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CFN 2011 Pac-12 Preview

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 8, 2011


It's a new era as the Pac-12 conference goes to two divisions while armed with national title contenders, Heisman hopefuls, and the talent to be among the best leagues in the country. Can Utah and Colorado make a big impact? Can Oregon and Stanford live up to the hype? Check out the 2011 CFN Pac-12 Preview.


Preview 2011

Pac-12 Preview


NORTH
- 2011 California Preview | 2011 Oregon Preview
- 2011 Oregon State Preview | 2011 Stanford Preview
- 2011 Washington Preview | 2011 Washington State Preview

SOUTH
- 2011 Arizona Preview | 2011 Arizona State Preview
- 2011 Colorado Preview | 2011 UCLA Preview 
- 2011 USC Preview | 2011 Utah Preview

- 2011 Pac-12 Preview
- CFN Thoughts on the Pac-12 | 2011 Pac-12 Unit Rankings
- 2011 CFN All-Pac-12 Team & Top 30 Players | 2011 Pac-12 Schedules & Picks
- 2011 Pac-12 North Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish
- 2011 Pac-12 South Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish
- 2010 Pac 10 Preview  

- Be Somebody ...  Blog About Pac-12 Football
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By Richard Cirminiello

The conference is on its most solid footing in years. And cover boy USC remains in the penalty box for one more season.

These are prosperous times on the West Coast, where not long ago the Pac-10 was derisively labeled a middling league of one. Yet, Oregon played for a national championship in January, just a few days after Stanford routed Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Now, with the additions of Utah and Colorado from the Mountain West and Big 12, respectively, the Pac-12 has been born, complete with a lucrative TV deal and regular season-ending title game. Commissioner Larry Scott’s vision for the conference is quickly coming into focus.

The ace in the hole for the Pac-12 is the Trojans, which lay in the weeds as they serve out the penalty levied by the NCAA a year ago. The crown jewel of the conference, Troy will be ineligible for the postseason for one more year before joining the hunt for hardware once again in 2012. With the Trojans and coach Lane Kiffin relegated to playing spoiler, Arizona State and Arizona have emerged as the early favorites in an up-for-grabs South Division.

The Sun Devils have been a trendy choice in the offseason, sporting a depth chart dotted with returning starters. Nick Foles give the Wildcats one of the country’s best passers and a chance to finally earn a Rose Bowl bid. UCLA has a long way to go under Rick Neuheisel, who’s been a major disappointment at his alma mater. The Bruins need something out of the quarterbacks to be considered a serious threat. Of the newcomers, the Utes are far better prepared for their new surroundings than the Buffs. The original BCS busters, Utah is about to get a major boost in national notoriety. Colorado is eager to get beyond the Dan Hawkins debacle by unveiling the beginning of Jon Embree’s tenure at the helm.

The North will be decided by the Cardinal and Ducks, who square off on Nov. 12 in Palo Alto. Both programs have national championship aspirations and Heisman wannabes, Stanford QB Andrew Luck and Oregon RB LaMichael James. Each school has endured an eventful offseason, the Cardinal adjusting to life without head coach Jim Harbaugh and the Ducks fending off allegations of recruiting wrongdoings. Lining up behind the favorites are Cal, Washington, Oregon State, and Washington State … in no particular order.

The Bears and Jeff Tedford are angling for a rebound after missing the postseason for the first time since 2002. Steve Sarkisian has the Huskies moving in the right direction, but needs to keep the momentum going without franchise QB Jake Locker. The Beavers will go as far as Ryan Katz and the passing game can take them. Wazzu hopes that years of taking its lumps with underclassmen will finally start paying dividends.

The Pac-10 has grown since the end of last season, adding two members, a league title game, and a healthy amount of national attention. The conference is set to showcase its new product, with hopes that Oregon and Stanford can carry the banner nationally until USC raises its relevance and jumps back into the hunt in 2012.

Team That'll Surprise
Washington State – The silver lining of the Cougars’ miserable three-year is that their 5-32 record was achieved with a slew of young players. For the first time in the Paul Wulff era, Wazzu can boast both experience and depth on both sides of the ball. Junior Jeff Tuel is one of the sneaky-good quarterbacks on the West Coast, and will once again team up with playmaking receivers Marquess Wilson and Jared Karstetter. The defense is on the verge of growing up around DE Travis Long and an underrated cast of linebackers and safeties. Washington State shocked Oregon State in Corvallis last Nov. 13 in an outcome that wasn’t a fluke. Things are lining up for the program to make a run at bowl eligibility and save Wulff’s job.

Team That'll Disappoint
Arizona – The Wildcats have a shiny object this season, next-level QB Nick Foles, but not enough substance to take the wide-open Pac-12 South. Sure, Foles will throw for plenty of yards, but not enough to overcome an average defense that’s going to feel the losses of defensive ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore. Plus, the O-line needs to be rebuilt from scratch, and the health problems of star WR Juron Criner hurts on a multitude of different levels. After starting 4-0 in 2010, the Wildcats were unable to sustain during a season-ending five-game losing streak. Fans in Tucson will once again be uninspired, particularly in a year that rival Arizona State looks to be on the rise.

Game of the Year … Oregon at Stanford, Nov. 12
This goes beyond just the Pac-12 North race; this meeting on the Farm is likely to have major National Championship implications. The Ducks and the Cardinal are the league’s premier schools entering, high-scoring and high-ranked programs being led by Heisman contenders. The hosts have the country’s best player, QB Andrew Luck, while the visitors will counter with the dynamic backfield tandem of QB Darron Thomas and RB LaMichael James. The winner in Palo Alto vaults into the conference driver’s seat, with a shot of bypassing Pasadena for a coveted trip to New Orleans on Jan. 9.

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight...
1. RB Chris Polk, Jr. Washington
2. LB Shayne Skov, Jr. Stanford
3. RB Rodney Stewart, Sr. Colorado
4. LB Devon Kennard, Jr. USC
5. DT Star Lotulelei, Jr. Utah

Coach on the Hot Seat
Rick Neuheisel, UCLA – Or Arizona State’s Dennis Erickson. Or Washington State’s Paul Wulff. After not firing a coach in 2010, the Pac-12 is facing instability on the sidelines this season. A handful of coaches will be under the microscope, including Cal’s Jeff Tedford and Arizona’s Mike Stoops. No one, however, faces more of an immediacy to win than Neuheisel, whose promises to narrow the divide on rival USC have gone unfulfilled. Unable to develop a quality quarterback, ironically, he’s gone 8-19 in conference play while finishing no higher than eighth place. More troubling, the program stopped showing progress during last year’s 4-8 flop. At a minimum, the coach probably needs a bowl game to remain employed, though a fourth straight loss to the Trojans could be his undoing as well.

5 Non-Conference Games the Pac-10 had better take very, very seriously
1. Nevada at Oregon, Sept. 10
2. Cal vs. Fresno State, Sept. 3
3. UCLA at Houston, Sept. 3
4. Hawaii at Washington, Sept. 10
5. Washington State at San Diego State, Sept. 17

Bold Prediction …
Oregon’s LaMichael James won’t lead the Pac-12 in rushing, giving way to Washington’s Chris Polk in 2011. Oh, James is going to get his yards this fall, but Polk is one of the conference’s best-kept national secrets. The junior finished last season on a tear, averaging 170 yards rushing over the final four games. Included in the outburst were a 284-yard effort versus Washington State and 177 yards in the bowl upset of Nebraska. Now that Keith Price is replacing Jake Locker at quarterback, Polk will command an even bigger chunk of the offense, a responsibility the physical 215-pounder is capable of handling. With even adequate blocking up front, he’s capable of parlaying 1,500 rushing yards into early entry into next year’s NFL Draft.

5 Best Pro Prospects
1. QB Andrew Luck, Jr. Stanford
2. RB LaMichael James, Jr. Oregon
3. LT Jonathan Martin, Jr. Stanford
4. QB Matt Barkley, Jr. USC
5. LB Vontaze Burfict, Jr. Arizona State

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. DT Dominic Glover for Stephen Paea, Oregon State
2. LB Dewitt Stuckey for Casey Matthews, Oregon
3. RB Ryan McCants for Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State
4. C Sam Schwartzstein for Chase Beeler, Stanford
5. DE Mohammed Usman for Brooks Reed, Arizona

NORTH
- 2011 California Preview | 2011 Oregon Preview
- 2011 Oregon State Preview | 2011 Stanford Preview
- 2011 Washington Preview | 2011 Washington State Preview

SOUTH
- 2011 Arizona Preview | 2011 Arizona State Preview
- 2011 Colorado Preview | 2011 UCLA Preview 
- 2011 USC Preview | 2011 Utah Preview

- 2011 Pac-12 Preview
- CFN Thoughts on the Pac-12 | 2011 Pac-12 Unit Rankings
- 2011 CFN All-Pac-12 Team & Top 30 Players | 2011 Pac-12 Schedules & Picks
- 2011 Pac-12 North Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish
- 2011 Pac-12 South Team By Team Looks & Predicted Finish
- 2010 Pac 10 Preview