Pac-12 Power Poll: Post-Spring

Trojans, Sun Devils will be favorites in new Pac-12 South despite some significant flaws.

Exactly one year ago there were four givens about the Pac-10 coming out of spring practice: Andrew Luck would be the top quarterback, LaMichael James the top running back, USC would have the most players drafted and Washington State would finish last Again

Had someone said the Cougars would stun Oregon State and keep the Beavers from reaching a bowl game or UCLA's upset of Texas would be equaled by Iowa State or Washington would overcome a 1-2 start to win the Holiday Bowl by getting revenge on Nebraska, he would have been regarded as a loon

But that's exactly what happened

No one could have predicted it, not coaches or players and certainly not the sports writers that cover the conference or college football

That's the dirty little secret of every preseason prognostication and publication, it's rarely ever based on what we see with our own eyes If you're really lucky, you're spending one day at each school in the spring and maybe one more in the fall But it's mostly based on what those in the know tell you with a little gut feeling mixed in

And now there are two more teams to take into account with the arrival of Colorado and Utah into the expanded Pac-12, as of July 1

With all that out of the way, here is one set of educated post-spring guesses as to how the inaugural Pac-12 will shake out

1. Oregon
Oregon can't or won't play for the BCS title again unless it beats LSU in Cowboys Stadium in the first week of the season Honestly I'm still baffled the Ducks got there in the first place last year considering the utter disregard the rest of the nation has for West Coast football

If they can't get past the Tigers, will the Rose Bowl hold the team's interest? Don't laugh, it could be an issue given the loss of so much senior leadership Plenty of teams – USC, Florida and Texas come to mind – lost their intensity after so much success as guys stopped buying in and assumed it was their sovereign right to be in the BCS every year

For Chip Kelly's fastest and most talented team to date in Eugene, managing the psychological challenge will be paramount

2. Stanford
Lost amid all the glowing press for the dynamic due of Luck and Jim Harbaugh was the remarkable defensive turnaround engineered by Vic Fangio, as the Cardinal went from No 69 nationally in points allowed per game (26 54 ppg) to surrendering a conference-best 17 38

New defensive coordinator Derek Mason will have to replace not only Fangio's brilliance, moved across the Bay with Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers, but nose tackle Sione Fua, linebacker Thomas Keiser, corner Richard Sherman and do-it-all Owen Marecic

Unless the defense can hold its torrid pace, Stanford could be drawn into shootouts like last season's controversial 37-35 win over USC, not that Luck couldn't carry the team back to double-digit wins in that scenario

3. USC
4. Arizona State
Supremely talented and yet ultimately flawed describes either would-be favorite in the South (USC won't be eligible for the championship game unless it wins its appeal and gets the postseason ban overturned) The Sun Devils are always on the verge of committing an idiotic penalty or crippling turnover, while the Trojans found new and inventive ways to lose games late USC has to address its shaky offensive line in fall camp, while Arizona State lost senior corner Omar Bolden and receiver T.J. Simpson to ACL tears this spring

5. Washington
6. Utah
7. Arizona
8. UCLA
Here's the middle of the truly muddled middle, featuring teams going in different directions Washington is trending up, Arizona is falling down, Utah is moving in and Rick Neuheisel is trying to avoid being thrown out

Only the Huskies don't return their starting quarterback from this group, but should be better on offense even without Jake Locker Locker was so mishandled by the previous regime that coach Steve Sarkisian was really never able to run the scheme he wanted, instead trying to rebuild the program's supposed savior on the fly

The Utes must navigate the transition to their new home, while the Wildcats won't have to worry about another late-season swoon but surviving Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon and USC to end September and start October

Neuheisel gets a rare reset of everything but the head coach, with new coordinators and massive staff turnover The Pistol lives but depends on quarterback Kevin Prince staying healthy, a rare occurrence around Westwood

9. Oregon State
This is a testament to Mike Riley as much as anything, especially how he kept the Beavers from completely imploding after the embarrassing home loss of Washington State

He will face a bigger challenge in 2011, replacing workhorse running back Jacquizz Rodgers and powerhouse defensive tackle Stephen Paea Two knee surgeries and subsequent silence regarding James Rodgers leads me to assume the fly sweep master is unlikely to contribute early on, or at all, this season

10. California
11. Washington State
12. Colorado
Guess which team doesn't have a quarterback? If you picked the team with the quarterback guru as head coach, you're right

It's absolutely baffling how the quarterback play at Cal has absolutely disintegrated since Aaron Rodgers left, succeeded by a series of replacements that ranged from adequate to awful

How can the Cougars and Buffaloes have solid returning signal-callers in Jeff Tuel and Tyler Hansen respectively and the Bears are relying on Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard?

Best known as electric receiver Keenan Allen's half-brother, Maynard is getting most of the snaps with the first team and offers some intriguing mobility, but had an almost equal number of touchdowns (20) to interceptions (18) in his one season at the helm Factor in the apparent lack of a feature running back and concerns on the offensive line and it could be another disappointing season

Colorado would have gone bowling if not for a meltdown against Kansas, but between the coaching change from Dan Hawkins to former UCLA assistant Jon Embree and move to a new conference (plus a bizarre "non-conference" game against said Cal), give Washington State the slightest of edges

At worst, Tuel-to-Marquess Wilson will be a lot of fun to watch, followed by the hope of yet another new coach


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