'11 Predictions: Pac-12
New-look Pac-12 could offer some interesting football in 2011.
By: Braden Gall | 1/9/11, 9:00 AM EST
Thomas returns to lead another explosive Duck attack.
Athlon Sports is in the predictions business. We are currently America’s oldest preseason College Football publication (1967) and have been the most accurate NCAA football predictor over the last five years. With this in mind, and the finale of the 2010 football season quickly approaching, Athlon felt the urge to look ahead to the 2011 season.
Here are “The Way Too Early Predictions for 2011” in the Pac-12.
Much like the Big Ten, the Pac-10 will go through monumental offseason changes — starting with its name. The Pac-12 will be the new name of college football’s premier West Coast conference. It may take some time to get used to calling it the Pac-12, but unlike the Big Ten, it shouldn’t take anytime to learn the divisions.
The conference will be broken along geographic lines into North and South divisions with rivalries completely sustained. That is the good news for the league. The bad? National title contender Oregon should once again be the favorite to top the league. Quarterback Darron Thomas and Heisman finalist LaMichael James return to what should once again be an explosive offense. Fixing some holes in the receiving corps and along the offensive line will be key, but Oregon is in reloading, not rebuilding mode.
The front seven of the Ducks’ defense will take the biggest hit. Replacing Casey Matthews, Kenny Rowe and Brandon Bair will be tough. Depth in the secondary should help as a lot of talented names return with plenty of experience.
Much of Stanford’s 2011 season will be decided at some point in the next few months. Quarterback Andrew Luck and head coach Jim Harbaugh could both be back in Palo Alto next fall, resulting in a serious threat to Oregon’s conference supremacy. However, it’s also possible that both will be gone next year, and with a revamped offensive line, the Cardinal could struggle to keep up with the Ducks.
Oregon State will get a second year with strong-armed quarterback Ryan Katz. A solid offensive line and great running game should help produce one of the league’s top offenses. Replacing stud noseguard Stephen Paea will be incredibly difficult. Washington has been recruiting extremely well and should have plenty of young talent, but whether they can develop quickly enough to contend in 2011 is a large mystery.
In short, the North Division could look a lot like 2010 again. Chip Kelly and his Oregon Ducks have the inside track on a third straight conference championship.
Erickson has ASU fans looking up for 2011.
In the South Division, the traditional powers could be taking a back seat to a team that has won a total of six conference games over the last two years (remember, Pac-10 teams played nine games per year). Arizona State should return largely intact — as in 20 of 22 starters potentially. Special teams might be the only issue Dennis Erickson will need to address in the offseason. He will have a stout front seven, a solid rushing attack, two quarterbacks with starting experience and positive momentum after two high-scoring wins to close the season over UCLA and Arizona. It might be crazy, but ASU could be the favorite in the South next fall.
That leaves the USC Trojans. They still have the most talented starting 22 in the league, but depth was a serious issue in 2010. Until the scholarship limitations are lifted, depth will continue to be a major hindrance. However, third-year quarterback Matt Barkley will have an embarrassment of riches to work with on offense next season, and one has to think that the elder Kiffin should be able to improve the Trojan defense. The Men of Troy have the potential to win this league but have failed to live up to their recruiting hype for a few years. Fans and media will give the new staff a pass in 2010, but probably not in 2011.
Utah and Colorado begin their Pac-12 tenures facing an uphill battle. The Buffs are in major rebuilding mode with a new staff stepping into place while Utah will play the toughest schedule of its existence. A full BCS conference slate will test the depth of the former "mid-major" program in year one. Arizona is the wildcard. Replacing much of that defensive line will hurt, but quarterbacks Nick Foles and Matt Scott offer plenty of leadership on offense. Mike Stoops always seem to win some games he shouldn't — and lose some he shouldn't, too.
North Division Predictions (key losses):
1. Oregon: WR Jeff Maehl, RB LaMichael James*, OL Bo Thran, OL Jordan Holmes, OL C.E. Kaiser, DT Brandon Bair, LB Casey Matthews, DE/LB Kenny Rowe, LB Spencer Paysinger, CB Talmadge Jackson
2. Stanford: QB Andrew Luck*, FB/LB Owen Marecic, WR Ryan Whalen, TE Konrad Reuland, OL Andy Phillips, OL Chase Beeler*, OL James McGillicuddy, DT Sione Fua, S Delano Howell*
3. Oregon State: OL Alex Linnenkohl, DT Stephen Paea, CB James Dockery
4. Washington: QB Jake Locker, OL Cody Habben, OL Ryan Tolar, LB Mason Foster, Jermaine Kearse*
5. Cal: RB Shane Vareen*, DT Derrick Hill, DE Cameron Jordan, LB Mike Mohamed
6. Washington State
South Division Predictions:
1. Arizona State: DT Saia Falahola CB Omar Bolden*, K Thomas Weber, P Trevor Hankins,
2. USC: RB Allen Bradford, FB Stanley Havili, WR Ronald Johnson, OL Kris O’Dowd, OL Tyron Smith*, OL Butch Lewis, LB Malcolm Smith, LB Michael Morgan, CB Shareece Wright, DT Jurrell Casey*
3. Arizona: RB Nic Grigsby, OL Colin Baxter, OL Adam Grant, Juron Criner*, DE Brooks Reed, DE Rick Elmore, S Joe Perkins
4. Utah: RB Matt Asiata, RB Eddie Wide, OL Zane Taylor, CB Brandon Burton*, RS Shaky Smithson
5. UCLA: LB Akeem Ayers*, S Rahim Moore*, K Kai Forbath, LS Christian Yount
6. Colorado: OL Nate Solder, CB Jimmy Smith, CB Jalil Brown
* Underclassmen who could decide to enter the NFL Draft.
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