USC QB Matt Barkley
The Horn picks up its annual conference previews with the Pac 12. Find out which teams are poised for success in the 2012 season.
The Horn begins its conference previews with a look at this year’s Pac 12. In only the second year of the newly minted conference, the Pac 12 looks to build on a successful inaugural season.
Projected Record: 12-0, 9-0
Key Players: QB Matt Barkley, RB Curtis McNeil, WR Robert Woods
X-Factor: Offensive Line
Look out for: LB Hayes Pullard
Following the two-year bowl sanctions from the NCAA, the Trojans have stormed back into the BCS National Championship conversation. The Trojans look to distance themselves from the Reggie Bush/Pete Carrol era and hope for its first return to the BCS since Carrol was at the helm.
Heisman candidate and potential 2013 NFL first overall pick Matt Barkley returns for his senior season to lead an explosive offense. The Trojans feature a balanced attack with dynamic wide receiver Robert Woods and all-purpose tail back Curtis McNeil. Look for Barkley and Co. to tear apart Pac 12 defenses all season long.
Given AP All American Matt Khalil’s departure to the NFL, the Trojans will need to find a suitable replacement to block Barkley’s blindside. However, if the Trojans can protect the QB and play respectable defense, they should find themselves in the National title hunt come January.
Projected Record: 11-1, 8-1
Key Players: RB Thomas D’Anthony, FS John Boynett, LB Michael Clay
X-Factor: Replacing QB Darron Thomas and RB LaMichael James
Look out for: QB Bryan Bennett
For the past several years, the defending Rose Bowl champion Ducks have been perched atop the conference, and this year should be no exception. Although not quite as dangerous as USC, Oregon should finish first in the Pac 12 North.
Even though the Ducks return 14 starters, Oregon’s explosive offense will have to regroup after the losses of Darron Thomas and LaMichael James to the NFL. However, the Ducks are stocked with offensive talent and will revamp their up-tempo offense around multipurpose back Thomas D’Anthony.
The Ducks have a relatively easy road to the top of the Pac 12 North division which is in a down year. The pressure is on QB Bryan Bennett to lead them there.
Projected Record: 8-4, 7-2
Key Players: RB John White IV, LB Chaz Walker, LB Matt Martinez
X-Factor: QB Jon Hayes
Look out for: LB Brian Blechen
Despite being in the Pac 12 conference for only one season, the Utes are being touted as the team who could best challenge the Trojans in the southern division. Given last year’s transition to the Pac 12, Utah finished a respectable 8-5 season with a Sun Bowl victory and only look to improve on last year.
Led by the linebacking core of Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez, the Utes present a stout defense, only allowing 20.2 points per game in 2011. With another year of experience under the belt of LB Brian Blechen, the Utes D will be even stingier than last year’s.
RB John White IV will carry the bulk of the offense for the Utes as their QB situation was unsettled last year. In order for the Utes to exceed expectations, QB Jon Hayes needs to improve on an average 2011 season.
Projected Record: 8-4, 7-2
Key Players: QB Keith Price, S Sean Parker, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
X-Factor: Replacing offensive weapons
Watch out for: RB Jesse Callier
Despite starting last year 5-1, the Huskies finished the year a disappointing 3-3. However, the Huskies played top competition as they faced the 4, 6, 7, and 13 nationally ranked teams. The Huskies looked poised to build off their solid start from last year with 14 returning starters.
As one of the top QB’s in the conference, Keith Price must guide a Husky offense that lost a lot of its weapons, including RB Chris Polk and WR Jermaine Kearse. RB Jesse Callier must fill at least some of the void if the Huskies hope to make some noise in the Pac 12 north.
Projected Record: 6-6, 4-5
Key Players: RB Jonathan Franklin, CB Andrew Abbott, QB Kevin Prince
X-Factor: Jim Mora Jr. transition
Watch out for: The quarterback position
In 2011, the Bruins somehow found themselves in the conference championship game; however, they were certainly out of place. Seeming not quite right all season, the Bruins replaced head coach Rick Neuheisel with Jim Mora Jr. Mora will bring a professional and disciplined culture to the program.
For the 2012 season, Mora will need to rely on a core group of returning players led by RB Jonathan Franklin. However, the Bruins’ success is dependent on the QB position. Starter Kevin Prince faced an up-and-down 2011 resulting in fan pessimism and a lack of confidence from the coaches. Fans in Westwood can only hope that a new coaching regime can kick start is Bruin career.
If the Bruins can get some consistent play from the QB position, they could surprise some in the upcoming season.
Pac 12 Projections
Oregon (11-1, 8-1)
Washington (8-4, 7-2)
Oregon State (6-6, 4-5)
Washington State (5-7, 3-6)
California (4-8, 3-6)
Stanford (3-9, 2-7)
USC (12-0, 9-0)
UCLA (6-6, 5-4)
Colorado (5-7, 3-6)
Arizona State (4-8, 3-6)
Arizona (3-9, 2-7)