Now that the bowl games are over it is time for the first edition of the 2011 Pac 12 Conference Power Ratings. This is the first year of divisional play so we need to monkey around a bit with the concept of having two divisions and how it translated into actual overall conference rankings.
1. Oregon, 2. Stanford, 3. Washington, 4. Oregon State, 5. California, 6. Washington State
1. Arizona State, 2. Southern California, 3. Utah, 4. Arizona, 5. UCLA, 6. Colorado
1. Oregon...The Ducks almost reached the top of the mountain this year when they played Auburn for the national championship and lost on the last snap of the game. Contenders in the Pac 10 need to play up to their level because the Ducks aren't coming down anytime soon even though they have some reloading to do on the offensive and defensive lines.
2. Stanford...Andrew Luck is returning but Jim Harbaugh is heading off to the NFL. Whoever takes over at the farm takes over a loaded squad and the benefits of a top five 2011 recruiting class. They also have some rebuilding to do on the offensive and defensive lines which have powered this machine in the first place.
3. Arizona State...The Devils are the experts breakout pick for 2011 after finishing 6-6 last season. ASU returns an impressive defense and an offense that showed considerable improvement and depth as the season progressed. Dennis Erickson is on the hot seat and this is a year he needs to win at least eight games to earn a new contract. My money is on Erickson with 19 starters returning.
4. Southern California...I wouldn't discount the Trojans just yet because the sanctions won't be really felt till the next recruiting class. As usual USC brings in another strong recruiting class but this one is strong on kids that can help right away by enrolling early to beat the sanction limitations. The Trojans have taken a few hits on the offensive and defensive lines due to graduation and the usual early entry into the NFL.
5. Washington...The Huskies lose their best players on offense (Locker) and defense (Mason Foster). Those are huge holes to fill for a program that is struggling to play .500 ball so why the optimism? The Huskies are well stocked in the skill positions and they have two frosh who gained starting experience on the offensive line last season who will develop into something special.
6. Arizona...Nobody in the conference loses more starting talent than the Wildcats but they still have pretty good depth and talent at the skill positions.
7. Utah...The Ute's have a solid program but they have never played as grueling a schedule as they will face in 2011. I am not discounting the MWC but these guys are going to be tested early and often.
9. California...The Bears will be breaking in a new QB and how well he does will help determine which way Cal is headed this season. They also have major losses on defense and are losing Shane Vereen to the NFL. What they do have is an outstanding recruiting class and a lot of current talent on campus.
10. UCLA...Is this program getting better? It better show some improvement or Rick Neuheisel could be moving on next November. Akeem Ayers and Rahim Moore are headed off the the NFL on defense. Offensively there are more questions than answers.
11. Washington State...The Cougars are rapidly improving and they have the type of schedule that could conceivably get them bowl eligible next season if they get a couple of breaks. I like Jeff Tuel and I think the defense is going to be better. The schedule is kind in 2011. A 5-0 start is not out of the question.
12. Colorado...Jon Embree has a lot of work to do to get this program back on track but I think he has the potential to get there. It just won't happen in his first season.