arizona was a successful one. He led the Wildcats to a record of 8-5 and a bowl win.
All-American running back Ka'Deem Carey returns to the backfield. Carey rushed for 1,929 yards and 23 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2012 and is the perfect back for Rodriguez's spread attack. Who will replace the departed Matt Scott is another matter entirely for the Wildcats, but it shouldn't be too much of an issue against the Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona.
In their only test against a Pac-12 foe in 2012, the Lumberjacks were manhandled by Arizona State, 63-6.
Expect Carey to run wild in this one, and Rodriguez will get plenty of time to sort out who will play quarterback.
Arizona 52, Northern Arizona 13
Mark Helfrich's first game as head coach of Oregon should be a fun one. The Ducks face the Colonels of Nicholls State, a team that finished 1-10 last season.
The Ducks return eight starters on offense, including quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De'Anthony Thomas. Oregon, as usual, will score a lot of points. It is the defensive side of the ball where the Ducks will be much improved in 2013.
This will be the conference's biggest blowout in Week 1, as the game will be out of hand midway through the first quarter.
Oregon 63, Nicholls State 10
Another interesting nonconference matchup in the season's first week. UCLA, last season's winner of the conference's South division, looks to build off of a strong debut by head coach Jim Mora.
They will face a Nevada team led by first-year head coach Brian Polian. Polian replaces Nevada legend, Chris Ault, the creator of the pistol offense. The pistol will still be a Nevada staple in 2013 with second-team Mountain West quarterback Cody Fajardo under center.
The Bruins return several starters on both sides of the ball. Sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley looks the part of a future star and gives the Bruins stability at the quarterback position for the first time in more than a decade.
Senior linebacker Anthony Barr, a relentless pass-rusher, will be too much for Fajardo and the Wolf Pack. Nevada will keep it close, but the Bruins have more talent across the board, and that will be the difference in this one.
UCLA 27, Nevada 17
While playing Boise State in the season-opener may be a tall task, Washington appears primed for an upset.
The Broncos travel to Husky Stadium to face a talented, experienced Washington squad. Fourth-year head coach Steve Sarkisian finally has a solid roster with a good veteran quarterback in Keith Price.
The Broncos have emerged as one of the better programs in the country and always start the season strong. With wins over national powers Virginia Tech and Georgia in recent season-openers, the Huskies will have their hands full.
This game will come down to which quarterback plays best. Senior Joe Southwick finished 2012 strong for the Broncos, and Price looks to rebound from a disappointing 2012 season. If Price resembles the record-breaking 2011 version of himself, the Huskies will start the season with a signature win. If not, Boise State will pick up another impressive win to begin the season.
Washington 28, Boise State 27
Longtime Oregon State head coach Mike Riley has built a strong program in Corvallis. Riley will be entering his 13th year as coach of the Beavers and could field one of his better squads. The Beavers return 17 starters, including several key players from an excellent offense in 2012.
The Beavers will face one of the better FCS programs in the country, Eastern Washington. The Eagles finished last season at 11-3 and are just three years removed from being FCS national champions.
Senior Cody Vaz and junior Sean Mannion will compete for the starting quarterback spot. Whoever wins the competition will throw to the best wide receiver in the Pac-12 not named Marqise Lee, Brandin Cooks. Cooks is a tremendous big-play receiver and forms a lethal combination with Vaz.
Despite a strong performance by the Eagles, the Corvallis crowd will provide the boost the Beavers need in a close, hard-fought contest.
Oregon State 31, Eastern Washington 23
First-year head coach Sonny Dykes comes to Berkeley amid great expectations. Dykes presided over one of the top passing attacks in all of college football at Louisiana Tech and will bring that style of play with him to Cal.
He will have to rely on a combination of three quarterbacks who have never attempted a pass in a college football game. Zach Kline, a redshirt freshman, expects to get the first shot. Whoever plays quarterback will have a tremendous tailback in junior Brendan Bigelow to give the ball to.
The Golden Bears will have their hands full with Northwestern. Eighth-year coach Pat Fitzgerald has turned his alma mater into a contender after years of being the league's laughingstock. The Wildcats are led by the exciting Venric Mark at running back. An outstanding running back, Mack is also a terrific return man.
The Wildcats have started the season slowly on defense in the past two years. If they do so in 2013, even with an inexperienced quarterback, Dykes will exploit them.
Dykes and Co. will put up a fight in an impressive debut, but Fitzgerald sees this as a great opportunity for the Wildcats to gain a victory over a nonconference BCS foe.
Northwestern 23, California 20
Mike Leach enters his second season at Washington State in much better shape than his first season, when the Cougars finished 3-9. The Cougars have a wealth of experience with nine starters returning on defense and one of the more talented receiving units in the Pac-12.
The Cougars will have a battle at the quarterback position with junior Connor Halliday and Austin Apodaca. Whoever starts Week 1 will have a tough task on their hands. The Cougars travel to Auburn to face a talented Tigers squad that finished 3-9 in 2012. The Tigers have a new coach in Gus Malzahn, and the Auburn faithful couldn't be any happier.
Jordan-Hare Stadium is one of the toughest places to play in the country. Leach will have the Cougars ready to play, but it won't be enough.
Auburn 20, Washington State 13
The Buffaloes were one of the worst teams in all of college football last season. It cost former coach Jon Embree his job after only two seasons.
New coach Mike MacIntyre comes to Boulder after three years at San Jose State, where he turned around a moribund program in his short time there. Unfortunately for MacIntyre, he inherits a roster that went just 1-11 in 2012.
The Buffaloes open the season in Denver against in-state rival Colorado State. The Rams weren't much better in 2012 with a record of 4-8. The Rams won last year's matchup, 22-17. Expect a game much like last season.
Colorado State 24, Colorado 17
This is technically not a Week 1 matchup, but it's the Sun Devils' first game so it will be included in the predictions.
Before you write this game off as an easy win for the Sun Devils, think again. The Hornets have defeated Oregon State and Colorado each in the past two seasons. Can they get an upset win over a Pac-12 team three years in a row?
Don't count on it. This Arizona State team is much better than the previous Pac-12 teams the Hornets upset. The Sun Devils return a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, led by All-American defensive tackle Will Sutton.
Arizona State 41, Sacramento State 10
Much like the previous prediction, this isn't a Week 1 game; however, it is the first game of the season for the Pac-12's top team, Stanford.
Stanford is a team that could compete for a national title in 2013. While the season-opener may look easy on paper, it will be much tougher than expected.
The Cardinal are facing a San Jose State team that finished 11-2 in 2012. The success cost them their head coach. But, they do return senior quarterback, David Fales, a potential future NFL first-round pick. Fales led the Spartans to a No. 6 ranking in passing offense last season. They will present a tough matchup for Stanford.
While the Spartans will give Stanford a run for their money, the Cardinal are just too good on both sides of the ball.
Stanford 27, San Jose State 14