When is it too soon to start talking about college football? In the era of the 24-hour news age the answer is NEVER! Like when the first 100 days of the presidency are measured so too is the countdown to college football. Thursday the 23rd of May marked 100 days left until the college football season starts. What does that mean? It means it is time to look at the Pac-12 Power Rankings in advance of the season.
Predictions are always hard. As the saying goes, if it were easy everyone would do it. It’s the soothsayers who are the most accurate on as consistent a basis as possible who are deemed and considered experts. You might have read such predictions so far from the “sports authorities". Now hear it from the insider.
Pac-12 2013 College Football Power Rankings
1. Oregon- Chip Kelly is gone but does that signal a changing of the guard? Like Boise State in the early 2000’s, which was when coach Dan Hawkins left; the Broncos still managed to maintain and assert their dominance. (Remember 2009 when Boise State opened the season against Oregon at home? The Ducks were favored but Boise State controlled and won. That was also the “punch” game by LeGarrette Blount). Regardless, Oregon has too much talent, too much depth, and maintains too excellent a coaching staff to derail too far, or even at all, from their high-powered dominance of the Pac-12. Expect them to compete for the Pac-12 Championship title.
2. USC-Coach Lane Kiffin sits on the hottest seat in the conference but he is able to recruit and succeed. USC’s history, pedigree, culture, and environment cannot be denied. And the talent and potential is there. USC is not going away and since the 2000 season starting with the Carson Palmer / Pete Carroll era when they turned around their deflated program; USC has been, and continues to be, a consistent powerhouse. The expectations for USC are high and overly inflated. When they don’t win out game after game everyone in Southern California complains. But take note that a “successful season” is not measured in wins and losses but by what it can accomplish under adversity. Even with Lane Kiffin on the hot seat, USC will be a player in 2013 and a force to contend with.
3. Stanford-One would think that the reigning Pac-12 Champs from 2012 would be higher than number #3 in the power rankings. Think again. Stanford, riding the wave of success from 2011 with Andrew Luck, was able to maintain that momentum and parlay it into a Championship season for 2012. They faced UCLA in the championship game of which they beat the week before in the last game of the season. The Cardinals had confidence. UCLA was on a downward slide. They could have won the regular season outright with a win over Stanford during the last game and then the conference during the Championship. Instead they choked both times. Think Stanford can defend the Pac-12 title and run the gambit again? They will not. They will still be strong but take a step backwards. The chink in the armor for David Shaw will begin to show. And he will learn that you cannot ride the coat-tails of the success of your previous head coach (Jim Harbaugh) for very long. You will have to earn it.
4. UCLA- The Bruins have high hopes with head coach Jim Mora. He proved last season in his inaugural year at the helm that he can lead and deliver. UCLA had a “breakout” season compared with the era of Rick Neuheisel (even though Neuheisel was relatively successful, go figure). How will UCLA fare this year? With the exception of Nebraska, the Bruins’ non-conference schedule is soft, and then they open up Pac-12 play against Utah and Cal. Don’t be surprised if they start the season 5-0 or 4-1. And since they played in the Pac-12 Championship game last year they will challenge again. Expect them to compete with Arizona State for the South Division title.
5. Arizona State-When are the Sun Devils going to turn the corner? Not since 1996 have they won a conference championship outright (in 2007 they were co-champs). Some say this is their year. They will compete for the Pac-12 South but not the conference championship. ASU will somehow find a way to hurt themselves. However, they will be strong and have a good season. The Sun Devils welcome back 16 starters from last year’s 8-5 squad. After trouncing Navy in their bowl game last year (61-28 in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl), ASU will look to start 2013 riding that momentum and maintaining that success. The only obstacle for ASU is ASU itself.
6. Washington-Why are the Huskies ranked within the top six? Several reasons. Steve Sarkisian is a good coach, the Huskies are returning 20 starters from last year, and this looks to be Sarkisian’s best team. With the re-opening of the renovated Husky Stadium, the Huskies are motivated to play. If quarterback Keith Price can return to form – look out. This could be a top 25 team.
7. Arizona-How do you replace the Pac-12 leader in total offense in 2012? (Answer: very carefully). With the departure of quarterback Matt Scott, the Wildcats have some big shoes to fill. Replacing the juggernaut that was Scott is difficult. However, now that coach Rich Rodriguez has a year under his belt at the University of Arizona he is able to implement his strategies well and see the results. His offensive system is proven from his stints at West Virginia and Michigan. The Wildcat’s defense could also be improved. Look for Arizona to mix it up on the Pac-12 this year and throw a few surprises.
8. Oregon State-Where’s the respect? After losing two-seasons in ’10 and ’11 the Beavers had a banner year in 2012 going 9-4. But alas these are the Beavers who, as a program, have a penchant to yo-yo up and down. Expect them to backslide this season back to mediocrity. Their first half schedule is promising with the ability for them to be sitting on a 4-2 record by the midway point. But the back half of the schedule is murderers' row with the last five games all looking like probable losses on paper. Still the Beavers could be a sleeper team in the Pac-12. Don’t be surprised for them to have a consecutive winning season. But it’s early and these are the pre-season rankings.
9. California-When you are installing a new program and new systems under new coaches, expectations are low. The Ted Head era is over. Coach Jeff Tedford was removed as Cal’s head football coach after 11 seasons. During this time he established himself as Cal’s winningest coach in school history. That is a tough act to follow. Now the Sonny Dykes era begins. The thing about the Pac-12 conference is that it does not wait for anything new to get started. Expect the Bears to struggle under Coach Dykes's inaugural season. Cal has too many “what-if's” and the majority of the other programs in the conference are already established. Still, should many things go right for Cal in 2013, they could be a bowl team. However, many things will have to go right for Cal.
10. Washington State-Poor Mike Leach. All bark and no bite. After accusations of abuse in his first year at WSU the Cougars try to focus on the task at hand: football. This is stemming from his similar lawsuit of player mistreatment at Texas Tech (that lawsuit was dismissed, but don’t ask Craig James about it). Point being – this is a distraction. And many of his players quit on him last year. Now Leach has to convince his players to follow and believe in him. It’s too bad as Leach, strategically and technically, is a good coach. However, his militant tactics are creating a culture of apathy, fear, and dissension. WSU deserves better and needs a leader/savior. Time will tell how they fair in 2013 after the dust settles from the unnecessary noise.
11. Utah-The Utes had a poor season last year and things do not look likely to change for Utah this year. Expect more of the same. The one piece of good news for Utah is the improvement of its offensive line. But that is where the good news stops and is not enough. There are too many unanswered questions on defense. Expect a similar record from last year’s 5-7 squad.
12.Colorado-The Colorado Buffaloes haven’t had a winning season since 2005. The Buffs have fallen far from grace. When will they climb out of the cellar and return to prominence? One thing is for sure – not in 2013 (or probably the next five years for that matter). New coach Mike Macintyre’s first season is both a test and a challenge. It seems Colorado has been in a rebuilding year for the past eight years. As with any new coach in his first year (See: California Bears), expectations for the Buffs are low. And in the power conference that is the Pac-12 do not expect them to compete. Adding further to Colorado’s woes is the quarterback situation of which further justifies why the Buffaloes’s are at bottom of the barrel ranking.
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