Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, July 27, 2013 at 7:00 AM
We’ve come to our final conference in the 2013 summer preview series for college football. We’ll talk about the Pac 12 North today, and the Pac 12 South on Sunday. Please check the archives if you missed our earlier reports on all the major and mid-major conferences.
Though there’s been a coaching change at Oregon (Chip Kelly is now in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles), the Ducks are still a popular pick to win the P12 North, then win the P12 Championship game, and possibly play for the national championship come January. Only Alabama is higher in many respected Power Ratings gathered by those close to the betting markets. Oregon has been priced like a national championship type team in the “Game of the Year” lines that are already up.
Can Stanford make a run at them? Don’t forget that Stanford shocked them as a big dog last year in Eugene! Let’s run the numbers for all six teams in the North. Note that returning starter data comes from the respected Athlon publication. Be sure to check out JIM HURLEY’S big display ad on page 173 across from Notre Dame!
PAC 12 NORTH
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 7 on defense
Quarterback: Marcus Mariota
Head Coach: Mark Helfrich (new)
Oregon didn’t lose a single game in regulation last year, falling only in overtime to Stanford in their next-to-last regular season game. The Ducks would go on to impress in their bowl with a 35-17 win over a strong Kansas State squad. They were one of the best teams in the nation clearly…and they return a ton of talent this year. In our view, anyone that picks Ohio State over Oregon for number two behind Alabama needs to have their heads examined! Oregon would likely have pounded Ohio State last year, and has more and better talent coming back. Mariota at quarterback is only a sophomore…which means he’s young enough to take a big step forward from what was already a terrific season. As long as new coach Helfrich doesn’t panic and lose his head, the Ducks will once again be one of the big stories of the college season. One possible downside…the schedule is so EASY that the starters may not really be battle tested by the time Stanford arrives on the schedule in early November.
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 8 on defense
Quarterback: Kevin Hogan
Head Coach: David Shaw
Offense is going to be a concern…as the team lost a few starters from a unit that only ranked #84 nationally last year while playing in a conference known for its high scoring games. They used a classic grinder style to take out Oregon and Wisconsin…but that also kept them from surviving Notre Dame and Washington. This is a team that’s still capable of playing with anybody…but they’re likely to stub their toe somewhere along the line again because a struggling offense gives them so little margin for error. A very challenging November has Oregon, USC, and Notre Dame on the schedule.
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 7 on defense
Quarterback: Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz
Head Coach: Mike Riley
There’s a lot of potential here, with so much experience coming back to a team that finished 9-4…and easily could have won its bowl game against Texas down in San Antonio. The quarterback battle will be interesting because both candidates have shown they can win…but have also shown they get flustered under pressure. There may not be any pressure until an October 26 game against Stanford (so many easy schedules this year in the Pac 12!). Let’s see how the team handles September road tests at Utah and San Diego State.
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 7 on defense
Quarterback: Keith Price
Head Coach: Steve Sarkisian
The Huskies were extremely inconsistent last year. They could play with anybody when they avoided turnovers (beating Stanford and Oregon State, and hanging tough with Boise State in their bowl). But, they got routed by quality when they couldn’t protect the ball (losing to LSU 41-3, Oregon 52-21, and even Arizona 52-17). It was a “defensive” team last year, with the stop unit ranking #31 nationally while the offense fizzled at #97. Coach Sarkisian needs to salvage his reputation as a great offensive mind quick given the quality in the North above him. The Huskies get Boise State again, this time in a season opener. Great place to make a statement.
Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Sonny Dykes (new)
This could be a real disaster. Athlon puts the Bears in the top 60 because of program history…but you can see in the data box that something much worse is certainly possible. We’re talking about a team that went 3-9 last year before getting hurt by graduation. There’s no proven quarterback. The new head coach may be in over his head as he climbs the ladder from a southern mid-major. We’ll start the season skeptical, then see what happens in the opener against Northwestern, and then in September matchups with Ohio State and Oregon. Brutal start for so many new faces. That could set up sleeper potential as underdogs in November once everyone is on the same page.
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 8 on defense
Quarterback: Connor Halliday
Head Coach: Mike Leach
Leach’s reputation has dropped so far that his team is still ranked behind California even though they return a lot more starters and have a quarterback who saw meaningful action last year. The Cougars would have gone winless in Pac 12 play if not for catching Washington napping in their rivalry game. The other wins were against Eastern Washington and UNLV, and weren’t particularly impressive. Leach is having trouble so far winning without Texas high school athletes! Road tests right out of the gate against Auburn and USC will tell us a lot about how 2013 will play out.
Back Sunday to talk about a wide-open South division that has Arizona State talking title amidst what’s shaping up as a “big four” that also includes USC, UCLA, and Arizona. Our annual NFL Divisional previews will begin next weekend, just in time for the Hall of Fame Game a week from Sunday Night.
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