Oregon is the early favorite to win the Pac-12 title next season.
With Chip Kelly leaving Oregon for the NFL, the 2013 Pac-12 title race got a little more interesting. The Ducks return a bevy of key contributors but must replace standout running back Kenjon Barner, linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay, and defensive end/linebacker Dion Jordan. Oregon has a trip to Stanford next season, but the rest of the schedule is very favorable.
Although the Ducks get the edge in Athlonâs very early predictions for 2013, thereâs not much separating Oregon and Stanford. The Cardinal is coming off a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin and claimed the Pac-12 title in 2012. The defense should be strong once again, while quarterback Kevin Hogan will be better in his second season as the starter.
The South Division isnât as strong as the North, but UCLA, Arizona State and USC could all be preseason top-25 teams in 2013. The Bruins have won back-to-back division titles and will get a battle from a fast-improving Sun Devil team next season.
Early North Division Predictions for 2013
Key Returnees: QB Marcus Mariota, RB DeâAnthony Thomas, RB Byron Marshall, WR Josh Huff, WR Daryle Hawkins, TE Colt Lyerla, LT Tyler Johnstone, C Hroniss Grasu, RT Jake Fisher, DE Taylor Hart, DE DeForest Buckner, DT Wade Keliikipi, DT Arik Armstead, LB Derrick Malone, LB Boseko Lokombo, LB Tyson Coleman, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB Terrance Mitchell, CB Avery Patterson, S Brian Jackson, S Erick Dargan
Key Departures: RB Kenjon Barner, LG Kyle Long, RG Ryan Clanton, DE/LB Dion Jordan, DT Isaac Remington, LB Kiko Alonso
Even though Chip Kelly left Oregon for the NFL, the Ducks maintain a slight edge over Stanford for the No. 1 spot in the early Pac-12 North power rankings. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is expected to replace Kelly, which will keep continuity for 2013. Expect much of the same from the Ducks next year, as quarterback Marcus Mariota leads a high-powered offense, and the defense should be in good shape despite losing Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso. Finding a running back to replace Kenjon Barner will be the top priority for Helfrich and the rest of the offensive staff in the spring. Oregon has a favorable schedule but must play at Stanford â a game that will define the Pac-12 North and could have national title implications.
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Key Returnees: QB Kevin Hogan, RB Anthony Wilkerson, WR Ty Montgomery, LT David Yankey, LG Khalil Wilkes, RG Kevin Danser, RT Cameron Fleming, DE Henry Anderson, DE Ben Gardner, LB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, LB A.J. Tarpley, CB Alex Carter, S Ed Reynolds, S Jordan Richards, DB Usua Amanam
Key Departures: RB Stepfan Taylor, WR Drew Terrell, WR Jamal-Rashad Patterson, TE Zach Ertz, TE Levine Toilolo, C Sam Schwartztein, LB Chase Thomas, CB Terence Brown
Oregon checks in at No. 1 in Athlonâs very early power rankings for 2013, but Stanford isnât far behind. And with Chip Kellyâs departure, the gap between the Cardinal and Ducks has narrowed. If Stanford wants to contend for the BCS title, improving the passing attack will be a top priority for coach David Shaw. Quarterback Kevin Hogan helped spark the offense in 2012 and should be better with another offseason to work as the starter. However, the bigger problem for the Cardinal will be replacing running back Stepfan Taylor and tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. Linebacker Chase Thomas will be missed, but Stanford should have one of the nationâs best defenses in 2013.
3. Oregon State
Key Returnees: QB Sean Mannion, QB Cody Vaz, RB Storm Woods, WR Brandin Cooks, HB Connor Hamlett, LT Michael Philipp, C Isaac Seumalo, RG Grant Enger, DE Scott Crichton, DE Dylan Wynn, LB Michael Doctor, LB D.J. Alexander, CB Rashaad Reynolds, CB Sean Martin, S Ryan Murphy, S Tyrequek Zimmerman
Key Departures: WR Markus Wheaton, RT Colin Kelly, DT Castro Masaniai, DT Andrew Seumalo, LB Feti Unga, CB Jordan Poyer
The No. 3 spot in the early North Division projections is a tossup between Oregon State and Washington. For now, a slight edge goes to the Beavers. The big question for coach Mike Riley and his offensive staff this spring will be deciding between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz as the teamâs starting quarterback. If Oregon State can get consistent play under center, the offense should rank among the top five in the Pac-12, especially with the emergence of running back Storm Woods and the return of receiver Brandin Cooks. The defense made major improvement after a horrendous 2011 season, but coordinator Mark Banker must replace his top two defensive tackles, along with top cornerback Jordan Poyer.
Key Returnees: QB Keith Price, RB Bishop Sankey, WR Kasen Williams, WR Jaydon Mickens, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, LT Micah Hatchie, LG Dexter Charles, RT Ben Riva, DE Andrew Hudson, DE Hauâoli Jamora, DE Josh Shirley, NT Danny Shelton, LB Travis Feeney, LB John Timu, CB Marcus Peters, S Sean Parker, DB/LB Shaq Thompson
Key Departures: C Drew Schaefer, DE Semisi Tokolahi, DE Talia Crichton, CB Desmond Trufant, S Justin Glenn
The Huskies have made three consecutive bowl appearances under Steve Sarkisian, but the program is still looking to emerge as a contender in the Pac-12 North. Is this the year Washington challenges Stanford or Oregon for the top spot? Probably not. However, the Huskies could surpass last seasonâs win total. Quarterback Keith Price regressed last year after throwing 33 touchdowns in 2011 but didnât have much help from his offensive line. Improving and developing consistency on the line could be the difference between Washington making a push for nine wins or just getting bowl eligible. Thanks to the arrival of coordinator Justin Wilcox, the Huskies owned one of college footballâs most-improved defenses in 2012. With eight starters back, along with the return of defensive end Hauâoli Jamora from an injury, Washingtonâs defense could be even better in 2013.
5. Washington State
Key Returnees: QB Connor Halliday, RB Teondray Caldwell, WR Brett Bartolone, WR Gabe Marks, WR Isiah Myers, WR Dominique Williams, LG John Fullington, C Elliot Bosch, DL Xavier Cooper, DE Logan Mayes, T Ioane Gauta, LB Darryl Malone, LB Cyrus Coen, LB Justin Sagote, CB Anthony Carpenter, SS Deone Bucannon, FS Casey Locker
Key Departures: QB Jeff Tuel, WR Marquess Wilson, RT Wade Jacobson, DE/LB Travis Long, CB Daniel Simmons
With the arrival of Mike Leach as the Cougarsâ new coach, expectations were high in Pullman in 2012. Instead of making a run at a bowl game, Washington State finished with a disappointing 3-9 mark. The second season of Leachâs tenure should bring more improvement, but a winning record may be a year away. The Cougars struggled to adapt Leachâs offense and will be looking for more consistency from quarterback Connor Halliday in 2013. Even though Leach doesnât need a 1,000-yard rusher for his offense to work, Washington State needs to average more than 29.1 yards per game on the ground next season. The defense also has room to improve, finishing ninth in the Pac-12 in total yards allowed in 2012.
Key Returnees: RB Brendan Bigelow, WR Chris Harper, WR Bryce Treggs, WR Darius Powe, TE Richard Rodgers, LG Jordan Rigsbee, RG Chris Adcock, DE Deandre Coleman, LB Jalen Jefferson, LB Brennan Scarlett, LB Chris McCain, LB Nick Forbes, LB Chris McCain, LB Nathan Broussard, CB Kameron Jackson, S Michael Lowe, S Avery Sebastian
Key Departures: QB Zach Maynard, RB Isi Sofele, RB C.J. Anderson, WR Keenan Allen, LT Tyler Rigsbee, C Brian Schwenke, DE Kendrick Payne, NG Aaron Tipoti, LB Robert Mullins, CB Steve Williams, CB Marc Anthony, S Josh Hill
New coach Sonny Dykes is a great fit in Berkeley, but California could be looking at a finish in the North Division cellar next year. If the Golden Bears want to climb higher in the standings, Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin have to find a quarterback to run their spread attack. Allan Bridgford has the most experience, but Zach Kline, Austin Hinder and Kyle Boehm will get a chance to win the job in the spring. Even though quarterback play is a question mark, the receiving corps has plenty of talent, while running back Brendan Bigelow could be one of the Pac-12âs top breakout players next season. Fixing the defense is also another priority for Dykes, as California allowed 441.3 yards and 33.1 points a game last season.
Early South Division Predictions for 2013
Key Returnees: QB Brett Hundley, RB Damien Thigpen, WR Shaq Evans, WR Steven Manfro, WR Devin Fuller, WR Jordan Payton, LT Torian White, LG Xavier Suâa-Filo, C Jake Brendel, DE Cassius Marsh, DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE Ellis McCarthy, LB Anthony Barr, LB Eric Kendricks, LB Jordan Zumwalt, CB Randall Goforth, S Tevin McDonald
Key Departures: RB Johnathan Franklin, WR Jerry Johnson, TE Joseph Fauria, RG Jeff Baca, DE Datone Jones, LB Damien Holmes, CB Aaron Hester, CB Sheldon Price, SS Andrew Abbott
Can the Bruins make it three Pac-12 South titles in a row? The early odds suggest UCLA should be the early favorite to win the division and will be in the mix to be a top 15-20 team in most preseason polls. The Bruins ended 2012 with three consecutive defeats, but thereâs no shame in losing to Stanford (twice) and to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl. The offense needs to find a replacement for running back Johnathan Franklin, but quarterback Brett Hundley returns, along with standout guard Xavier Suâa Filo. The defense finished eighth in the Pac-12 in yards and points allowed, so head coach Jim Mora and coordinator Lou Spanos have some work to do this offseason. Convincing linebacker Anthony Barr to return to UCLA for his senior year was a huge break for Mora, but the secondary loses Sheldon Price, Andrew Abbott and Aaron Hester.
2. Arizona State
Key Returnees: QB Taylor Kelly, QB Michael Eubank, RB DJ Foster, RB Marion Grice, WR Kevin Ozier, WR Chris Coyle, WR Richard Smith, LT Evan Finkenberg, LG Jamil Douglas, C Kody Koebensky, DT Will Sutton, DE/LB Carl Bradford, DE Junior Onyeali, DE Davon Coleman, DT Jaxon Hood, LB Chris Young, LB Steffon Martin, CB Osahon Irabor, CB Robert Nelson, S Alden Darby
Key Departures: RB Cameron Marshall, WR Rashad Ross, WR Jamal Miles, RG Andrew Sampson, RT Brice Schwab, LB Brandon Magee, CB Deveron Carr, FS Keelan Johnson
Thanks to defensive tackle Will Suttonâs decision to return to Tempe in 2013, Arizona State was one of the Pac-12âs early offseason winners. With Sutton back in the mix, the Sun Devils should have one of the conferenceâs top defensive lines. And an improved defense will allow Todd Grahamâs team to push UCLA for the top spot in the division. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell needs to find a couple of new receivers for quarterback Taylor Kelly, but DJ Foster and Marion Grice will be one of the conferenceâs top duos on the ground next year. Arizona State catches a break in scheduling, as USC and Arizona must visit Tempe, while thereâs no Oregon on the slate for 2013. However, the Sun Devils must play at UCLA and Stanford.
Key Returnees: QB Max Wittek, RB Silas Redd, WR Marqise Lee, WR Nelson Agholor, TE Randall Telfer, LT Max Tuerk, RG John Martinez, RT Kevin Graf, DE Morgan Breslin, DT George Uko, DT Leonard Williams, DT Antwaun Woods, LB Dion Bailey, LB Hayes Pullard, LB Lamar Dawson, LB Anthony Sarao, CB Josh Shaw, S Jawanza Starling
Key Departures: QB Matt Barkley, RB Curtis McNeal, WR Robert Woods, C Khaled Holmes, DE Wes Horton, CB Nickell Robey, S T.J. McDonald
USC is at a crossroads. The Trojans are coming off a disappointing 7-6 season, which is magnified even more when you consider this team had a chance to make a run at the national title. Coach Lane Kiffin has recruited well, and even though thereâs a handful of key players leaving, thereâs no excuse for USC to win just seven games in 2013. Max Wittek will likely open the year as the starting quarterback and has the benefit of throwing to All-American receiver Marqise Lee. Assuming Wittek settles into the starting role, the Trojans have the weapons to have one of the Pac-12âs most potent offenses. The defense was a question mark entering 2012 but finished fifth in the conference in points allowed and fourth against the pass. This unit still has a lot of room to improve next year, especially when it comes to defending spread offenses. With a schedule that features a favorable road schedule and no Oregon, USC should be able to exceed its 2012 win total. If not, the Trojans will be looking for a new coach by December.
Key Returnees: RB KaâDeem Carey, WR Austin Hill, WR David Richards, WR Johnny Jackson, LT Mickey Baucus, LG Chris Putton, RT Fabbians Ebbele, DE Reggie Gilbert, DT Dan Pettinato, NT Sione Tuihalamaka, LB Jake Fischer, LB Marquis Flowers, LB Sir Thomas Jackson, LB/DB Jared Tevis, CB Shaquille Richardson, CB Jonathan McKnight, S TraâMayne Bondurant, S Vince Miles
Key Departures: QB Matt Scott, WR Dan Buckner, C Kyle Quinn, RG Trace Biskin
Rich Rodriguezâs first season in Tucson was a success. The Wildcats won eight games â including a bowl victory over Nevada â and lost three contests by a touchdown or less. Thereâs no question Rodriguez will have Arizona contending for South Division titles in the coming seasons, but the Wildcats may not top 2012âs win total next year. Quarterback Matt Scott must be replaced, and the job could fall to former USC passer Jesse Scroggins. Running back KaâDeem Carey is back after leading the nation with an average of 148.4 rushing yards per game, but the offensive line loses two key starters. Although the offense might not be as explosive as it was in 2012, the defense returns nearly everyone and should be one area that Arizona can show improvement next season
Key Returnees: QB Travis Wilson, RB Kelvin York, WR Dres Anderson, WR Kenneth Scott, TE Jake Murphy, RT Jeremiah Poutasi, DE Nate Fakahafua, DE/LB Trevor Reilly, LB Jason Whittingham, LB LT Filiaga, S Brian Blechen, FS Eric Rowe
Key Departures: RB John White, WR DeVonte Christopher, LT Sam Brenner, C Tevita Stevens, RG Miles Mason, DE Joe Kruger, DE Dave Kruger, DT Star Lotulelei, CB Reggie Topps, CB Ryan Lacy
Lost in USCâs disappointing season was a surprise 5-7 record by Utah. The Utes were picked by most to finish second in the South Division, yet won only three games in conference play and missed out on a bowl game for the first time since 2002. For Utah to get back in the postseason next year, both sides of the ball have significant question marks to address. The offense must replace 1,000-yard rusher John White, along with getting quarterback Travis Wilson settled into the starting role. The defense must replace three key contributors on the defensive line, including All-American Star Lotulelei. Utahâs task of getting back to a bowl game is also made difficult by the schedule, which features Oregon and Stanford in crossover games with the North.
Key Returnees: QB Jordan Webb, RB Christian Powell, WR Paul Richardson, WR Nelson Spruce, WR Tyler McCulloch, LG Alex Lewis, C Daniel Munyer, RG Jack Harris, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, NT Josh Tupou, LB Derrick Webb, CB Yuri Wright, CB Kenneth Crawley, CB Greg Henderson, SS Terrel Smith, SS Marques Mosley, S Parker Orms
Key Departures: TE Nick Kasa, LT David Bakhtiari, DE Will Pericak, LB Doug Rippy, LB Jon Major, S Ray Polk
After a failed two-year stint under Jon Embree, the Buffaloes hit a home run with the hire of former San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre. Although Colorado should be more competitive in 2013, escaping the cellar of the Pac-12 South is unlikely. The offense was one of the worst in college football last season and finding stability and production from the quarterback position will be MacIntyre and coordinator Brian Lindgrenâs No. 1 priority in spring practice. Helping the passing attack in 2013 will be the return of receiver Paul Richardson, who missed all of 2012 with a knee injury. The defense was the worst in the Pac-12 last season and must replace a handful of key players, including end Will Pericak and linebacker Jon Major. Improvement will be noticeable for Colorado in 2013, but the Buffaloes are at least one more year away from contending for a bowl game.
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