Thursday, August 30, 2012
What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 1
By Kevin Gemmell
So much has happened in the offseason that it might be hard to digest it all. No worries; we've got you covered. Here are a few things to keep an eye on as the Pac-12 kicks off with four games today, one tomorrow and the rest of the docket Saturday.
New coaches: The conference saw an influx of some big-name coaches in the offseason, and they make their debuts this week in the Pac-12 with some high hopes to turn their respective programs around. The consensus among many is that Mike Leach (WSU) will have the most success -- at least this season -- since he inherited a team that already has players for the style he wants to run. Jim Mora makes his collegiate head-coaching debut with UCLA, overhauling the Bruins on both sides of the ball. Rich Rodriguez brings his innovative spread offense to Arizona, and Todd Graham is trying to rehabilitate ASU's program. Leach has the toughest game (at BYU) of the four this week, but all four are winnable.
Rich Rodriguez and Arizona host Toledo -- a team that upset Rodriguez's Michigan squad in 2008.
QB debuts: There were six quarterback competitions in the conference this year, and four quarterbacks will be making their first collegiate starts this week: Josh Nunes for Stanford, Brett Hundley for UCLA, Marcus Mariota for Oregon and Taylor Kelly for ASU.
Extra pressure? There are weighty expectations for all four QBs -- but the heaviest are probably on Nunes and Mariota. Stanford is coming off of back-to-back BCS bowl game appearances (2011 Orange and 2012 Fiesta), while Oregon has been to three straight (Rose in 2010, national championship in 2011 and Rose in 2012). Nunes replaces one of the greatest quarterbacks in conference history in Andrew Luck, and Mariota takes over one of the best offenses in the country.
Backup plan: While neither Chip Kelly nor Todd Graham is likely to stray from the vanilla aisle in Week 1, it still will be interesting to see whether/how they use their backup quarterbacks either this week or in the coming weeks. Bryan Bennett at Oregon was probably one or two bad practices away from taking over the reins, and Michael Eubank has been touted as an outstanding athlete whom the Sun Devils simply can't keep off the field.
Don't screw it up: The Pac-12 is favored in 11 of 12 games in Week 1, with Washington State being the only underdog. That means -- at worst -- the conference should go 11-1. While it would be fantastic if every team won, the reality likely is that there will be at least one team that messes up the curve. Wouldn't be a bad announcement to the rest of college football if the conference ran the table.
Reputation matters: Speaking of the Pac-12's reputation, this is the first time the conference enters a season with two teams ranked in the top five of the AP poll. USC checks in at No. 1, and Oregon is No. 5. You could say the hype and expectations for both these teams are, well, considerable.
Heisman hopefuls: Time to start number crunching for Matt Barkley, De'Anthony Thomas and Keith Price. All three have been mentioned as Heisman candidates, and Barkley has assumed the not-so-envious title as preseason front-runner.
Committee members: Two members of the 1,000-yard club from last season find themselves in larger committee roles. Curtis McNeal at USC is now sharing the ball with Penn State transfer Silas Redd, and Cal's Isi Sofele will see some of his carries go to C.J. Anderson.
Extra week for OSU: From all of us at the Pac-12 blog to Nicholls State, best of luck. Stay dry, stay safe.
Look ahead: While Cal and Washington won't be looking ahead, it wouldn't hurt for you to take a sneak peek at what LSU and Ohio State are doing against North Texas and Miami (Ohio), respectively. Those are the two biggest out-of-conference games on the schedule this season and important games for the reputation of the conference. As they say, know your foe.