Pac-12 Football: 10 Biggest Storylines for 2013
The Pac-12 is quickly becoming one of the better conferences in college football. There were eight teams last season that had a winning record, a plethora of coaches who earned their stripes and a bunch of players who stepped up in the time of need.
With the season underway, there are a lot of new storylines that should peak your interest, as it can be argued this conference will be the most competitive in the country.
New coaches, individual awards and a new style of play are just some of the reasons to watch Pac-12 football this season.
New Head Coaches
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There was once again a heavy dose of head coaching changes in the Pac-12, as three programs have a new coach. Crazy enough, 10 of the 12 teams have made a head coaching change since 2009.
The three new coaches this season are California's Sonny Dykes, Colorado's Mike MacIntyre and Oregon's Mark Helfrich. Both Cal and Colorado are expecting drastic improvements with their changes, while Oregon just wants Helfrich to keep the program in BCS contention.
It's always exciting to see the changes each coach implements and which style works best. Last year, the conference hit a homerun with the additions of Arizona State's Todd Graham, Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and UCLA's Jim L. Mora.
Can the latest batch of coaches have similar success in their first season?
Are There Any Heisman Candidates?
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The Pac-12 has plenty of dark-horse Heisman candidates, but there doesn't seem to be a clear front-runner heading into the season.
Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey led the country with 1,929 rushing yards, but his team finished with a subpar 8-5 record. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota seems to be the best bet, but he plays for Oregon, which makes him a system player in the eyes of many. The same goes for speedy running back De'Anthony Thomas.
How about UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr? He had 13 sacks and 21 tackles for loss in his first season playing defense.
Although there's clearly an abundance of talent in the Pac-12, it'll be fun to see if anybody emerges as a true Heisman candidate.
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Washington must find a way to turn the corner under head coach Steve Sarkisian, as the last three seasons have resulted in a 7-6 record. The fan base is getting a little antsy with the expectations climbing a bit higher than usual.
This could be the year Washington separates itself as an elite Pac-12 program.
The Huskies have terrific offensive weapons in quarterback Keith Price, running back Bishop Sankey and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The defense has also made respectable strides with linebacker John Timu, safety Sean Parker and defensive back Shaq Thompson. The struggling offensive line also returns four starters.
This is Washington's year to shine, unfortunately, that doesn't mean it will result in anything special.
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The Pac-12 has the deepest group of young quarterbacks than any other conference in the nation.
Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and whoever USC decides to roll with all have intriguing skill sets and have shown promise entering the season.
Mariota could compete for a Heisman this year after completing 68.5 percent of his passes and scoring 37 touchdowns. Hundley makes UCLA a dangerous team and is getting love from NFL draft scouts, while Hogan is the X-factor to Stanford's championship run.
The quarterback play is going to be off the charts this season out West. It's one of the main reasons the conference has a lot more parity than past years.
Year 2 Under Jim L. Mora
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Jim L. Mora knocked everybody out of their chair when he led UCLA to a 9-4 record in his first season. It was his first year as a college coach in his coaching career. He also quickly learned how the recruiting world works and put together an impressive 2013 class.
It's almost like he's a living Superman.
The first season was cute, but the second year will really tell us a lot about UCLA's young coach. Was it beginner's luck or does Mora really have what it takes to become one of the top coaches in the country? He certainly has a few elite pieces to help him out in quarterback Brett Hundley and linebacker Anthony Barr.
Watching the Bruins this season will be exciting.
Stanford and Its Continued Climb
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Stanford has a solid football tradition and many highlight moments. From the days of John Elway to what Andrew Luck accomplished, Stanford football is becoming bigger than ever and the expectations have risen to new heights.
When was the last time the Cardinal were national championship contenders?
They are this season, opening up the year ranked fourth in the AP Poll. Stanford has an incredible head coach in David Shaw and a ferocious defense that imposes its will on Saturdays. If quarterback Kevin Hogan can help balance out the offense, a second straight Pac-12 title isn't out of reach.
There's added pressure when expectations continue to climb. Stanford is in uncharted territory, and how it responds will be worth watching.
Oregon State's Encore
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Another season, another year everybody overlooks Oregon State. The last couple of years gave you good reason, but the Beavers are coming off an impressive 9-4 record and return 15 starters.
Quarterback is set with two experienced players in Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz. There's underrated playmakers such as running back Storm Woods, and the defense that finished third in the conference returns seven starters.
The Beavers schedule is also reasonable until the end of October when the conference matchups heat up.
Oregon State could once again surprise college football fans with a successful encore or they could get a dose of reality and struggle to qualify for a bowl game.
USC, USC, USC
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How is USC going to respond after last year's debacle? What are the expectations this season after such disappointment? Is it time to make a coaching change?
Like it or not, USC is going to steal a ton of headlines this season.
Everybody is going to keep a close eye on Lane Kiffin and the retooled roster that will take the field. The expectations aren't nearly as high as they once were, but another 7-6 season would be inexcusable. There's enough talent to compete for a conference title, but the lack of consistency within the coaching staff raises questions.
Good or bad, USC will remain an intriguing storyline like always.
Is the Tide Shifting?
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The Pac-12 has built a reputation of being an offensive conference that plays little defense. Last season, there were six teams that averaged more than 400 yards and 30-plus points per game. But two legitimate teams capable of winning the conference, Stanford and Arizona State, both play remarkable defense.
Stanford has great linebackers and rushes the passer with a physical defensive front. It had the best defense in the Pac-12 (336 yards) and held Oregon to only 14 points. Arizona State finished second in the Pac-12 in total defense (350 yards) and sacked the quarterback 51 times. A combination of linebacker Carl Bradford and defensive lineman Will Sutton is scary.
While Oregon seems to set the bar offensively, the conference could be experiencing a culture change. If Stanford and Arizona State live up to expectations, it may be time for other teams to take a look in the mirror and consider switching things up a little.
Will Oregon Really Be OK Without Chip Kelly?
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Chip Kelly was absolutely brilliant in his four years at Oregon, leading the program to four consecutive BCS bowls and winning 86 percent of his games. After Kelly took the head coaching job of the Philadelphia Eagles, former Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is the new head coach.
Will the team change any?
According to Helfrich, he doesn't plan on changing anything, as he mentioned on the Dan Patrick Show:
"It would be kind of foolish to change too much," Helfrich said. "I don't sit here and say how can I do this differently."
The offensive scheme expects to remain the same and the Ducks should continue to fly at breakneck speed. Still, it's going to be interesting to see how one of the more consistent programs of the last five years responds to the coaching change.