2011 Pac 12 North Football Preview

Oregon Ducks Running Back LaMichael James
RB LeMichael James and the Oregon Ducks are favored to win the Pac 12 championship.
The Pac 10 has added two teams to become the Pac 12. Utah joins the conference from the Mountain West and Colorado joins from the Big 12. At least the Pac 12 had the decency to change their name unlike the Big Ten which now has 12 teams and the Big 12 which has 10 teams now. The addition of the two teams has caused the Pac 12 to form two divisions and allow them them have a championship game. Washington, Washington St, Oregon, Oregon St, Stanford, and California make up the Northern Division. USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona St, Utah and Colorado make up the Southern division which we will cover in a different article.

With USC still on probation and banned from postseason play, the two best teams in the conference are Oregon and Stanford. Both Oregon and Stanford are expected to ranked in the top 10 in the pre-season polls. The Pac 12 Championship game will be at the site of the team with the best record rather than at a neutral site.

Here is a look at the teams in the North with their odds to win the division, the conference championship, and the BCS Championship courtesy of Bodog.

Oregon Ducks (5/4 division, 2/1 conference, 12/1 BCS)

The Oregon Ducks ended their season coming up just short in the BCS Championship game against Auburn. The Tigers kicked a field goal as timed expired to win the National Championship 22-19. Though it was a heartbreaking finish to an undefeated regular season, the Ducks are primed to atone for that game. Quarterback Darron Thomas returns for his junior year along with Heisman Trophy finalist junior running back LaMichael James.

The Ducks had the nation’s number one offense last year scoring 47 points a game. They lost top receiver Jeff Maehl to graduation along with 24 other seniors. Look for Lavasier Tuinei to be the top receiving target in the Ducks’ high flying offense. I don’t know if they will be quite as explosive as they were last year but this team will score plenty of points.

On defense, Casey Matthews, younger brother of the Packers’ Clay, left the program early and was drafted by the Eagles. Oregon’s defense was overshadowed by the offense, but they only gave up 18 points a game last season. They still have the talent to stop teams from scoring.

We will find out a lot about this team as they start off the season against another SEC team. The Ducks travel to Arlington, Texas to take on the LSU Tigers in a nationally televised showdown. One of these two BCS contenders will be in a 0-1 hole after that game. Then the Ducks play a potential trap game at home the week after against a Nevada team that is always tough. In conference they have home games against Cal, Arizona St, Washington St, USC, and Oregon St. They have road games against Arizona, Colorado, Washington, and Stanford. The November 12 game at Stanford will likely decide the division championship. If the Ducks can survive the game against LSU, they have a chance to run the table. I think one loss is more likely, either to Stanford or USC.

Stanford Cardinal (7/4 division, 3/1 conference, 16/1 BCS)

Though coach Jim Harbaugh moved across the Bay to coach the 49ers in the NFL, quarterback Andrew Luck returns to run the offense. Offensive coordinator David Shaw takes over for Harbaugh, so the system will stay the same. Stanford was 12-1 last year with the only loss coming to Oregon. Stanford destroyed Virginia Tech 40-12 in the Orange Bowl.

Luck was a Heisman Trophy Finalist last year, and many thought he would go to the NFL as he was projected to be the #1 pick in the NFL draft. Luck passed for 3,338 yards with 32 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He also rushed for 453 yards with 3 touchdowns. Junior running back Stepfan Taylor returns as well after rushing for 1,137 yards and 15 touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Doug Baldwin returns as well. The offense scored over 40 points a game last season. The defense gave up only 17 points a game.

The schedule isn’t too demanding with home games against UCLA, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Cal, and Notre Dame. The Cardinal have road games at Duke, Arizona, Washington St, USC, and Oregon St. I can see this team with 10 or 11 wins, and a major bowl berth is likely.

Oregon St Beavers (13/2 division, 16/1 conference, 125/1 BCS)

There is a significant drop off from the top 2 teams in this division to the other 4. The Beavers are coming off a disappointing 5-7 season under coach Mike Riley.

Surprsingly, the Beavers were 97th in rushing, despite having talented Jacquizz Rogers, who left early for the NFL.¬† His older brother James, a receiver is still with the team. They don’t look to be able to rush the ball any better this year without Jacquizz. The pressure will be on sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz who threw for 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Along with James Rogers, he also has WR Markus Wheaton to throw it to.

The defense struggled as well last year giving up almost 27 points a game. They look to improve on that this season.

The Beavers have home games against UCLA, Arizona, BYU, Stanford, and Washington. They have road games at Wisconsin, Arizona St, Washington St, Utah, California, and Oregon. Despite the difficulty of the schedule, I think this team will win 7 or 8 games and go to a bowl game.

Washington Huskies (13/2 division, 16/1 conference, 150/1 BCS)

The Huskies finished last season 7-6 winning their last 4 games. After getting destroyed at home in the regular season by Nebraska 56-21, the Huskies won the rematch in the Holiday Bowl against an unmotivated Cornhusker team 19-7. However, that was with quarterback Jake Locker who was drafted by the Titans in the first round of the NFL draft. Sophomore Keith Price will most likely replace Locker, but if he falters look for Nick Montana to take over.

Despite having Locker, Washington was 84th in passing last year. This is mainly due to coach Steve Sarkisian’s balanced attack. They rushed for 172 yards a game last year with sophomore running back Chris Polk who rushed for over 1,400 yards and 9 touchdowns last year. Locker rushed for 385 yards and 6 touchdowns. Junior receiver Jermaine Kearse returns after catch 12 touchdowns last year.

The defense gave up almost 30 points a game last season and it could be a long season if they don’t get better. The linebackers are the weakest link on defense.

The schedule includes a tough non-conference slate with home games against defending FCS Champion Eastern Washington and Hawaii before traveling to Nebraska for the rematch. In conference, the Huskies have home games against Cal, Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington St. They travel to Utah, Stanford, USC, and Oregon St. Like Oregon St., Washington should win at least 7 games and qualify for a bowl.

California Golden Bears (10/1 division, 20/1 conference, 100/1 BCS)

The Bears are coming off a disappointing 5-7 season last year, after starting off 4-1. Senior quarterback Brock Mansion took over midway through the season for Kevin Riley and showed flashes of being a good quarterback. He threw for 646 yards with 2 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Cal also has to replace running back Shane Vereen who is in the NFL right now. Isi Sofele will take most of the carries. Coach Jeff Tedford prefers to run the ball so passing is more of an afterthought.

Last year, Cal’s defense was ranked #18 in the country. They held the high powered Oregon attack to 15 points in a narrow 15-13 loss last season. The defense remains strong though there could be questions in the secondary as they had to replace 3 starters.

The Bears open up with a tough match-up against Fresno St in San Francisco. In conference, they have home games against USC, Utah, Washington St, and Oregon St. They travel to Colorado, Oregon, Washington, UCLA, Stanford, and Arizona St. I don’t see this team getting more than 6 wins.

Washington St Cougars (40/1 division, 100/1 conference, 20/1 BCS (field) )

The poor, pathetic Washington St Cougars might be the worst team in the 6 power conferences in college football. Last year they finished 2-10 and can only hope to be more competitive this year. Last year, they were outscored 36-20.

Coach Paul Wulff is 5-32 in three seasons in Pullman and is on the hot seat if the Cougars can’t improve some how. The offense, is led by junior quarterback¬† Jeff Tuel, who threw for almost 2,800 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions last season. While those numbers might not seem that great, you have to understand the Cougars had virtually no running game and the offensive line struggled badly to protect Tuel. He was running for his life on almost every down and it is amazing he wasn’t injured. Tuel was thrown to the ground a stunning 48 times which is an average of 4 times a game.

The defense gave up a ton of points, but that is mainly because the inept offense had so many 3 and outs. The defense was on the field for long periods of time and got tired. This year’s defense will be very young with one freshman and 4 sophomores among the 11 starters. Don’t look for much improvement on defense.

Washington St opens with creampuffs Idaho St and UNLV at home so they should at least equal their win total from last year. Then they travel to San Diego St in a tough game for the young Cougars. In conference, Washington St has home games against Stanford, Oregon St, Arizona St, and Utah. They have road games at Colorado, UCLA, Oregon, Cal, and Washington. They might be able shock one of their conference rival like they did against Oregon St last year, but I think 4 wins would be a stretch for this team.

Check out our college football odds page for the best lines on every game.

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