Pac-12 post-spring power rankings
Today at the NFP marks the second of seven post-spring conference power rankings, continuing with the Pac-12.
Click here for the ACC post-spring power rankings, which ran on Monday.
Around the time preseason practice begins in the fall, we will revisit these rankings before 2012's opening kickoff.
Here is the schedule for the rest of the week:
Thursday: Big Ten
Saturday: Big East
Tuesday: Big 12
ICONUSC's Matt Barkley is poised for a Heisman Trophy run.
1. USC: Starter for starter, the Trojans can line up with perhaps any team in the nation. The question will be whether their depth will be tested, specifically in the backfield and across the lines, as they deal with having a smaller roster of scholarship players. This is a team that was playing better football than any other with the exception of LSU and Alabama when the 2011 regular season came to an end. Quarterback Matt Barkley is poised for a Heisman Trophy run, and this squad is poised for a BCS title push if Monte Kiffin’s defense makes another jump in its third year.
2. Oregon: Now that the Ducks were able to deliver head coach Chip Kelly his signature win in the Rose Bowl, the question is whether Marcus Mariota or Bryan Bennett can pick up where Darron Thomas left off at quarterback. Both players seem very capable of making this offense run very efficiently, and they’ll get help from running back Kenjon Barner, versatile De’Anthony Thomas and emerging tight end Colt Lyerla. Last year’s untested defense became stronger as the season went on under coordinator Nick Aliotti. Can it take yet another stride? All eyes will be on the Los Angeles Coliseum in early November when the Ducks travel to the Land of Troy.
3. Stanford: The Cardinal begin the post-Andrew Luck era, but head coach David Shaw will continue to rely on a strong rushing attack and a sound defense to win games. And there are high hopes for Brett Nottingham, who likely will win the starting QB job despite solid competition from Josh Nunes. Offensive line is an issue with Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro gone, so the best O-Line haul in school history that will make their debut this fall may need to develop quickly.
4. Washington: Steve Sarkisian had a tremendous offseason wooing assistants Justin Wilcox and Peter Sirmon from Tennessee as well as Tosh Lupoi, one of the best recruiters in the country, from Cal. The defense was wretched under Nick Holt, so there are high hopes for Wilcox, who led back-to-back strong Tennessee units the last two seasons. Offensively, quarterback Keith Price should make some preseason Heisman Trophy lists. But replacing Chris Polk will be awfully difficult, as he was one of the more underappreciated backs in the country. And this team will have to weather a very difficult early-season schedule.
5. Utah: The Utes will enter their second season in the Pac-12 trying to build off of the momentum from their Sun Bowl victory over Georgia Tech. They have a good amount of experience returning, and having a healthy Jordan Wynn at quarterback will help an offense that will now be run by youthful former Utes QB Brian Johnson, who replaces Norm Chow. Kyle Whittingham is one of the best head coaches in the nation, so the Utes will always be competitive no matter the conference. And they have a very good defensive line to lean on.
6. UCLA: Ranking the Bruins this high may raise some eyebrows, but I’ve been very impressed with the way new head coach Jim L. Mora has come into Westwood and organized a committed staff that communicates well with one another. Mora and Co. were able to bring in a strong Class of 2012 when their backs were against the wall following a delayed hire, and now the question is whether that off-the-field success can carry over to Saturday afternoons. Quarterback play remains the biggest issue, and I’ve been adamant that Brett Hundley should get the keys to this offense. End Datone Jones must lead a defensive revival as well.
ICONCan Jeff Tedford get Cal back into the upper tier of the Pac-12?
7. Cal: The Golden Bears seemingly underachieve each season, and some wonder if Jeff Tedford is long for Berkeley. The longtime Bears head coach is on the hot seat, so it’s a big year for Cal, which will play in a remodeled stadium. Quarterback Zach Maynard is coming off of a good spring season, and he’ll have weapons around him led by stud receiver Keenan Allen and talented running backs. The defense is always sound, but can the offense be consistent enough from week to week?
8. Washington State: I’ve bumped up the Cougars a few spots from before spring because former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach, who never missed the postseason while guiding the Red Raiders, has persuaded me that he will make the biggest impact out of all the new head-coaching hires. Quarterback Jeff Tuel has a lot of weapons at receiver, and former head coach Paul Wulff didn’t leave the cupboard bare. Can the defense play even average at times to allow Wazzu to steal a win or two?
9. Arizona: The Wildcats had difficulty adjusting to new head coach Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense this spring, but they improved by the end of camp. While it will be an adjustment for the team’s skill position players, quarterback Matt Scott has the talent to run this system. The concern is whether he can stay healthy because this team will be in trouble if he goes down with injury. The biggest offseason coup for Rich Rod was getting defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel from West Virginia, something he was unable to do when he arrived at Michigan. Like Charlie Weis at Kansas, Rodriguez will only succeed if his teams play defense. A healthy Jonathan McKnight in the secondary could do wonders for a defense that has question marks at linebacker and end.
10. Oregon State: Mike Riley’s Beavers have disappointed the last few seasons, and the injury bug has been just one of the reasons for the decline. But they return a ton of starters from last season, so the experience will be there in Corvallis this fall. Quarterback Sean Mannion should take another step in his development, Markus Wheaton should have a big year at receiver and depth at running back should make the offense solid — if the team could get better play from the O-Line.
11. Arizona State: Todd Graham is the new boss in Tempe, and he’ll have a deep backfield running behind a good offensive line. But there are question marks at quarterback and receiver. The team suffered key losses on defense, so the return of linebacker Brandon Magee will help. However, despite the fact that ASU underachieved last year, this team lost a lot of good talent.
12. Colorado: The Buffaloes ranked last in scoring offense and scoring defense in Jon Embree’s first season, but the second-year head coach continues to install his program in Boulder. However, losing top receiver Paul Richardson to a blown knee this spring was crushing for this squad. Tony Jones will have to have a big year at running back. But besides end Chidera Uzo-Diribe, the defense is suspect at best.