Pac 12 Media Day will be held Tuesday, July 26th in Los Angeles. The Pac 12 writers will also unveil their annual media poll to the public that same day. Most of the writers who participate in the that poll are revealing the way they voted this week. This is how I see things heading into the start of camp.
The North obviously will be dominated by Stanford and Oregon who once again will be the two best teams in the entire conference. The Huskies will fight it out with Cal and Oregon State for third place. The South is completely wide open. ASU gets the nod because of their defense and overall returning experience. Don't forget about the Trojans. They still have enough talent to beat most teams.
1. Oregon...The Ducks are the defending champs and somebody needs to knock them off the pedestal before you can say they aren't the best team in the conference. Some say that the threat of probation will get to them this season but I am not even close to buying into that. All that being said they won't be as good as last season. I am thinking 9-10 wins which will give them a shot at the championship game and Rose Bowl.
Duck Challenges: Rebuilding the offensive line, finding depth at wide receiver, and reloading on defense.
Returning Starters: 15 (7 offense, 6 defense, 2 PK/P)
Duck MVP: RB LaMichael James
2. Stanford...Coach Jim Harbaugh is gone but the Cardinal will be in good hands under Jim Shaw. Andrew Luck will make sure that the transition is pretty seamless on offense even though the Cards will be breaking in some new receivers. Just like the Ducks they won't be as good as last season but I still see 9-10 wins. Whoever wins the North division is headed to the Rose Bowl.
Cardinal Challenges: Replacing three starters on the offensive line. Dealing with the loss of Coach Jim Harbaugh. Finding some quality depth at wide receiver.
Returning Starters: 12 (5 offense, 6 defense, 1 PK/P)
Cardinal MVP: QB Andrew Luck
3. Arizona State...I had the Sun Devils ranked third in the conference last time I did one of these rankings earlier this year. Things have changed since then and the injury bug has taken a serious bite out of this squad prior to the start of fall drills. The losses of CB Omar Bolden and WR T.J. Simpson will be felt. Both standouts suffered season ending knee injuries this past spring. Starting DE James Brroks left the team for personal reasons leaving another big hole to fill. All that being said when I compare the Devils with all the other teams in the division I think they have the edge going in.
Sun Devil Challenges: The Devils play both Missouri and Illinois this season. There is a lot of experience returning but this team needs to stay healthy to win.
Returning Starters: 19 (10 offense, 9 defense, 0 PK/P)
Sun Devil MVP: MLB Vontaze Burfict
4. USC...The talent is always there but there was a definite fall off in performance during Kiffin's first season as coach. The defense which is run by his father Monte was simply atrocious. We see a lot of holes in this program right now and things will get worse before they get better which allows schools like Washington to catch up.
Returning Starters: 13 (6 offense, 7 defense 0 PK/P)
Trojan challenges: Staying motivated while ineligible for a bowl game. Finding some depth and performance on the offensive line. Getting the defense to buy into Monte Kiffin's system.
Trojan MVP: QB Matt Barkley
5. Washington...The only question marks I have about the Huskies going into the 2011 season is at QB, OL, and LB. Insiders keep telling me not to worry about QB. They say production will be better this season despite the graduation of Jake. I am also hearing that Jon Timu and Princeton Fuimaono are going to be monster additions at linebacker. The offensive line will have more overall talent than in the past but the young guys still will need to gel as a cohesive unit.
Husky Challenges: Breaking in a new QB and getting a young but talented line to jell on offense. Finding replacements for LB's Mason Foster and Vic Aiyewa on defense.
Returning Starters: 17 (7 offense, 8 defense 2 PK/P)
Husky MVP: RB Chris Polk
6. Arizona...The Wildcats fell apart over the last half of 2010 so there are a lot of questions to be answered this fall. QB is solid with record setting QB Nick Foles returning. Juron Criner is the best receiver in the Pac 12 when healthy but there are rumors floating around out there that he may not be ready for fall camp.
Wildcat Challenges: Replacing five starters on the offensive line and seven starters on defense.
Returning Starters: 13 (5 offense, 7 defense, 1 PK/P)
Wildcat MVP: WR Juron Criner
7. Utah...Most experts are keeping the Ute's near the middle of the conference despite heavy graduation losses. That is a tip of the hat to Kyle Whittingham who has continued to build on a solid program inherited by Urban Meyer. The feeling is the continuity in the coaching staff will get this team over the hump in a more competitive conference. This is a real dark horse type squad. Nobody knows what they really can do till they hit the field and oin the weekly grind that is Pac 12 football.
Ute Challenges: Stepping up the level of competition by playing a tough opponent every single week.
Returning Starters: 13 (7 offense, 5 defense, 1 PK/P)
Ute MVP: QB Jordan Wynn
8. California...The Bears have been under performing over the last few seasons. The biggest reason has been the lack of consistent play at quarterback. Is Zach Maynard the guy that is going to turn it around when he starts hooking up with his half brother Keenan Allen?
Bear challenges: We will have to wait and see to figure out if Zach Maynard is going to be the savior at QB.
Returning Starters: 15 (7 offense, 6 defense 2 PK/P)
Bear MVP: WR Keenan Allen
9. Oregon State...The loss of Jacquizz Rodgers to the NFL and the potential loss of his brother James to injury is going to slow down this offense. WR Jordan Bishop is also banged up.
Beaver Challenges: The WR corp is banged up going into camp. The offensive line needs to show improvement in 2011 and they have to find a RB to replace Quizz Rodgers.
Returning Starters: 12 (7 offense, 4 defense, 1 PK/P)
Beaver MVP: QB Ryan Katz
10. Washington State...You read it here first last fall. The Cougars are going to start the season with a 5-0 record. After that happens they will struggle to find a win to become bowl eligible. Idaho State, UNLV, San Diego State, and UCLA are going to go down like power windows on a Cadillac Escalade for the crimson and grey. The bad news is the Coug's will struggle to find another win after that but Oregon State who they beat last season is a possibility.
Cougar Challenges: Shoring up a defense that can't stop anyone and an offensive line that allowed over 50 sacks last season.
Returning Starters: 17 (9 offense, 8 defense, 0 PK/P)
Cougar MVP: QB Jeff Tuel
11. UCLA...The Bruins have San Jose State, Houston, and Texas on the non conference slate. They should win at least two of those. Keep in mind they did beat Texas last year on the road and the rematch is in the Rose Bowl this season. Neuheisel rebuilt the coaching staff this spring and he realizes he is on the hot seat. UCLA doesn't want to fire him but if he doesn't break .500 and go to a bowl game this season the alumni are going to demand change.
Bruin Challenges: Finding a consistent QB and an adequate offensive line to block for him.
Returning Starters: 16 (7 offense, 8 defense, 1 PK/P)
Bruin MVP: RB Jonathan Franklin
12. Colorado...Jon Embree is a good fit at Colorado but it will take a couple of recruiting years for his program to begin to be competitive with most of the Pac 12. Non conference games with Hawaii, Colorado State, and Ohio State do not make the rebuilding any easier. This team has some bright spots here and there but overall they are the slowest team in the conference. Lack of speed will kill you in the Pac 12.
Returning Starters: 18 (9 offense, 8 defense, 1 PK/P)
Buffalo Challenges: Consistent play on offense and the ability to produce some stops on defense to give this team a chance to stay competitive.
Buffalo MVP: RB Rodney Stewart
North Division Ranking
- Oregon State
- Washington State
South Division Ranking
- Arizona State