Oregon Will Try To Defend Pac 12 Title With Same System, New Quarterback

Marcus Mariota is now in a Tennessee Titans uniform in the NFL. As Oregon quarterback, he took the Ducks deep into the national championship picture without ever lifting the trophy. Can Oregon continue to dominate the Pac 12 without Mariota? We'll study that question over the next two days…starting with today's breakdown of the Pac 12 North.

As always, the data you see below is from the respected Athlon newsstand publication…  

Oregon
2014 Record: 13-2
2014 Rankings: 3 on offense, 87 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Mark Helfrich
Notebook: The Ducks have a relative bye in their opener against Eastern Washington. That will help them settle on a quarterback before their critical Week Two road trip to revenge-minded Michigan State. Sharps have already been pounding the Spartans in that game in the Vegas books that put up early numbers. Could Oregon fall out of the national title race that soon?! Road games at Arizona State and Stanford will provide tough league tests, as will a home game with USC. You can see that half the starters graduated…though there's still some very explosive talent returning. Truthfully, everyone's guessing until the new quarterback is a known quantity!

Stanford
2014 Record: 8-5
2014 Rankings: 75 on offense, 3 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: David Shaw
Notebook: Stanford can do some really amazing things in the years they have an experienced offenses. There are geniuses at every position. Quarterback Kevin Hogan returns. But, he's far from a high impact player given the offensive ranking you see above. The Pac 12 has some vulnerable defenses…and last year's Cardinal unit didn't take advantage enough. A huge September game at USC will shape the Pac 12 picture. Too many toughies on the schedule for this group to be in the national title hunt. Good news in the divisional race that they host Oregon on November 14.

Washington
2014 Record: 8-6
2014 Rankings: 74 on offense, 78 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Chris Petersen
Notebook: Coach Petersen did get the Huskies to a bowl last year…but the team generally underachieved vs. bowl caliber opposition. Former Boise State coaches have a HORRIBLE history when moving up to better conferences. The jury is still out on Petersen, who will be trying to win this year with an unproven quarterback. Big season opener at Boise State, and another September non-conference game with Utah State won't be a gimme. It's a weak year in the North if Washington is picked THIRD given poor returning talent from such disappointing stat rankings.

California
2014 Record: 5-7
2014 Rankings: 13 on offense, 121 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Sonny Dykes
Notebook: Jared Goff is a fun quarterback to watch. And, you know Sonny Dykes teams are going to put on a show because he loves offense but has no idea how to lead a defense. That 5-7 record is a bit misleading because two of the wins were nailbiters over bad Colorado and Washington State teams. Another came over Sacramento State. What's going to happen when this high powered offense faces the strong Texas defense in Week Three? Good litmus test for the Bears there.

Washington State
2014 Record: 3-9
2014 Rankings: 7 on offense, 97 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Mike Leach
Notebook: You have to figure Leach's days are numbered at the program. He hasn't delivered what the administration had been hoping for. And, the best players in the West aren't exactly flocking here given all the better options. Luke Falk is likely to be the quarterback after playing the second half of las season. No chance for the Cougars to be competitive unless the defense improves. Leach has no history of helping defenses improve! Look for more high scoring games in the North…but not much quality football once you get past Oregon and Stanford.

Oregon State
2014 Record: 5-7
2014 Rankings: 72 on offense, 74 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 2 on defense
Head Coach: Gary Anderson (first year)
Notebook: Wow…you know the outlook has to be bleak if Oregon State is picked to finish behind Cal and Washington State! We're a bit more optimistic because Gary Anderson has a decent coaching pedigree…and he came here from Wisconsin because he recognized his style had a much better chance for success in the Pac 12. We'll be watching the Week Two game at Michigan closely, as well as the conference opener vs. Stanford at the end of the first month. Normally, having only two starters back on defense is a huge negative. But, the defenses are so bad in the North that OSU's new starters may not be much of a drag on the program in context.

Well, Oregon is at least likely to dominate its division even if winning the whole Pac 12 is far from a sure thing. Oregon and Stanford are well clear of the North field. Tomorrow we'll look at the South, where there are FIVE teams that have legitimate Top 25 hopes.

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Football continues through the weekend in the NOTEBOOK…

Thursday: College Football Preview…Pac 12 South
Friday: College Football Preview…Big 12
Weekend: NFC North Preview to get you ready for the Hall of Fame Game (Vikings vs. Steelers)
Monday: MLB Series Preview…Washington Nationals at LA Dodgers
Tuesday: MLB Series Preview…Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals
Wednesday August 12: MLB Big Game Preview…choosing from Houston/San Francisco, Texas/Minnesota, and Detroit/Kansas City.
Thursday August 13 thru Sunday August 16: four straight days of NFL Divisional previews that line up with marquee Preseason matchups Green Bay/New England, Denver/Seattle, San Francisco/Houston, and Indianapolis/Philadelphia!

North, South, East, and West…the best handicapper in the land is JIM HURLEY!

Be sure to follow:
Jim Hurley on twitter @vsm_hurley
Vegas-Sports-Masters on twitter @vsmasters

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