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Revamped Pac-12 led by powerful Ducks

REPEAT HOPEFULS: Oregon junior LaMichael James runs to the outside of the ASU defense during the Ducks’ 42-31 win over the Sun Devils on Sept. 25. James and the Ducks are ready to take the inaugural Pac-12 Championship after making a run to the BCS Championship last season. (Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)
REPEAT HOPEFULS: Oregon junior LaMichael James runs to the outside of the ASU defense during the Ducks’ 42-31 win over the Sun Devils on Sept. 25. James and the Ducks are ready to take the inaugural Pac-12 Championship after making a run to the BCS Championship last season. (Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)

Check out a slideshow of ASU football's final saturday scrimmage before the home opener against UC Davis on Sept.1.

The landscape of preeminent West Coast collegiate football changed over the summer.

Larry Scott gave it a facelift.

The commissioner of the newly expanded Pac-12 officially welcomed Colorado and Utah to the conference July 1.

The 12 football teams will be divided into two divisions, the North and Nouth, with the winner of each meeting in the inaugural Pac-12 title game with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line.

Here’s how each could shake out heading into the season.




1. Southern California (No. 25 Associated Press, No. 25 ESPN, No. 10 Sagarin Ratings)

The Trojans are ineligible for the postseason but still boast one of the most talented teams in the conference and the nation.

Quarterback Matt Barkley is now a junior and in his third year as the team’s starter. Last season he threw for 232 yards per game, good enough for third in the league.

Barkley’s biggest weapon is sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods. As a freshman, Woods piled up 792 yards and six touchdowns. He was named the Pac-10 Offensive Freshman of the Year for his efforts.

On the defensive side, the Trojans are led by junior defensive end Devon Kennard. The Phoenix native played linebacker last season and recorded 72 tackles.


2. ASU (No. 21 ESPN, No. 34 Sagarin Ratings)

The Sun Devils start the season second mostly because of injuries and the fact that they haven’t defeated USC since 1999.

But if ASU ended the year behind only the Trojans, the school would still play for the Pac-12 title due to USC’s sanctions.

Although the Sun Devils will return most of their starters, the team will have to fix its turnover margin to find success this year.

In 2010, ASU finished ninth in the Pac-10 with a minus six turnover ratio.


3. Utah (No. 20 Sagarin Ratings)

A Pac-12 newcomer, the Utes expect to compete right away in the BCS conference.

Probably the most encouraging thing going for Utah is its schedule.

Because of the split divisions and unbalanced schedules, the Utes won’t have to play either Stanford or Oregon in the regular season, plus they get ASU at home.

Missing two preseason Top-10 teams will go a long way in the standings at the end of the year.

Playing since he was a true freshman, junior quarterback Jordan Wynn leads the Utah offense.

Even though he missed three games in 2010 due to injuries, Wynn threw for 17 touchdowns and 2,334 yards.

The league will see what Utah is made of in conference play in the second week of the season when the team travels to Los Angeles to face USC.


4. UA (No. 31 Sagarin Ratings)

While Utah has a very manageable schedule, the Wildcats have the exact opposite.

After a week one game against Northern Arizona, UA travels to No. 8 Oklahoma State before hosting Stanford and Oregon and finally visiting USC a week later.

If the Wildcats manage to survive that four-week stretch, they’ll get a bit of a break before facing Utah and ASU later in the season.

The UA offense should be a high powered one with senior quarterback Nick Foles and senior wide receiver Juron Criner returning.

Foles led the Pac-10 last year in passing yards per game (290.1) while Criner led the conference in receiving yards per game (94.8).


5. Colorado (No. 72 Sagarin Ratings)

The other Pac-12 rookie is no stranger to BCS schools.

The Buffaloes went 5-7 in 2010 but finished 2-6 in the Big 12.

Colorado hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2007 and hasn’t had a winning season since 2005.

New coach Jon Embree, a CU alum, hopes to turn the program around in its new league.

The Buffaloes’ best playmaker is senior running back Rodney Stewart. He rushed for 1,318 yards last year with 10 touchdowns.


6. UCLA (No. 53 Sagarin Ratings)

2011 appears to be a make-it-or-break-it year for coach Rick Neuheisel, who is 15-22 in three seasons with the Bruins.

Neuheisel was a Rose Bowl MVP quarterback at UCLA but can’t seem to get the same success from his signal callers these days.

In 2010, the Bruins ranked last in passing offense at 141.1 yards per game.

With a decent defense led by senior safety Tony Dye, UCLA will need junior quarterback Kevin Prince to step up this year to have any chance at a bowl.




1. Oregon (No. 3 USA Today coaches’ poll, No. 3 Associated Press, No. 4 ESPN, No. 2 Sagarin Ratings)

The two-time defending conference champions have to start the season as the favorite.

A few plays from winning the national championship last year, the Ducks should compete for a return trip to the BCS this season.

They return Heisman candidate running back LaMichael James, who averaged 144.2 rushing yards per game in 2010.

Other key contributors back include junior quarterback Darron Thomas and junior cornerback Cliff Harris.

Oregon opens up its season with a huge test against No. 4 Louisiana State in Dallas.


2. Stanford (No. 6 USA Today coaches’ poll, No. 7 Associated Press, No. 7 ESPN, No. 12 Sagarin Ratings)

The Cardinals are more like a 1B in the Pac-12 North.

After falling to Oregon in Eugene last fall, Stanford outscored its opponents by 182 points in eight games to close out the season.

And with likely the best player in the nation in junior quarterback Andrew Luck, the Cardinals are again national championship contenders.

The north division will likely be decided Nov. 12, when Stanford hosts the Ducks in Palo Alto.

With home field advantage this time around, first year coach David Shaw has a good chance to knock Oregon from the top of the Pac-12.


3. Oregon State (No. 23 Sagarin Ratings)

The Beavers have been to a bowl game in eight of the last 10 years.

That’s consistency.

The team had a brutal schedule last year, with non-conference opponents like Texas Christian and Boise State, and it won’t get much easier this season.

OSU will travel to No. 10 Wisconsin and host BYU in addition to its rigorous Pac-12 schedule.

The Beavers bring back their pass-catch combo in junior quarterback Ryan Katz and senior wide receiver James Rodgers, who earned a medical redshirt last year after getting injured against UA.


4. Washington (No. 52 Sagarin Ratings)

In the Pac-12, quarterback play is everything.

The Huskies lost Jake Locker to the NFL and will have sophomore Keith Price take over.

Price played in eight games last season, including a start against Oregon in which he threw for 127 yards and a touchdown.

To help out the first year starter, Washington has junior running back Chris Polk.

In 2010, he rushed for 108.8 yards per game. He also has two consecutive 1,000 yards seasons to his name.

The Huskies’ biggest early season test comes against No. 11 Nebraska, the team they beat in the Holiday Bowl last December.


5. California (No. 27 Sagarin Ratings)

The Golden Bears needed one win in their last three games last season to make it to a bowl.

Instead, they finished out their season losing all three, two by a field goal.

Cal lost its best player, running back Shane Vereen, to the pros, and its starting quarterback, Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard, hasn’t played at the BCS level.

The Golden Bears have two solid wide receivers in senior Marvin Jones and sophomore Keenan Allen, who is Maynard’s half brother.


6. Washington State (No. 94 Sagarin Ratings)

Although a few other coaches in the Pac-12 are on the hot seat, none is hotter than Cougars’ coach Paul Wulff, who has five wins in three seasons.

The Cougars made strides in 2010 after not winning a single conference game in 2009, but still were far from competing.

Junior Jeff Tuel is a good game manager and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.

He threw for 231.7 yards per game last year.

The Cougars don’t have a tough out-of-conference schedule with meetings against Idaho State, UNLV and San Diego State, so the majority of the team’s wins may come before conference play begins.


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