Pac 12 Preview

PAC-12 PREVIEW:

OREGON FAVORED TO WIN PAC 12 NORTH… AND HAS LEGITIMATE SHOT AT NATIONAL TITLE
UCLA, USC, AND ARIZONA STATE SET FOR FANTASTIC BATTLE IN PAC 12 SOUTH

Seems like this is the story every season. The Oregon Ducks have one of the best teams in the nation, and are a popular pick to win…or at least play for…the national championship. As the season plays itself out…Oregon IS a great team, yet can’t even with their own division of their own conference…let alone play for a national championship!

Entering 2014…Oregon is on the short list of national hopefuls, and Stanford is right there behind them in the Pac 12 North race ready to steal the division and the conference. It’s been STANFORD representing the league in the Rose Bowl as champs the last two seasons. Can the Ducks finally play to the fullest of preseason expectations this year?

In the mid-majors, any sort of competitive race is going to involve relatively mediocre teams by national standards. In the majors, few divisions have three teams who are real threats. The ACC Coastal did with Virginia Tech, Miami, and North Carolina, but all three of those teams are projected to be worse than the three teams who will be fighting for the Pac 12 South crown. At the moment, the battle between UCLA, USC, and Arizona State is projected to be the most exciting divisional race in all of college football given quantity AND quality.

With that in mind, let’s get to the numbers. Remember that returning starter data comes from the respected Athlon publication.

Pac 12 North

Oregon
2013 Record: 11-2
2013 Rankings: 2 on offense, 37 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Mark Helfrich
Notebook: Marcus Mariota returns at quarterback, and will hopefully be able to stay healthy this season. He played hobbled last year, which turned the Ducks mortal in very short order. They lost twice in three weeks at Stanford and at Arizona…then they barely beat Oregon State as huge favorites in the regular season finale. If Mariota is healthy…then this team is fully capable of running the table. But, we are seeing signs of weakness since Chip Kelly left that could signal a continuing downtrend for the program if things don’t go perfectly healthwise.

Stanford
2013 Record: 11-3
2013 Rankings: 69 on offense, 16 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: David Shaw
Notebook: Kevin Hogan returns at quarterback. He’s more impactful at that position than having the #69 offense in the nation would suggest because he’s such a good game manager. But, will he be able to manage games with only three other turning starters on his offense? There’s a lot to love about how this program continues to exceed national expectations with brains and hustle. The toughest non-conference game of 2014 comes at Notre Dame on October 4, which is immediately after a big road game at Washington. Assume the norm for handicapping…value vs. quality, but dangerous to trust as big favorites because they lack the depth it takes to run up the score.

Washington
2013 Record: 9-4
2013 Rankings: 13 on offense, 55 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Chris Peterson
Notebook: Only one team in the North changed head coaches in the offseason, and only one team lost its starting quarterback to graduation. And, Washington is that team in both instances! Peterson comes over from Boise State, hoping to bust the hex that former Boise coaches have suffered from when moving up in class. Anyone remember what happened at Colorado with Peterson’s predecessor? Luckily the first four games are against relative weaklings, unless Illinois gets things going. A lot of volatility here…and we’re going to start out skeptical with an open mind.

Oregon State
2013 Record: 7-6
2013 Rankings: 26 on offense, 100 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Mike Riley
Notebook: The Beavers are inconsistency on steroids…capable of laying monster eggs vs. bad opponents (they opened with a lost to Eastern Washington)…while also being able to scare or beat top quality. We already mentioned that Oregon State almost took out Oregon in their season finale. They bullied Boise State 38-23 in the Hawaii Bowl. Quarterback Sean Mannion led a top 30 offense that’s poised to impress vs. a soft early schedule. Can Oregon State finally maintain intensity over a full season? Great sleeper if they can.

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Washington State
2013 Record: 6-7
2013 Rankings: 54 on offense, 102 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Mike Leach
Notebook: Leach’s team showed flashes of brilliance last year. But, those offensive stats were padded in games against the likes of Southern Utah, Idaho, and California. They weren’t as good as that 6-7 record would have suggested. And, their late-game bowl meltdown against Colorado State was one for the history books. Connor Halliday is a senior quarterback capable of engineering a big win (the Cougars did beat USC, Utah, and Arizona last year), but who probably can’t be trusted to really take the team to the next level. We will pick our spots with this group. But, we’ll assume that elite offenses will continue to embarrass the horrible defense.

California
2013 Record: 1-11
2013 Rankings: 34 on offense, 122 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Sonny Dykes
Notebook: Coach Dykes certainly seems to be in over his head at this level. Returning quarterback Jared Goff put up some numbers last year…but it’s easier to do that against garbage time defenses when you’re getting blown out every week. We’ll consider this team as big underdogs against opponents who are in lookahead or letdown spots as long as Goff isn’t banged up. Very hard to trust them otherwise.

Pac 12 South

UCLA
2013 Record: 10-3
2013 Rankings: 38 on offense, 54 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Jim Mora
Notebook: The Bruins are getting the preseason nod from most pundits because they return a better balance of returning starters while maintaining stability at head coach and quarterback. Brett Hundley was a bit too mistake-prone in big games last season. But, you can’t fault a team for losing to Oregon, Stanford, and ASU in their only blemishes. For now, this seems to be a legitimate top 10 team. A brutal schedule that once again includes Oregon and Stanford from the other half, as well as Texas (in Arlington) in mid-September will probably prevent a run at history. A divisional title is definitely possible if the Bruins can take care of business vs. USC and ASU.

USC
2013 Record: 10-4
2013 Rankings: 72 on offense, 13 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Steve Sarkisian
Notebook: Coach Sarkisian has moved down the coast from Washington to try and fix what ails the disappointing offense. He should provide immediate dividends. But, it’s hard to know if the experienced defense can hold up under what will now be more of a fast break football approach. USC’s schedule is slightly friendlier than UCLA’s because the Trojans miss Oregon. A big test on September 6 at Stanford will set the tone for the new coaching regime. There’s a lot to like about this team…but Sarkisian never set the world on fire at Washington.

Arizona State
2013 Record: 10-4
2013 Rankings: 32 on offense, 42 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 2 on defense
Head Coach: Todd Graham
Notebook: Taylor Kelly returns to run a high octane offense that put up some huge numbers on the conferences weakest defenses last year. They don’t match up well with Stanford, who they lost to twice last season (once in the Pac 12 title tile) and who they face again on October 18. They swept the LA schools in 2013, and face them in back-to-back outings this year on September 25 and October 4. You can tell the season is front-loaded for the Sun Devils! ASU also misses Oregon on the league schedule, but having only two starters back on defense could make a lot of opponents seem as productive as Oregon.

Arizona
2013 Record: 8-5
2013 Rankings: 31 on offense, 62 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez
Notebook: Can the Wildcats crack the top three? They’re really behind the eight ball because they’re the only South team that doesn’t return its starting quarterback. They finished behind the big three last year, and couldn’t beat any of them head-to-head. A relatively soft early schedule could be a confidence builder. But, don’t let it create illusions in your handicapping.

Utah
2013 Record: 6-5
2013 Rankings: 76 on offense, 60 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham
Notebook:
At home last year, Utah beat eventual Pac 12 champion Stanford, and hung very tough with UCLA and Arizona State. On the road, they were much less scary in league play. No reason to expect much of a change with Travis Wilson back at QB for a sluggish offense. Utes will host USC and Oregon this season, which means they can at least play spoiler once again.

Colorado
2013 Record: 4-8
2013 Rankings: 87 on offense, 106 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Mike MacIntyre
Notebook: Probably the worst 4-8 team in the country. Two of their wins were over Central Arkansas and Charleston Southern. Their only league win was over hapless California. You should think of them as a 2-10 team in 2013…but one that at least has a promising head coach, a feisty returning quarterback in Sefo Liufau, and potential home field advantage at altitude if the program ever gets back on track. We expect a few steps forward this year, but probably still last place in a tough division.

It’s back to baseball tomorrow…where you should be building your bankrolls to get ready for Fall Football! You can purchase daily BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about baseball or football service, call us in the office during normal business hours at 1-800-323-4453. Combination packages offer the most bang for your buck.

We’ll pick up with college football again this weekend. Here’s the coming NOTEBOOK schedule.

Friday: MLB Series Preview…LA Dodgers at San Francisco
Saturday: College Football…Big 12 Preview
Sunday: College Football…American Athletic Conference Preview
Monday: MLB Series Preview…either Pittsburgh at SF, or Boston at Toronto
Tuesday: MLB Series Preview…either LA Angels at Baltimore or Atlanta at LAD

Can Texas catch Oklahoma and Baylor in the Big 12? We’ll talk about THAT for you football fans on Saturday, after previewing the even hotter than normal baseball rivalry between the Dodgers and Giants Friday. No time to rest at JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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