We continue our series of Conference Conversations this week by taking a look at some PAC 12 football. Our first of three PAC 12 football Q & A sessions takes a look at the teams that can challenge USC and Oregon for the PAC 12 title.
We will be joined this week to discuss PAC 12 football by Jack Follman of the PAC 12 blog Pacific Takes. Kyle Kensing from Saturday Blitz & Arizona Desert Swarm. Mark Sandritter of the WAZZU blog Coug Center also joins us, as does Stuart Whitehair of CU At The Game.
Question # 1: Las Vegas has installed USC as the overwhelming favorite to win the PAC 12 South Division this year (-600) and Oregon to win the North Division (-240). What other team(s) could realistically surprise the oddsmakers and challenge those two teams for the division & conference title? Why?
Jack Follman – Pacific Takes: Barring any drastic penalties coming down on the Ducks before the season starts or USC having serious injury problems, I really see neither being challenged in their division. If I had to pick anyone though, I would say Stanford in the North because of an improved defense and solid running game and Utah in the South because of their favorable schedule (avoid Oregon and Stanford, get USC at home).
Kyle Kensing – Saturday Blitz & Arizona Desert Swarm: While I agree that USC and Oregon should be considered the favorites (and not simply from the Vegas standpoint that they’re the recognized names that will garner more bets), I think both can be taken down. Each can lose to the other, of course, but I have USC’s trip to Utah circled on my calendar. The Utes are experienced, and it’s a Thursday night game in a venue USC has no familiarity. UU is the team I foresee giving USC the stiffest challenge in the South. The Utes have the best RB in the conference, and maybe the nation (John White).
For UO, I look at a trip to Cal. The Ducks have dominated that series recently, but there are a few factors I think can trip UO up. First, it’s the weekend immediately after UO goes to USC. That’s a recipe for a trap. Second, I think Cal is going to be better than perhaps some are projecting. That said, Cal isn’t necessarily the team I see challenging for the North (though it’s possible). Stanford still has an awful lot of talent.
Mark Sandritter - Coug Center: Oregon and USC are overwhelming favorites not only because they are very good teams, but also because neither has an obvious challenger.
Many people have Stanford second in the North, but I think California could be the surprise contender. The Bears may not lead the Pac-12 in defense as they did the last two seasons, but they are still extremely talented. They might have the best collection of running backs in the conference with Isi Sofele, C.J. Anderson and Brendan Bigelow. Keenan Allen is one of the best receivers in the conference and if Zach Maynard can play all of 2012 like he did late in 2011, Cal can win a lot of games.
In the South, Utah looks like the most likely to challenge USC. The Utes should be strong on defense again, led by Star Lotulelei. They have a major question mark at quarterback, but John White and DeVonte Christopher are major weapons. Utah also has the schedule on their side as they will avoid Oregon and Stanford in 2012 and play USC and Cal at home.
Stuart Whitehair – CU At The Game: In the South, Utah is given the edge as the team most likely to finish second in the division. The Utes were 8-5 last season, and only leave the state of Utah once (9/22 vs. Arizona State) before taking on USC at home on October 4th. I see USC taking care of business in Salt Lake City, and putting the Utes in their place. As a result, I’m looking for UCLA to finish second – but a distant second. The Bruins have momentum under the new coaching staff, and avoiding both Oregon and Washington from the North division will help the final W-L record.
In the North, Oregon will again have to hold off Stanford (sans Andrew Luck) and a re-energized Washington. Both teams get USC at home, but both have to finish with three road games out of four in November. With the Washington/Stanford game being played in Seattle, I’m going with the Huskies to finish second in the North.
The Saturday Edge: I believe Stanford is still going to be a big factor in the PAC 12 North. Earlier this year I participated in a PAC 12 Roundtable at College Football Zealots and I explained my views on the Cardinal in more detail here.
Utah has to be the choice in the South because of their favorable schedule. Missing both Oregon and Stanford from the North, and getting USC at home sets the Utes up nicely for a surprise run in the PAC 12 South. I go into more detail on the Utes here.
Please let us know who you think will challenge USC and Oregon this year for the PAC 12 title by leaving a comment. Thanks – Pez.