Fooch's Note: For those wondering why we have a preview of a college football conference, although this goes a bit beyond normal scouting reports for the draft, this will hopefully help you better understand college football heading into the 2011 season, and thus be able to better follow draft prospects.
The Pac 12 (formerly the Pac 10) has never been known to be a true powerhouse conference, although they have had a few National Championships scattered throughout the years here and there.
However, just because something never has been, doesn't necessarily equate to can never be. It's always possible that a conference could get stronger or at the very least top heavy. Top heavy would be a category that I would most likely put the 2011-'12 Pac 12 Conference.
There are going to be a few very excellent teams in the conference and then the complete opposite as that in those who will be nearly unbearable to watch for the student body who attends that respective school... not to mention the Alumni and general fans of those universities.
College football is for the most part very unpredictable when it comes to actual games but typically, most of the Division I Conferences feature a couple of teams that will dominate nearly every year. The Pac 10 has been one of the divisions that has done a good job at the rotation of who the powerhouse schools will be.
The official preseason rankings have not come out just yet, but below I will provide my thoughts on the teams of the Pac 12 and where all of them fit in within their conference.
1 - OREGON DUCKS
The Ducks are in most people's minds a clear favorite to win the Pac 12. They did not lose many players to the NFL Draft last year. LaMichael James will undoubtedly be one of the front runners for the Heisman Trophy this year as he was one of the four nominees of last year.
We should see a much more potent and improved Darren Thomas this year as he looks to become a well-rounded quarterback in the aerial attack as well as on the ground. However, he will not have Jeff Maehl to throw it to this year which could wind up being a significant loss at the position. There are several possible candidates to step up and emerge in the vacancy left behind from Maehl and I expect fully that someone will inherit and take on that role.
Defensively, the Ducks lost some key players and could struggle early on because of that. Casey Matthews and Kenny Rowe will be missed and probably will not be replaced this year. There is some young talent but Kelly seems to get the most from his players. So we will see what happens.
Coach, Chip Kelly has his work cut out in retaining being the leader of the conference. The additions of Colorado and Utah will certainly present him more of a challenge.
2 - STANFORD CARDINAL
With Jim Harbaugh leaving to the NFL to coach the San Francisco 49ers, and taking most of his coaching staff with him, we could see a different Cardinal team; although most likely not on the offensive side of the ball as they retained David Shaw (the offesive coordinator on Harbaugh's staff) as their head coach.
Shaw will have his work cut out but having a leader on offense like Andrew Luck, and a leader on defense like Shane Skov certainly makes his job a helluva lot easier.
Luck is the preseason favorite to win the Heisman. So unless he completely drops the ball (no pun), or another star emerges out of nowhere and takes the NCAA by storm, Luck may have a very good shot at the prestigious and honoring award.
I fully expect to see Stepfen Taylor step his game up and could also very well be on his way to the NFL by season's end. Stanford will ride their ground game, as they have been known to do in the past couple of seasons, complimented by a lethal passing attack.
Though there may not be too much change from the previous coaching staff, it will still be interesting to watch things unfold under Shaw.
3 - *USC TROJANS
It's really too bad for the Trojans...
They have some very good talent. Whether or not they got there in violation of NCAA rules is another story and a topic for another day.
Lane Kiffin is either loved or hated; there is no in between really. He seems to be loved by his players though and that is all that matters. Personally, i couldn't care less for the guy. I think he is sneaky and devious and will do anything to anyone to get his way. For chrissake, he is recruiting kids out of Jr. High... (See: Evan Berry, Eric Berry's 14 year-old brother). In any case, like I said... it's a story for another day.
Matt Barkley will still be considered one of the top quarterback prospects when he declares for the NFL and USC should still be very competitive. Marc Tyler should be able to keep the ground game rolling and Robert Woods will undoubtedly get better in his second year at the wide receiver position. Look for both to go over 1,000 yards for the season.
Defensively last year, the Trojans finished 37th in the nation in points allowed with 31.0 per game. They were relatively young, so there could be improvement there. Although, I suspect they will stay somewhat the same.
Kiffin is fighting a lose-lose battle and eventually he will be fired. Some fans after just one year, just as in Tennessee are getting tired of him already. He will just go from place to place like a locust feeding off of what he can till eventually he just fizzles out and his career dies... then he may try his hand in broadcasting (God spare us all).
4 - ARIZONA WILDCATS
Nick Foles was considered one of the better quarterbacks in the nation last year and most thought he would declare for the NFL. However, he struggled to stay consistent. This year, if he can prove that he can be a consistent quarterback, he may have a better shot at being selected in the top five at his position in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Mike Stoops has hijacked most of his brother Bob's philosophies over at Oklahoma and brought them to Arizona. So far so good. It has worked out well for Stoops in that they have got better each year he has been there. They have literally gone from the worst football team in the conference to one of the better teams in the conference in the last six seasons. Although they have struggled against conference opponents, look for them to be much better in that area in 2011.
Arizona finished 9th in the nation in passing yards. It's no secret that they like to pass the ball and will continue to do so under the leadership of Nick Foles. Keola Antolin will return as a senior and will be Foles' number one target once again.
5 - COLORADO BUFFALOES
The Buffaloes have moved to a much less competitive conference in the move from the Big XII to the Pac 12. I believe that they will thrive in the new conference and take full advantage in having bigger, quicker, and faster athletes.
Everything about Colorado's move is new... and they will be led by a new head coach in Jon Embree. Embree has sero experience as a head coach, so he is in essence starting out with a clean slate in all aspects.
Fortunately for Embree, he will have some veteran talent.
Quarterback, Tyler Hansen and Running Back, Rodney Stewart will be the possible leaders on the offensive side of the ball while there are a lot of positions on defense up for grabs under Embree. Hansen will have to rely on several younger wide receivers... this all assuming sophomore quarterback Nick Hirschman doesn't nab the starting spot from Hansen.
Despite the potential shortfalls on both sides of the ball, I still think that the Buffaloes will benefit from being in a conference built more to their advantage.
6 - WASHINGTON HUSKIES
The biggest question for the Huskies is who will fill the quarterback position in Jake Locker's departure to the NFL? Will it be front runner Keith Price, who has the experience and talent? Or will it be sophomore and son of legend Nick Montana? Either way, I believe they will both see time.
Whoever it winds up being will have plenty of guys that contribute on the offensive side of the ball. Chris Polk should set himself apart from the average back and may wind up being one of the best in the nation. Wide Receivers, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar came back for their senior seasons and will be either Price's or Montana's top targets.
The HUskies defensive line is an all-pro and nearly all Samoan front all of which are very talented. Freshman Jamaal Kearse will be a force at linebacker and they will have a much more experienced secondary this year.
Steve Sarkisian seems to be on track in turning it around for the Huskies. This Huskies team could wind up being better than the teams of his first couple of seasons.
Part II Teams (To be continued next Saturday July 1st, 2011)
7 - UTAH UTES
8 - ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS
9 - CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS
10 - OREGON STATE BEAVERS
11 - UCLA BRUINS
12 - WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS
* Not Bowl eligible