The Pac-12 North Division is set to be one of the most interesting conference title races in 2013.
Stanford and Oregon could both rank in the top five of some preseason polls and should be the top-two teams in the Pac-12 for 2013.
The Cardinal is the defending Pac-12 champions, but some key players must be replaced. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo are huge losses, while the offense has to generate more of a passing offense in 2013.
The Ducks return most of their personnel, but coach Chip Kelly left for the NFL.
The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.
Athlon Sports’ college football top 25 countdown for 2013 is officially underway. To provide some insight into the selections and rankings for 2013, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May.
Stanford ranks as Athlon's No. 7 team in the 2013 Top 25 countdown.
Oregon or Stanford: Who Wins the Pac-12 North in 2013?
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Mark Helfrich is one of the great unknowns of the Pac-12 for 2013. He’s been an assistant for decades, and promoting the offensive coordinator at Oregon has been a successful strategy since Rich Brooks passed the baton to Mike Bellotti in 1995. A decline may happen, but an immediate fall doesn’t seem likely. Now, Stanford is right up there with Oregon, defeating the Ducks 17-14 in Eugene last season. But Oregon defeated opponents by 26.2 points last season with a redshirt freshman quarterback. Only three teams defeated opponents by 20 points or more -- the other two were Alabama and Texas A&M. Only the Ducks and the Tide beat both their home and road opponents by more than three touchdowns. Oregon’s not going to forget how to move the ball. Meanwhile, Oregon has a criminally underrated and consistent defense, placing in the top three in the Pac-12 in yards per play and takeaways in each of the last four seasons. I’ll stick with Oregon for now.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This is a great debate that won't be settled until the first Thursday in November when the Ducks fly south to Palo Alto to avenge their only loss of the 2012 season. Both are national title contenders and both are preseason top 10 teams. The road team has won each of the last two and the 2013 edition could feature unbeaten teams in a pick 'em situation. Oregon lost offensive mastermind Chip Kelly, but new coach Mark Helfrich has what many are calling the best offense in Oregon history returning. Unfortunately, championships are won on the defensive side of the ball and in the trenches. Here is where Stanford has a large edge. Stanford plays a tougher non-conference schedule and tougher cross-over slate with the South — facing Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Utah — while the Ducks miss the top two teams from South in Arizona State and USC. I think Stanford will win the Nov. 7 primetime tilt but, much like last season, will finish behind Oregon in the polls. A repeat of late year's bowl trips to Pasadena for Stanford and Glendale for Oregon is very possible.
Kyle Kensing, Editor at SaturdayBlitz.com, (@kensing45)
Over the past decade, every conference champion has won consecutive Pac-12 crowns. Stanford has the make-up to continue that trend. The cliche "defense wins championship" carries weight. In the Cardinal's case, it should carry it back to Pasadena. Stanford returns Ed Reynolds (six interceptions), Shayne Skov (81 tackle, nine for loss), Trent Murphy (18 tackles for loss, 10 sacks) and a host of others. The 2013 Cardinal defense should actually be better than last season's unit, which ranked No. 11 nationally in points allowed.
The Nov. 7 clash with Oregon looms large, obviously. And the Ducks are the primary contenders, seeking a fourth Pac-12 championship in five years. But Oregon State and Washington can both play spoiler, thus UO's Nov. 7 trip to the Farm might not be the be-all, end-all of this race.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Oregon and Stanford are clearly two of college football’s top-10 teams for 2013, but both programs also have fairly significant question marks to answer. The Ducks lost Chip Kelly – one of the best coaches in college football - to the NFL, while the Cardinal have to find a way to jumpstart a passing attack that lacks proven weapons at receiver or tight end. Neither of those question marks should derail Oregon or Stanford in 2013, but I give a slight edge to the Ducks to win the Pac-12 North.
A coaching transition is a much bigger question mark than having to replace talent at wide receiver or tight end, but new Oregon coach Mark Helfrich worked under Chip Kelly and should keep the program on the right track for 2013. Of course, Helfrich has plenty of talent at his disposal, including quarterback Marcus Mariota and dynamic running back De’Anthony Thomas.
Although Stanford could have the conference’s best defense and the nation’s top offensive line, the offense needs to develop more of a passing attack. And that’s no easy task with the departure of tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. Another factor working in Oregon’s favor is the schedule. The Cardinal has to play Pac-12 South favorite Arizona State, along with potential top-25 teams in UCLA and USC in crossover play. The Ducks have to play UCLA but miss Arizona State and USC.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stanford win the meeting between these two teams on Nov. 7, but I think Oregon finds a way to win the division.
It is entirely possible that just like last season, both of these teams will end up in BCS bowls when all is said and done. In 2012, Stanford went to the Rose Bowl as the Pac-12 champs, while Oregon ended up in the Fiesta Bowl with just one loss, which came at the hands of the Cardinal. This fall, the head-to-head matchup takes place in Palo Alto, Calif., on Nov. 7. While the Cardinal surely have this Thursday night home game circled on their calendars, what catches my eye more is their crossover slate in Pac-12 play.
Stanford will play Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Utah from the South division, while Oregon gets Arizona, Colorado, UCLA and Utah. The difference between Stanford playing Arizona State and USC and Oregon getting Arizona and Colorado should not be overlooked from a competitive balance standpoint. On paper alone, the Ducks seems to have an advantage as the Cardinal appear to have the much more difficult road.
Both of these teams should be very good this fall, but I'll give the slightest of edges to Oregon even with the coaching transition. Chip Kelly may be gone, but Mark Helfrich has been a part of this team for several years and knows the offense inside and out. More importantly, Marcus Mariota, De'Anthony Thomas and a host of other talented players are still in Eugene, as is a defense that returns seven starters and has a chance to be pretty good in its own right. Stanford has plenty of talent still on campus too, starting with its defense and offensive line, but not as much experience on offense, especially at running back, wide receiver and tight end. As last season showed, it only takes one game to decide the Pac-12 North and as far as 2013 goes, I'll take Oregon to be the team atop the standings come the end of November.
Related College Football Content
Arizona State, USC or UCLA: Who Wins the Pac-12 South in 2013?
10 Teams Ready That May End SEC's Title Streak in 2013
Ranking the Top 50 Running Backs of the BCS Era
Ranking the Top 50 Wide Receivers of the BCS Era
Ranking the Pac-12 Running Backs for 2013
Can California Improve Its Win Total in 2013?
Ranking the Pac-12 Quarterbacks for 2013
Washington or Oregon State: Which Team Finishes Higher in the North in 2013?
Ranking the Pac-12 Coaches for 2013
Ranking All 125 College Football Coaches for 2013
Ranking the Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era