The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.
USC or Oregon: Which Team Wins the Pac-12 in 2012?
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Welcome back, USC. The Trojans should return to the top of the Pac-12 in 2012, reclaiming the seat taken by Oregon the last three seasons. That’s not a knock on the Ducks, even though they lose Darron Thomas and LaMichael James. Oregon will be fine. The Ducks should be able to plug and play in the backfield, with Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas returning. Oregon is the presumptive favorite in the Pac-12 North and a possible top-10 team. That said, USC is ready to contend for a national championship. Even if Oregon is able to adequately replace Thomas with Bryan Bennett, USC still counters with a senior Matt Barkley and two elite receivers. If there’s any question for the Trojans, it’s on the defensive line where end Wes Horton is the only returning starter. USC might be able to navigate its schedule with a green defensive line, but the key to defeating Chip Kelly’s Oregon teams has been up front. Lucky for USC, the Trojans won’t face Oregon until November and they’ll do so in Los Angeles right around the same time USC caught fire last season.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
College football fans get not one but two Games of the Century in 2012 and both take place on November 3. All eyes in college football will be on Baton Rouge that afternoon when Alabama visits LSU in SEC play. Later that night, however, the West Coast will be the epicenter of NCAA action when Oregon visits USC. Not only are conference bragging rights on the line, a No. 1 overall ranking, home-field advantage in the Pac-12 title game and a potential bid to the national championship game could be on the line in the Coliseum.
Oregon returns a loaded roster with talent and depth at nearly every position. Their offense replaces quarterback Darron Thomas and star tailback LaMichael James, but should skip few beats as Bryan Bennett, DeAnthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner will keep things humming in Eugene. But are the Ducks better than last year's team that failed to defeat USC at home? The answer is no. Matt Barkley has the best receiving corps in the nation and the back-seven on defense returns entirely intact for Monte Kiffin, who continues to adapt to the college game. This is the best USC team since 2008 and is the only roster in the nation that is comparable to LSU or Alabama. Chip Kelly's team may only lose two games in 2012, and could easily play in the Rose Bowl, but those two losses will come at the hands of Lane Kiffin and the Men of Troy. Additionally, if you want to hedge your bets, the South does not claim a team that can challenge USC for division supremacy while Oregon is dealing with a dramatically improved division loaded with speed bumps. All the stars — easier division, hosting the head-to-head, returning quarterback — are aligned for the Trojans to return to the pinnacle of Pac-12 play.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Outside of the SEC West race, the battle to win the Pac-12 will be college football’s most intriguing conference to watch in 2012. Unless USC or Oregon loses two games, it’s likely the winner of the Pac-12 Championship will play in the national title.
USC is still dealing with scholarship reductions, but the postseason ban has been lifted, and the Trojans are ready to compete for the national title. Although depth is a concern, USC still has plenty of talent to round out its depth chart. Quarterback Matt Barkley is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman and returns college football’s top receiving corps. Depth on the defensive line is probably the team’s biggest question mark, but the back seven should be one of the best in the Pac-12. The Trojans also seemed to jell at the end of last year, winning their final four games, including a 38-35 victory in Eugene against Oregon.
Although Oregon must replace quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, the Ducks will once again be in the mix to win a national title. Bryan Bennett started one game in place of Thomas last season, but is getting a push from redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota in spring practice. James will be missed, but De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner are back to form a potent one-two combination. There are a few holes on defense, but thanks to rotating several players into game action, the Ducks shouldn’t suffer much of a drop in production.
Both teams are capable of winning the national title, but I have to give the edge to USC for the Pac-12 Championship. The Trojans knocked off the Ducks in Eugene last season and catch Oregon in Los Angeles this year. And with a win over the Ducks in the regular season, it will be a huge boost to USC’s chances of hosting the Pac-12 title game. I think both teams should be a lock to be in the preseason top five, but USC gets the nod to win the Pac-12 title.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I’ll go with the Trojans because of an experienced quarterback and amazingly-talented receivers, but the Ducks will make it tough. The interesting thing about these two quality teams is that they will meet in Los Angeles on November 3, and there is a good chance of a rematch a month later in the Pac-12 Championship Game. USC has a loaded roster, especially on offense with Heisman frontrunner Matt Barkley throwing to dynamic pass catchers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. There are a few questions on defense, but a Trojans have plenty of talent and one of the best secondaries in the country. Oregon has done a great job in recruiting as well, and Chip Kelly’s teams always put up points. Bryan Bennett takes over for Darron Thomas at quarterback, and UO has electric playmakers in Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. Bennett and the Ducks will need to find a way to make 40+ yard plays against the Trojans, something that did not happen in USC’s victory at Oregon last year. It will be fascinating to watch the adjustments these teams make from November to a possible rematch, and I will take Barkley and the Trojans to prevail at home.
Where will USC and Oregon finish in the 2012 Pac-12 standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.
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