1. Oregon Ducks (9-0, 13-0)
2. Stanford Cardinal (7-2, 10-2)
3. Oregon State Beavers (5-4, 8-4)
4. Washington Huskies (5-4, 8-4)
5. California Golden Bears (2-7, 3-9)
6. Washington State Cougars (1-8, 3-9)
1. Arizona State Sun Devils (7-2, 9-4)
2. USC Trojans (6-3, 9-4)
3. UCLA Bruins (6-3, 8-4)
4. Arizona Wildcats (4-5, 7-5)
5. Utah Utes (2-7, 3-9)
6. Colorado Buffaloes (0-9, 1-11)
PAC 12 Championship Game: Oregon Ducks over Arizona State Sun Devils
Chip Who? - A new era starts in Oregon with Chip Kelly's departure to the NFL. Mark Helfrich is the new man in charge and he inherits a roster full of talent. Hiring the offensive coordinator should ease the transition for the always prolific offense, and retaining Nick Aliotti at defensive coordinator ensures the defense remains in good hands. The Ducks also skirted any serious NCAA sanctions, positioning them for big things in 2013. Probably the most important factor though is the return of Marcus Mariota at quarterback. Mariota is arguably the best all-around quarterback the Ducks have had, accounting for 2,677 passing and 752 rushing in his first season at the controls. Those numbers are expected to rise and I would not be surprised if Mariota joined the 3,000/1,000 club in 2013. With the current issues swirling around Johnny Football, Mariota jumps to the forefront of the Heisman race.
The Oregon offense is not a one-man show with the return of De'Anthony Thomas and several returning receivers, along with three-fifths of the offensive line. The defense returns 7 starters, including the entire defensive backfield. The key on defense is replacing the linebackers and pass rush of Dion Jordan. With the offense that Oregon trots out, the defense doesn't have to be special, but this could be one of the best they have had in recent memory.
There are never any guarantees, but the schedule is not daunting for Oregon and one could argue there is no reason for them to finish any worse than 11-1. It can also be argued that it is a one-game season. That game is at Stanford on Thursday, November 7th. It could all unfold differently, it is the great thing about sports, but I see the Ducks playing for and winning the National Championship in 2013.
The Rise of the Cardinal - Stanford has become one of the Nation's elite programs, as hard as that is to say. The Cardinal will be formidable in 2013 and it all starts with defense. Stanford was difficult to score on a year ago and the task will be no easier this season. The defensive line is arguably the best in College Football and will wreak havoc all year in opposing backfields. Kevin Hogan will be at the reins of the offense and more will be put on his shoulders this year with the departure of Stefan Taylor. The offensive line is strong, so the running game should not take a complete step backward. The offense will miss the tight ends the most, with the departures of Zach Ertz and Lavine Toilolo to the NFL.
Stanford is not a long shot for an undefeated season. They play Oregon at home and will be favored in almost every game. The margin of error and luck element (not Andrew) influenced my 10-2 projection. Winning 8 games by a touchdown or less last season is rarely replicated. The losses on offense will likely emerge in at least a couple of games. A lot of people love Stanford this year. I just like them.
The Fall of the Trojan - USC was supposed to win it all last year. They went 7-6. They are loaded with top recruits all over the field. It all doesn't matter when you are consistently out-coached. The Trojans will be better in 2013 because they really can't be much worse with the roster they have. Lane Kiffin will hold them back though. They are also unsettled at quarterback, so I can't get on board with anything better than a decent season, which may not cut it for Kiffin's job.
- Arizona State could be loaded on defense, returns its quarterback and is in the 2nd year of Todd Graham's system. The schedule is a bear, but I like the Sun Devils to emerge in the PAC-12 South.
- UCLA's schedule is equally daunting and the Bruins were made-out as a bit ordinary down the stretch last season. They should bounce back, but a return to elite status is a bit premature.
- Ka'Deem Carey is not mentioned anywhere else in this preview. He has an outstanding shot at leading the Nation in rushing if he stays healthy. The Arizona offense needs to score to support its floundering defense and Carey is the bell-cow.
- The team that will most likely exceed my expectations is Utah. It is hard to see it on paper, but they are usually better than expected.
Worst Non-Conference Schedule: Arizona. Northern Arizona, UNLV and UTSA makes a 3-6 conference record all that is needed for bowl-eligibility.
Thank You PAC 12 Schedule: Oregon. No Arizona State or USC in cross-over, although the Ducks do have to play at Stanford.
Curse You PAC 12 Schedule: UCLA. The Bruins miss out on Washington State in cross-over and have to play at Stanford, Oregon, Arizona and USC.
Best Player: Marqise Lee, USC. Can USC find a suitable quarterback to get the Nation's top WR the ball?
Best Newcomer: Su'a Cravens, USC. The freshman will likely start at safety and become the next great Trojan at that position.
Weekly Games to Watch
Aug 31 - Boise State at Washington...The Huskies open their new stadium against the team they met in last season's bowl.
Sept 7- San Jose State at Stanford...The Spartans kept close a year ago and present a dangerous opponent for a Cardinal team with big aspirations.
Sept 14 - UCLA at Nebraska...The Bruins took last year's meeting at home to set the tone for a quality season.
Sept 21 - Arizona State at Stanford...The first big conference game of the year. Could these two meet again?
Sept 28 - USC at Arizona State...The PAC-12 South could be determined by the winner of this early-season conference battle.
Oct 5 - Notre Dame vs Arizona State (Arlington, TX)...A brutal 4-game stretch for the Sun Devils ends with a neutral site tussle against the Irish.
Oct 12 - Oregon at Washington...The Huskies always manage one of the better upsets each year. Duck fans beware.
Oct 19 - UCLA at Stanford...The Cardinal beat the Bruins twice a year ago and revenge is on UCLA's mind.
Oct 26 - UCLA at Oregon...Who scheduled this two-week stretch says the Bruin fan.
Nov 1 - USC at Oregon State...If USC is going to be better in 2013, they need to win tough road games like this one.
Nov 7 - Oregon at Stanford...The PAC-12 Game of the Year and potential National Semi-Final.
Nov 16 - Stanford at USC...If Stanford survives Oregon, it doesn't get any easier.
Nov 23 - Arizona State at UCLA...PAC-12 South implications appear imminent in this one.
Nov 29 - Oregon State at Oregon...Kicks off a good final weekend of PAC-12 football.
Dec 7 - PAC-12 Championship Game...Will there be National Title implications on the line?
BCS Championship Game: Oregon Ducks
BCS Rose Bowl: Stanford Cardinal
Alamo Bowl: Arizona State Sun Devils
Holiday Bowl: USC Trojans
Sun Bowl: UCLA Bruins
Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon State Beavers
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Washington Huskies
New Mexico Bowl: Arizona Wildcats