Behind the mighty SEC, other BCS Conferences duke it out every year for the title of second-best conference in all of college football. In 2013, the battle continues, and the Pac-12 looks to be among the front-runners. Victories in two BCS Bowl Games last year were the highlights for the conference, and looking forward more BCS wins could be coming. But for now, here is my preview of the Pac-12 North Division in 2013.
1. Oregon Ducks
The Oregon Ducks’ up-tempo offense have been one of the most exciting to watch in the past decade, as it has led the school to four straight BCS appearances. It will be a challenge for the Ducks to keep us their success without head coach Chip Kelly, but a favorable schedule and a talent-filled roster will prove enough to keep them near the top of the Pac-12. The offense will be great as usual, led by sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back and Heisman candidate De’Anthony Thomas, and wide receiver Josh Huff. Mariota looks to improve on an impressive 2012 campaign, while Thomas and Huff will be his biggest supports in the passing game. Seven starters also return to a defense that allowed just over 20 points a game in 2012, and Boseko Lokombo will prove to be one of the more underrated linebackers in the conference. Expect yet another strong season even without legendary coach Chip Kelly, as they are my pick to get to the Pac-12 Title Game.
2. Stanford Cardinal
Stanford enters the year with a boost of confidence, after taking the conference title and the Rose Bowl trophy home in 2012. Junior Kevin Hogan was one of the more interesting quarterback stories we witnessed last season, and will lead a Cardinal offense returning 8 starters. Senior Anthony Wilkerson is a solid back that will head the running game, but no wide receiver is returning that had more than 213 yards last year. The defense, which led the nation in sacks in 2012, will be elite again after welcoming back sack-master Trent Murphy and safety Ed Reynolds. Stanford will enter the year with high expectations as they should, so look for a solid season in Palo Alto.
3. Washington Huskies
For almost the past decade, Washington has had a dead average football program, which explains their 7-6 record for the past three years. For senior quarterback Keith Price, this could a very improtant year for the program. A stellar ten starters are coming back on offense, including Price and junior running back Bishop Sankey, who rushed for over 1400 yards in 2012. Wide receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins will be the top targets for Price, and could shape up to be one of the better receiving tandems in the Pac-12. On defense, playmakers such as linebacker Travis Feeney will have to step up in order for the squad to be elite, but the Huskies always seem to shine on that side of the ball. Washington will finally scratch their way out of a 7-6 record, but the talent may not be there yet for a Pac-12 Title.
4. Oregon State Beavers
For a program that is looking to son compete with the best the Pac-12 has to offer, junior quarterback Sean Mannion and the Oregon State Beavers could find success in 2013. Mannion will first have to cut down on interceptions (31 in the past two years), but will also have to rely on running back Storm Woods for production in the run game. The receiving corps will be led by Brandin Cooks and Connor Hamlett, who totaled over 1500 yards a year ago, but the wildcard of the team will be the defense. Linebackers D.J. Alexander and Michael Doctor will be a consistent force up front, but the secondary’s ability to break up passes and force turnovers will need to drastically improve. Depending on how things work out for the Beavers, they could be anywhere from a 6-6 team to one that takes the Pac-12 Title.
5. California Golden Bears
Being the only team to not return an experienced quarterback in the Pac-12 North, the Golden Bears will struggle offensively in 2013. In fact, the leading returning offensive target for the Golden Bears is sophomore Chris Harper, who racked up 544 yards as a freshman. Even further, the defense will have to work on improving a squad that allowed over 33 points a game last year, while only returning 6 starters. Players such as junior d-back Kameron Jackson will play a big role in defending opposing quarterbacks, and will be a big part of the team’s overall success. Look for the Golden Bears to again be near the bottom of the Pac-12.
6. Washington State Cougars
For some time now, Washington State has found themselves at the cellar of the Pac-12. And if the Cougars are to change that in 2013, they will need to be much more balanced on offense. Last year, the team was 9th in the country in passing yards, but dead last in rushing yards. Connor Halliday leads the offense at quarterback, but after losing their top target, they are left with sophomore wideouts Gabe Marks and Dominique Williams to lead the attack. Eight starters return on defense, but major improvements will have to made to fix a defense that was one of the worst in the FBS in 2012. Overall, Connor Halliday could lead a strong passing attack, but that aside not much talent is left there for Washington State.