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A look at Pac-12 returning starters

12/9/2010

Obviously, we'll have plenty of time this offseason to consider what is coming back in the Pac-12 -- 12! -- in 2011.

But here's a quick look at returning starters. Note: We used season-ending depth charts, didn't spend much time fretting injury issues, and didn't factor in potential early NFL draft entrants (so, for example, welcome back Andrew Luck!).

An "*" means one of the returning starters on offense is the quarterback (but Cardinal fans, don't get your hopes up)

Arizona: 5 offense*, 6 defense, kicker

Comment: The offensive line needs to be completely rebuilt, but there's lots of skill back on offense. The defensive line also is an issue with three starters gone.

Arizona State: 10 offense*, 10 defense, no specialists

Comment: Meet your Pac-12 South front-runner. It's not just the number of returning starters: Much of the depth returns. But who is the quarterback?

California: 8 offense, 5 defense, 2 specialists

Comment: The front seven takes some big hits on defense. The offense's big question is at quarterback (and remember that we're counting running back Shane Vereen as a returning starter here).

Colorado: 8 offense*, 7 defense, punter

Comment: The Buffaloes might be Pac-12-ready on offense, particularly if quarterback Tyler Hansen takes a step forward after missing much of the year because of injury. The defense needs to improve, and it might considering four starters were freshmen or sophomores.

Oregon: 6 offense*, 5 defense, 2 specialists

Comment: Five of the defensive front seven and three offensive linemen must be replaced. Still, likely top-five in preseason.

Oregon State: 9 offense*, 5 defense, punter

Comment: First, the Beavers list 13 starters, so I eliminated fullback and tight end (one returning starter). Big questions for the defensive front seven.

Stanford: 5 offense*, 7 defense, punter

Comment: Now, keep in mind that this includes Luck as a returning starter. Even with him, the offense is rebuilding (though Luck is a heck of a cornerstone). The defense might have to carry the load, at least early.

UCLA: 7 offense*, 10 defense, punter

Comment: The defense has a chance to improve, even without linebacker Akeem Ayers and safet Rahim Moore -- likely early NFL entrants. The offensive line is questionable and the quarterback situation remains murky.

USC: 8 offense*, 8 defense, no specialists

Comment: The first order is whether offensive tackle Tyron Smith and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey return. The second order is depth. But when you look at what is coming back, it's not ridiculous to think the Trojans will win more than eight games in Lane Kiffin's second year.

Utah: 6 offense*, 7 defense, punter

Comment: The skill around quarterback Jordan Wynntakes some hits -- running back, wide receiver -- and three of the top-five defensive backs are gone, but there is a good foundation here for the Utes to be immediately competitive in the Pac-12 South.

Washington: 7 offense, 8 defense, 2 specialist

Comment: The post Jake Locker Era starts on offense. The skill is solid, but the line must improve. The defense loses its two best players -- linebacker Mason Foster and safety Nate Williams -- but has a chance to be better as youngsters mature.

Washington State: 8 offense*, 8 defense, no specialists

Comment: The offense takes a couple of hits on the offensive line and at running back, but it has a chance to be good with quarterback Jeff Tueland his top receivers back. The front seven takes three hits. Just enough here to make you go: Hmm.