The Pac-12 might be one of the toughest conferences to rate next season. You started out by making Oregon the top ranked team, and then you get to everyone else.
There are numerous teams that appear to have a chance to compete for the inaugural Pac-12 conference championship.
The league is full of superstars, making 2011 one of the most anticipated seasons to date.
With kickoff still months away, now is the time for fans to fantasize about the year that is to be. Will their team smell roses by the end of the year?
This is a breakdown of how the teams stack up against one another.
These are the preseason rankings of the Pac-12 conference.
It is difficult to move the Cougars out of this spot until they finally prove they can win games.
The Cougars were actually competitive for most of their 2010 games but only managed to win two games. Their offense had the ability to score points on occasion, but their defense repeatedly got smoked.
They are returning 17 total starters, including quarterback Jeff Tuel and should improve from last season. Dare I say, the Cougars might be able to win multiple conference games?
I would bet Washington State doesn’t finish the season in last place, but they definitely deserve to start there.
Rick Neuheisel has been one of the best recruiters in the conference since arriving at UCLA, but he has done absolutely nothing with the talent.
The Bruins are losing their two best defensive players from a season ago, safety Rahim Moore and linebacker Akeem Ayers, but they are returning running back Jonathon Franklin.
Despite Franklin being one of the best running backs in the conference last season, UCLA had the worse rated offense in the Pac-10. They averaged an embarrassing 155.8 passing yards per game in 2010.
If UCLA wants to have any success, they are going to need to learn how to pass the ball. There may be hope if incoming freshman Brett Hundley can snag the starting quarterback job, but I wouldn’t count on it.
It is hard to judge Cal for the 2011 season. Last season, they were the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde team. At home, they could hang with any team in the conference, while they struggled to beat Washington State on the road.
They will need to replace their strongest offensive weapon, running back Shane Vereen and are only returning five defensive starters.
Naming a quarterback for the Bears might be one of the hardest decisions coach Jeff Tedford has ever had to make. There are three options, all more sub-par than the last.
Colorado have been projected by many Pac 12 fans as one of the consistent cellar-dwellers of the new conference. However, I think that the Buffaloes are being overlooked in 2011.
They might not compete for a conference title, but they could very well be a bowl team. This is one of Colorado’s strongest teams in years.
They are returning nine starters on offense and seven starters on defense from the 2010 squad.
Among the best returning is running back Rodney “Speedy” Stewart. He is one of the lesser-known stars of the league.
Stewart and the experienced Buffaloes could upset some teams in 2011.
The Wildcats have one of the best quarterback-receiver tandems in college football with Nick Foles and Juron Criner—but not much else.
They are losing their entire starting offensive line from a season ago and lose their two best defensive players, defensive ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore. To top it all off, Arizona is riding a five-game losing streak.
The Wildcats season is very dependent on how they perform early in the season. They play Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon and USC in consecutive weeks, all teams they lost to in 2010.
Unless Mike Stoops’s squad can pull off an upset or two during this stretch, I see his team falling apart early.
Arizona will be a team fighting for bowl eligibility at best.
They Beavers are losing the electrifying running back Jaquizz Rodgers and dominant defensive tackle Stephen Paea, but they might surprise teams in 2011.
Oregon State will probably change their identity in 2011 and become a pass heavy team. Quarterback Ryan Katz showed some promise in 2010, and returns his top three receivers, including sixth-year senior James Rodgers.
Head coach Mike Riley has a great reputation of winning with inferior talent. This is a team that, despite losing a lot of defensive lineman, should still be strong defensively.
Never sleep on a Mike Riley team. The Beavers will finish around the seven-win mark.
Utah is about to learn what playing with the big boys is all about. The Utes may be coming into the Pac-12 with plenty of confidence, but it won't last.
They played three games last season against teams ranked in most early preseason polls—TCU, Notre Dame and Boise State. The Utes lost these games a combined 101-13. They do not have the talent to hang with elite teams.
Utah is returning seven starters on offense and just five starters on defense for 2011. They are absolutely depleted at the running back position and are just as questionable in the defensive back field.
However, all is bad in Salt Lake City. Quarterback Jordan Wynn has returned from injury, and they are lucky enough to dodge Oregon on their schedule this year.
Utah will be a middle of the road team in their first year of the Pac-12, but they are nowhere near ready to compete for a title.
I am slowly becoming more and more a believer of Washington. I used to think, without Jake Locker, the Huskies were nothing. However, Locker was not even Washington’s most valuable player in 2011, running back Chris Polk was.
The Huskies are returning eight starters on both sides of ball, including Polk, from a team that won the Holiday Bowl in 2010. They return their entire starting defensive line and all but one starter on their offensive line.
Their defense showed improvement late in the 2010 season. The Huskies will be depending greatly on this carrying over to next year.
If the Huskies can find an answer at quarterback, they will be one of the strongest teams in the north division.
There is a lot to be excited about in Tempe. The Sun Devils are returning 18 starters from a team that in 2011, nearly beat some of the best teams in the country.
They are a ruthless defensive team led by the best inside linebacker in the country, Vontaze Burfict. He represents everything the Sun Devils are, emotional, reckless and fast.
Arizona State appears to have finally found a quarterback in Brock Osweiler, who in threw for 647 yards and five touchdowns in the last two games of 2010.
With USC banned from postseason play, a Pac-12 south championship seems in reach for the Devils. If they can learn to close games and keep stupid penalties to a minimum, they are a nightmare matchup for any team in the country.
Head coach Dennis Erickson’s job rides on this season. He needs a breakthrough season if he wants to keep his job.
USC really has nothing to play for in 2011 except for pride. They have the most talent in the Pac-12, now they just need to take advantage of it.
The Trojans return seven starters from both sides of the ball, including quarterback Matt Barkley.
Barkley is one of the best passers in the conference and is surrounded by numerous weapons. Reciever/returner Robert Woods is one of the most electrifying players in the country, and USC returns a two-headed monster at running back in Marc Tyler and Dillon Baxter.
However, offense was not the problem with the underachieving Trojans in 2010. Instead, they struggled when it came to defending the pass. All-Pac 10 safety T.J. McDonald is back, but there are still questions surrounding the cornerback position.
Nickell Robey or someone else will need to emerge as a shutdown cornerback. The Trojans whole season might hinder on how well this position plays.
The Stanford Cardinal have as many question marks as any team in the conference, but they have one thing that sets them apart.
Andrew Luck is their starting quarterback
Luck is the best player in the conference and is good enough to make up for many of his team’s short comings.
The Cardinal will be dealing with the loss of their head coach, Jim Harbaugh, and the loss of 11 starters from a season ago, including three offensive linemen. This could be too much to overcome.
Their offense should be strong behind Luck and running back Stepfan Taylor, but their defense will be shaky. The losses of linebackers Owen Marecic and Thomas Keiser will be hard to recover from.
Don’t expect the same Stanford team you saw in 2010. If they want to have as much success as they did last year, their offense will need to carry the load.
Oregon is clearly the best team in this conference. They are easily one of the top five teams in the nation and should compete for a BCS title.
Quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James are returning to lead the most potent offense in college football. They should continue to dominate teams on this side of the ball. However, Oregon’s defense raises more question marks.
They will only return two players from last year’s starting front seven, but their defensive backfield is a different story. They are returning cornerback Cliff Harris and safety John Boyett, making them one of the strongest group of defensive backs in the nation.
The Oregon coaching staff has a strong reputation of replace graduating talented smoothly and painlessly, I don’t expect this season to be any different.
The Ducks should take the inaugural Pac-12 crown in 2011.