There is a lot of change in the Pac-12 this year, with the additions of Utah and Colorado and a conference championship game for the first time in the history of the league. Out the window is a round robin format where every league team faces one another and now each team will miss two other schools from the other division of which they are not in (North or South). It's a new era for the old Pac-10 and 2011 will certainly be one of the more exciting years in the conference's storied history.
Key Questions Pac-12 fans should be asking
Does the conference have a legitimate national championship contender in Oregon or Stanford? All eyes will be on Dallas, Texas, come Saturday night, September 3 when the Ducks battle LSU. Win that one and one would have to believe their train arrives in Palo Alto undefeated for a historic match-up with Luck's Cardinals. For Stanford, can they keep the edge even though Coach Jim Harbaugh is up the road coaching the 49ers? Stanford is loaded with NFL ready talent.
Is Arizona State for real? They have garnered quite a bit of preseason love from the national media and are picked to win the South, but has this movie already played before? In 2008, the Sun Devils were picked second in the preseason media poll, but stumbled to a 5-7 record. Sure, different year with different personnel but the question has to be asked about the team from Tempe.
Where does Utah fit into the conference picture? Two BCS Bowl appearances and the thorough beat down of the teams they played? Check. Quarterback returning? Check. Seasoned coaching staff? Check. Rabid fan base and home field advantage? Check. Listen, 2011 will be a feel-out year for the Utes and the rest of the conference. The schedule early on is tough, but they do miss Oregon and Stanford. Do they have the depth to sustain a 12 game, more violent schedule than that of the past in the Mountain West?
How will the middle of the conference shake out? Will Cal play better as an underdog rather than a popular first division pick as in years past? The post Jake Locker era starts in 2011 in Seattle and running back Chris Polk and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse lead the way as the Dogs are trending up. How about Oregon State’s 2010 hiccup? There is a lack of star power in Corvalis, but doesn’t Mike Reilly like flying under the radar? Can Arizona find an offensive line to help out Nick Foles? Because the skill players are certainly stockpiled in Tucson. Can Washington State make a run at a lower tier bowl game? Nah, that’s crazy talk.
In the next few slides, I'll help you make your holiday travel plans and tell you who's headed where in the postseason.