2012 CFN Pac-12 Preview
Oregon RB Kenjon Barner
Oregon RB Kenjon Barner
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 16, 2012


2012 CFN Pac-12 Preview - With big changes and one huge rebound, the Pac-12 in on the way up.


Preview 2012

Pac-12 Preview


NORTH
- 2012 Cal Preview | 2012 Oregon Preview
- 2012 Oregon State State Preview | 2012 Stanford Preview 
- 2012 Washington Preview | 2012 Washington State Preview

SOUTH
- 2012 Arizona Preview | 2012 Arizona State Preview
- 2012 Colorado Preview | 2012 UCLA Preview  
- 2012 USC Preview | 2012 Utah Preview  

- 2012 Pac-12 Preview
- 2012 Pac-12 Unit Rankings
- 2012 CFN Pac-12 Schedules & Picks
- 2012 CFN All-Pac-12 Team & Top 30 Players
- 2012 Pac-12 North Team Looks & Predicted Finish  
- 2012 Pac-12 South Team Looks & Predicted Finish  

- By Richard Cirminiello

Hope you had fun over the past couple of years, Pac-12. The boss has returned from his sabbatical, and he’s ready to start throwing his weight around again.

The big news heading into 2012 surrounds the return of USC to full strength, eligibility wise. The longtime powerhouse had been ineligible for the conference championship over the last two seasons, but now that it’s paid its price to the NCAA, it’s eager to get back to the business of competing for titles, both Pac-12 and national. Troy was humbled by the Reggie Bush saga, but has returned to relevance a little quicker than many expected.

Nice work, Lane Kiffin. Raise your hand if you thought QB Matt Barkley would ever be in a position to compete for the sport’s biggest individual and team prizes when it was announced on June 10, 2010 that the program would be banned from the postseason in 2010 and 2011.

Barkley opted to remain in school for his senior year, Kiffin kept the team from unraveling and now the entire program is poised to reap the rewards for their patience, persistence and poise through a rather difficult period. The Trojans boast the most loaded two-deep in the conference, and a head of steam courtesy of last year’s wicked 7-1 finish.

USC is back, which is great news for everyone affiliated with the Pac-12. Oregon, on the other hand, never went away. The Ducks have won three consecutive league championships, becoming what the Trojans were under Pete Carroll for seven years beginning in 2002.

Chip Kelly, who darn near left for the NFL in the offseason, has his program humming on both sides of the ball, and eager to prove that Troy’s return changes nothing about league supremacy. The two preseason top 10 teams will square off in Los Angeles on Nov. 3 in what conventional wisdom says will be the first of two meetings in 2012.

The Trojans and Ducks are prohibitive favorites to win the South and the North Divisions, respectively, but which schools are most likely to crash the predicted rematch on Nov. 30? In the South, USC will enjoy a wider cushion than Oregon will in the North. Both of the Arizona programs, the Wildcats and the Sun Devils, will spend the year adjusting to new staffs and systems.

Rich Rodriguez has brought a tremendous amount of excitement and anticipation to Tucson. In Tempe, the locals are going to withhold judgment on Todd Graham, who has to fill a slew of holes on both sides of the ball.

Across town from USC, UCLA has a new head man as well, Jim Mora. He has a lot of talent with which to work, but also a culture of losing that needs to be changed. Of last year’s two newcomers to the Pac-12, Utah remains way ahead of Colorado in terms of competitiveness.

The Utes might actually be Troy’s biggest threat to a division crown, especially if QB Jordan Wynn can stay healthy. The Buffs are at least another year away from being a serious postseason contender, though QB Connor Wood, a Texas transfer, brings hope.

In the North, the Ducks’ spot in the league title game is a little less certain. Stanford loses Andrew Luck, but the cupboard is hardly bare, and the holdovers have become accustomed to winning. Washington will score a ton of points behind the passing of Keith Price, but will it stop anyone?

New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox was lured over from the SEC to initiate a totally new attitude on D. Cal is Cal. The Bears are a decent program under Jeff Tedford, with a handful of kids with protential, but getting over the hump appears to be unattainable.

Oregon State and Wazzu will scrap to avoid the cellar, and qualify for a postseason game. The Beavers need to rebound from back-to-back losing seasons for vulnerable head coach Mike Riley. The Mike Leach era begins in Pullman with boundless excitement, and an offense that could score plenty of points.

These are heady times for the Pac-12, a league not long ago that was derided as second-rate when compared to the country’s other power conferences. Those days are long gone. The league had two representatives in BCS bowl games a year ago and a third, USC, that might have belonged had it not been banned. The Pac-12 has a lucrative new TV deal, a prominent seat at the table as the future of college’s postseason is discussed and its marquee program just pining to once again resume carrying the league banner.

Team That'll Surprise
UCLA – Former head coach Rick Neuheisel had no problem attracting talent to Westwood. Coaching those players into winners, though, was an issue. Jim Mora, the beneficiary of the old guard’s recruiting coups, plans to take those young Bruins and transform them into a more competitive product on the field. With the return of RB Johnathan Franklin for his senior year and LT Xavier Su’a-Filo from his Mormon mission, UCLA expects to run the ball with success. The D harbors a mix of youth and experience that’s going to catch a lot of opponents by surprise. The key? As usual it’ll be the play of the quarterbacks, who vexed Neuheisel throughout his tenure. If former blue-chipper Brett Hundley is ready to start earning his label as the savior, the Bruins are capable of taking a quantum leap now that there are fresh ideas coming from the sidelines.

Team That'll Disappoint
Stanford – Conventional wisdom says that the Cardinal is still no lower than No. 3 in the Pac-12 pecking order, looking up at Oregon and USC. But what happens if the program begins to drift a little in the standings? Cal, Washington and Utah, for instance, are all eager to get a better look at the league’s two heavyweights. While Stanford has been on a historical run, it has also parted with some all-timers in recent years, like RB Toby Gerhart, QB Andrew Luck and head coach Jim Harbaugh. The school will have to prove it can remain a national player without Luck calling signals, a tall order. Plus, two of last year’s offensive linemen, Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro, were high NFL draft choices. The Cardinal will remain a very good program. However, those expecting a third straight 10-win season are going to be a little disappointed.

Game of the Year
Oregon at USC, Nov. 3 - The game of the year in the Pac-12 is also one of the games of the year regardless of conference affiliation. You name it, and it’s likely to be on line at the Coliseum. Each respective division could be at stake, as will the national title chase and individual awards, such as the Heisman Trophy. On a less tangible level, when the Trojans and the Ducks meet, the two powerhouses are going to be battling to determine who truly sits atop the conference pecking order. Oregon has won three straight Pac-12 titles, but USC is finally out of the NCAA’s doghouse, setting the stage for a must-see event that’ll be dripping with star power and compelling storylines.

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight
1. DE Josh Shirley, Soph. Washington
2. OT Xavier Su’s-Filo, Soph. UCLA
3. RB Cameron Marshall, Sr. Arizona State
4. LB Michael Clay, Sr. Oregon
5. LB Doug Rippy, Sr. Colorado

Coach on the Hot Seat
Mike Riley, Oregon State – … with Cal’s Jeff Tedford peering over his shoulder. Riley is quintessential Corvallis, extremely well-liked by the players and the community at-large. There’s a very good chance that the Beavers won’t do better by looking outside the organization, but how much longer will the administration exercise patience? Oregon State, which routinely shot past forecasts from 2003-09, has fallen on hard times over the past two seasons. The program is just 8-16 over that time, suffering through its worst season since 1997 last year. If Riley can’t get back to being the coach who transforms talent, and exceeds expectations, he could have a tough time being back on the sidelines in 2013.

5 Non-Conference Games the Pac-12 Had Better Take Very, Very Seriously
1. Colorado at Fresno State, Sept. 15
2. Utah at Utah State, Sept. 8
3. Houston at UCLA, Sept. 15
4. Nevada at Cal, Sept. 1
5. Fresno State at Oregon, Sept. 8

Bold Statements
- USC WR Marqise Lee will have every bit as good a year as teammate Robert Woods, especially if the latter continues to be saddled with a nagging ankle problem.

- The Trojans will suffer a crushing defeat late in the year, as the school’s lack of depth gets exposed by a double-digit underdog.

- Oregon QB Bryan Bennett will announce his plans to transfer after redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota wins the starting job.

- Stanford will allow less than three yards a carry behind the best collection of linebackers this side of Tuscaloosa.

- In just his second year out of high school, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins will become the first Washington player to win the Mackey Award.

- Utah will be the next best thing to USC in the South Division (at least as long as QB Jordan Wynn can remain healthy).

- UCLA will look like a completely different team under head coach Jim Mora, prompting locals to wonder aloud why Rick Neuheisel wasn’t canned two years earlier.

- Athletic QB Matt Scott will flourish at Arizona under new coach Rich Rodriguez. So, too, for that matter will Wildcats RB Ka’Deem Carey, providing plenty of good vibes for the future.

- Mike Leach will help transform QB Jeff Tuel into one of the unlikely stars of the Pac-12 by the end of October.

- Boulder will be the location of one of the league’s premier linebacker corps. With Doug Rippy, Jon Major and Derrick Webb all healthy at the same time, Colorado will be tougher-than-expected to navigate in 2012.

5 Best Pro Prospects
1. QB Matt Barkley, Sr. USC
2. WR Robert Woods, Jr. USC
3. DT Star Lotulelei, Sr. Utah
4. S T.J. McDonald, Sr. USC
5. WR Keenan Allen, Jr. Cal

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. QB Brett Nottingham or Josh Nunes for Andrew Luck, Stanford
2. LT Aundrey Walker for Matt Kalil, USC
3. RB Kenjon Barner for LaMichael James, Oregon
4. LB Nick Forbes for Mychal Kendricks, Cal
5. RB Bishop Sankey or Jesse Callier for Chris Polk, Washington

NORTH
- 2012 Cal Preview | 2012 Oregon Preview
- 2012 Oregon State State Preview | 2012 Stanford Preview 
- 2012 Washington Preview | 2012 Washington State Preview

SOUTH
- 2012 Arizona Preview | 2012 Arizona State Preview
- 2012 Colorado Preview | 2012 UCLA Preview  
- 2012 USC Preview | 2012 Utah Preview  

- 2012 Pac-12 Preview
- 2012 Pac-12 Unit Rankings
- 2012 CFN Pac-12 Schedules & Picks
- 2012 CFN All-Pac-12 Team & Top 30 Players
- 2012 Pac-12 North Team Looks & Predicted Finish  
- 2012 Pac-12 South Team Looks & Predicted Finish