The Pac-12 Conference is filled with high-profile coaches and talented signal-callers, which may lead to a couple of its teams landing a spot in the inaugural year of the college football playoff. Let’s take a closer look at my personal power rankings for one of the premier conferences in the country.
1. UCLA Bruins
After winning 19 games in the first two seasons under head coach Jim Mora Jr., the Bruins are after more, especially with crosstown rival USC still down due to scholarship reductions. Don’t be surprised if Westwood is celebrating a national title at the end of the year, as junior quarterback Brett Hundley is a supreme talent.
2. Oregon Ducks
In starting off last season with eight wins, the Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota threw 20 touchdowns with no interceptions, but he was slowed down by a knee injury in the late stages. College football fans should anticipate another year of video game-type numbers offensively, with the return of running backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner.
3. Stanford Cardinal
There’s a lot of question marks in Palo Alto, but I still have a ton of respect for head coach David Shaw. Shaw’s biggest concern is replacing defensive coordinator Derek Mason—a responsibility that he’s handed off to Lance Anderson.
4. USC Trojans
Few teams possess the talent that the Trojans have in terms of their 22 starters, but their lack of depth will come into play during conference play. First-year head coach Steve Sarkisian has an opportunity to exceed expectations if he can motivate the locker room to upset Stanford on the road in Week 2.
5. Arizona State Sun Devils
Quarterback Taylor Kelly is often forgotten nationally due to the play of Hundley and Mariota, but he’s thrown for 28 and 29 touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. The program will need to score a ton of points, as the defense lost nine starters from a formidable group a year ago.
6. Washington Huskies
The athletic department suffered a blow with Sarkisian jumping ship to Southern California, but it immediately regained its up-and-coming status by hiring longtime Boise State head coach Chris Peterson. Anything above a middle-of-the-pack finish in conference play will be seen as a success in the Pacific Northwest.
7. Oregon State Beavers
Senior quarterback Sean Mannion threw for a Pac-12 single-season record 4,662 yards, and a school-record 37 touchdowns last season, which makes this squad a dangerous outsider. The Beavers must find a replacement for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who was Mannion’s safety blanket in catching a conference-record 128 passes.
8. Washington State Cougars
Connor Halliday set single-season Pac-12 records in attempts (714) and completions (449) last season, as he begins his third year under head coach Mike Leach. Don’t be surprised if the defense makes some noise this season, with seven starters returning from a group that forced 30 turnovers.
9. Arizona Wildcats
The Wildcats are still rebuilding in Tucson, but locals are expecting another step forward under third-year head coach Rich Rodriguez. I’m not high on this team in 2014 (and college football bettors may want to think similarly), as the loss of All-American running back Ka’Deem Carey will prove to be too much to overcome.
10. Utah Utes
The hiring of offensive coordinator, Dave Christensen, into the Utah Utes team was a smart one by Kyle Whittingham, considering he enjoyed early success as the head coach at Wyoming before a disappointing 2013 campaign. Junior signal-caller Travis Wilson is often injured, but the overall unit should be able to finish well above its 11th-place ranking of a year ago.
11. Colorado Buffaloes
Head coach Mike MacIntyre did a commendable job in his first go around in Boulder, as the program displayed a great amount of discipline in committing just 30 penalties in 2013. The entire season depends on the development of sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau, who will not have the luxury of throwing to wide receiver Paul Richardson.
12. California Golden Bears
Finishing last in the conference in scoring offense and scoring defense is difficult to turn around in the second year of a new regime in Berkeley. Head coach Sonny Dykes must find some balance offensively, as the program can’t have sophomore Jared Goff averaging 50-plus pass attempts per game.