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Preview 2012 - Pac-12 Predicted Finishes
The early summer look at where we think each team will finish.
Pac-12 North Conference Picks
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Preview 2012 - Predicted Conference Finishes
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2011 Record: 12-2, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 11-1
Everyone wants to pump up USC and assume it’s going to roll through the Pac-12 now that it’s eligible for the title, but Oregon still might be the league’s most dangerous team. The machine won’t stop just because QB Darron Thomas and RB LaMichael James are gone with more speed to burn in the offensive backfield and the Chip Kelly offense certain to be as strong as ever. The defense will be good enough to get by with Michael Clay one of the league’s best linebackers and John Boyett a special safety.
The schedule is a breeze until November. Consider it a shocker if any of the first eight teams on the schedule come within two touchdowns of the Ducks, and then comes the showdown in L.A. against USC to kick off a run of three road games in the final four. However, even with a loss to the Trojans Oregon should still go 11-1 and play for the Pac-12 title.
2011 Record: 11-2, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 7-5
Will the Cardinal have staying power? The production won’t fall off the map, and the latest recruiting classes should reload the talent level, but this season should be a step back after losing so many key NFL cogs. Yes, Andrew Luck was that good. Getting USC from the Pac-12 South isn’t going to help the cause, while a finishing kick of five road games in the final seven, and six in the final nine, would’ve been hard for last year’s team to get through with anything to show for it. Going to Notre Dame is bad enough, but that’s followed up by the always-emotional Cal game. Throw in trips to Colorado, UCLA, and oh yeah, Oregon, and David Shaw will have a disappointing season. Don’t expect a major drop, though.
2011 Record: 7-6, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 7-5
The defense that was so great last year loses several key players and the offense needs QB Zach Maynard to grow into a more consistent playmaker, but the overall talent is there for a decent year. However, with no breaks in the tough schedule, forget about anything special for a team with so many concerns. Starting out against Nevada won’t be easy, and it’ll only be made worse with road games against Ohio State and USC in September. The Trojans will be the favorites to win the South, but Utah won’t be far behind – the Bears have to go on the road to face the Utes, too. The Stanford and Oregon games are at home, and there’s a great stretch of five home games in seven, but it’ll be a stunner if the Bears are in the hunt for the North title.
2011 Record: 7-6, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 6-6
Isn’t this supposed to be when the Huskies were going to start rolling under coach Steve Sarkisian? They still might, but the offense needs QB Keith Price to be phenomenal – and healthy – with so many other key players gone. On the plus side, the offensive line should be solid and the defense gets seven starters back. Whether or not this is a stepping-stone season depends on how the team holds up after a horrific start to the Pac-12 season against Stanford, at Oregon, and USC. Combine those three games with a road trip to LSU, and 2-4 could be a certainty before going to Arizona and with three of the final four games away from Seattle. As the season goes on this should be a good enough team to provide hope for next year, but it’s going to be a fight to go bowling.
5. Washington State
2011 Record: 4-8, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 5-7
Will the Cougars start to blossom under Mike Leach? If nothing else the team will be more fun and more explosive even after finishing ninth in the nation in passing. There are a lot of good pieces to play around with, and now it'll be up to Leach to put it all together. With nine starters back on defense there's a chance for the experience to translate into production. Starting things off at BYU will be interesting, but then the wins have to come with Eastern Washington, at UNLV, and Colorado to follow before going to Oregon. Road dates at Stanford and Utah in back-to-back weeks will be rough, and three road games in four weeks won't be easy, but if everything is humming like everyone is hoping for, a bowl game is possible.
6. Oregon State
2011 Record: 3-9, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 3-9
How quickly will the team be able to rebound after the disastrous 2011? The team might be more experienced with three starters returning to the offensive line and with Sean Mannion a good-looking quarterback to work around. With five starters back on the defensive front seven, being stronger against the run is a must with Wisconsin coming up early and with Arizona's Rich Rodriguez offense closing out September. Fortunately the Beavers miss USC from the South, but they have to face Utah and an improved Arizona State along with road trips to Arizona and UCLA. But where are the wins going to come from? Other than the opener against Nicholls State, OSU might not be favored the rest of the way against anyone other than Washington State.
Pac-12 South Conference Picks
2011 Record: 10-2, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 10-2
USC will be everyone’s hot team going into the preseason rankings because it’s eligible to play for something again, but it’s a whole different world once the pressure is on. After years of treading water, what will happen under Lane Kiffin when it becomes Pac-12 title or bust? There might be not be a better starting 22, but the depth is a bit thin. The D line needs some reworking and it’s never a positive to lose a left tackle as good as Matt Kalil, but there’s talent across the board. No, the problem will be when the team has to take everyone’s best shot week after week.
There won’t be problems against Syracuse, California, or Colorado, but the Trojans are going to be on the road for four games in five weeks during the first half of the season including a scary date against a Utah team that should be good enough to challenge for the Pac-12 title. While the home schedule eases up, they also have to deal with Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA, and Notre Dame over the second half of the season. Don’t forget that as good as last year’s team was, it was blown out by Arizona State late and had to fight with bad Minnesota and Arizona teams. This will be a great USC team that should at worst end up in a BCS game, but that still could mean another 10-2 record.
2011 Record: 8-5, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 10-2
You heard it here first; don’t be shocked if Utah, not USC, ends up representing the South in the Pac-12 title game. The offense will be terrific with QB Jordan Wynn returning and John White the best back in the league, but the season will revolve around a defense that starts with Star Lotolelei in the middle of the line. No one will run on the loaded Ute defensive front, but the veteran secondary has to be stronger after struggling a bit too much.
The schedule is as good as could be asked for. There’s no Oregon or Stanford from the North, and USC has to make the trip to Salt Lake City. The Pac-12 road games are against Arizona State, UCLA, Oregon, State, Washington, and Colorado – five teams without a bowl win between them last year – and the one big non-conference game against BYU is at home.
2011 Record: 6-8, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 6-6
There’s just enough talent returning to give new coach Jim Mora something to work with, but the Pac-12 South will be far tougher this season and USC is back in the mix again. The Bruins won’t come close to repeating as division champs with Utah and USC both stronger, but both those showdowns will be at home. Missing Oregon from the North will help, and a road slate of Colorado, Cal, Arizona State and Washington State is as easy as can be reasonably asked for. Will the offense be up to the task? The running game will be fine with Johnathan Franklin carrying the attack, while the O line should be strong. After years of beefing up the defensive side, now the payoff should come with several young players ready to shine. The expectations won’t be through the roof right away, but if the Bruins can pull off an upset against Nebraska early on, the national attention will come.
4. Arizona State
2011 Record: 6-7, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 6-6
It's going to take a little while for the Todd Graham effect to kick in - if it does kick in. The Sun Devils were loaded last year and didn't do much of anything with all the talent and experience. This year is going to be about rebuilding the foundation to be steadier and more consistent, but there are just enough winnable games to still expect a bowl appearance. With a road game early at Missouri, they have to take care of home against Illinois in non-conference play, and they have to find a way to somehow split with an improved Utah and Oregon. Three of the final four games are on the road including a trip to USC, but overall, the road slate isn't awful.
2011 Record: 4-8, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 6-6
Can Rich Rodriguez start to turn things around right away, and does he have the pieces to do what he wants to do? It's going to take a while to start running the ball effectively, but it'll be a whole new look for the Pac-12 South. The defense that was so disastrous last year gets back the entire line and should be decent in the back seven with a little bit of time. The Pac-12 as a whole is getting better and there isn't going to be an immediate turnaround, but yes, Rodriguez can coach, and yes, this offense will eventually work. Will it be rolling in time to beat Oklahoma State early one or have a prayer of staying with Oregon in the Pac-12 opener? No, but with four home games in the last six there's a shot at taking a big step forward and coming up with a bowl bid.
2011 Record: 3-10, 2012 Roughly Projected Record: 5-7
Just enough decent players return to hope to improve upon last year's awful Pac-12 season, but new starters in the offensive backfield have to emerge and the defense has to come up with steady play in the defensive backfield. The schedule works out well early with Colorado State, Sacramento State at Fresno State and at Washington State light enough to hope for a 3-1 start or even 4-0. If the coaching staff could do enough to get the team up for an upset win over Utah late last year, it should be able to help pull off a few wins over teams like UCLA, Arizona State and/or Washington at home to hope for an improved record.