Can USC win the BCS title? The Trojans are postseason eligible for the first time since 2009 and, with a loaded roster, many expect them to make the most of it. On offense, USC brings back Heisman favorite Matt Barkley, All-American caliber wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, four offensive line starters and a backfield enhanced with Silas Redd. On defense, the Trojans return an excellent back seven and four players who made an All-Pac 12 team last season. There are concerns – three new defensive line starters, replacing Matt Kalil at left tackle and overall depth with a rash of injuries – but those concerns are surmountable. The pressing obstacle may be Oregon. USC will have to beat them and, likely, beat them again in the Pac 12 title game.
Can Oregon win the BCS Title? Oregon has been overshadowed by USC in the runup, but for no substantial reason. The Ducks have finished in the top six in SRS in four out of the last five years with Chip Kelly’s offense. The only other school to do that has been Alabama. Oregon should be solid on defense, returning five of their front seven and three out of four in the secondary from a unit that ranked 35th in yards per play. The issue will be how they transition on offense, losing both Darron Thomas and LaMichael James. Neither Bryan Bennett nor Marcus Mariota has Thomas’ experience at quarterback, but both may be more talented. Though Oregon has no ready replacement for James, Kenjon Barner can replicate his steady production and DeAnthony Thomas may be an even greater home run threat. Chip Kelly can surely tailor his system to fit the shifting personnel. Oregon may be the one team in the conference that can beat USC, but they are in the same predicament for a BCS Title bid. They probably have to do so twice.
Will PACtion arrive in 2012? The conference of Kelly and Kiffin welcomes two more prodigious offensive minds in Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez. The fireworks will come, quite conveniently as the conference enhances its national TV presence, but that may take time. Leach seems better situated for immediate success. He has multiple options at quarterback. He has an All-American candidate at wideout in Marquess Wilson. His base system, using a relatively small number of plays, can be implemented more quickly. The defense needs work, but the Cougars should at least be entertaining. Rodriguez has a tougher task at Arizona. His system does not require a White/Robinson style runner (though that is helpful). What it does require is mental speed (which takes time and repetition) and physical speed (which at many positions will have to be recruited). Rich Rod does not have as much dismantling as he had to do with Michigan, but he still must perform some substantial rebuilding.
What becomes of Stanford without Andrew Luck? Andrew Luck steered Stanford to 23 wins the past two seasons. With the NFL’s No. 1 Draft Pick departing, we will see whether the foundation Jim Harbaugh left is sustainable. David Shaw brought in a great recruiting class, including three elite offensive line prospects, though those players should not be factors this season. The Cardinal return a strong front seven on defense and the tools for a power offense with Stepfan Taylor at tailback and two big, talented tight ends. Like last season, though, Stanford won’t have elite athleticism at wide receiver and in the secondary. Unlike last season, they won’t have Andrew Luck’s superior execution in a smaller field to make up for it. Even a good start from Brett Nottingham or Josh Nunes will still see their offensive production drop considerably. Stanford’s foundation may be solid, but next season could see a significant decline.
Will Mike Riley and/or Jeff Tedford be coaching in 2013? The new Pac 12 TV deal will radically increase the conference’s revenue and exposure. Programs can spend heavily on salaries and state-of-the-art facilities. This has resulted in an arms race where complacent mediocrity, once acceptable, can set a school far behind. Oregon State is coming off two losing seasons under Mike Riley. Jeff Tedford, purportedly a quarterback guru, last had a Cal passer rank in the Top 60 in 2007. Both have received some leeway due to past success, but with a Pac 12 North consisting of an Oregon juggernaut, a revamped Stanford and burgeoning programs at Washington and Washington State neither can afford to fall further behind.
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