- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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What does 2013 hold for the Pac-12? If you buy Mark Schlabach's early Top 25, then it looks like a pretty good start for the conference.
Schlabach taps five Pac-12 teams in his 2013 Top 25 -- including two of the top three. Oregon checks in at No. 2, with Stanford right on the Ducks' heels at No. 3. Oregon State is at No. 15 followed by UCLA at No. 21 and USC rounds out the pack at No. 25.
Here's what Schlabach has to say about each program:
2. Oregon Ducks: Another Chip Kelly flirtation with the NFL appears to end once again with Oregon's coach staying in Eugene. It looked as though Kelly might be filling one of several NFL job openings after the Ducks' win over Kansas State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. With or without Kelly, Oregon figures to maintain its frenetic offensive pace and contend with Stanford in the Pac-12 North. As many as eight starters on offense and seven on defense could be back from a team that finished 12-1. Quarterback Marcus Mariota ranked in the top 10 in the country in passing efficiency in his first season as a starter, throwing 32 touchdowns with only six interceptions. The Ducks will miss tailback Kenjon Barner, who is leaving after running for 1,767 yards with 21 touchdowns, but they'll still have De'Anthony Thomas and promising freshman Byron Marshall. Linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso, the team's top tacklers, also are departing.
3. Stanford Cardinal: After playing in three consecutive BCS bowl games and winning the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio this season, Stanford might be poised to join the ranks of the perennial BCS national championship contenders. The Cardinal didn't miss a beat after losing Heisman Trophy finalist Toby Gerhart in 2009, coach Jim Harbaugh in 2010 and quarterback Andrew Luck in 2011. Not many programs in the country are equipped to overcome those kinds of losses, proving Harbaugh and current coach David Shaw haven't built a flash-in-the-pan program. Stanford might bring back as many as seven starters on offense and nine on defense if a few of its talented underclassmen don't leave early for the NFL draft. The Cardinal will miss senior tailback Stepfan Taylor, who ran for 1,530 yards with 13 touchdowns, but quarterback Kevin Hogan figures only to get better with more experience. The Cardinal look as if they're in the top 10 to stay, especially with uncertainty at USC.
15. Oregon State Beavers: You knew that, after back-to-back losing seasons, it wouldn't be very long before coach Mike Riley had the Beavers back in the thick of the Pac-12 race. After starting 6-0, OSU lost four of its final seven games, including a disappointing bowl defeat. But with nine starters on offense and seven on defense coming back in 2013, Oregon State should have things turned around for the long run. Riley needs to settle on a starting quarterback; he shuffled between Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion throughout the 2012 season. The Beavers lose top receiver Markus Wheaton, but they'll have three senior starters on the offensive line, which is always a good commodity to have. Cornerback Jordan Poyer is another big loss on defense. The Beavers will play Stanford, USC and Washington at home next season and Arizona State and Oregon on the road.
21. UCLA Bruins: UCLA coach Jim Mora's first season ended with a thud; the Bruins lost their last three games to finish 9-5. If they can get better protection up front -- they gave up 52 sacks, second-most among FBS teams -- they'll have a chance to be even better in 2013. UCLA started three freshmen on the offensive line this past season, and they were exposed in the Bruins' 49-26 loss to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl. The good news: Quarterback Brett Hundley is back after throwing for 3,740 yards with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as a freshman. The bad news: Tailback Johnathan Franklin, who ran for 1,734 yards with 13 touchdowns, is departing. UCLA will also have to rebuild its secondary; cornerback Sheldon Price and safety Andrew Abbott, who each picked off four passes, are leaving. After playing seven home games this past season, UCLA plays at Nebraska and will have to play Oregon and Washington during the regular season, which it didn't do in 2012.
25. USC Trojans: The Trojans can't be this bad, right? After starting 2012 at No. 1 in most preseason polls, USC limped to a 7-6 finish, including a listless 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Quarterback Matt Barkley is gone, along with receiver Robert Woods, who was unhappy about his production and bolted for the NFL draft. Record-setting receiver Marqise Lee is coming back after catching 118 passes for 1,721 yards with 14 touchdowns last season. Freshman Max Wittek started the last two games after Barkley suffered a season-ending shoulder injury and goes into spring practice as the anticipated starter in 2013. The Trojans should have back seven starters on offense and eight on defense, so there's enough returning talent to get things turned around. USC fans are wondering if coach Lane Kiffin is the man to do it, though.
What does 2013 hold for the Pac-12? If you buy Mark Schlabach's early Top 25, then it looks like a pretty good start for the conference.Schlabach taps five Pac-12 teams in his 2013 Top 25 -- including two of the top three.