The Trojans are finally looking ready to return to the upper echelon of college football after years of feeling the effects of probation. Lane Kiffin has brought in loads of talent, none more promising than quarterback Matt Barkley. Aside from having the Heisman front-runner at QB the Trojans will have the best receiving duo in the country with Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. They also have Penn State transfer Silas Redd who will be eligible immediately and was arguably the best player on the Nittany Lions roster when he left. Needless to say the Southern Cal offense should be prolific this year.
The other side of the ball is going to be much more unpredictable. Three freshmen will start at the linebacker spots but they’re all blue-chippers who should be among the conference’s best. All four starters of the secondary return from last year including All-American T.J. McDonald. In addition to the talent, they have one of the greatest defensive minds in all of college football Monte Kiffin as D-Coordinator. If USC can live up to their talent then they have a real chance at not only dominating the Pac-12 but possibly ending the SEC’s six-year run of National Championships.
Losing respected offensive coordinator Norm Chow to Hawaii is probably the biggest blow that Utah took this season. They return much of a squad that almost won the division a year ago. Quarterback Jordan Wynn returns after missing most of last year with an injury. The Utes will also have the services of Baylor transfer Josh Gordon at wide receiver and 1,500 yard rusher John White.
Star Lotulelei will be the leader of the defense from the nose tackle position. If he improves at all from last season then he should be able to compete for All-American honors. Utah has a very manageable schedule as they’re favored in almost every game and they’re all definitely “winnable” with the exception of USC. If the offense can come together than this Utes squad is primed for a nice bowl bid.
Rich Rodriguez has found his way back into the coaching world after he was forced out of Michigan a couple of years ago this time as head coach of the Wildcats. A switch to the zone-read option will take time to adjust to on offense but fifth-year senior quarterback Matt Scott looks to be an ideal fit for the scheme. Ka’Deem Carey will take the majority of the carries at running back after a very promising freshman year.
Rodriguez also brings longtime defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel with him. Casteel will implement the 3-3-5 Stack defense that he used at West Virginia. The Wildcats also return a good number of starters of the defensive side so they should have a capable line-up to start the season. Expect some growing pains in RichRod’s first season but with talent on the roster ‘Zona should compete for bowl eligibility.
The Bruins are fresh off of a division championship but only because arch-rival USC was ineligible. A 6-6 record was enough to get Rick Neuheisel fired and Jim Mora Jr. is the replacement. New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone won’t have a lot to work with in his first year. Kevin Prince does return at quarterback but he’s been injury-plagued most of his career. Johnathan Franklin and Malcolm Jones also return in the backfield but outside of that the offense looks to be thin.
UCLA returns almost all their starters on defense, which would sound a lot better if the defense hadn’t been so terrible last year. Fortunately, Jim Mora is a defensive minded coach which should help in turning things around this season. 2012 will be very hard to predict for the Bruins. They have the tools to return to relevance but history suggests it will take more than a year for that to happen.
Todd Graham comes in as the new head coach this year. He’ll install an up-tempo offense that runs plays faster than he switches coaching jobs. Losing quarterback Brock Osweiler to the NFL hurts the Devils tremendously as a clear-cut favorite for his replacement remains to be seen. Running backs Deantre Lewis and Cameron Marshall are really the only bright spots on offense.
The defense also took some hits in the off-season as they lost their chippy leader Vontaze Burfict to the NFL and several other starters. Cornerbacks Osahon Irabor and Deveron Carr will lead a secondary that will have to carry the defense if the Sun Devils want to be in the division race at all this year.
The Buffs are in their second year under Jon Embree. They hope to improve on an embarrassing 3-10 first season in which the only highlight was an upset victory over new regional rival Utah. Unfortunately it looks like year two might be even more challenging than year one. They lose play makers Tyler Hansen and Rodney Stewart. Texas transfer Connor Wood looks to be the most likely replacement at quarterback.
Doug Rippy and Jon Major lead a defense that was in the bottom of the barrel in nearly every statistic last season. Improvement on that side of the ball will be necessary for Colorado to slow down the high-octane offenses that the conference will feature next season.