Who is this man and what has he done with Chip Kelly? (Photo courtesy: USA Today Sports)
Once the sanctions from the Reggie Bush scandal hit USC, the balance of power in the Pac-12 clearly shifted from south to north. Oregon and Stanford have had the conference in a headlock since 2009, capturing seven BCS bowl bids combined in the last four seasons.
Can the Cardinal repeat? Will the Ducks get back to the top of the league? Any chance a team from the South rights the ship?
CBR's writers weigh in:
Allen Kenney: I doubt any coach in the Pac-12 is lamenting a relatively quiet offseason for the conference. To me, the league seems to be sitting a bit below the actual hype sweet spot, though. It's not exactly getting the buzz that it deserves.
Even with Chip Kelly migrating to the NFL, the Oregon Ducks still look like the class of the conference and one of the best teams in the country this season. UO has arguably the most talented quarterback in the country in Marcus Mariota, a host of playmakers at the skill positions and a veteran offensive line. The other side of the ball has seen a talent infusion that really puts Oregon over the top.
I'm betting that the Ducks' chief rival for North supremacy takes a minor step back this season. Stanford loses some key contributors in the front seven on defense, which really carried that team a season ago.
In the Pac-12 South, I will roll the dice with USC. Yes, Lane Kiffin gives me some trepidation about this pick. Yes, the quarterback situation is iffy at this point. Yes, the Trojans are still dealing with scholarship limitation issues.
Even so, Arizona State's schedule is brutal. I also need to see another year out of UCLA before I buy that Jim Mora has the Bruins fully turned around. I'll take the Trojans' talent above all else.
Pick: Oregon over USC
MVP: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Coach of the Year: Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Kevin McGuire: While I think we see a bit of a revival of the USC Trojans in 2013, I think they still struggle to topple UCLA for city bragging rights this fall. I don't think the sudden improvement of the Bruins in year one under Jim Mora was a mistake and I look forward to seeing how that program builds off of last season's success, in which the Bruins truly earned their spot in the Pac-12 championship game. But UCLA has a tough road schedule in conference play highlighted by consecutive road trips to Stanford and Oregon, the two teams I still feel are atop the Pac-12 in 2013. I have UCLA pulling out the Pac-12 South title, but I'm keeping a very close eye on the Arizona Wildcats. I think Ka'Deem Carey has a big year, and while I usually do not trust a Rich Rodriguez defense, they return 11 starters on that side of the football. I'll roll with growth and maturation slightly here and look for them to put a scare throughout the division and conference.
Oregon, to me, is one of the more interesting teams to watch just because of the coaching change. How much will Mark Helfrich continue from the Chip Kelly style left behind? I don't anticipate an exact clone of Kelly's offensive play calling, but I do suspect the Ducks will take their chances and use their speed to their advantage on their way to another Pac-12 title.
The big question for me regarding the Ducks is whether or not they are a BCS title contender or not. They certainly have a favorable schedule, and if they can leave Palo Alto with a win on November 7, they could very well be in the driver's seat for one of the two spots.
Pick: Oregon over UCLA
MVP: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Coach of the Year: Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Jonathan Biles: The Pac-12 may not be the strongest conference in the country, but it will be the most interesting. High-flying offenses and better-than-average defenses make the Pac-12 the conference that is worth staying up late for.
The Pac-12 powers are in reload mode in various ways. Oregon has to replace Chip Kelly, its head coach, offensive guru and the main reason (other than Nike) that the Ducks are relevant. While the Ducks shouldn’t miss a beat with offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich stepping in to Kelly’s system with Kelly’s players, there’s always a chance of a drop-off.
Stanford lost running back Stepfan Taylor, key players on its defensive front seven and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton to the Indianapolis Colts, but the Cardinal still have a dominant offensive line and a young star on the rise at quarterback, Kevin Hogan.
USC lost Monte Kiffin. He was fired, really, but the Trojans also lost four-year starter and Newport Beach blonde bombshell Matt Barkley. They have no idea who to start at quarterback in the fall.
USC has an “easy” schedule on paper, but knowing the history as I do, unfortunately, the Trojans definitely lose a few games that are winnable. A Thursday night versus Arizona, away at California with the new “Bear Raid” offense run by new head coach Sonny Dykes (USC is normally so good at stopping running QBs and spread offenses!), home versus UCLA and Stanford, and an imminent-death, trap-game-hellscape on a Friday night in Corvallis, Ore., against the Beavers make for an unhappy November in South Central L.A. Luckily, the Trojans avoid Oregon during the regular season, even though they will end up playing the Ducks in the Pac-12 title game because of karma.
The interesting storyline this year will be if UCLA can repeat its success from last year. Brett Hundley is back at quarterback and Anthony Barr is back at linebacker for the Bruins, but I doubt they make it through away games at Stanford, Oregon, Arizona and USC unscathed.
Cal, Arizona, Washington State, Utah, Colorado and Arizona State really have nothing to lose and should adopt the mentality of giant-killing, because making the Alamo Bowl would be a big deal for some of these schools.
This season will come down to USC and Oregon. Stanford will be in the mix, and whoever scheduled the Oregon-Stanford game on a Thursday night should be immediately fired. But Stanford will have this season to reload. Next year, look out.
The only problem with USC doing halfway decent this year is that Lane Kiffin might keep his job. Maybe that’s a good thing... is what I tell myself to help sleep at night.
Pick: Oregon over USC
MVP: Marqise Lee
Andy Coppens: Let's get this out of the way up front… Lane Kiffin can't coach his way out of a paper bag – just watch the 2012 USC season and you'll see that. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you can't make it work on Saturdays, does it really matter? In his four seasons of coaching college football, Kiffin has led a team to more than five conference wins just once. Outside of that 2010 season, the guy has done exactly what to prove he's a good coach?
So, clearly I don't trust USC as a Pac-12 title contender. Who do I trust? That's a good question, especially in light of UCLA losing some key components and a serious lack of trust in Rich Rod and Tood Graham from Arizona and Arizona State, respectively. It's almost as if you have to pick USC out of the South division by default. That said, I think Arizona State and UCLA are likely the strongest contenders. If UCLA can find a replacement for the departed Jonathan Franklin at running back, it's the best team in L.A. in my book. I'll take UCLA in a mild upset over USC to win the division.
Up north is where the true fun will be in this conference. The obvious choices are Stanford and Oregon, but I don't expect Oregon State to make it easy on either of these two teams. The Beavers have transformed from a young team with some promise into a veteran team that took a major step forward last year. That said, they aren't on the level of Stanford or Oregon, and for me, I like what Stanford is bringing to the table again. The Cardinal proved that defense can win over explosive offense last season, and Stanford's offense is only going to be better this year than last with Kevin Hogan at QB all season long. Sure, the Cardinal lose some major pieces in the front seven of the defense, but this isn't a team in rebuilding mode anymore. They'll reload, and I like the Cardinal to take this division once again – proving why I believe they deserve to be a top 10 team coming into the season.
We'll get a replay of the Pac-12 title game from a season ago. Hopefully, more fans will actually show up this time around when Stanford hosts again.
Champion: Stanford over UCLA
MVP: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Coach of the Year: David Shaw, Stanford