We continue with our PAC 12 Football Q & A sessions by taking a look at some of the teams that could show the most improvement over last season, and which teams may be overrated.
We are once again joined by our panel of PAC 12 football experts, including Jack Follman of Pacific Takes. Kyle Kensing from Saturday Blitz & Arizona Desert Swarm. Mark Sandritter of the WAZZU blog Coug Center and Stuart Whitehair of the Colorado blog CU At The Game.
Question # 3: Which team do you believe will show the greatest improvement over last season? Which team is overrated (not nearly as good as they are being made out to be)?
Jack Follman – Pacific Takes: It might not be quite enough to get them to a bowl game but I think Washington State will be really improved, especially if Jeff Tuel can stay healthy. I think Leach’s offense is perfect for the players they already have and every other team in the North is on somewhat of a downswing.
It is really hard to say it, but I think Washington is overrated going into the season. They do have potential, but shouldn’t be listed in anyone’s preseason Top 25 rankings. Yes, their offense looked great in the Alamo Bowl, but Baylor’s defense was terrible, they lost their running back who literally carried them on their back and got yards without any blocking, they lost their two best receivers and their offensive line is a disaster due to graduation and injuries. Their defense was the worst in school history last year and they lost their two best players from it. Maybe I am just being pessimistic, but I think the Huskies are overrated and will also face a very tough schedule.
Kyle Kensing – Saturday Blitz & Arizona Desert Swarm: Washington State and Oregon State are both on my radar for improvement. Wazzu has a lot of buzz with Mike Leach coming on, and OSU was really young last season. Ultimately, Mike Riley probably made the best long term choice going with Sean Mannion at quarterback.
Washington and UCLA are both getting a lot of love. Not sure I’m buying. UW has the conference’s second best quarterback in Keith Price, but Chris Polk is a very tough player to replace. The defense also has a very long way to go.
UCLA has talent, but QB play is a question. The defense was really up-and-down last season, and not quite as talent rich as the ’09/’10 teams. I can see the Bruins bowling, but anything more than six or seven wins would surprise me.
Mark Sandritter– Coug Center: Looking at improvement in terms of wins, USC and Washington State seem like two who could make significant improvements in 2012. It seems crazy to list USC as a team who could drastically improve, but if they contend for the national championship like expected and with the conference championship game, the Trojans could jump from 10 to 13 or even 14 wins in 2012. WSU won four games in 2011 and should be in line for at least a two-game improvement in 2012.
With everything they lost, I think Stanford is overrated heading into 2012. They are coming off back-to-back BCS bowls but a lot of analysts are still projecting them as the No. 2 team in the North. The Cardinal have a ton of holes to fill after losing five first team Pac-12 players from 2011. Stanford will need a lot of players to step up in a major way if they are going to stave off the rising teams in the North division.
Stuart Whitehair – CU At The Game: Is it okay to say Colorado will show the greatest improvement? Colorado gets the nod, If only because the Buffs have the most room for improvement. Yes, the Buffs only won three games last season, but won two of their final three, including a win over Utah on the road, when the Utes would have won the South division with a victory. A soft non-conference schedule gives a young Colorado team an opportunity for early success, which might lead to a improved overall record.
It’s hard to find an over-rated team, because after USC and Oregon, not much is thought of the Pac-12 this season. Most of the teams are projected to be fairly mediocre, with Stanford and Washington picked as the teams most likely to be competitive for national rankings. As a result, I am going with Utah as the most over-rated. The Utes are being picked as the No. 2 team in the South, almost by default. Utah gets USC at home, and avoids both Oregon and Stanford from the North. That, coupled with a non-conference slate of BYU at home, plus games against Northern Colorado and Utah State, makes it easier to predict a strong W-L record for the Utes. Utah may have a good record at the end of the season, but that has more to do with the competition than the quality of the Utes.
The Saturday Edge: I definitely believe we will see improvement from Oregon State this season. Last year they were a very young (they played a school record 10 true freshmen) and unlucky team (according to Phil Steele they lost 59 starts due to injury and were a -8 in turnover ratio).
This year the Beavers return 15 starters including second year QB Sean Mannion. They do have a tough schedule featuring 9 bowl teams again, but should be better equipped this season to handle it.
Washington seems to be getting a lot of preseason hype from the prognosticators. They do have the second best QB in the conference, some playmakers at the receiver positions and three starters returning to a solid OL, but the loss of RB Polk leaves a huge void.
As previously pointed out, the Huskies struggled big time on defense last year, so an entirely new defensive coaching staff headed by Justin Wilcox should eventually pay dividends. However with four of their first six games against LSU, Stanford, Oregon and USC, any defensive improvement may not be evident until the second half of the season.
I hope you enjoyed our PAC 12 Q & A. I would like to thank Jack, Kyle, Mark and Stuart for their participation. And please let us know who you believe are some of the PAC 12 teams that could show the most improvement over last season, and which teams may be overrated. Thank you – Pez.