Pac-12 Football: Team by Team Grades and Looking Ahead to Second Half of Year
We are just about midway through the football season, as the calendar flips over into the third full week of October. The leaves on trees are really starting to explode into full color, and we are only a few weeks away from November 6 daylight savings.
That means we have a pretty good idea what teams are made up of and who’s in contention to land in the league championship game. With that said, let’s take a look at the newly-formed Pac-12 2011 football season.
What teams have surprised and who’s going to play in the inaugural league championship game?
What teams have underachieved?
What can fans around the west coast be thrilled and grouchy about in regards to their beloved teams?
Let’s take a look at every team in the conference and predict where they’ll end up come early December.
ARIZONA: Grade: D
A 41-10 win over Northern Arizona to open the year injected some skeptical enthusiasm that the Wildcats may be OK even with so much turnover in some key areas. Would the offensive line be OK? Could Nick Foleslead this team back to a bowl?
Things got really ugly, quite quickly. The schedule proved too much to overcome (see a murderers row of Oklahoma State in Stillwater, home against top 10 Stanford and Oregon and then a road date at USC). After an unpleasant win at Oregon State, administrators in Tucson felt it was time to end the Mike Stoops era.
The team was having trouble scoring and couldn’t stop anyone (117th in points against defense at 37.5 a game) and never established a pulse of a rushing attack to alleviate the passing attack (119th with 71 yards a game). Overall, many in Tucson grew tired of Coach Stoops animated antics and felt a change was needed midseason.
Stoops was 41-50 in his eight seasons with the Wildcats but 23-16 in the three years before this season. Stoops failed to deliver the program’s first ever Rose Bowl berth.
What Wildcat fans can be thrilled about: Mike Stoops is gone, regardless if you are happy about it or not – it’s a fresh start. The new coaching staff will have some upgraded facilities to work with, a roster with some nice pieces, and a rabid fanbase begging for some sustained success.
The 2012 recruiting class does not have to be lost, if the administration can make a hire fairly quickly . As far as 2011, it’s a back-loaded schedule with winnable games: vs. UCLA and Utah, at Colorado and a Sun Belt conference team coming into Tucson.
What Wildcat fans should be grouchy about: Your coach was fired midseason. Wow. It has to get pretty bad for an athletic director to step in and fire your coach before the last game has been played. It was the right decision, and the future is not all bleak for Wildcat fans.
Nevertheless, six games remain on the schedule that have to be played. The defense has been atrocious, and some pretty good offenses remain on the schedule. Oh, and that little game on 11/19 is in Tempe. It doesn’t help when the arch rival is in first place in the south and aiming for a conference title berth. At least basketball season starts soon.
Predicted Finish: 3-9 (1-8 in Pac-12)
COLORADO: Grade: C-
The question coming into the year was Colorado’s ability to compete in the Pac-12 with a roster lacking elite overall team speed and athleticism, and in general, talent. A lot was put into the season opener at Hawaii, in which the Buffs brought the torment of their road losing streak, and while they were competitive early on with the Rainbows, they lost 34-17. A “non-conference” game with CAL was dropped in overtime, and aside from a win in Denver vs. arch-rival Colorado State, the Buffs have been thoroughly outclassed since.
Getting blown out by Washington and Stanford, and also dropping a home game to perennial conference basement dweller Washington State, is not the ideal way to make first impressions with conference brethren.
There was some hope with Rodney Stewart carrying the rock; he’s been average with 473 yards (4.2 yards a carry) and Tyler Hansen returning at quarterback (his 13 TD to three INT ratio has been good).
What Buffalo fans can be thrilled about: Even at 1-6 overall and struggling in a new conference, there is hope. The new coaching staff has a brand new tool in recruiting—access to California. That cannot be understated how huge that is. Colorado has huge alumni bases in northern and southern California, and the fanbase is still very much energized.
Tyler Henington, Clay Norgard, Justin Solis and Gerrad Kough are all interior lineman recruits that are committed for the 2012 class; Colorado fans can expect a nice recruiting class to inject some much needed talent to it’s roster.
What Buffalo fans should be grouchy about: Folsom Field will still get to welcome Oregon and USC, arguably the two biggest national name brands in the conference aside from Stanford. Unfortuantley, they can’t just go skiing with the Trojans and Ducks, they have to play a game as well, and it will not be pretty.
In addition, two road dates with ASU and Utah still loom. It just doesn’t look like this 2011 Colorado squad has the athletes or depth to finish with a winning record (would require 5 straight wins).
Predicted Finish: 2-10 (1-8 in Pac-12)
OREGON STATE: Grade: C-
Nobody in the state of Oregon expected the Beavers to contend for a conference title in 2011. Beaver Nation did however fully expect to rebound from a disappointing 2010 campaign that resulted in staying home for the holidays with no bowl game and being forced to watch their bitter rival, the Ducks play in the BCS National Championship Game. Things could only get better in Corvalis, right?
In comes an average, at best, FCS program, the Sacramento State Hornets, to crush OSU’s spirits even further with a 29-28 win. The Wisconsin Badgers methodically beat up the Beavers in Madison for a 35-0 win, and then, OSU went on to lose their first two conference games and started 0-4. With a nearly blown win over Arizona, and a loss to BYU, the Beavers are off to their worst start ever under Mike Reilly, 1-5.
There has also been that awkward quarterback musical chairs, with the 2010 incumbent Ryan Katz being unseated by redshirt freshman Sean Mannion. Is it true Sean Mannion’s father and himself approached Coach Reilly and threatened a transfer if he didn’t get meaningful minutes in 2011?
Mannion’s five TD to nine INT has to be expected for a freshman, but his 65 percent completion percentage is good, with 1,588 yards thrown on the year through six games. Markus Wheaton has been a bright spot for the Beavers, with 46 grabs for 548 yards but curiously not getting into the end zone.
Oregon State’s offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf has been put in a tough spot with receiver James Rodgers (knee) and tight end Joe Halahuni (shoulder) missing games early on and being banged up. The Beavers are faced with the stark reality that they just don’t have the horses in the stable to have sustained success, either with a productive running game (see 107th rated ground attack) or making up for persistent turnovers that continue to kill drives.
Mike Riley is from Corvalis and turned down the USC job years ago to stay in Oregon; he’s made it clear he’d like to be there for many years to come. One must wonder, however, if the Beavers again stumble to a bowl-less year (they’ll need to win out to get to a bowl game), sagging attendance at Recer Stadium and their rivals down I-5 continue their success and national prominence, do OSU administrators make a change? I don’t think so, but Coach Riley’s seat is certainly warming up.
What Beaver fans can be thrilled about: Sean Mannion appears to be the franchise quarterback that fans can rally around. He’s young, and he’ll continue to make mistakes, but he has a cannon for an arm, and he has three years of eligibility left. Second, Wisconsin comes back to pay a visit for the Beavers traveling to Madison, and fans can get excited about having a Big Ten power visit Corvalis in 2012 with what should be assumed a much improved Beaver team.
Finally, thank heavens for the new Pac-12 TV deal that should start kicking some much-needed extra revenue in 2012 so the Beavers can continue to compete in the arms race that college football is in.
What Beaver fans should be grouchy about: Where on the remaining schedule can you point and say “That’s a Beaver win, I’d put money on it!”? The next three out of the four games are on the road, with the lone game against Heisman front-runner Andrew Luck and top 10 Stanford Cardinal.
Add in a home date with a surging Washington program, and a friendly banter with the Oregon Ducks in Autzen Stadium, and that spells like a potential worse campaign than 2010’s 5-7 mark. Add in the fact the other three northwest schools are having good to great years, and it’s further salt in the wound that may provoke big changes in Corvalis.
Predicted Finish: 2-10 (2-7 in Pac-12)
CAL: Grade C
CAL is in a transition year. Memorial Stadium is finally getting the facelift that it desperately needed, but that has meant playing its home games in the San Francisco Giants ballpark, which has meant not much of a home-field advantage.
The first half the year has been a up and down for new starting quarterback Zach Maynard, but he does have the CAL passing attack throwing for 299 yards a game ranking them 16th overall in the country. Having targets like Kennan Allen (52 grabs with 828 yards with a 16-yard average) and Marvin Jones (35 grabs for 530 yards with 15-yard average) will help any quarterback, especially one coming from remote outpost Buffalo in the MAC to the Pac-12.
A real issue has been a depleted CAL defense. 2011 has seen this CAL defense give up 31, 43 and 30 points respectively in their current three-game slide to Washington, Oregon and USC. In the Pac-12, you are not going to win a lot of games if you can not limit team's explosive plays.
Jeff Tedford is now the all-time career victory holder in Berkley, however, after a few subpar seasons, the current three-game losing streak that has CAL 3-3 and an ugly 0-3 in the conference and the inability to get CAL to a Rose Bowl, some speculate his seat could be warming up.
What Bear fans can be thrilled about: First off, Andrew Luck is almost gone, hang in there. He’ll be getting drilled every time he drops back for a pass a year from now in Miami with the Dolphins (albeit making $75 million a game), so take some solace in that. Second, Memorial Stadium will have some new paint and shiny new upgrades that will give an added boost in recruiting.
Coach Tedford’s expertise is developing quarterbacks, and Maynard looks to be a solid franchise quarterback with some further polishing. The next four games are very winnable: vs. Utah, at UCLA and at home vs. Washington State and Oregon State. No reason CAL can’t go into rivalry week with Stanford at 7-3.
What Bear fans should be grouchy about: If CAL were to have battled Washington, Oregon and USC down the wire and really showed a fire that gave hope for the second half of the season, that would be one thing, but CAL aside from competitive first half’s versus the Ducks and at Washington, the Bears were thoroughly beaten.
Furthermore, just across the bay and down the peninsula on the Farm, the Cardinal is in the thick of the national title race, and Andrew Luck is the leading Heisman Trophy contender. Ending the year at Arizona State and Stanford don’t bode well for a team that is winless in conference play at the midway point and desperately needs to start scrapping together some wins to become bowl eligible.
Predicted Finish: 6-6 (3-6 in Pac-12)
UCLA: Grace: C
2011 for UCLA meant finally righting the ship that did show some promise in 2010, especially in big non-conference wins against Texas in Austin and Houston in Pasadena. If Coach Neuheisel could only get consistent quarterback play.
Kevin Prince was going to be that guy, but then, he found his way to the bench after throwing for three INTs in the Texas game. In comes Richard Brehaut who would go on to break his leg against Washington State.
Johnathan Franklin has been a bright spot so far, gaining 509 yards at 6.6 yards per carry while carrying the rock for the Bruins.
At 3-3 overall, and a pleasant 2-1 in Pac-12 play, the second half of the schedule doesn’t appear to be too taxing to grab three more wins to become bowl eligible. Not playing Oregon and Washington from the north certainly helps. Is it enough to save Neuheisel’s job in Westwood?
What Bruin fans can be thrilled about: There is no game remaining on the schedule that you can really circle in red pen as a definite loss. Getting Arizona State at home helps, and of course, the annual showdown with USC across the city in the Coliseum on 11/26. USC is not exactly tearing it up themselves, and Neuheisel’s staff appears to be putting together an alright 2012 recruiting class.
What Bruin fans should be grouchy about: Have Bruins fans seen enough of Kevin Prince already? He was booed when he entered into the Washington State game at the Rose Bowl. A 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception rate may get worse as the meat of the conference schedule remains and some good defenses await. Moreover, how long can Neuheisel last? There is some major uncertainty clouding the UCLA football program that cannot sit well with Bruin fans.
Predicted Finish: 5-7 (4-5 in Pac-12)
UTAH: Grade: C+
This was the common school of thought in Salt Lake City going into their new conference: they possessed a confident quarterback, a wealth of talent at running back, and an experienced defensive line that figured to help Utah transition to continued success as a program.
How could you knock that? Defensive end Dave Kruger, nose tackle Star Lotulelei and linebacker Chaz Walker were going to help offensive coordinator Norm Chow implement his new scheme and help Jordan Wynn gel with the new receivers.
Kyle Whittingham in his seventh year at Utah knew there was going to be learning curve going into the Pac-12, but if you would have told him his team would be 3-3 overall and a glarring 0-3 in the conference at the season's midway point, he would have wholeheartedly disagreed. Unfortunately, football is a game of inches and maybe that's the same case for life in one of the BCS leagues as well.
After mauling Montana State, everyone circled the 9/10 date in the Coliseum, and the Utes fell short, not by much, but a 23-14 loss is still a loss. This is where Utah deserves credit, bouncing back against their hated rival BYU and demolishing the Cougars in Provo 54-10 in a rare lopsided game in the series.
However, instead of a game against New Mexico, Wyoming or UNLV the Utes turned around and only a bye week cushioned visits by Washington and Arizona State which saw Utah lose their starting quarterback and get outmuscled in games that were not very competitive in the fourth quarters.
A gut-check win is admired, traveling all the way to Pittsburgh and playing at the early 12 noon ET for an appearance on ESPNU, but PITT is not exactly a juggernaut in the Big East this year.
Does Utah have the depth and moxie to eek out three more wins and become bowl eligible?
What Ute fans can be thrilled about: John White IV has been a nice revelation at running back with 671 yards with a 5.2 average while getting into the end zone six times. Junior kicker Coleman Peterson had never attempted even an extra point entering 2011 and has nailed 17-of-18 extra points and 8-of-10 field goals with a long of 45, turning that piece of the special teams into a dependable unit.
Finally, Ute fans should be pleased with the overall defensive effort, ranking 28th in the country in points against. Some tough points were allowed at home vs. UW and ASU, but remember the offense turned the ball over regularly and didn't do the offense any favors.
What Ute fans should be grouchy about: Only if Jordan Wynn services were still available. The schedule on the back end is very favorable, with a date in Berkley, home game against Oregon State, at Arizona, UCLA at home, in the Palouse against Washington State and the home finale against Colorado.
Only averaging 24 points a game, and with a quarterback who was playing college ball at University of Nebraska-Omaha just last year, getting to six wins may be a real stretch for Utah.
Predicted Finish: 7-5 (5-4 in Pac-12)
Washington State: Grade: C+
The question heading into 2011 for Washington State? Could they save Paul Wulff’s job and not only show tangible signs in the win column that they were improving but get back to postseason play.
After the first half of the 2011 campaign, things are looking much better in eastern Washington. A few wins over non-conference cupcakes Idaho State and UNLV showed that this Cougar team was not going to lower its play to its competition—a major sign of improvement. Hard-fought losses to San Diego State, UCLA and Stanford (first half was competitive down 10-7) show that this program is on the uptick.
The offense has been humming for the most part, as Marshall Lobbestael has filled in nicely for Jeff Tuel (11th-rated passing attack in country), and Marquess Wilson has become a real force on the edge (36 catches with an eye popping 19 yards per catch).
The defense has some work to do, giving up 28 points a game, however, an ineffective Oregon State visits Pullman this Saturday, and there is plenty of time to make adjustments over the second half of the season. November dates with CAL at AT&T Park and then hosting Utah in Pullman will determine if the Cougars make a bowl.
What Cougar fans can be thrilled about: Your better! Be happy with that. Paul Wulff has this team playing with passion, and Cougar football is back. While conference title contention is a ways off, WSU is no longer a doormat for conference brethren. The facilities at Martin Stadium are also being upgraded, and athletic director Bill Moose is mixing things up in the Palouse and that should have this fanbase very excited.
What Cougar fans should be grouchy about: Just don’t read the entire sports section in Spokane Wazzu fans, because in that city to the west that football known as the Huskies is ranked in the top 25 and really surging.
The Huskies and other northwest rival Oregon have football programs on fire and are also adding multimillion dollar new football upgrades. Finally, it’s difficult to highlight three wins of the remaining six that the Cougars could realistically pull off.
Predicted Finish: 5-7 (3-6 in Pac-12)
ARIZONA STATE: Grade: B-
Arizona State came into 2011 hoping to make a big splash. Nineteen starters returning, some new flashy uniforms and what seemed to be a newly-formed south division that was theirs for the taking. However, injuries have decimated ASU and an early season "upset" loss to Illinois in Campaign plus a loss at Oregon have taken some wind out of the sails.
Not all is to be lost though. Brock Osweiler is playing great football, his 15-8 TD to INT ratio has been fabulous, and Cameron Marshall has been a consistent threat in the running game, gaining 518 yards in the first half of the year while finding the end zone nine times.
With USC ineligible for 2011 postseason, the Sun Devils are in control of their destiny to what would seem likely a return trip to Eugene or head to Palo Alto for the Pac-12 inaugural championship game on a Friday night in early December.
What Sun Devil fans can be thrilled about: The schedule. The schedule. The schedule. A bye to lick wounds after Oregon loss, and then toughest road trip? Washington State or UCLA? Not too bad, as every game ASU will be favored in. Sun Devil fans can add this treat to their Halloween goodie bag: Arizona is having arguably their toughest season in decades, most frustrating and downright embarrassing. ASU fans are reveling in that.
What Sun Devil fans should be grouchy about: 2011 was about getting to the program's first-ever BCS bowl. Is that realistic though? Sure, the offense has found an identity in throwing the ball around (25th ranked passing attack in the country), but the defense is fairly average and does this team really think they can walk back in Autzen Stadium and beat a full-strength Oregon team in the cold of early December or Heisman front-runner Andrew Luck in Palo Alto?
Predicted Finish: 10-3 (8-2 in Pac-12 with a loss in the Pac-12 Championship Game)
USC: Grade: B
There is still a lot of pride in Troy. The Trojans have a lot to play for and can create some tangible momentum going into 2012. The first half of 2011 has been good to USC with a 5-1 record. However, a closer look at the wins and the first thing noticed is that USC has yet to beat a team with a real pulse. The low has to be struggling to beat a hapless Minnesota Gopher squad, in LA, 19-17.
Which is the biggest win so far in 2011? Syracuse? Pathetic by USC standards. Arizona State was the only team to face USC that really challenged what is still a pretty talented USC roster, and the men of Troy were outclassed 43-22 in Tempe (four turnovers and two interceptions from Matt Barkley). The fact is USC has only its pride to play for and still cruising to a 5-1 record at the midpoint of the year is admirable, even if the opposition has not been filled with juggernauts.
What Trojan fans can be thrilled about: USC has a potent passing attack, and Matt Barkley has improved with an impressive 16-to-4 TD-to-INT ration and has tossed for 1,782 yards through six games. The offensive production has been pretty good, and the defense is looking very stout against the run (holding teams to 99.5 yards a game is 19th in the country).
What Trojan fans should be grouchy about: Where is the love nationally? At 5-1, the Trojans are unranked. Just up, the state Stanford has a Heisman front-runner in Andrew Luck and the top 10 Cardinal while last year's BCS national title runner-up Oregon has rebounded from an early season loss to LSU and is surging, sitting in the top 10 as well.
The Pac-10 of old used to be USC's playground, and they had 5-star recruits from New Jersey to Long Beach knocking down their door to play in the Coliseum. Possibly worse, the scholarship reductions do not begin until next year and general consensus nationally thinks that will be the heaviest burden for the USC football program to deal with.
Predicted Finish: 9-3 (6-3 in Pac-12)
OREGON: Grade: B+
Oregon has had a fairly up-and-down season through six games in 2011.
The loss to LSU, that was likely the most hyped up season-opening game in the history of the program, was a very deflating loss. Unlike the BCS Championship loss to Auburn which was decided by a last second field goal, LSU thoroughly outplayed the Ducks. The theme of the game, again, was Oregon gettting mauled at the line of scrimmage by LSU's defense.
It was another big stage for the Ducks, and it was another high-profile loss. After an offseason full of distractions from the Willie Lyles saga to the eventual transfer of Lache Seastrunk to Baylor and some early-season suspensions, the Ducks have held the ship together quite nicely.
Give Chip Kelly and his staff a lot of credit for keeping Oregon's young team motivated. Only five scholarship seniors dot the roster, and the Ducks have maintained course, and at 5-1 and ranked ninth in the country, the season can still be a great one.
Even with a crushing blow to the lineup due to injuries in the past few weeks, Oregon has continued to put up incredible offensive numbers. Nationally, Oregon ranks third in points per game, fifth in total yards per game, fifth in rushing yards and a respectable 67th (224 yards per game) in their air passing attack. LaMichael James still leads the country in rushing yards per game, and Darron Thomas' TD-to-INT ration of 17-to-3 is fantastic, but how healthy can these guys really be?
Oregon's meat of its schedule is in November, with two consecutive weekend trips to Seattle and Palo Alto only to host USC and Oregon State in closing out the regular season. Opinions vary on the Ducks. Are they only a few upsets across the SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten away from stepping back into the national title picture? Or are these Ducks limping along and prime for a beatdown the Washington Huskies and Stanford Cardinal could easily hand out?
What Duck fans can be thrilled about: The future looks very bright for the Ducks, for the current season and for years to come. 2011 can still be a historic one, as a showdown with Stanford looms if both teams can handle business along the way before 11/19. The roster is chocked full of ample speed and athleticism that fits what Chip Kelly and Nick Alliotti want to do on both sides of the ball.
Meanwhile, construction is under place for a sparkling five story football complex next to Autzen Stadium and is just another jewel in the Oregon football program's crown of platinum facilities. The 2012 recruiting class will be another top 20 class with potential to break into the top 10 after coming off the program's best ever class in 2011.
What Duck fans should be grouchy about: So when do the party crashers from Indianapolis show up and turn off the music in Eugene? Everyone knows that Oregon's football program is being looked into by the NCAA, and that makes all Duck fans uneasy. It has to have some play in recruiting as high school seniors, and their parents face the possibility, regardless of how high likely or unlikely, that Oregon could have the hammer dropped on it any day from the NCAA.
As far as 2011, the defense has been quite leaky. The defense, at the midway point in the year, is ranked 92nd in total defense and 85th in pass defense. Oregon fans will respond by saying that the Ducks score so quickly that their defense is on the field so much, but nevertheless, Nick Alliotti's defense must get more stops or worry that Keith Price and Andrew Luck will torch them in a few weeks.
Predicted Finish: 12-1 (10-0 in Pac-12 with a victory in the Pac-12 Championship Game)
WASHINGTON: Grade: A
The Washington football program being not too far removed from an 0-12 season, is now 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the conference and ranked in the top 25. Coach Steve Sarkisian deserves the key to the city in Seattle for this incredible turnaround. Sure, there was a loss in Lincoln against a highly-motivated Husker team but sitting at the halfway point in the 2011 season and being right in the thick of the conference race, is exciting for Husky fans.
Keith Price is playing out of his mind, at a 21-to-4 TD-to-INT ration and throwing for almost 70 percent clip has made this Husky offense very explosive. With that said, is he playing on borrowed time with two bum knees?
The next four weeks will determine Washington's season. Headed to Stanford, then hosting Arizona and Oregon, and then down to L.A. for a date with USC. These four weeks will tell whether UW is closer to the game it played against Eastern Washington where they escaped with a 30-27 win vs. the FCS team, or are they the team that showed some real moxie on the road at Utah and drubbed Colorado in Seattle?
Washington deserves high marks for their fast start, especially after being so closely removed from that dreadful 2008 year.
What Husky fans can be thrilled about: Keith Price is only a sophomore. This kid showed a lot of maturity in his first career start last year at Oregon, and his time in the program and under Coach Sarkisian is paying off. The Huskies can run the ball, they can certainly play great run defense (97 yards a game puts them at 17th in the country) and with play-action coming off Chris Polk running the ball, the Huskies can hang with anyone.
In the big picture, the aging Husky Stadium is finally getting a facelift, and the track is being removed so fans can be even closer to the field in Seattle and the final home game ever in Seattle before renovations? Oregon. It should be rocking when the Ducks come to town.
What Husky fans should be grouchy about: The defense has some serious issues. The pass defense is giving up 303 yards a game (116th overall nationally), and they're giving up points by bunches. Will the defense hold up now that some real offensive attacks are coming up on the schedule? Matt Barkley's air attack in L.A.?
Andrew Luck and the powerful running attack mixed with play-action down in Palo Alto? Oregon's offensive juggernaut? Time will tell, and while things are on the uptick in Seattle, they'll have to figure out how to stop people to unseat Stanford or Oregon in the Pac-12 North.
Predicted Finish: 8-4 (6-3 in Pac-12)
STANFORD: Grade: A
Is Stanford this good, or have they just not played anyone of significance just yet? Granted, the Cardinal's schedule is certainly backloaded with games still against Washington, Oregon, USC, Notre Dame and CAL.
However, six games is still a pretty nice sample, and Stanford has passed every test with flying colors. Nationally, their offense ranks fifth in points per game, 16th in total yards per game, 41st in rushing yards and 14th in passing yards per game. Defense? Nationally, the Cardinal have allowed a startling 59 yards a game which ranks them second in the country, and at only 11 points a game allowed, that places them fifth. Impressive.
Andrew Luck is doing what everyone thought he would do—surgically dismantle defenses, and at 71.3 completion percentage with 1,719 yards at an 18-to-3 TD-to-INT ratio, there is no doubt he is the leading candidate to take home the Heisman Trophy at the New York Athletic Club in December.
Stanford has survived without Jim Harbaugh, and the current staff has kept this team laser focused.
What Cardinal fans can be thrilled about: Getting Washington, Oregon, CAL and Notre Dame at home is a big plus. The Huskies and Ducks have formidable home-field advantages, and playing them on the Farm will go a long way in winning the inaugural Pac-12 championship.
How much more fun is this year now that CAL is struggling just across the Bay? Things were quite turned around just a few years ago in the Bay Area. With just a few losses from other players in the national title race, Stanford may become a serious player to land a spot in New Orleans.
What Cardinal fans should be grouchy about: Stanford has not exactly played anybody, and more importantly any serious offensive attacks. Arizona? A one-trick pony, their passing attack, didn't do much to strike fear in the Stanford's defense. Washington State? While much improved, and Marquis Green is a great threat, they were tossing the ball around with a backup quarterback and again, it's Washington State.
Washington, Oregon, USC and Notre Dame will challenge Stanford's defense. The passing defense in particular currently ranks 82nd in the country, and Cardinal fans may worry that they could be beat in a wild west shootout.
Predicted Finish: 11-1 (8-1 in Pac-12)