- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Phil Steele has projected what he believes the Associated Press preseason top 10 will look like in August, and expects two Pac-12 teams to be in the thick of the national picture.
He emphasizes, by the way, that this is not his top 10, but what he believes AP voters will do. He also lists the factors he believes that influence voters in the Insider article.
Steele ranks Oregon No. 3.
The biggest question might be how the Ducks adjust to the retirement of longtime defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. However, they return leading tackler linebacker Derrick Malone and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who could be the best cornerback in the country. The schedule features a huge nonconference matchup against Michigan State, but that comes in the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium, where the Ducks are 33-2 the past five years. They travel to UCLA, but get Stanford at home and avoid both Arizona State and USC from the Pac-12 South.
Steele, by the way, projects Michigan State to make the top 10, so that matchup might be THE marquee nonconference matchup of the season.
Steele then projects UCLA at No. 7:
Jim Mora has done an outstanding job in Westwood, leading the Bruins to their most wins in back-to-back seasons since 1997 and '98. In 2014, they could take another step toward joining the nation's elite as they return 16 starters, including quarterback Brett Hundley, who passed up a chance at being a first-round draft pick. The Bruins also return their top four rushers and five of their top six receivers. On defense, they lose All-American linebacker Anthony Barr but return leading tackler Eric Kendricks. Freshman All-American Myles Jack, who played both ways last year, is back, and the entire secondary returns intact.
This makes sense. Most folks are going to project Oregon and UCLA as the Pac-12 North and South Division champions in the preseason, which means the Ducks and Bruins could meet twice next year -- once in the regular season and once in the Pac-12 title game.