2013 Pac-12 Preview
July 30, 2013
By Marc Lawrence
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Yes, it was a good year for the Pac-12 in 2012.
Eight teams went bowling last season while Oregon and Stanford cemented their top-five status. In the end, 28 players were selected in this year’s NFL draft, the 3rd most of all college football conferences.
This self-proclaimed ‘Conference of Champions’ features teams that have won more NCAA National Team Championships (456) than any other conference in history. In fact, the top three schools with the most NCAA team championships reside in this conference, namely UCLA, Stanford and USC… in that order.
2013, however, brings plenty of other challenge to the table. Nike U (Oregon) transitions from Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich at head coach, while Stanford looks to find a way to kick-start a passing attack that slipped 80 YPG after Andrew Luck moved on to the NFL last season.
Then there’s USC. The ‘University of Soiled Children’ have finally shaken off suspensions but the after-effects of such puts head coach Lane Kiffin squarely in a make-or-break campaign. He’ll have to do it without the services of four-year starting QB Matt Barkley. Along with a revised “5-2” defensive scheme under new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, there are changes-a-plenty in store for the Trojans in 2013.
Remaining true to its roots, the Pac-12 is home to notable football rivalries such as The Civil War (Oregon and Oregon State), the Duel in the Desert (Arizona and Arizona State), the Big Game (California and Stanford), the Apple Cup (Washington and Washington State) and the Battle of LA (UCLA and USC). As such, these traditional rivalries continue throughout its alignment of two divisions, the North and the South.
Through it all, the Pac-12 prepares for the 2014 College Football Playoff touting its teams’ schedules as the toughest in the land.
And thus, the groundwork and planting of the seeds for champion game arguments begins.
Note: Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Potential designated ‘Play On’ and ‘Play Against’ Best Bets follow each team’s preview.
Team Theme: PLUGGING A HOLE IN THE DYKE
After witnessing a losing effort for the 2nd time in three seasons, the Berkeley brass was resolute that the end of an 11-year era with Jeff Tedford was at hand. Enter Sonny Dykes, an instant offense-expert, whose three-year tenure with Louisiana Tech witnessed a spike in offense each season. Unfortunately the only ‘D’ in his playbook is the first letter of his last name as his Bulldogs ranked dead-last in team defense last season while allowing an average 455 YPG in his three-year tenure in Ruston – not good news for a Cal team that slipped 91 YPG on defense in 2012. Dykes will be on the spot to earn every penny of the big fat five-year $9.7M contract he inked with the Bears, as he inherits a squad that lost its starting QB, leading RB and top WR. Even worse, the itinerary is filled with nine winning teams. Get the super-glue ready.
Stat You Will Like: Sonny Dykes is 14-1 SU and 11-3-1 ATS versus sub .500 opponents.
Team Theme: ADDICTED TO QUACK
After watching Chip Kelly’s big green machine rip the Pac-12 to shreds, going 34-3 in conference play with 31 wins by double-digits (and by an average winning margin of 25 PPG), defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti was asked how in the world does new head coach Mark Helfrich, Oregon’s offensive coordinator under Kelly, improve on that? “It’s kind of, like, not fair,” replied Aliotti. ESPN’s Ivan Maisel adds, “To raise the bar, Helfrich has to raise the crystal trophy above his head. That would be a tall order for any head coach, much less a guy who has never run a program.” Once again, Helfrich will rely on QB Marcus Mariota, RB De’Anthony Thomas and a cast of 11 wide receivers who saw playing time last season.
Stat You Will Like: The Ducks appeared in a BCS bowl game each of Chip Kelly’s four years with the school, the longest current streak in the nation.
PLAY ON: as a dog at Stanford (11/7)
OREGON STATE (*9/8)
Team Theme: RE-BEAVED
The reward for the largest one-year turnaround in school history? Three new retrofit uniforms from the mad scientists at Nike, and a new Beaver logo. That is about the only new look to the OSU football program as they return loaded in 2013 with 294 combined starts back from the 2012 squad (332 if you count the kickers). Head coach Mike Riley, the winningest coach in the program’s history, was forced to play freshmen in 2011 and it paid off in spades last year. He’ll welcome 60 returning lettermen, including starting QBs Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz, to a team suddenly long on experience. A loss to Washington, following a 6-0 start to last year’s campaign, figures to be the circled game on this year’s schedule. We’ll be there.
Stat You Will Like: DC Mark Banker (11) and OC Danny Langsdorf (10) have by far the longest combined tenure (21) of coordinators in the Pac-12.
PLAY ON: vs. Washington (11/23) - *KEY as dog
Team Theme: RULE OF TREE
To say the Cardinal have advanced this program to an exceptional level would be an understatement. Starting with Jim Harbaugh and moving forward under David Shaw, the Cardinal shook a seven-year losing skid to become one of only five teams to score double-digit wins each of the last four seasons, keeping company with the likes of Alabama, Boise State, LSU, and Oregon. Thankfully, with QB Josh Nunes retiring from a bicep injury that was worse than expected, Kevin Hogan (started final six games last season) will be under center. With the graduation of four-year RB Stepfan Taylor, Hogan is also the team’s leading returning rusher. To top it off, the Tree ruled the FBS in sacks last year and returns five of its top six tacklers.
Stat You Will Like: Stanford recorded its first Rose Bowl win in 40 years last season.
PLAY ON: vs. Notre Dame (11/30)
Team Theme: PRICE IS RIGHT
The Huskies entered the 2012 season filled with promise off back-to-back 7-win bowl seasons with a quarterback on the verge of stardom. Keith Price was behind center after being recognized as the 7th-ranked signal caller in pass efficiency. Instead, Price regressed and UDub settled on a 3rd straight 7-6 season. Due to a litany of injuries, they force-fed a bevy of sophomores who this year become experienced juniors. Star RB Bishop Stankey, who rushed for 1,439 yards while also hauling in 33 passes, combines with WR Kasen Williams and TE Austin Sefrian-Jenkins to form a lethal trio of skill players – all of whom will find more touches behind a new no-huddle look in 2013. If Price is right, this team can become the conference surprise.
Stat You Will Like: The Huskies beat two Top 10 ranked teams at home last season.
PLAY ON: vs. Boise State (8/31) - *KEY as a dog
WASHINGTON STATE (*8/8)
Team Theme: SNAPPED WINNING STREAK
A streak of 10 winning seasons – and 10 bowl appearances – in 10 years as a collegiate head coach came to a screeching halt for Mike Leach in his debut with the Cougars last year. A 2-1 start dissolved into a 1-8 finish despite the fact that Wazzu led the Pac-12 in passing, while also finishing 9th nationally. Leach’s ‘Air-Raid’ attack welcomes back QB Connor Halliday and his four starting wide receivers. An offensive line that allowed a nation’s-worst 57 sacks last year must step up in order for the team to improve. Meanwhile, look for the forced experience of 17 freshmen that played last year to pay dividends in 2013. After all, Leach has NEVER suffered back-to-back losing seasons.
Stat You Will Like: Leach is 21-3 SU and 20-2-2 ATS at home in lined games when his team owns a .600 or less win percentage.
PLAY ON: vs. Stanford (9/28)
Team Theme: UPS AND DOWNS
Like the choice of floors on an elevator, the Wildcats have seen offensive and defensive production go up and down the past few seasons. With Rich Rodriguez on board last year, the Cats totaled 6,840 yards (526 YPG), shattering the former school record by over 1,100 yards in 2012 and making it three straight seasons of increased offensive production. On the other side of the coin, the team has witnessed defensive decline over each of the last four years. Thus, the task of shoring up the ‘D’ becomes priority-one this season. Replacing 20 seniors, nine of who were starters at one point or another last season, means Rich Rod will need to push the right buttons in 2013. Let’s hope it’s not the emergency button.
Stat You Will Like: Rodriguez is 11-15 SU and 7-18 ATS from Game 11 out, including 1-13-1 ATS when off an ATS loss.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Washington State (11/16)
ARIZONA STATE (*6/8)
Team Theme: INSTA GRAHAM
When the Sun Devils ended the season with three straight wins for the first time since 1978, a bevy of ‘firsts’ were suddenly in the books. First-year head coach Todd Graham acquainted 29 players, including 17 true freshmen, with their first action at this level. In addition, Graham became the only coach in FBS history to record 60-plus points in a bowl game multiple (3) times. And to top it off, RB Marion Grice led the nation in TDs per touch (7.5), helping lead ASU to more rushing yards in a season than it has had in the last 25 years. With returning quarterback Taylor Kelly ranked 3rd actively in the nation in pass efficiency, the Devils are the favorites to win the Pac-12 South.
Stat You Will Like: Last season, the Sun Devils led the nation in tackles for a loss, and the P12 in fewest penalties.
PLAY ON: at UCLA (11/23)
Team Theme: YABBA DABBA DOO
If, as they say, you have to hit rock bottom before climbing back up, then Boulder is likely the home of the Slate Rock & Gravel Company these days. No, you won't find Fred or Barney or much of a football team, for that matter. Instead, Mike McIntyre, who went from 1-12 to 10-2 with San Jose State, enters looking to wipe some of the pterodactyl egg off the face of a once-proud program that went winless at home for the first time since 1920, suffering its first shutout home loss in 20 years. Meanwhile, McIntyre inherits 17 returning starters and a team owning the 4th highest returning starts of all FBS squads this season. To which he was last heard muttering, “Don't toy with me, Barn.”
Stat You Will Like: The Buffaloes are 1-6 SU and 0-7 ATS as favorites versus Pac-10/12 foes since 1999.
PLAY ON: at Utah (11/30)
Team Theme: PASSING TEAMA IN PASADENA
After being the first bowl team in NCAA history to end a season two games under .500 two years ago, the call went out to Jim Mora Jr. He responded with nine wins, matching the school record for wins by a 1st-year coach (Terry Donahue, 1976). Sophomore QB Brett Hundley leads the charges in 2013. Hundley set numerous school records, including total offense, passing yards and completions. He also became the first UCLA quarterback to toss for 300-plus yards in three straight games. While a tad short on returning starters, the Bruins feature 26 players with starting experience last season. Coupled with a coaching staff returning virtually intact, less is Mora this season as the Bruins look to claim a third-straight PAC-12 South division title.
Stat You Will Like: The Bruins are 0-9 SU the final three games of the season during the last three years.
PLAY ON: at Stanford (10/19)
Team Theme: DRIVING DOWN THE WRONG LANE
In three years with the Trojans, head coach Lane Kiffin has lost 13 games. That’s as many as Southern Cal lost the previous eight years combined. And last year’s defense allowed one of the highest totals of yards and points in school history. Not exactly Pete Carroll numbers… if you get our drift. Kiffin’s first call for help was to Clancy Pendergast, his new defensive coordinator. Despite the key losses of Barkley and Woods, plenty of talent returns in 2013, headlined by Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Marqise Lee, the team’s first-ever Biletnikoff Award winner. With 61 players back that saw action last year, including 7 of the top 9 RB’s and 5 of the top 6 tacklers, Kiffin needs to get his troops back on the right track – pronto.
Stat You Will Like: The last time USC lost 6 games in a season (2001) they rebounded by going 10-2 the following year, capturing the league title and winning a BCS bowl game.
PLAY ON: vs. UCLA (11/30)
Team Theme: BOOK OF MORMON
Mormons in Utah are oftentimes committed to serving on religious missions. This year’s entire Utes team will be on a football mission – a long-time winning program that suffered a rare losing season in 2012 is looking to return to their winning ways. The first thing head coach Kyle Whittingham did was secure the services of Dennis Erickson, who will serve as offensive coordinator with former Ute QB Brian Johnson. Sophomore QB Travis Wilson (6’6” and 240 lbs) will target WR Dres Anderson and TE Jake Murphy, who led the team in receptions and receiving yards last season. They are the sons of former NFL WR Willie ‘Flipper’ Anderson and MLB star Dale Murphy. Look for it to be ‘mission accomplished’ in 2013.
Stat You Will Like: Whittingham is 6-1 ATS as a dog off a double-digit spread loss.
PLAY ON: vs. Oregon State (9/14)
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