Pac 12 2014 Pre-Season Power Rankings and Recruiting Roundup

Is 2014 the beginning of the end of the reign of terror that Oregon has unleashed over the rest of the Pac 12? - Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Gekko gazes into his Football Farmer's Almanac to reveal his "not totally too premature" power ranks for the 2014 Pac 12 Football Season.

National signing day has passed and those of us in the blogging world can, as a result, now get on with our timeless tradition of forecasting the next season without any accountability by using the tried and true phrasing as thus:

"Here is our 'way-too-early' look at 2014".

You see what I did there.  By using the term "way too early", I've already provided an excuse as to why the forecast cannot be relied upon.  Yet, I'm proceeding with the exercise anyhow.  What is the point?

Screw it.  If the Farmer's Almanac was able to accurately predict the weather for Super Bowl XLVIII a year before the fact, the Gekko can sure as hell put together the most reliable Pac 12 Pre-Season Power Poll out there on the market today.  So, here goes:

UWDP's Pac 12 Power Poll: 2014 Pre-Pre-Season

Team Recruiting Rankings
Oregon_helmet_medium
1. Oregon Ducks
#5 (23)
What they lost: Oregon saw the graduation of several key players on both sides of the line of scrimmage.  Most notably, they will be replacing a couple of offensive linemen, key playmakers in De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff, two top interior defensive linement, and their top cover corner in Terrance Mitchell.  However, what is most notable is who they didn't lose - in particular QB Marcus Mariota and OC Hroniss Grasu, both of whom would have been top draft picks in their position groups the upcoming NFL draft.
What they gained: Oregon had another typical Oregon recruiting class - a couple of flashy players and then a lot of solid, if less-than-sexy, talent spread across the depth chart.  The headliner is five star RB Royce Freeman who is sure to enter an already deep Oregon tailback corps.  Oregon also did well to fill gaps on the O-Line and in the defensive secondary by signing nine players in those positions.  This class, however, will be noted by Oregon fans as the first in a long-time that did not bring with it any notable last-second splashy flips.  Key targets like Budda Baker, JuJu Smith and Trey Lealaimatafao all got away from Mark Helfrich and Co.  Given that all of these were defensive players, this may have been somewhat affected by the retirement of Nick Alliotti and the much-criticized decision to replace him internally with journeyman Don Pellum.  Regardless, the glossy shine that always surrounded Chip Kelly seems to have tarnished just a little in Helfrich's first full-year recruiting cycle.
In 2014 ... We should all expect the Ducks to continue to win games fueled by their loaded offense.  In fact, with 9 returning starters (roughly speaking) and a Heisman candidate QB, the Ducks shouldn't miss a beat, even with out DAT and Huff.  Defensively, the Ducks stellar secondary is going to be completely overhauled.  The somewhat overrated but still effective Ifo Ekpre-Olomu returns, but will be joined by new starters at every other position.  Factor in the overhaul of the defensive line to go along with an already middling linebacking crew and you can see the potential for the Ducks to give up chunks of yards.  Still, as long as Mariota stays upright, I have a hard time believing that they won't generate another #1 Pac 12 offense and set the pace for the rest of the conference.
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2. USC Trojans
#1 (11)
What they lost: The names that USC loses to graduation and the NFL are eye-popping:  RB Silas Redd, OC Marcus Martin, S Dion Bailey, CB Josh Shaw, WR Marqise Lee, DE George Uko, QB Max Wittek and TE Xavier Grimble were all major contributors.  In fact, USC's five early declarations for the draft tied Cal (?) for second most in all CFB (LSU had six). For a team with 11 fewer scholarships than every other Pac 12 team, that is a gouging of significant concern.  However, it is interesting to note that USC still returns 19 of 24 starters from a year ago, including starting QB Cody Kessler, DT Leonard Williams and LB Hayes Pullard. 
What they gained: You have to give Steve Sarkisian credit ... the man reigns over a staff that can really sell.  Armed with the USC brand in his bag, it is no surprise that the man had the best signing day of any Pac 12 coach, hauling in a trio of 5-star players who were hanging in the balance until the last minute.  DB Adoree' Jackson, DB JuJu Smith and OL Damien Mama are all guys who could play as true freshman in positions of clear need for Sark's new team.  Overall, the Trojans booked 19 including four who count against last year's class.  This is the last class that the Trojans will be restricted to 15 new scholarship offers, so this is just the proverbial beginning for Sark and Co.
In 2014 ... The Trojans should go in as the favorite in the South, despite the media's obsession on Westwood.  USC is simply loaded with returning talent on both sides of the ball and no fewer than eight in this year's recruiting class are capable of stepping in and playing right away.  While I expect there to be a battle at QB between Kessler and Max Browne, there are many positions locked down already.  Nelson Algholor enters the year as the top WR prospect in the conference.  Ditto that for DL Williams.  Their RB rotation of Tre Madden, Justin Davis and Javorius Allen rivals Oregon's in terms of overall quality.  The defensive backfield, led by the young S'ua Cravens, is the best that nobody is talking about.  Layer in Sark's new offense and Justin Wilcox's creativity on D and, well, I can see USC rolling in 2014.  The depth question is a legit one, and it may well affect USC as the season wears on.  However, that shouldn't stop the Trojans from entering the season as the top P12 South team in the power rankings.
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3.  UCLA Bruins
#4 (21)
What they lost: UCLA is the chic pick to win the Pac 12 in 2014 mostly due to the fact that their key losses list is restricted to just a few players.  Unfortunately for UCLA, these few included just about their only playmaker in WR Shaquelle Evans, their three best defensive players in LB Anthony Barr, DL Cassius Marsh and DL Keenan Graham, and their only above average OL in Xavier Su'a-Filo.  While they were fortunate to have Brett Hundley opt to return, the Bruins lost a lot of production that counts for more than the mere numbers of bodies would imply alone.
What they gained: After a few years of taking advantage of the recruiting handcuffs placed on Lane Kiffin, Bruins fans were disappointed in the somewhat pedestrian haul that they got in this year's recruiting class.  While there are some highly regarded players on their list, including LB Kenny Walker, WR Austin Roberts from Indiana and LB Zach Whitley from Texas, the class is better known for who they didn't land.  Jim Mora, fresh off of recommitting to UCLA following a crazy offseason, failed to seal the deal on key targets like JuJu Smith, Budda Baker and Solomon Thomas.  These were huge misses that definitely take some wind out of the sails in Westwood.
In 2014 ... You can expect UCLA to be in the race in the South all the way to the bitter end.  While I think USC is the better team, it is clearly the case that UCLA is the deeper team.  That depth may trump whatever talent gap exists between the two clubs and, let's face it, UCLA has the better QB.  That said, I'm very interested to see both how their below-average offensive line evolves and where UCLA's playmaking comes from as their top two WRs are Jordan Payton and Devin Lucien and their top RB is Paul Perkins.  Don't worry, you are not alone if none of these names strikes fear into your heart.  Short of Myles Jack moving permanently to offense, this is going to be a middling offense in the Pac 12 no matter what kind of magic Hundley works.  Fortunately, Jim Mora has the makings of an elite D at his fingertips and that will be his ace in the hole as he makes his run for a conference championship.
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4.  Stanford Cardinal
#2 (14)
What they lost: Besides the departure of DC Derek Mason - the third coordinator loss by the Cardinal in the last three seasons, Stanford's legendary #PartyInTheBackfield is getting ravaged.  Ben Gardener, Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, Ed Harris and Josh Mauro are all graduating or moving on.  Offensively, the Cardinal are losing their starting RBs in Tyler Gaffney and four starting offensive linemen, including all-world OG David Yankey.  The Cardinal have been an imbalanced roster for a few years.  Factor in the fact that 2015 will see the graduation of their entire 2014 starting defensive line and their only proven playmaker in Ty Montgomery and it isn't hard to see why last year's two conference losses may not be a blip.
What they gained: The good news for Stanford, other than the fact that they still return a lot of talented offensive linemen in addition to QB Kevin Hogan, is that they've established themselves as a destination school.  With the Palo Alto sunshine, the elite education and, now, a legit "tough guy" football program, Stanford has recruiting staying power and will have it as long as the Jim Harbaugh coaching tree is alive in well there.  The Cardinal did very well - in fact, if you count "needs", I think they did better than USC - in landing elite prospects in QB Keller Chryst, OT Casey Tucker, DE Solomon Thomas and TE Dalton Schultz.  One may quibble that there are no sure-thing offensive playmakers in this haul, but it is an outstanding class nonetheless.
In 2014 ... Expect the Cardinal to return to the general orbit of the Pac 12.  While they still have a very good defense, led by DL Henry Anderson, LB James Vaughters and DB Jordan Richardson, they aren't the elite unit that just graduated.  The Cardinal are going to have to lean more on the offensive talents of Hogan and Montgomery.  This means that the offense, without a proven RB in the fold, will have to open up things a little bit more.  When they do, I'm not sure how well that they'll be able to compete against the better Pac 12 D's.  I'm predicting a battle with UW for second place in the North.
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5.  Washington Huskies
#7 (38)
What they lost: You already know the score here ... the Huskies didn't lose a ton of bodies, but they lost the heart and soul of the offense with the graduation of Keith Price and the early departures of both Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Bishop Sankey.  The early retirement of Erik Kohler thins out some of the depth on the offensive line and the graduation of K Travis Coons will be a challenge.  Beyond that, just about every top contributor on each side of the ball returns in 2015.
What they gained: We've reviewed the Huskies recruiting haul in great detail over the past week.  In summary, Chris Petersen focused his recruiting efforts on restocking the lines of scrimmage with nearly half of his recruits being linemen, continuing the philosophy of a QB in every class, and covering depth problems in the defensive secondary.  He also put up a fence around the state of Washington by landing the two biggest recruits in the state in Budda Baker and Kaleb McGary.
In 2014 ... the Huskies will be a mystery, once again.  From an experienced talent perspective, the Huskies return more quality depth than just about any team in the league - including both Oregon and UCLA.  On offense, there are some tantalizing talents like John Ross, Jaydon Mickens, Troy Williams, Demore'ea Stringfellow (yah, I know) and Dwayne Washington.  However, it is impossible to not look at the holes left by their QB, TE and RB and have some jitters.  Combine that with a lack of certainty of what Jonathon Smith brings to the table as an offensive planner and play caller and, well, there are questions.  Defensively, we can expect the Huskies to continue their upward trajectory.  They have depth everywhere, they have length and they have speed.  Expect to hear the names of guys like Elijah Qualls and Jermaine Kelly get called a lot in addition to likes of Marcus Peters, Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha, Shaq Thompson and John Timu.  This will be the strength of the Huskies team in 2015.
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6.  Arizona State Sun Devils
#3 (20)
What they lost: ASU loses all but two defensive starters, including two-time P12 DPOY DT Will Sutton, DE/LB Carl Bradford and LB Chris Young.  Offensively, the lose their top RB and Pac 12 TD champ Marion Grice, 1st Team TE Chris Coyle and two offensive linemen.  Basically, they are starting over from scratch on D and reloading around WR Jaelen Strong and QB Taylor Kelly on O.
What they gained: In order to compensate for the mass defections, Todd Graham had to hit the JC circuit hard, landing seven of them to fill out his class and to puff up his rankings a little.  Several of these guys, including DT Dalvon Stuckey, DE Ed Boateng, and WR Eric Lauderdale are going to have to be contributors in 2014 if ASU wants to hang with UCLA and USC.  Still, despite the high ranking, Graham failed to sign a QB of the future in a class that looks short on young talent.
In 2014 ...ASU is going to have difficulty reaching the same heights that they achieved in 2013 when they won the Pac 12 South.  They are really going to have to rely on a Kelly, Strong, RB DJ Foster and a surprising good offensive line to compensate for what, I believe, will be a substantially weaker defense in 2015.  It is difficult to project them any better than third in the P12 South at this time.
Osu_helmet_medium
7.  Oregon State Beavers
#9 (57)
What they lost: The Beavers lost their best player on either side of the ball in WR Brandin Cooks, the reigning national college football Biletnikoff winner, and first-round DE Scott Crichton.  There are other notables, including QB Cody Vaz and LB Michael Doctor, but all-in-all, Oregon State isn't getting hit as hard as some others.  But, man, those are two tough sets of shoes to fill.
What they gained: With his 2014 recruiting class, Mike Riley does what Mike Riley does:  go out and find diamonds in the rough.  It was tough for him to see a few key targets flip - including both Kaleb McGary and Shane Bowman - but it was otherwise par for the course for Riley who landed a class that emphasized big men and featured for JC transfers.  Also important to note that Riley got a key transfer from Alabama in QB Luke Del Rio, the heir apparent to QB Sean Mannion.
In 2014 ... uggghhh.  It is only because I have faith in Mike Riley that I have them ahead of WSU in the power rankings.  Of course, it helps having an experienced QB who has played at a high level.  You also have to like the ruggedness of that Beaver o-line which really seems to be trending upwards.  But there is a dearth of playmakers on the perimeter and a lot of pass rush questions on D.  The Beavers finished last season dropping five straight conference games and that was with Cooks and Crichton.  It is hard to hold a positive outlook.
Wsu_helmet_medium
8.  Washington State Cougars
#10 (63)
What they lost: I don't mean to be trite, but the Cougs are losing Deone Buchannon, John Fullington and a whole lot of Paul Wulff filler.  With no early entrants going into the draft, the Cougs are otherwise pretty well stocked for 2014.
What they gained: I'm not a recruiting-nik and, admittedly, am struggling to decipher a Mike Leach class that is full of kids plucked from out of the dark corners of the recruiting world.  RB Squally Canada is probably the headliner of the class, which is interesting given Leach's offense.  I'm intrigued by ATH Jalen Canty - a 6'8" 260 lb monster who could play at TE or DL (or OT?).  Bottom line:  there is a good spread of players here that seem to allow for depth to grow across all of the Cougs position groups.  I'm not sure what else you could ask for.
In 2014 ... The Cougs, in my mind, enter 2014 with the most upside opportunity of any team in the Pac 12.  While one still has to wonder about the overall quality of the talent, you can no longer debate the depth.  They have legit Pac 12 players at most positions and they have players like WR Gabe Marks, QB Connor Halliday, WR Dom Williams, and LB Darryl Monroe who are bona fide playmakers.  I'm not ready to call it yet, but I'm bullish on the Cougs and Mike Leach.
Ariz_helmet_medium 9.  Arizona Wildcats
#6 (28)
What they lost: This is another team that is watching a lot of really important players walk out the door.  The most important, of course, is RB Ka'Deem Carey.  He is joined by QB BJ Denker, DB Shaq Richardson, LB Jake Fisher and LB Maquis Flowers.  Rich Rod has definitely demonstrated an ability to plug holes, but that is still a lot to lose.
What they gained: Apparently Rich Rod hails from the Todd Graham school of recruiting.  His class, which is enormous, features six JC transfers.  Unlike Graham, Rich Rod has loaded up on some high school talent, including five ESPN 300 players.  The headliners are OL Jordan Poland - a 6'7" 333 lb OT prospect - and ATH Marquis Ware.  It is a good class that includes long-term depth and short term answers to some holes.
In 2014 ... I haven't decided if I love or hate Arizona going into 2014.  It could go either way.  A lot depends on how the new backfield assimilates and if the Wildcats show any ability whatsoever to slow down opposing offenses with all of their Defensive key players moving on.  For now, we'll hold pat and not make any bets on the boys in Tuscon.
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10.  California Golden Bears
#8 (44)
What they lost: As noted earlier, the Bears are losing five early enrollees to the draft not mention DL De'Andre Coleman, K Vicenzo D'Amato, and transferring QB Zach Kline.  Despite all that, this is a team that failed to bean an FBS opponent in 2013, so I'm going to say that it may not be as bad as it seems.
What they gained: Despite getting a bunch of kids that were boxed out of other programs, I think Cal's overall class finished better than perhaps some had expected.  One-time Husky commit Erik Brown is going to be a good one at WR and Mountlake Terrace's Devante Downs may end up as a solid P12 linebacker (as long as he doesn't play RB).  The landing of QB Luke Rubenzer and RBs Tre Watson and Vic Enwere also bode well for the future of the Cal offense.
In 2014 ... Look for more Cal growing pains.  While I think the foundation at Cal is better than a lot of people care to acknowledge, there are still some glaring holes - particularly on the defensive side of the ball.  In a loaded Pac 12 North, it is tough to see Cal getting much of an edge in 2014.
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11.  Utah Utes
#11 (67)
What they lost: The Utes absorbed some tough offseason losses that include TE Jake Murphy, DB Brian Blechen, RB Kelvin York and DE Trevor Reilly.  If QB Travis Wilson is forced into injury retirement, then the 2014 offseason will have turned out to be an absolute disaster for an already reeling Kyle Whittingham.
What they gained: The Utes recruiting class was a hot mess, so let's just focus on the addition of Utah's third Offensive Coordinator in three years with the hiring of former Husky Dave Christensen.  What?  You hadn't heard about Utah's class?  Well, let's just say that they were on the losing end of a lot of changes of heart in the days leading up to NSD.  The headliners are a couple of legacy big guys in Lowell Lotuleilei (the "little" brother of Star) and DT Allan Havili (cousin to USC's Stan).  I have faith in Whittingham's ability to develop talent, but I think he'd admit that this wasn't exactly the class he envisioned.
In 2014 ... The Utes look bad on paper, especially if Travis Wilson is out.  There is no doubt.  However, there are things about this roster that I like.  There is an abundance of big guys anchoring the lines.  Dres Anderson is a legit playmaker.  And ... well ... that's about it.  It could be a tough slog for the Utes who may be battling a rising Colorado for the cellar in 2014.
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12.  Colorado Buffaloes
#12 (72(
What they lost: The good news here is that Colorado was a young team in 2013 and really don't lose a lot of bodies.  The bad news here is that a few of those bodies are WR Paul Richardson, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe and QB Jordan Webb, the latter who provided some QB depth behind the young Sefo Liufau
What they gained: Mike MacIntyre's first full-year recruiting class is one that has a few people scratching their heads.  Again, I'm not a recruiting expert.  But it is curious even to me to see so few big bodies as a percentage of the overall class and to only see five players from the state of Colorado.  The headliners are probably one-time USC commit WR Shay Fields and S Evan White.
In 2014 ... The Buffaloes have a strong locker room culture and demonstrated a resiliency last season that we had not seen in the seasons before.  Anchored by the "out of nowhere" play by true freshman Liufau and DE Addison Gilliam, the Buffs won a few games and put some scares into some others (right UCLA?).  They still don't have the horses to run with the rest of the Pac 12 and the loss of Paul Richardson to the draft is a big step backwards on offense.  But, the Buffs are starting to get their sea legs under them and could start making some noise in 2014.

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