College Football: 2013 Pac-12 Conference Football Predictions
There is a lot of momentum heading into the 2013 season for the Pac-12 Conference. Oregon and Stanford are the heavy weights contending for not only the Pac-12 title, but for a spot in the BCS National Championship.
Will Oregon State make some noise in the Pac-12 North Division?
Things could get crazy down in the Pac-12 South Division. USC will be seeking revenge after a disappointing 2012 season and UCLA, as well as Arizona State, will try to prove that they are indeed Pac-12 title contenders.
Will the Pac-12 be one of the best conferences with all of the talent and depth it has this season?
Here are how things will shape up in the Pac-12 this year:
Pac-12 North: Oregon Ducks
Oregon sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota.
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Prediction: 12-1, 8-1 (1st in Pac-12 North)
With offensive guru Chip Kelly leaving for the NFL, don’t think Oregon is going to slow down anytime soon. Former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is in command of one of the most dangerous teams in the country. The offense still has most of its weapons, and the defense has talent as well. The question remains: Can the Ducks can knock off Stanford this year?
The high-octane Oregon offense was, as usual, one of the best in the country. The Ducks racked up an astounding 49.5 points per game, as well as 537.4 yards per game. With Helfrich moving to the head coaching position, receivers coach Scott Frost was promoted to offensive coordinator.
Heading into last season, there were questions surrounding the quarterback position.
Current sophomore Marcus Mariota though, made it very clear in his first start against Arkansas State that he was going to be one of the best to ever run Oregon’s spread offense. The cool and collected Hawaiian passed for 2,677 yards, rushed for 752 yards and scored 37 total touchdowns.
The backfield will miss Oregon’s second all-time rushing leader Kenyon Barner, but will be talented and have depth with the always dangerous De’Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall and highly touted incoming freshman Thomas Tyner, who suffered an injury and was carted off during practice last Tuesday. He was seen wearing a boot and on crutches. It's unknown how this injury will affect Tyner.
Expect Mariota to pass the ball more often this year with a talented receiving corps consisting of receivers Josh Huff and Bralon Addison, as well as physical tight end Colt Lyerla. The offensive line basically stays intact with center Hroniss Grasu, left tackle Tyler Johnstone and right tackle Jake Fisher.
The Oregon defense gave up 21.6 points per game last season, which was the 25th best in the country. The defense lost hybrid defensive end Dion Jordan, and linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso to the NFL, but there is still a lot of potential for the defense this season. The defensive line returns end Taylor Hart and nose guard Wade Keliikipi.
The secondary will be the strongest unit on the defense with everyone returning from last season. The secondary will consist of potential All-American candidate cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who had 16 pass break-ups and four interceptions last season, and strong safety Brian Jackson, who had 69 tackles and two interceptions last season.
Oregon should handle its opponents rather easily until October 26 when they host UCLA. The most critical game of the season will be a Thursday night game on Nov. 7 at Stanford. The Cardinal ruined the Ducks' title hopes last year and will be hoping to do so again this year.
The game at Arizona (Nov. 23) could be tougher than most people might think, but other than that, the Ducks should be good for their fourth Pac-12 title in five years and their fifth straight BCS bowl game.
Pac-12 North: Stanford Cardinal
Stanford senior linebacker Trent Murphy.
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Prediction: 10-2, 7-2 (2nd in Pac-12 North)
Just when everyone overlooked Stanford after they lost quarterback Andrew Luck, the Cardinal surprised everyone by winning the Pac-12 title and playing in their first Rose Bowl since 2000. Also, expect David Shaw’s group to be neck and neck with Oregon again this year.
The Stanford offense will be led by sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan, who went 5-0 as a starter in Stanford’s last five games of the season. Hogan knocked off four Top 25 teams and helped lead the Cardinal to a Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl win. Expect Hogan to continue to be a solid mobile quarterback with his pocket presence being much better this season.
The backfield will miss Stanford’s all-time rushing leader Stepfan Taylor, but will have Tyler Gaffney back after he took last year off to play professional baseball, as well as Anthony Wilkerson, Barry Sanders and returning fullback Ryan Hewitt.
Whoever gets the ball in the backfield will be in good shape with a physical and experienced offensive line consisting of All-American David Yankey, who will move from tackle back to left guard, and right guard Kevin Danser.
The question on offense will be at the tight end and receiver positions. All-American tight end Zach Ertz and tight end Levine Toilolo left early for the NFL, and now it's likely the receiving game will rely heavily on wide receiver Ty Montgomery.
The defense is the heart and soul of this Stanford team. The Cardinal only surrendered 17.2 points per game, and they gave up just 97.0 rushing yards per game last season, which was the fifth best in the country.
Stanford returns potentially the best linebacking unit in the nation. Inside linebackers Shayne Skov and AJ Tarpley are back after combining for 147 tackles last season. Outside linebacker Trent Murphy also returns after recording 10 sacks last season.
Not only is the linebacking corps loaded with talent, but the defensive line and secondary are as well. The line returns second-team All-Pac-12 defensive end Ben Gardner, and the secondary has one of the best safety tandems in the country with Jordan Richards and Ed Reynolds.
Stanford’s first test of the season will be at home against Arizona State on Sept. 21. October could be potentially dangerous with home games against Washington and UCLA, as well as an away game at Oregon State.
Once again, a home game against Oregon on Nov. 7 will likely decide the Pac-12 North Division Champion.
Don’t think that’s the end of Stanford’s difficult road to a BCS bowl game though, they travel to USC the following week and host Notre Dame on Nov. 30.
The Cardinal will have to rely on an at-large BCS bowl bid if they want to make their fourth-consecutive BCS bowl game.
Pac-12 North: Oregon State Beavers
Oregon State junior wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
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Oregon State Beavers
Prediction: 9-3, 6-3 (3rd in Pac-12 North)
Not much was expected of Mike Riley and company last season after going 3-9 in 2011, but the Beavers surprised everyone by starting off 6-0 and finishing with a 9-4 record. It’s likely they won’t win the Pac-12 North with Oregon and Stanford leading the way, but expect another solid campaign from Oregon State this season.
One thing is for sure, the Beaver offense will have depth at the quarterback position. Sean Mannion started the season 4-0, but suffered a knee injury, which gave Cody Vaz the chance to start last season. The starting quarterback competition will be tight and whether it’s Mannion or Vaz that gets the nod, the Beavers will be in good shape.
Either quarterback will have solid targets in the receiving game again this season.
Junior Brandin Cooks makes big plays and accounted for 1,151 receiving yards and five touchdowns last season. Tight end Connor Hamlett will also contribute in the receiving game. The backfield returns Storm Woods, who battled through a bruised knee last season and still managed to rush for nearly 1,000 yards and score 13 touchdowns. Four starters return to an experienced offensive line that will be led by sophomore center Isaac Seumalo.
Seven starters return to a tough Oregon State defense that held opponents to just 20.6 points per game last season. The line returns all Pac-12 defensive end Scott Crichton, as well as Dylan Wynn. The linebacking corps returns both of its hard-hitting outside linebackers Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander, who is expected to miss the first part of the 2013 season with a knee injury.
The Beaver secondary will miss All-American cornerback Jordan Poyer, who had seven interceptions last season, but return the three other starters from last season including potential All-Pac-12 cornerback Rashaad Reynolds.
Oregon State could easily start the season 7-0 with a favorable schedule, but the last five games of the campaign will be difficult.
The Beavers will have back-to-back home games against Stanford and USC,before traveling down to the desert to play Arizona State two weeks later. The final two games of the season will be against teams they lost to last season.
Oregon State will host Washington and then travel to Autzen Stadium for the Civil War against Oregon. The Beavers have not defeated the Ducks since 2007. Expect this year to be very much like last year for Mike Riley’s squad.
Pac-12 North: Washington Huskies
Washington senior quarterback Keith Price.
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Prediction: 8-4, 5-4 (4th in Pac-12 North)
Washington is a prime example of what mediocre looks like as the Huskies have finished the last three seasons with a 7-6 record. There is excitement this season though, with a newly renovated Husky Stadium and an offense that has a lot of potential to be successful.
All eyes are on senior quarterback Keith Price after taking a step back last season. Price had a breakout season in 2011, as he threw for a school-record 33 touchdowns. He threw for just 19 touchdowns last season, and struggled in the pocket due to an inefficient offensive line.
Things could change this season for Price though, with new quarterback coach Marques Tuiasosopo, who was a former Washington quarterback, and a new no-huddle, up-tempo offensive scheme.
The receiving game could be potentially dangerous with wide receiver Kasen Williams, who as reported by Seattle Times' Adam Jude, was pulled over and charged with a misdemeanor at the end of May, as well as the best tight end in college football Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
It is unknown if Seferian-Jenkins will miss any playing time for his DUI back in March and for his pinkie, which he fractured in training camp last week. The receiving game also adds freshman wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow, who is quick and a big target at 6’2".
The backfield will continue to improve with junior Bishop Sankey back. Last season, Sankey rushed for 1,439 yards, had 249 receiving yards and scored 16 touchdowns. The offensive line dealt with inconsistency and injuries last season. With four returning starters back, expect better protection for Price this season.
The Huskies were not bad defensively last season under new coordinator Justin Wilcox, as teams only put 24.2 points per game and 197.3 passing yards per game (2nd in Pac-12). The linebacking corps will be the best part of the Husky defense this season. Travis Feeney, John Timu and potential All-American Shaq Thompson all return.
The secondary must replace NFL first round draft pick cornerback Desmond Trufant and free safety Justin Glenn from last season, but will have strong safety Sean Parker and cornerback Marcus Peters back. The defensive line has experience, but will continue to be the weakest unit on the defensive side.
One of the most intriguing opening weekend games of the college football season will be when the Huskies host mid-major powerhouse Boise State in their first game back at Husky Stadium. Expect a very close contest between the two teams.
Washington will have their most difficult part of the schedule in October when they play at Stanford (Oct. 5), home against Oregon (Oct. 12) and at Arizona State (Oct. 19). Games at UCLA and at Oregon State in November will be key to playing in a better bowl game, as well as hitting eight wins, something head coach Steve Sarkisian has yet to do at Washington.
Pac-12 North: Washington State Cougars
Washington State junior quarterback Connor Halliday.
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Washington State Cougars
Prediction: 4-8, 2-7 (Tied-5th in Pac-12 North)
There was excitement in Pullman after the hiring of Mike Leach and the Air Raid offense that he would be bringing in.
Unfortunately, after a 30-6 loss in their opening game at BYU, everything fell apart and Washington State fans were in for another disappointing year. The Cougs finished 3-9, with their one big win being an overtime Apple Cup victory over rival Washington.
Problems last season included inconsistency at the quarterback position, a terrible offensive line and allegations by star wide receiver Marquess Wilson in November that Leach and his staff were abusive. With year one of the Leach era over, expect an improved Washington State squad in year two.
After splitting time with Jeff Tuel last season, junior quarterback Connor Halliday should be the starter this season, but needs to improve on his decision making and accuracy. If Halliday would somehow not be the the go-to guy, the starting quarterback job would go to redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca.
The receiving corps will be solid with sophomores Dominique Williams, Gabe Marks and Brett Bartolone. JUCO wide receiver Vince Mayle may make an impact in the passing game this season as well. The offensive line was awful last season as it gave up 57 sacks and basically made the running game obsolete.
There has to be improvement up front and likely will be with the depth the Cougars have. The backfield will return sophomore running back Teondray Caldwell.
For a 3-9 record, the Cougar defense wasn’t even the worst in the Pac-12 Conference last season.
Nine starters will return to a defense that gave up 33.7 points per game. The secondary will have senior free safety Deone Bucannon back after recording 106 tackles last season and the linebacking unit will have three of its four starters back including sophomore middle linebacker Darryl Monroe. The defensive line will be led by 2012 Pac-12 honorable mention sophomore defensive tackle Xavier Cooper.
Washington State opens the season with road games at Auburn and USC. It's not the way a team that went 3-9 a year ago wants to open the season. On the bright side, their following two games will be at home against FCS opponent Southern Utah and Idaho.
The Cougars are going to have another tough year in the Pac-12 Conference, but expect Leach’s squad to win at least two conference games this season. Winning six games and going to a bowl game for the first time since 2003 likely won’t happen, but they could potentially hit five wins.
Pac-12 North: California Golden Bears
California junior running back Brendan Bigelow.
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California Golden Bears
Prediction: 3-9, 2-7 (Tied-5th in Pac-12 North)
The Cal program has fallen in recent years and missed out on the postseason in 2012. With the Bears not performing up to expectations, Cal’s most successful coach, Jeff Tedford, was eventually fired.
California will have a different look this season under new head coach Sonny Dykes, who coached the most explosive offense in the country last season at Louisiana Tech. No doubt, Dykes will install a fast-paced, no-huddle offense.
There will be growing pains in year one, but expect Cal to be much improved next season.
The biggest question on offense will be the quarterback situation where true freshman Jared Goff is reported to have won the starting job over redshirt freshman Zach Kline. CJ Anderson and Isi Sofele are gone, but Brendan Bigelow returns and will be a big contributor to the offense this season. Bigelow’s big highlight from last season was an impressive 81-yard touchdown run at Ohio State.
The Cal receiving corps will be talented, despite losing Keenan Allen, who was the team’s leading receiver from last season. Receivers Chris Harper, Richard Rodgers and Bryce Treggs return and will see a lot of action in a pass-heavy offense. Two starters return to an offensive line that must improve after a gut wrenching 2012 season.
Improvement is especially important with a new quarterback under center.
The Cal defense was one of the worst in the Pac-12 last season. New defensive coordinator Andy Buh will switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense in hope of finding success. The Bear defense will be led by middle linebacker Nick Forbes, who returns after being the team’s second leading tackler from last season. The linebacking unit will also consist of Penn State transfer Khairi Fortt, who sat out last season with a knee injury.
The defensive line includes senior defensive tackle Deandre Coleman and junior Mustafa Jalil, who will switch from defensive end to defensive tackle. The secondary will have the most questions after losing safety Josh Hill and cornerback Steve Williams. Free safety Michael Lowe is the lone starter returning from last season.
Cal is trying to make a comeback after an embarrassing 3-9 season, but don’t expect much improvement record wise. The Bears have tough non-conference games against Northwestern and Ohio State, as well as a challenging Pac-12 schedule.
Colorado should be one of their conference wins with Washington State potentially being the other. If Cal somehow manages four wins this season that would certainly be considered decent.
Pac-12 South: USC Trojans
USC junior wide receiver Marqise Lee.
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Prediction: 10-4, 6-3 (Tied-1st in Pac-12 South)
Finally off probation with a Heisman Trophy candidate in Matt Barkley, USC was the the No. 1 team in the country entering the 2012 season. Unfortunately, everything completely fell apart.
Lane Kiffin’s Trojans went 7-6 and failed to win their own division, the Pac-12 South. With Barkley gone and Lane Kiffin’s seat getting hot, there is a lot on the line in LA this year.
The biggest question mark on the offensive side is who will succeed Barkley?
Redshirt sophomore Max Wittek started the last two games of the 2012 season when Barkley was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Redshirt sophomore Cody Kessler will be the other challenger in the quarterback battle, while top ranked incoming quarterback recruit Max Browne is no longer a part of the race. Kessler had a successful spring, meaning Wittek and him will be neck and neck for the starting job.
Undoubtedly, whoever starts at quarterback will have the best receiver in the country to go to. Junior wide receiver Marqise Lee was one of the bright spots last season by finishing with 1,721 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. He also won the Biletnikoff Award and finished fourth in the Heisman voting. Lee will continue to be a dangerous threat this season.
The offense loses receiver Robert Woods, meaning sophomore Nelson Agholor, who had a solid freshman season, will be the No. 2 receiver. Tight ends Xavier Gamble and Randall Telfer will also be critical in the Trojan passing game.
The running game hasn’t been the biggest strength for the USC offense since Kiffin arrived.
Penn State transfer Silas Redd came in last season and rushed for 905 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. Redd should be the starting running back depending on if he is healthy enough after knee surgery in the spring. If not, it will likely be freshman Justin Davis. The offensive line returns four players from last season, but has to replace All-Pac-12 center Khaled Holmes.
After what the nation witnessed last season, it was time for Lane Kiffin’s father, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, to leave USC after a rough year defensively.
Giving up 62 points and 730 yards at home against Oregon last season basically sums up the defense from 2012. In comes former Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast though, who will install a 5-2 defense.
The linebacking corps is led by linebacker Hayes Pullard, who recorded 107 tackles last season. All three starting linebackers return from last season, but Dion Bailey will switch to safety because of the new defensive scheme.
The line should be talented with 2012 freshman defensive player of the year sophomore Leonard Williams and senior Morgan Breslin. Breslin had 13 sacks last season and will play the end/linebacker hybrid position. The secondary will be the weakest defensive unit on the Trojan defense, as Josh Shaw is the only starter that is returning from last year's secondary.
USC opens up at Hawaii and then has three straight home games. The Trojans should be 4-0 when they head to Tempe to face Arizona State on Sept. 28. This is a crucial South Division game that could come to haunt them at the end of the season if they are to lose.
USC will travel for a non-conference game against bitter rival Notre Dame on Oct. 19 and travel to Oregon State on Nov. 1, where they have not won since 2004.
The last two of three games will be critical in the Trojans advancing to the Pac-12 Championship game. They get both Stanford (Nov. 16) and UCLA (Nov. 30) at home. In truth, the game against UCLA will likely be the deciding game for the division.
If USC can get its quarterback situation figured out, expect Kiffin and company to surprise many this season.
Pac-12 South: UCLA Bruins
UCLA sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley.
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Prediction: 8-4, 6-3 (Tied-1st in Pac-12 South)
Head Coach Jim Mora did wonders in his first year. The Bruins had their best season since 2005, defeated cross-town rival USC for the first time since 2006 and made it back to the Pac-12 Championship game.
After starting the season 9-2, UCLA lost their last three games of the season. The Bruins will need to close out better this season though, with their last two games being against Pac-12 South Division contenders Arizona State and USC.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley had a breakout year and became a nuisance to defenses with his dual-threat ability. Hundley passed for 3,740 yards, scored 38 total touchdowns, and threw 11 interceptions last season.
The backfield will be without UCLA’s career rushing leader Johnathan Franklin, leaving the starting running back job up for grabs. The running back cast will consist of Jordon James, Damien Thigpen, who will likely return before mid-season; Steven Manfro, Hundley’s former high school teammate Paul Perkins and former Gatorade National Player of the Year Malcolm Jones, who returned to the program after originally leaving in 2012.
The passing game will return its top receiver Shaquelle Evans, who had 877 yards and three touchdowns last season. Sophomores Jordan Payton, Devin Fuller, Devin Lucien and senior tight end Darius Bell will help make up the rest of the receiving corps. The line returns four from last season, including 4th team All-American junior left guard Xavier Su’A-Filo.
The Bruin defensive front will be talented this season. The linebacking unit consisting of 2nd team All-American outside linebacker Anthony Barr (83 tackles, 13.5 sacks) and inside linebackers Eric Kendricks (150 tackles and two sacks) and Jordan Zumwalt (71 tackles and six tackles for loss) will be one of the elite in the Pac-12 Conference this season.
Up front, the defensive line will be strong with defensive end Cassius Marsh and defensive tackle Seali’i Epenesa. Also, watch out for sophomore tackle Ellis McCarthy to make some noise after returning from a knee injury.
The secondary is going to be young and unexperienced this year.
It doesn’t help that safety Tevin McDonald was dismissed from the team either. Most of the secondary will be made up of highly recruited incoming players, such as cornerback Priest Willis and safety Tahaan Goodman. Redshirt freshman cornerback Ishmael Adams returns from shoulder surgery, and junior cornerback Anthony Jefferson will finally get his chance after limited playing time due to a herniated disk from two years ago.
There are high expectations in Westwood after a surprisingly successful 2012 campaign.
A big game to get the Bruins 2013 season on the way will be at Nebraska on Sept. 14. The conference schedule will be challenging with back-to-back games at Pac-12 contenders Stanford and Oregon. The last four games of the season against Arizona, Washington, Arizona State and USC could go either way.
The game at USC could decide who goes to the Pac-12 Championship game from the South Division.
Pac-12 South: Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State junior quarterback Taylor Kelly.
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Prediction: 7-5, 5-4 (3rd in Pac-12 South)
There is a lot of talk surrounding Arizona State after exceeding expectations last season and winning eight games under first year head coach Todd Graham. Of course, we all know what tends to happ when there is excitement in Tempe; everything falls apart.
With talent on the offensive and defensive side this season, will the Sun Devils prove they are authentic title challengers and win the Pac-12 South Division?
Junior quarterback Taylor Kelly wasn’t even the favorite to start last year, but ended up winning the job.
Kelly was impressive last season as he passed for 3,039 yards, 29 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. Kelly has the ability to throw on the run and take off with the ball as well. He rushed for 516 yards and one touchdown last season.
The Sun Devil backfield will play a big role in the success of the offense. Senior Marion Grice (679 yards and 19 total touchdowns) and sophomore D.J. Foster (493 rushing yards and six total touchdowns) return and will be dangerous in not only the running game, but in the passing game as well.
The receiving game returns its leading reception leader tight end Chris Coyle, but the starting receivers have not proven much, meaning JUCO transfers Jaelen Strong and Joe Morris will need to be playmakers in the passing game. Up front, the Sun Devils return three starters from last year, including left tackle Evan Finkenberg.
Graham’s major focus is on the defense. Arizona State was the third best defense in the country against the pass last season by giving up just 167.9 yards per game. The defense will be led by one of the most dangerous players in college football, All-American defensive tackle Will Sutton, who passed on the NFL Draft after putting up 63 tackles and 13 sacks last season. Sutton will be joined by Davon Coleman and Jaxon Hood, but watch for former walk-on Gannon Conway to get playing time up front as well.
The linebacking unit loses Brandon Magee, Arizona State’s leading tackler from last season, but will have depth and talent up front with Chris Young, as well as Carl Bradford. The secondary loses two, but will return and be led by seniors Osahon Irabor and safety Alden Darby.
With a lot of hype going into the 2013 season, the nation will find out very quickly how talented this Sun Devil team is.
After an easy opening week game against Sacramento State, the schedule gets brutal with a home non-conference game against Wisconsin, a road trip to highly ranked Stanford, a home game against South Division contender USC and another non-conference game in Jerry World against Notre Dame.
Before the end of October, we will have a good indication of where this team is headed. The last three games of the season against Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona will be no easy feat either. With a difficult schedule, expect the Sun Devils to be just above .500.
Pac-12 South: Arizona Wildcats
Arizona junior running back Ka'Deem Carey.
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Prediction: 7-5, 4-5 (4th in Pac-12 South)
Year one of the RichRod era was a success, as the Wildcats went 8-5 and won their first bowl game since 2008. There will be a lot of interest this upcoming season, though, with the new $72 million facility in Arizona Stadium and question marks surrounding the quarterback position and defense.
No one is quite sure if the Cats will top what they did last season.
The Arizona offense was explosive last season, as they scored 38.2 points per game and 526.2 yards per game. With Matt Scott gone, you would think the quarterback situation would be settled with senior B.J. Denker having the best grasp on the up-tempo, read-option offense. But USC transfer Jesse Scroggins, Louisiana Tech transfer Nick Isham and true freshman Anu Solomon could give Denker a run for his money.
The Arizona backfield has a potential All-American in junior Ka'Deem Carey, who rushed for 1,929 yards and scored 24 touchdowns last season. Carey is talented and explosive, but he needs to make sure he stays out of trouble after two off-field incidents.
The receiving corps suffered a major loss in the spring when junior Austin Hill, who had 1,364 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last season, tore his ACL. Hill will likely miss a good portion of the upcoming season.
The best receiver back will now be sophomore David Richards. Richards will be joined by Garic Wharton, Terrence Miller and potentially Ken Griffey Jr’s son, Trey Griffey. Also expect Carey to come out of the backfield and be a threat through the air as well.
Depth will be the problem concerning the offensive line, even though guards Chris Putton and Cayman Bundage are back.
The defense returns every starter from last season, but is that necessarily a good thing?
The Wildcat defense was one of the worst in the nation last season as it gave up 35.3 points per game and ranked 118th in the nation by giving up 499.0 yards per game. The players were trying to adjust and learn Jeff Casteel’s 3-3-5 defensive system last season, but there has to be improvement this season.
The defense will be led by senior linebacker Jake Fischer, who led the team with 119 tackles last season. The linebacking unit also consists of senior Marquis Flowers (100 tackles, 5.5 sacks) and sophomore CJ Dozier. Nose guard Tevin Hood will lead a defensive line that surrendered 206.2 yards per game last season. The defensive front will be better this season because of the experience and depth it has.
The secondary will be the best part of the Arizona defense with everyone returning including potential All-Pac-12 junior safety Tra'Mayne Bondurant and former Arizona walk-on safety Jared Tevis, who became a leader in the secondary last season.
Luckily, Arizona can get its quarterback situation figured out with three easy non-conference games to start the season.
Sept. 28 they must travel to Washington, where they have not had much luck as of recent, as well as an away game at USC on Oct. 10. After playing USC, the Wildcats won’t really be challenged until they host UCLA on Nov. 9 and play against Oregon and in-state rival Arizona State. Fortunately, the schedule sets up nicely for the Cats this season, meaning a second consecutive bowl game is in reach.
Pac-12 South: Utah Utes
Utah senior linebacker Brian Blechen.
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Prediction: 5-7, 2-7 (5th in Pac-12 South)
Since entering the Pac-12 in 2011, the experience has been more challenging than Kyle Whittingham and his Utes' could have imagined.
Utah has gone a combined 7-11 in conference games and missed out on their first bowl game since 2002 last season. Being bowl eligible and improving offensively will be the main goals for Utah this season.
The Utes were supposed to be a South Division contender with a talented Jordan Wynn under center, but things went south quickly when he went down with a career ending injury. By mid-season, Utah had already gone through two quarterbacks and the offense was placed on the shoulders of now sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson. Wilson will lead the offense once again this year and should find more success under new offensive co-coordinator Dennis Erickson, who will run a spread offense.
Utah will try to bounce back after being the second worst offense in the conference last season. The running game will miss John White, who rushed for over 1,000 yards two years in a row. This leaves the job up to senior Kelvin York, who only rushed for 273 yards and three touchdowns last season.
Clearly, the receiving unit was weak and inconsistent last season, but the top two receivers and tight end Jake Murphy are back. Expect improvement in the passing game, as well as the offensive line. The Utes suffered through injuries and inconsistency last season, but there is hope up front with the shuffling of players and the return of tackle Jeremiah Poutasi and guard Jeremiah Tofaeono.
The Ute defense was at least something to cheer about last season. They ranked second in the conference in rushing yards per game (128.2) and fifth in the conference in total yards per game (363.4). The defensive line though, lost a lot of its talent. Star Lotulelei, who was arguably one of the best defensive linemen in Utah history is gone, and Joe Kruger left early for the NFL Draft. Defensive ends Nate Orchard, formally known as Nate Fakahafua, and Trevor Reilly, who led the team with 69 tackles last season, will return up front. Senior Brian Blechen will join the linebacking corps with his move from safety, and the secondary will only return free safety Eric Rowe from last season.
After what the nation witnessed last year, Utah's home opener against Utah State is considered a big game. They need momentum heading into the season and a win over Utah State would help from a bowl standpoint. The schedule is loaded with home games against Stanford and Arizona State, and away games at BYU, USC and Oregon. The Utes may only match their five game win total from last year, but look much better as a team.
Pac-12 South: Colorado Buffaloes
Colorado sophomore running back Christian Powell.
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Prediction: 3-9, 1-8 (6th in Pac-12 South)
One might consider last year as a nightmare for a Colorado program that has not been competitive since 2007. Former Colorado coaches Dan Hawkins and most recently fired head coach Jon Embree, who went a disastrous 4-21 in two seasons, couldn’t get the program back on track.
In comes Mike MacIntyre, who turned a San Jose program around in just three years. There is a lot of work to be done, but MacIntyre should be the right guy riding the ship in Boulder.
The offense ranked either 11th or 12th in every offensive category and hopefully installing the pistol offense will be beneficial. Junior Connor Wood will be the starter under center this season, unless true freshman Sefo Liufau beats him out. Wood, along with Nick Hirschman, who transferred from Colorado, received playing time when starter Jordan Webb tore his ACL at the end of last season.
The backfield returns all of its rushers from last year including its leading rusher Christian Powell, who had 691 yards and seven touchdowns last season. One of the most critical parts for the Colorado offense will be having junior wide receiver Paul Richardson back after sitting out the entire 2012 season because of knee surgery.The passing game will also include returning starters Nelson Spruce and Tyler McCulloch. The offensive line basically stays intact with four returning starters.
The Colorado defense last season was shredded apart in almost every game last season. The defense gave up 46.0 points per game (120th in the nation) and 488.5 yards per game (117th in the nation). It was a rough year defensively for the Buffs with a young and inexperienced group of players. Kent Baer will take over defensive coordinator duties and have team leading tackler senior Derrick Webb back in the linebacking corps. The defensive line will be improved this season with the depth it has, as well as returning starter defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe back. The secondary will be led by junior cornerback Greg Henderson, who had 47 tackles in 2012.
There isn’t much to say about the Buffs schedule this year. Their first two games against in-state rival Colorado State and Central Arkansas should put them at 2-0 for the first time since 2008. After the first two weeks, it could get ugly like last season. Their best chance to win a Pac-12 game will be at the end of the season when they play home against Cal (Nov. 19) and at Utah (Nov. 30). This will be a rebuilding year where the Buffs will just try to stay in ball games, even though they likely won’t win.
Pac-12 Championship: Oregon over USC
Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas (6), Josh Huff (1) and Keenan Lowe (7) celebrate after scoring a touchdown at USC in 2012.
Robert Laberge/Getty Images
The Trojans and Ducks will not meet in the regular-season schedule for the first time since 2004.
It’s only fitting that these two programs battle it out for the Pac-12 title this year after what occurred in 2012. These two teams were supposed to be locks for the Pac-12 Championship last season, but both teams failed to clinch their divisions.
There will be a lot of dangerous playmakers in this game, such as Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas and USC’s Marqise Lee. Defense could be optional once again between these two teams. Oregon and USC put up a combined total of 113 points last season at the LA Coliseum.
The Trojans will head into hostile Autzen Stadium where they knocked the Ducks off in 2011, but can they do it for a second straight time and clinch their first Rose Bowl bid since the 2008-09 season when Pete Carroll was still in charge?