In the South Division, the traditional powers could be taking a back seat to a team that has won a total of six conference games over the last two years (remember, Pac-10 teams played nine games per year). Arizona State should return largely intact — as in 20 of 22 starters potentially. Special teams might be the only issue Dennis Erickson will need to address in the offseason. He will have a stout front seven, a solid rushing attack, two quarterbacks with starting experience and positive momentum after two high-scoring wins to close the season over UCLA and Arizona. It might be crazy, but ASU could be the favorite in the South next fall.
That leaves the USC Trojans. They still have the most talented starting 22 in the league, but depth was a serious issue in 2010. Until the scholarship limitations are lifted, depth will continue to be a major hindrance. However, third-year quarterback Matt Barkley will have an embarrassment of riches to work with on offense next season, and one has to think that the elder Kiffin should be able to improve the Trojan defense. The Men of Troy have the potential to win this league but have failed to live up to their recruiting hype for a few years. Fans and media will give the new staff a pass in 2010, but probably not in 2011.
Utah and Colorado begin their Pac-12 tenures facing an uphill battle. The Buffs are in major rebuilding mode with a new staff stepping into place while Utah will play the toughest schedule of its existence. A full BCS conference slate will test the depth of the former "mid-major" program in year one. Arizona is the wildcard. Replacing much of that defensive line will hurt, but quarterbacks Nick Foles and Matt Scott offer plenty of leadership on offense. Mike Stoops always seem to win some games he shouldn't — and lose some he shouldn't, too.
North Division Predictions (key losses):
1. Oregon: WR Jeff Maehl, RB LaMichael James*, OL Bo Thran, OL Jordan Holmes, OL C.E. Kaiser, DT Brandon Bair, LB Casey Matthews, DE/LB Kenny Rowe, LB Spencer Paysinger, CB Talmadge Jackson
2. Stanford: QB Andrew Luck*, FB/LB Owen Marecic, WR Ryan Whalen, TE Konrad Reuland, OL Andy Phillips, OL Chase Beeler*, OL James McGillicuddy, DT Sione Fua, S Delano Howell*
3. Oregon State: OL Alex Linnenkohl, DT Stephen Paea, CB James Dockery
4. Washington: QB Jake Locker, OL Cody Habben, OL Ryan Tolar, LB Mason Foster, Jermaine Kearse*
5. Cal: RB Shane Vareen*, DT Derrick Hill, DE Cameron Jordan, LB Mike Mohamed
6. Washington State
South Division Predictions:
1. Arizona State: DT Saia Falahola CB Omar Bolden*, K Thomas Weber, P Trevor Hankins,
2. USC: RB Allen Bradford, FB Stanley Havili, WR Ronald Johnson, OL Kris O’Dowd, OL Tyron Smith*, OL Butch Lewis, LB Malcolm Smith, LB Michael Morgan, CB Shareece Wright, DT Jurrell Casey*
3. Arizona: RB Nic Grigsby, OL Colin Baxter, OL Adam Grant, Juron Criner*, DE Brooks Reed, DE Rick Elmore, S Joe Perkins
4. Utah: RB Matt Asiata, RB Eddie Wide, OL Zane Taylor, CB Brandon Burton*, RS Shaky Smithson
5. UCLA: LB Akeem Ayers*, S Rahim Moore*, K Kai Forbath, LS Christian Yount
6. Colorado: OL Nate Solder, CB Jimmy Smith, CB Jalil Brown
* Underclassmen who could decide to enter the NFL Draft.