Friday, July 1, 2011
Conference Blast: The PAC-12 North
1. Oregon - As of right now, we don't know how the alleged Will Lyles recruiting impropriety will shake out, so keep that in mind, here. The Ducks came up just three points short in the BCS Title game last season and that will be fresh on the entire program's mind as they head into 2011. If they make it past week one opponent LSU, I don't see anyone bringing the Ducks down. Last year's offensive production was sick and things look to be just as good this season, as Oregon returns Thomas and James, as well as the burner Barner. Also, it's easy to forget that the Ducks led the league in defense last season (11th in the nation!) and will maintain heavy use of their two deep, which is what led to such success. They lost some big-time tacklers, but even with a step back on D, this team will win their division, their conference, and threaten for the BCS Title.
2. Stanford - The Cardinal is going to miss Harbaugh. Not to knock new HC Shaw, but Harbaugh provided a lot of intensity and, when focused properly, that wins ballgames. Andrew Luck did decide to come back, but he alone won't be enough to run the table. I think Stanford loses at least two league games (Org, USC) which will nudge them right out of conference contention.
3. Washington - I feel like Sark is finally getting things right in Seattle. Entering his third season, he gets 15 starters back and the systems are totally in place. That 0-12 record in '08 will be a distant memory soon enough, as, despite the tough road slate, the Huskies should be improved over last season. I think they'll come up short at Stanford and at home against Oregon, but they could knock off USC again. Throw in another loss somewhere and U-Dub will finish at 6-3, which will be very respectable in this division.
4. Oregon State - Initially, I thought the Beavers could be a surprise team in 2011. But then I remembered last year and how disappointing they were and I wonder fi they'll ever get back to 10 wins or be able to threaten for a conference title. On the bright side, State returns 8 starters on offense, including QB Katz and the Quizz, but they'll be offenses out there just as good and a season of shootouts is not what a defense with just 4 starters back needs. I see them losing at least 4 conference games and would not be surprised if it was five.
5. Cal - I just can't get a feel for Tedford's teams...and apparently neither can he. I do know that they cannot repeat last year's level of disappointment again (actually they very easily could). They should be carrying 2 P12 wins into b2b losses to USC and Oregon. After that, everything besides Stanford is realistically winnable, but the Bears love to choke and closing the season with two away games at quality opponents is tough.
6. Washington State - Thanks for trying, Coach Wulff. NEXT!