- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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First we gave you the final 2012 power rankings. Now we look ahead. These can and will change, largely based on our whims.
1. Oregon: The Ducks, winners of two straight BCS bowls, nip Stanford because their offseason questions have more obvious answers. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back/wide receiver De'Anthony Thomas and wide receiver Josh Huff are among 15 returning starters, including seven from a very good defense, which makes this a leading national title contender, perhaps the top threat to the SEC's seven-year itch atop college football.
2. Stanford: The Cardinal, winners of two BCS bowls in three seasons, welcome back nine starters from an outstanding defense, quarterback Kevin Hogan and a talented offensive line. This should be a preseason top-five team. But they also lose workhorse running back Stepfan Taylor and tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. In fact, Stanford loses its top three receivers -- and five of the top six.
3. Washington: Know how Washington fans have been fruitlessly imagining a return to glory for a long time? Well, we believe they may -- finally -- get their wish in 2013. The Huskies have lots of guys coming back, with budding star power in a number of key areas. If quarterback Keith Price reverts to 2011 form, this is a top-15 team.
4. UCLA: There are holes on both sides of the ball, but quarterback Brett Hundley is a great start, and there's plenty of promising young talent. This looks like a preseason Top 25 team. Replacing running back Johnathan Franklin, defensive end Datone Jones, tight end Joseph Fauria and three-fourths of the secondary won't be automatic, though.
5. Arizona State: Quarterback Taylor Kelly and running backs D.J. Foster and Marion Grice are a good start on offense, as is productive OLB/DE Carl Bradford on defense. The talent is there to challenge for the top of the South Division. Still, there are questions on both sides of the ball, most notably at receiver and in the secondary. If unblockable DT Will Sutton shocks just about everyone and opts to return for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft, well, that would be a huge boost.
6. Oregon State: The Beavers could be in the North Division mix, but there are several questions to answer, starting with the curious quarterback carousel, and continuing to defensive tackle, where both starters need to be replaced. Further, it's not easy to replace your two best players: WR Markus Wheaton and CB Jordan Poyer.
7. USC: The Trojans have plenty of guys back -- including WR Marqise Lee -- and there's no reason to believe quarterback Max Wittek is as bad as he looked in the Sun Bowl. If this team plays up to its potential, it could win the South Division. But there are good reasons not to make any big bets on the Trojans until they show up on the field.
8. Arizona: The big question is quarterback. Replacing Matt Scott won't be easy. Every starter returns on defense, but that might not be a good thing for a woeful unit, one that is particularly lacking on the defensive line. A good offensive line and running back Ka'Deem Carey will make the Wildcats competitive.
9. Washington State: By our count, the Cougars will have the most returning starters in the conference at 20. This team could shake off the youth and growing pains of 2012 and take a big step forward. It also helps that quarterback Connor Halliday will have an entire spring to win over coach Mike Leach and develop chemistry with a young but promising crew of receivers.
10. California: The Bears, coming off a 3-9 season that cost Jeff Tedford his job, have several holes, most notably at quarterback, running back and the offensive line. Cal could take a step forward due to new schemes and energy supplied by new coach Sonny Dykes. But there also may be some growing pains.
11. Utah: The Utes have issues on both lines. Resolve those, and things could be on the uptick, particularly if quarterback Travis Wilson takes a step forward as a sophomore. Utah also is replacing running back John White and both cornerbacks and didn't play well at linebacker last year.
12. Colorado: The Buffaloes should be better, mostly because they can't be any worse than they were in 2012. But it's hard to imagine they will be good enough to climb out of the Pac-12 cellar in Year 1 under Mike MacIntyre.
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