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College Football Analysis: Will UCLA and Washington Surprise USC and Oregon in 2012?

The Saturday Edge is proud to present an exclusive PAC 12 football Q & A session with Reign of Troy. Reign of Troy is a sports blog founded by USC students, covering all things Trojans.

Joining us today from Reign of Troy for our PAC 12 football Q & A is Co-Lead Editor Michael Castillo.

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?

USC and Oregon are again going to be the dominant players in the Pac-12, as noted by the odds, and in the south, it’s going to be really difficult for there to be a surprise, really. UCLA has the talent in their incoming recruiting class, but given the change in regime with Jim L. Mora, who knows how long it is going to take the Bruins to gel.

Utah however, avoids both Stanford and Oregon again this year, and get USC at home on a Thursday night in primetime. If they play to their abilities, they’ll start 6-1 and give USC some foot steps to listen to. With nine returning starters on offense and a healthy year for Jordan Wynn at quarterback, they can make some noise if they’re given the chance.

As for the north, Washington is probably the most talented team to make a push towards Oregon, but they have a brutal schedule that sees them play LSU, Stanford, Oregon and USC in a five-game stretch.

Because of that, and the success of Stanford’s recruiting and pro-style schemes, the Cardinal have to be the most realistic school in terms of surprising Oregon. They’ve lost five in a row in Eugene, but if they can find a way to take out the Ducks, they have a good  chance of winning the North.

Question # 2: Name me a few unknown players that could become stars this season.

The first player to keep an eye on is Marquess Wilson up at Washington State. Last year, he led the PAC-12 in receiving yards, and while that normally wouldn’t make someone ‘unknown’, the fact that he’s playing for Washington State has prevented him from being a household name. With Mike Leach coming to Pullman to install his pass-heavy attack, there’s no reason to think that Wilson doesn’t put up crazy numbers this year, and as weird as it sounds, he could very well challenge Robert Woods’ conference record of 111 catches in a season, set in 2011. Give Leach a solid quarterback in Jeff Tuel, and receiver capable of making big plays, and Wilson could be an All-American by the end of the year.

Oregon State fans haven’t had much to root for lately, but sophomore defensive end Scott Crichton is a talent that could really blossom in Corvallis this season. As a freshman, Crichton had 8.5 sacks and 74 tackles for the Beavers, and with Dylan Wynn returning as the other end for Oregon State, opposing offensive lines will have their hands full.

UCLA’s Steven Manfro had an unbelievable Spring Game for the Bruins. Used as a scat back and a receiver out of the backfield, he plays a game that is remarkably similar to former Bruin, Maurice Jones-Drew. With the departure of Derrick Coleman, there is some playing time to be had in the UCLA backfield, and don’t be surprised if Manfro turns some heads as a freshman.

It’s hard to say a 5-star recruit is unknown, but Shaq Thompson should start at Washington as a true freshman. With Sean Parker playing the strong safety spot, Thompson can play free safety and easily give UW the fastest, most athletic secondary in the conference. Thompson was a standout quarterback in high school, and his ability to have a feel for the game should allow him to make himself at home in the PAC-12.

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)?

Without a doubt, Washington State will get better in 2012. With Mike Leach calling the plays, and Jeff Tuel coming back from injury for his senior season, there’s no denying that the Cougars will be an offensive machine. They return their top three backs from a year ago, and bring back seven starters on defense. With a favorable early season schedule, the Cougs can gain some confidence before Oregon comes to Pullman on September 29th. Add in the fact that they avoid USC for the second straight year, and there’s a chance that the Apple Cup could be one of the most watchable games of the year come late November.

As for who’s overrated? Well, it’s hard to call a team overrated when they haven’t been rated, but despite the fact that UCLA returns 16 starters, they’re not as strong as they appear, at least on offense. The Bruins lost three of their top four receivers and will be breaking in a new, full-time starter at quarterback, whether it be Richard Brehaut or Brett Hundley.

The talent is definitely there for UCLA, especially on defense, but a young offensive line and a freshman kicker could give the Bruins some growing pains. The Bruins could very well open up 5-1, but a final stretch that includes a trip to Pullman in November followed by hosting rivals USC and Stanford is daunting for a team that needs offensive continuity.

Good stuff from I would like to thank Michael for his participation and excellent answers to our PAC 12 football questions. If you get a chance please check out their site. It has some really great information on USC football. And don’t forget to leave us your comments below. Thanks – Pez.

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