2012 Pac-12 Football Preview: North Division
Many believed that Lane Kiffin would find it difficult to recover from the NCAA sanctions and match the success the team was able to accumulate during the previous decade.
That was quickly shot down as USC finished 10-2 last year, with nearly the entire roster returning (including the addition of RB Silas Redd) for more.
USC easy pick for the South division and a possible candidate for the final BCS national championship, but who will challenge it in the conference title game?
Here is a preview and prediction of how the Pac-12 North division will pan out this upcoming season, with the South coming soon.
Oregon Ducks: 11-1 (8-1)
The Ducks' bid for a fourth straight conference championship will be put on the line in December—that is, if they make it. Coach Chip Kelly must replace two of the best offensive players Oregon has ever seen with quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James out of the picture. Bryan Bennett looks to be the main man under center while Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas will share snaps in the backfield. The receiver and linebacker corps are a bit depleted, but overall, the team should be good enough to run the table in the North once again.
Washington Huskies: 9-3 (7-2)
I really, really like Washington as a dark horse team this fall. It'll have a dangerous, balanced offensive attack: Quarterback Keith Price looks to be dominant with his explosive receivers, and the running back depth chart will suffer no drop off after losing Chris Polk. The Huskies can dethrone Oregon if the secondary is much improved from a year ago—and with all but one returning starter, the ceiling for development is very high.
California Golden Bears: 7-5 (5-4)
Lack of consistency and overwhelming frustration has summarized Cal since 2007, where it is a combined 36-28 and has not finished better than fourth place in the North. The Bears have a lot of optimism this year, however, with a dynamic offense returning led by NFL prospect receiver Keenan Allen. The defense could prove to be a little shaky with the majority of its positions being filled by underclassmen, but if they can force turnovers, this could be a surprisingly good team.
Stanford Cardinal: 7-5 (5-4)
Plain and simple, Stanford won't have nearly the same firepower on offense as its had the past two years. Chris Owusu, Griff Whalen, Coby Fleener, David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin, and Andrew Luck of course, are all in the NFL. The defensive front seven will be solid, and teams will have a hard time running the ball on it. But the secondary is a big concern, as it allowed nine passing touchdowns against USC, Oregon and Oklahoma State last year. The Cardinal won't have the ability to keep up in shootouts, so the corners and safeties will be the biggest factor in the team's outcome in 2012.
Washington State Cougars: 6-6 (4-5)
There's no doubt that the hiring of coach Mike Leach has brought excitement to the Washington State football program. He's an accredited winner and should turn the Cougars around...in good time. The offense should be okay, with enough umph to stay competitive throughout games. But like he did at Texas Tech, Leach will have to outscore opponents to win: WSU allowed 34.6 points per game in conference play last year and return a defensive line that just couldn't reach the quarterback.
Oregon State Beavers: 1-11 (0-9)
The Beavers ranked 118th in the nation via the running game last year, sputtering just 86.9 yards per game off 3.3 ypc. If they want to win more than three games, sophomore QB Sean Mannion and sophomore RB Malcolm Agnew need to be much more effective on first down so that there are a lot less third-and-long situations. Oregon State has two defensive ends that will provide pressure on the opponents' pass and rush games, while the secondary should prove stout. Still, the schedule is far too brutal for such a young roster and OSU will struggle to stay competitive.
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