Pac-12: 2013 buy-sell

With recruiting behind us and spring well underway, the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to examine each team's chances of winning its respective division.

This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.

And so we conclude the series. ... Buy or sell Washington State winning the North?

Kevin Gemmell

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
Jake Roth/US PresswireMike Leach and Washington State will try to give their fans hope for the future in 2013.
Sell: As we bring this series to a close -- it's pretty evident where Ted and I stand. We both believe there are four teams that could win the South and only two teams that could win the North. Unfortunately for Washington State, the Cougars aren't one of those two. Not yet, anyway.

I fully own up to the fact that I bought the preseason Washington State hype last year. That coach, that quarterback, those receivers and that scheme? It seemed like the perfect match. And yes, I picked them over BYU -- my worst prediction of 2012. I figured I'd get it out of the way early. I ate my crow with fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Guess what. I haven't abandoned ship yet. But I'm a little more realistic on the time table.

The schedule isn't particularly favorable for the Cougars this year. They open with two games on the road -- first against Auburn and then at USC. Auburn isn't in great shape right now -- so the Cougars could steal one. But road games at USC, at Cal, at Oregon, at Arizona and at Washington will all be difficult. Plus, they surrender one of their home games and face Stanford at CenturyLink in the Seattle Game.

Whether there are six wins on the schedule is up for debate. Whether there are 10 or more is almost certainly a no. Not with questions at quarterback and a defense that continues to be tweaked. The Cougars gave up a lot of points last season. But there was progress. They were 8th nationally in tackles for a loss (T-74th in 2011) and 11th in sacks (94th in 2011). But they were also last in the country in sacks allowed. Whoever wins the QB job better stock up on Icy Hot.

The Cougars are a few years away from making a serious push in the North -- maybe more than a few. Stanford and Oregon aren't going anywhere and Washington and Oregon State are trending up. Cal might be on the upswing, also. The fact is the North is vicious. And will continue to be vicious for years to come. For now, getting to a bowl game would be a nice step forward.

Ted Miller

SportsNation

Buy or sell Washington State winning the North?

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Sell: Kevin is a bit hard on himself. Just about everyone thought the Cougars would take a step forward in 2012. And you can make a pretty good argument that the talent was better than the result: 3-9 record and some obvious transitional pains under new coach Mike Leach.

Further, I think my chief motivation for picking BYU against the Cougars was so all Kevin and my picks wouldn't all match that week.

As they have throughout this series, of which some of you have astutely pointed out weaknesses.

My belief is strong that Washington State will not win the North Division next year. There are more talented, veteran teams ahead of them, and the schedule is a further burden. Dropping Colorado from the slate means the Cougs lose the one conference game in which you could mark them as a favorite, ignoring, of course, what happened in last year's matchup.

The more legitimate question might be the Cougars' bowl hopes. I, however, wouldn't put a buy rating on that, either.

My feeling is the more sober-minded Coug fans -- sober Coug fans, Ha! -- aren't obsessing over reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2003. What they are looking for is hope. And respectability.

That means not getting whipped by at least 24 points four times. That means not losing to teams like Colorado. That means winning games the Cougars should win and stealing one or two they shouldn't. The fourth quarter needs to matter again. It shouldn't be a time for driving home.

There are ways to get to 5-7 this fall that will be quasi-satisfying. Think of Rocky's first fight with Apollo Creed.

That's the image: A bunch of nobly battered Cougs screaming "Leach ... Leeaaach!" at season's end, while the crowd applauds the effort and notes, "We've got a lot of guys coming back in 2014!"

Buy or sell: Washington Huskies

April, 11, 2013
4/11/13
7:00
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With recruiting behind us and spring well underway, the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to examine each team's chances of winning its respective division.

This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.

Buy or sell Washington winning the North?

Ted Miller

[+] EnlargeBishop Sankey
Steven Bisig/US PresswireBishop Sankey and the Huskies will have a tough time overtaking Oregon and Stanford in the North.
Sell: I think Washington is going to take another step forward under coach Steve Sarkisian this season. I think this team wins nine or 10 games and ends up ranked in the nation's top-25 by season's end.

But I don't think the Huskies overtake the Oregon/Stanford tandem. If the Cardinal doesn't win the North Division, the Ducks will. And vice versa. That's my entirely predictable and justifiable position. I don't expect any so-called pundits to project it differently.

You know: Just like USC was a certainty in the South last season.

As we all know -- see those pesky 2012 Trojans -- there are no sure things. So if the Ducks and Cardinal were to both slip, I do see Washington as owning the best chance of clawing to the top.

Why? There are 20 returning starters from a 7-6 team that beat Stanford and Oregon State. There are intriguing guys coming off the injury list. I suspect quarterback Keith Price has a bounce back this fall, looking far closer to the guy he was in 2011 than he was in 2012. He certainly can expect better offensive line play (if everyone stays healthy).

Further, there's plenty of star power: tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, running back Bishop Sankey, receiver Kasen Williams, nose tackle Danny Shelton and linebacker Shaq Thompson. I like the idea of Year 2 with defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.

Yet for all that, I don't see the Huskies winning the North.

We should have a good idea of things by mid-October. The Huskies should be 4-0 when they visit Stanford on Oct. 5. If they were somehow to win that game and improve to 5-0, Oregon's visit the next weekend to renovated Husky Stadium might be the biggest thing in Montlake since … 1991.

To be honest, I can't adequately describe how much Washington fans would salivate over that one. This is the nastiest rivalry in the Pac-12, and the Ducks have won nine consecutive games in that nasty rivalry by at least 17 points. That is the cruelest bane for all who wear purple. Not surprisingly, Oregon fans have not been shy about pointing that out to Huskies fans, who have had few counter-tweaks of late.

The Pac-12 blog might need to add bandwidth for that week. I get warm-fuzzies just thinking about stirring that pot… ah, bliss.

But, really, think about what that means: The Huskies beating top-5 teams back-to-back.

Just don't see it happening. Been wrong before. But probably not this time. Maybe.

Kevin Gemmell

SportsNation

Buy or sell Washington winning the North?

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Sell: I like Washington this year -- and think the Huskies will finally get over that seven-win hump with nine or 10 wins. The defense made huge strides last season, and I've been a big Sankey fan -- even before his breakout game against Boise State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. I promise here and now that he will be on the preseason Top 25 list (unless Pitt somehow finds a way to block it).

But what scares me the most about Washington this season is the travel. When it was playing in CenturyLink last season -- there was something special about this team. Or maybe it was just the effect the NFL stadium had on opponents. Whatever it was, Washington was a top 15 team when playing at home -- going 5-1 with its only loss to USC.

There, the Huskies beat top 10 teams Stanford and Oregon State. Stanford coach David Shaw told me it was the third loudest game he'd ever experienced. The second was a trip to Autzen, and the first was an NFL playoff game.

The acoustics at the newly minted Husky Stadium might prove to be as tympanicly torturous as those at The CLink. Too bad some of Washington's biggest games aren't at home. Last season Washington was 2-5 away from Seattle, with its only victories coming at Cal and Colorado.

This season it is at Stanford (and I don't think there is any need to rehash what happened last time the Huskies traveled to The Farm). Then it's home to Oregon -- and I don't think there is any need to rehash the recent history of that rivalry. Oh wait, Ted already did. Then they are at Arizona State -- a team that will contend for the Pac-12 South and poses a defensive front that rivals Stanford's.

Then it's at UCLA and at Oregon State in back-to-back games before closing out the season with the Apple Cup at home. We're expecting UCLA and Oregon State to also be top 25 teams. That means four of Washington's five road games this season are against potentially ranked teams. For a team with a history of troubles away from home, this doesn't bode particularly well.

As Ted notes, and I concur, the Huskies should be a better team in 2013. But until they show they can notch quality road wins, a buy rating feels like a stretch.

Buy or sell: Utah Utes

April, 10, 2013
4/10/13
7:00
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With recruiting behind us and spring well underway, the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to examine each team's chances of winning its respective division.

This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.

Buy or sell Utah winning the South?

Kevin Gemmell

[+] EnlargeStar Lotulelei
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesLosing decorated defensive tackle Star Lotulelei to the NFL creates a huge hole in Utah's defensive line.
Sell: Fighting for scraps in the Pac-12 South is already going to be tough enough if you aren't from Los Angeles or the great State of Arizona. But for a team like Utah, which welcomes Pac-12 North favorites Stanford and Oregon to the schedule for the first time since joining the league, it makes things exponentially tougher.

The once potent Utah defensive line has some remolding to do following the departures of Star Lotulelei and the Brothers Kruger. For as tough as things were for the Utes last season -- they were still outstanding against the run. No. 2 in the conference. So losing 75 percent of their strongest unit is going to be tough.

There is still plenty for Utah fans to be excited about. The rise of young quarterback Travis Wilson, who showed marked improvement over the final five games, is a great storyline to follow. There is intriguing depth at wide receiver, and Jake Murphy might be the most underrated tight end in the league. I'm also excited to finally see 325-pound behemoth Junior Salt in action on the offensive line. Whatever injection Dennis Erickson can give to the offense will also be fun to watch.

But there are still too many question marks to give this team a buy rating.

Kelvin York -- while showing potential -- still has to prove he can be as durable as John White was at running back. His career high is 13 carries, and he's only had double-digit carries three times. The passing offense was dead last in the league last season, and the Utes struggled to keep drives going, averaging less than 18 first downs per game and converting just 33.5 percent of third downs. With road trips to Arizona, USC, Oregon and Washington State -- it's tough finding a spot for the Utes among the South favorites. The Utes were 1-5 on the road last season.

Six wins are out there. And getting back to a bowl game would be a nice step forward. But Albuquerque seems more likely than fighting for a spot in Pasadena.

Ted Miller

SportsNation

Buy or sell Utah winning the South?

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Sell: This feels like an adjustment year for Utah. The Utes potentially could take a step back in Pac-12 play before taking a step forward.

Kevin touched on most of the issues. It starts with the fewest -- 12 -- returning starters in the conference from a 5-7 team that went 3-6 in Pac-12 play. Among the departed: White, the team's leading rusher, three defensive line starters, including top-10 NFL draft pick Lotulelei and the Utes' top four cornerbacks.

Further, the schedule ramps out. The Utes trade California and Washington for Oregon and Stanford, preseason top-five teams. While the schedule features seven home games, it also features four road dates in five games from Oct. 19 to Nov. 23, and the home date is with South front-runner Arizona State, which whipped the Utes 37-7 last season.

It will be interesting to see how both lines hold up. If holes are filled and guys stay healthy, this team could surprise some folks, particularly if Wilson takes a significant step forward in his second year as a starter.

But the legitimate goal here is winning six or seven games and getting back to the postseason after the program posted its first losing record since 2002.

Then, in 2014, with a nice core of returning talent, the Utes might be eyeballing something more.

Buy or sell: USC Trojans

April, 9, 2013
4/09/13
7:00
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With recruiting behind us and spring well underway, the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to examine each team's chances of winning its respective division.

This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.

Buy or sell USC winning the South?

Ted Miller

Buy: I just wrote about 200 words about why I'm selling USC, and then I realized that it was an overreaction based almost entirely on coach Lane Kiffin's tenuous situation.

SportsNation

Buy or sell USC winning the South?

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If we subscribe to the tried and true, "buy low and sell high," then USC might never again be this good of a bargain -- just as it was plainly overvalued (cough, cough) last fall.

UCLA and Arizona State look like the two favorites in the Pac-12 South Division. Both have a lot of quality players coming back from teams that were more successful than USC last year. And yet USC has 17 starters returning from a team that beat the Sun Devils by 21 and played a competitive game at UCLA, despite a horrible start and three bad turnovers.

Further, the Trojans might have the better schedule. Like Arizona State, USC misses Oregon. UCLA plays at Stanford and Oregon on back-to-back October weekends. While USC visits Arizona State, it plays host to Stanford and UCLA, teams that the Sun Devils face on the road.

Of course, the Trojans also visit Oregon State, and that of late has been an ugly road trip.

As for the roster, there are plenty of positives. Four starters are back on the offensive line, and Marqise Lee is the nation's best receiver. Kiffin made a good hire when he brought in Clancy Pendergast to coordinate his defense, and the early returns on the new 3-4 look are mostly positive.

Sure, the secondary is iffy, QB Matt Barkley needs to be replaced and the depth at receiver is questionable. Sure, it's worrisome when you read stories about Kiffin falling in love with talent instead of performance -- Max Wittek over Cody Kessler at QB and Aundrey Walker over Kevin Graf at LT -- but there's a whole lot to recommend this team.

The question isn't talent. The Trojans are talented enough to win 10 games and win the South Division.

The question is coaching and intangibles. Has whatever went wrong with the locker-room culture in 2012 been addressed and corrected?

Our answer: Maybe.

Buying USC stock in 2013 is a high-risk maneuver. We certainly won't shift a predominant portion of our portfolio to Heritage Hall.

But those willing to take on great risk, often reap great rewards, including a chance to gloat in December, which is always fun.

Kevin Gemmell

Buy: There's a Pavlovian response whenever you hear USC. The first thought is: "Of course the Trojans can win the division. It's USC."

There's a good reason for that. The Trojans once again will have as good of talent as any team in the division and probably as good as any in the league. Does that mean they will win the division? Of course not. Investors (Ted's not alone in his throat clearing) are still smarting over the Great Trojan Crash of 2-aught-12.

Does it mean they are capable of winning? Sure. Ask yourself if the Trojans have the talent to beat Arizona, ASU and UCLA. The answer should be yes. The best wide receiver in the country, a strong running back corps and an offensive line that should be improved all point to an uptick in production. Who runs that offense, however, is a concern. And much like my co-writer, it gave me some pause. But I also think the passing attack will be scaled back and simplified, and we'll see the Trojans use a talented stable of backs to set things up for a more conservative passing game.

I think the defensive shift from an even to an odd front (2-5/3-4, depending on who you ask) is going to work out great. The players love it and it seems to suit their skill sets better. A new defensive scheme that is going to make Morgan Breslin a better pass-rusher? I'll buy that.

Most importantly, though, is that it seems 2012 has given the returning players a measure of humility. Never underestimate the power of embarrassment. And all those returning players were embarrassed by the product they put on the field last year.

Gone are the days of players thinking they are going to win games simply because they are USC. That mystique was shattered last year when Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner introduced Barkley to his face mask and the Trojans were muscled out of Palo Alto -- the beginning of the end for investors.

If lessons were learned from 2012 -- both on the field and from the guys with the headsets -- then the Trojans have as good of a shot as either of the South front-runners of being in the Pac-12 title game.

Buy or sell: UCLA Bruins

April, 8, 2013
4/08/13
7:00
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With recruiting behind us and spring well underway, the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to examine each team's chances of winning its respective division.

This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.

SportsNation

Buy or sell UCLA winning the South?

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Buy or sell UCLA winning the South?

Kevin Gemmell

Buy: While we both bought Arizona as a potential South champ -- and we'll weigh in on USC tomorrow -- I think we both agree that Arizona State and UCLA have a slight lead over the other two as front runners. At least for now. Whatever separation lies between ASU and UCLA is minimal.

There are some holes that jump out immediately -- like replacing running back Johnathan Franklin, tight end Joseph Fauria, defensive end Datone Jones and the very underrated linebacker Damien Holmes. All are significant.

But four of the five starting offensive linemen are back -- which is always comforting for a second-year quarterback. Speaking of Brett Hundley, I'm looking for him to take a major leap forward in terms of his understanding of the offense and maturity as a player.

But there's no disputing what Jim Mora and his staff did in Year 1.

Consider these national rankings:

  • UCLA went from 81st to 34th nationally in passing offense.
  • 72nd to 24th in total offense.
  • 88th to 31st in scoring offense.
  • 112th to 8th in sacks.
  • 87th to 22nd in tackles for a loss.

The systems work. The schemes work. The coaching works. Oh yeah -- and they have one of the best defensive players in the nation in Anthony Barr coming back.

The schedule ramps up with trips to Nebraska, Oregon, Stanford and Arizona. But the division crown is likely to be decided in the final two weeks, when the Bruins host Arizona State and then are at USC to close out the year. The Bruins made huge strides in their first year under Mora & Co. And if Hundley matures like we expect and the by-committee approach at running back can come together, the Bruins could be well on their way toward repeating.

Ted Miller

[+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesAnthony Barr recorded at least two total tackles in each of UCLA's regular-season games last season.
Buy: UCLA has among the fewest returning starters in the Pac-12 -- 12 -- and it has some obvious areas of uncertainty, most notably running back and the secondary. Further, the schedule is rugged -- at Nebraska, Stanford and Oregon before the calendar hits November.

Yet there's a nice combination of returning "Wow Factor" and up-and-coming guys to make it pretty easy to imagine this team not only winning the South Division but also playing in the Rose Bowl.

Start with the "Wow Factor."

Barr might be the first Pac-12 player picked in the 2014 NFL draft. Offensive guard Xavier Su'a-Filo is an All-American candidate. Hundley would appear on just about any list of the "Nation's Most Talented Quarterbacks." And ILB Eric Kendricks should move from underrated to first-team All-Pac-12 this fall.

Up and comers? Ellis McCarthy on the D-line, receiver Devin Lucien and three sophomores who started on the offensive line as freshmen (and some even younger guys who might push them). While the secondary is worrisome -- all four 2012 starters are gone -- the recruiting has been strong in the back half. Young and talented is better than experienced and mediocre.

But Kevin hits on the key point: Coaching.

UCLA has had intriguing talent before and fallen flat. Yet Mora and his staff grabbed this locker room by its collective lapels last spring and have yet to let go. They have the Bruins' attention, which is good.

Further, that horrible Holiday Bowl loss to Baylor should remind everyone where complacency leads. There should be a good mix of confidence -- "Hey, look, the victory bell!" -- and chip on the ole shoulder to keep guys focused and edgy.

It will be interesting to see if the Bruins might be able to steal a road game from conference frontrunners, Oregon and Stanford, before the divisional schedule heats up. Whatever happens, the final four games will determine the season: at Arizona, Washington, Arizona State and at USC.

Why a buy rating on the Bruins? We think they could sweep those four games.

Buy or sell: Stanford Cardinal

April, 5, 2013
4/05/13
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With recruiting behind us and spring well underway, the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to examine each team's chances of winning its respective division.

SportsNation

Buy or sell Stanford winning the North?

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This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.

Buy or sell Stanford winning the North?

Ted Miller

Buy: Sure most of you saw this coming. My feeling as we sit today is the winner of the Oregon-Stanford game on Nov. 7 will play for the national championship. Not to get your juices flowing or anything.

And, by the way, that will only be the greatest ESPN Thursday night game in the history of ESPN Thursday night games. So you probably need to start planning where and with whom you will watch the game right now. As in stop reading and fire off some emails.

Vegas?

OK. So back to the buy rating on Stanford.

It's pretty simple. There is little to suggest Stanford won't be a top-5 team in 2013. The Cardinal welcomes back 16 starters from a team that finished 12-2, won at Oregon, won the Pac-12 and won the Rose Bowl. Among those starters are QB Kevin Hogan, four starters from an outstanding offensive line and eight starters from the Pac-12's best defense, including All-American candidates such as OLB Trent Murphy, ILB Shayne Skov, DE Ben Gardner and FS Ed Reynolds.

Stanford has a strong, established culture. There's no reason to anticipate complacency or some sort of massive, USC-2012-like underachievement. My strong feeling is the 2013 Cardinal will be better than the 2012 version, and that might mean getting a date to Pasadena.

Kevin Gemmell

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Brian Murphy/Icon SMIStanford will be a force to be reckoned with in 2013 under the guidance of coach David Shaw and quarterback Kevin Hogan.
Buy: Just as any conversation about buying Oregon has to include Stanford, any conversation about buying Stanford has to include Oregon. The Cardinal fixed their Oregon problem in 2012. The question is, was it a one-year booster shot? Or a long-term vaccination?

Maybe Mark Helfrich has his "hello-world" moment against the Cardinal, breaking down Stanford's fortification with schematic brilliance brick-by-seemingly-unbreakable-brick. Maybe Stanford rolls to a double-digit win? Enjoying the kind of victory at home their fans thought they would have in 2011 -- before the Cardinal forgot their football fundamentals.

Everything Ted says is true. About the wealth of returners. About the epic Thursday night showdown. And did somebody say Vegas?

I'm a slight Stanford lean right now in my personal power rankings -- because of the defense, and because of the grand return of running back Tyler Gaffney, who I characterized as a potential "game-changer." And I firmly believe he will be. He's the kind of hard-nosed back Stanford needs to grind out close games in the fourth quarter.

Speaking of close games...

One Stanford stat I continue to hammer home is their record in close games last season. The Cardinal played in 10 games that were decided by a touchdown or less and went 8-2, including 2-1 in overtime games. Some people might see that as cautionary. But with so many veteran returners (potentially 19 juniors and seniors in the starting 22), that tells me this is a team that knows how to win and doesn't panic or press when things get tight.

Unlike 2011, when it seemed like their whole season was contingent on what happened against Oregon, they are measuring their year by what happens against San Jose State. And then Army. And then ASU. And so on and so on...

Five of their last six games will be against probable top 25 teams -- and the sixth is rival Cal. It's a vicious second half, for sure. The Cardinal will probably provide investors with plenty of edge-of-their-seats moments. But there's also a good chance Stanford will be the smartest Pac-12 investment you can make in 2013.

Buy or sell: Oregon State Beavers

April, 4, 2013
4/04/13
7:00
PM ET
With recruiting behind us and most schools in the swing of spring drills (the last of the bunch kick off next week), the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to examine each team's chances of winning its respective division.

This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.

Buy or sell Oregon State winning the North?

Kevin Gemmell

SportsNation

Buy or sell Oregon State winning the North?

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Sell: This is my third attempt at writing my Oregon State take. And after much mental flip-flopping, I'm 51/49 on selling Oregon State right now. Ask me again in a couple of months, weeks, days or minutes, I might say buy.

But in my mind, there are too many unknowns to justify a buy rating. Too many gaps in the data. To start, who starts? We don't know who the quarterback is going to be. Kind of an important variable when deciding to buy into a team. And we won't know until well into fall camp. That's a long time for receivers and running backs to wait to find out who will be their leader -- though I think both Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz are capable players. But the longer it's drawn out, the harder it will be for the loser to accept their role as backup.

There's a lot to like about Oregon State. I think the offensive line is going to take a huge step forward and I like Storm Woods at running back and the depth behind him. I've been a rather huge Brandin Cooks fan for a while and a Mike Riley fan pre-dating Y2K.

But the passing game is another great unknown. How will Cooks perform without Markus Wheaton on the other side drawing the double coverage, and who is the established No. 2?

Did I mention they haven't picked a starting quarterback yet? Not to mention there are defensive questions on the line and in the secondary.

The schedule sets up nicely for a potential 7-0 start, assuming there are no stumbles along the way. But the final five will test them -- with Stanford, USC, ASU, Washington and Oregon to close out the year. There's a good chance all five of those teams will be ranked in the top 25.

Folks will buy Oregon State early. But the back stretch is as tough as any in the conference. They get Stanford, USC and Washington at home. But running the table -- or even going 4-1 over that stretch is going to be extremely difficult. That's the time when divisions are won and lost and with the data available right now, I can't buy.

Just too many unknowns at this point.

Ted Miller

Sell: I'm not as conflicted on this as Kevin.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion and Cody Vaz
AP Photo/Don RyanThe Beavers are waiting till the fall to pick a starting QB between Sean Mannion (4) and Cody Vaz (14).
I think Oregon State has a chance to be a top-25 team, and its backloaded schedule figures to allow it to climb in the rankings into late-October. But I think Oregon or Stanford -- or is it Stanford or Oregon? -- is going to win the North Division, so I have to sell on the Beavers.

Kevin hits on many of the biggest questions. I, however, am not as worried about quarterback. I think Mannion and Vaz are both capable, and the Beavers managed to win nine games in 2012 with a loopy QB carousel last fall.

My chief concern is the up-the-middle-defense.

Oregon State's front seven is as good as just about anybody on the flanks of coordinator Mark Banker's 4-3 scheme. But it must replace both starting defensive tackles -- the underrated Andrew Seumalo and Castro Masaniai -- and middle linebacker Feti Taumorpeau (Feti Unga), as well as his top backup, Rueben Robinson.

The favorite to start at MLB is sophomore Joel Skotte, who had seven tackles last year. The favorites at defensive tackle? They weren't on the team last year. The general feeling among the Beavers is their best options at DT are junior college transfers Edwin Delva and Siale Hautau.

Pop goes the red flag of worry.

I already hear the Beavers fans: "These new guys are going to be awesome. You're a Duck-loving idiot, Ted Miller."

I have touched on this a bit before. You can call it "Simi Kuli Syndrome" or the more technical term "Incoming Dude Is Obviously Transcendent." Or IDIOT.

The point is no one -- not us, nor the Beavers coaches who recruited Delva and Hautau -- has any idea if these incoming JC guys will be up to snuff. They may be fantastic. They may be better than Seumalo and Masaniai from the get-go. But I'm skeptical until I see them defeat Pac-12 offensive linemen.

I think Banker will find a way to work around this issue, though if you look back to 2011, the Beavers' problems on defense started at tackle. It, however, is a big enough issue for me to doubt Oregon State will win the North.

Buy or sell: Oregon Ducks

April, 3, 2013
4/03/13
7:00
PM ET
With recruiting behind us and most schools in the swing of spring drills (the last of the bunch kick off next week), the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to examine each team's chances of winning its respective division.

This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.

Buy or sell Oregon winning the North?

Ted Miller

Buy: This isn't really a "buy." It's a hold, at least for many of you. If you've invested in the Ducks since 2008, your college football portfolio surely looks good, particularly in this down economy, which obviously is due entirely to free-spending, amoral SEC plutocrats.

SportsNation

Buy or sell Oregon winning the North?

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Discuss (Total votes: 4,486)

Me? I got killed in the USC crash of 2012.

Oregon has 16 starters, including a top Heisman Trophy candidate in QB Marcus Mariota, coming back from a team that finished ranked No. 2 last fall, its third consecutive top-five rankings. While past performance doesn't guarantee future returns, the Ducks' fundamentals are strong, even if there are questions at running back, linebacker and (insert sigh from Ducks fans) kicker.

Of course, the big question is at CEO: The departure of head coach Chip Kelly to the Philadelphia Eagles will give some pause. There's no denying the sense that a major part of Oregon's rise was Kelly's cult of personality, which created an extremely focused and positive team-wide culture.

Ah, but new head coach Mark Helfrich and eight assistant coaches were part of that cultural shift. Continuity is there, despite Kelly's departure. Their intent is to maintain what has been built while also adding new ideas. We believe they will be successful doing this. Why? Kelly's main strength is his very large brain. Helfrich, who chose coaching over becoming a doctor, also has one of those.

The big question, really, is whether Oregon owns a more favorable "buy" rating than Stanford. That figures to be the $1 million question this fall in the Pac-12.

Kevin Gemmell

Buy: I'm buying, knowing full well that Oregon has to do something about its Stanford problem ... Did I really just write that?

[+] EnlargeMark Helfrich
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsDespite losing their head coach to the NFL, Mark Helfrich and the Ducks kept most of their staff intact.
It used to be the other way around: Stanford had the Oregon problem. But Stanford's win last year struck at the very heart of everything Oregon is about. The Ducks were bottled up and pushed around.

Ted is right -- past performance doesn't guarantee future returns. Meaning that what happened in 2012, while a nice gauge, isn't indicative of what will happen in 2013.

Besides, this series isn't about who is going to win the division. Rather, who is capable of winning the division. No matter what your personal power rankings are from top to bottom in the league, they better have Oregon and Stanford at 1-2, or 2-1 or 1A and 1B.

If Stanford is the most dangerous defensive team in the conference -- and it is -- then Oregon has to be the top offensive team in the conference -- and it is. You can make an argument either way for each team winning the division. And as the front-runners, it's not a tough argument to make for either team.

Oregon is a team that is used to being in the national spotlight. And the Ducks have a knack for replacing key players that leave for the NFL or graduate with seamless precision. I expect that to be the case in 2013. As Ted notes, there is continuity within the coaching staff -- which is pivotal anytime there is a change at the top.

I imagine the Ducks will be right back where they left off in 2012: a top five program that will challenge for the division, the league title and a spot in the national championship game. This is an easy buy.

Buy or Sell: Colorado Buffaloes

April, 2, 2013
4/02/13
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With recruiting behind us and most schools in the swing of spring drills (the last of the bunch kick off next week), the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to examine each team's chances of winning its respective division.

SportsNation

Buy or sell Colorado winning the South?

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    8%
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    92%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,953)

This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.

Buy or sell Colorado winning the South?

Kevin Gemmell

Sell: So far, new Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre has said all of the right things -- chief among them is that it's going to take time to turn the Buffs from a struggling program to legitimate players in the league. It will take time for the systems to really take hold and time for the players to integrate to the way MacIntyre likes to do things.

I believe him. It is going to take a while.

Never mind that Colorado has enough quarterbacks to field a starting five for a basketball team. It's the lines that need the most work -- on both sides of the ball. A lack of experience never bodes well when installing a new offensive system with, potentially, a first-year starting quarterback. Look at the lines in the rest of the division. They are fierce. Colorado doesn't measure up yet.

It's not all doom and gloom for Colorado. This half of the Pac-12 blog likes to take the glass-half-full approach. It's possible that by this time next year, we'll be talking about the Buffs as having the best secondary in the Pac-12. At some point, all of those youngsters they played last year and will play this year will have to grow up. And when they do, it's very possible that we'll have a different take on this team in 2014 and beyond.

But realistically speaking for 2013, four to five wins would be considered a major step forward and a postseason berth would be phenomenal. It's OK to be excited for the future, but there are no illusions about Colorado in the present.

Ted Miller

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/Brennan LinsleyNew Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre has his work cut out for him for several seasons to come.
Sell: Everyone loves "worst to first" scenarios. We love underdogs. But often when you break down such scenarios, the team in question really wasn't that far behind the competition when it was "worst," thereby making the path to "first" not so arduous.

That's not the situation for Colorado.

Colorado ranked 120th -- last -- in the nation in scoring defense in 2012. The Buffaloes were 117th in scoring offense. They "led" the nation with a negative-28.17 scoring differential, despite playing four games decided by a touchdown or less, one of which was a loss to FSC Sacramento State.

This team will be better than 2012. Call that a guarantee. It will win more games. It will be more competitive in losses. The product will be less "oh no" for fans.

But that's mostly based on a "nowhere to go but up" situation.

As much as Kevin and I both like the MacIntyre hire and his approach thus far -- realizing he's yet to coach a game, of course -- Colorado won't win the South Division next fall. It's a good bet, even today, that it won't win the South in 2014.

MacIntyre has undertaken a rebuilding project. A quick fix is unlikely to happen and probably isn't advisable. Next fall, the Buffs will try to lay the foundation for a positive future. But it won't be in the conference title hunt.

Buy or Sell: California Bears

April, 1, 2013
4/01/13
7:00
PM ET
With recruiting behind us and most schools in the swing of spring drills (the last of the bunch kick off next week), the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to examine each team's chances of winning its respective division.

SportsNation

Buy or sell California winning the North?

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    13%
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    87%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,540)

This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.

Buy or sell California winning the North?

Ted Miller

Sell: We don't want to squelch California fans' optimism. This team has some intriguing talent on both sides of the ball. But there's a lot weighing against it challenging for the top spot in the North Division, starting with … the North Division. It's brutal.

The Bears seem like a long shot to break the top four, with Stanford and Oregon at the top and Washington and Oregon State looking like top-25 teams. In fact, the basement dweller might still be thinking bowl game into the final weeks of the season. Washington State looks like the main rival this year for the Bears.

Just consider: You've got a team coming off a 3-9 season with a new coaching staff, significantly new systems on both sides of the ball, a new starting quarterback and a brutal schedule.

There are eight teams with legitimate top-25 potential on the slate, and three are among everyone's national title contenders: Ohio State, Oregon and Stanford. The South Division misses -- Arizona State and Utah -- are a decided mixed bag.

[+] EnlargeSonny Dykes
AP Photo/Bay Area News Group, D. Ross CameronSonny Dykes' challenge in 2013? Keep Cal competitive during its rugged schedule.
An enthusiasm bump for coach Sonny Dykes can only do so much. There's a reason coach Jeff Tedford was fired after 11 seasons: The program had plateaued and started a downward trend. Hard to correct that in a single year.

It's reasonable to put a long-term buy rating for the Bears under Dykes, particularly with sparkling new facilities bolstering recruiting. But for the short-term investor, we suggest a buyer beware.

Kevin Gemmell

Sell: I'm selling, too. However, it's not because California is installing new systems on both sides of the ball. We saw last year what kind of a jump start new coaches running new systems can bring to a program. Three of the four new coaches in 2012 with their newly-installed systems -- Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham, Jim Mora -- had immediate success and went to bowl games. Heck, the Bruins won the South with complete offensive and defensive overhauls. So there is precedent.

Plus, we've seen that having a first-time starter at quarterback doesn't necessarily mean a one-year death sentence for a program anymore. From Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota to Kevin Hogan and Taylor Kelly, we saw what first-time starters are capable of.

I don't see either of these as Cal's major obstacles.

The reason I'm selling the Bears is because I don't think they can win the division with the current level of competition within the North. Ted used the word brutal. That's generous. Barbarous might be a more apt description. And I just don't see a scenario this year where they beat three of those top four teams Ted mentioned.

I will say this, however. The Bears are going to spoil someone's season. I don't know if it will be Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State or Washington, but I wouldn't rule out Cal knocking off one of those teams along the way. Because the talent is there on both sides of the ball to catch one of those teams off guard. And I wouldn't count them out of a bowl berth, either. But I don't see the Bears knocking off enough of those top-end teams to earn a spot in the conference title game.
With recruiting behind us and most schools in the swing of spring drills (the last of the bunch kick off next week), the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to examine each team's chances of winning its respective division.

SportsNation

Buy or sell Arizona State winning the South?

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    48%
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    52%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,165)

This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.

Buy or sell Arizona State winning the South?

Kevin Gemmell

Buy: I haven't decided yet if I'm picking the Sun Devils to win the Pac-12 South. We still have a few months before the media poll. But it's hard for me to come up with reasons why they shouldn't be No. 1 in the division.

I like the offense -- not just the players -- but the ingenuity behind it. I like the multiple ways Mike Norvell uses the running backs in the screen game and split out in the slot. The mismatches are abundant when you get Marion Grice and D.J. Foster in space.

I like the fact that they are digging deeper into the playbook this spring because they have a returning quarterback in Taylor Kelly who was so efficient in his first year as a starter and looks to be even better in his second year. I like that they have depth at quarterback and they went out and got some big wide receivers who should be able to get separation.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireTaylor Kelly is entering his second season as the starting quarterback for Arizona State.
And, of course, it's hard not to like the defense -- headlined by the returning Pac-12 defensive player of the year and Morris Trophy winner in Will Sutton. And let's not forget about Carl Bradford, who was fourth in the league in sacks last season with 11.5 and second only to Sutton in tackles for a loss per game. With so much attention being given to Sutton this season, look for Bradford's numbers to skyrocket.

The question mark for the Sun Devils is the schedule. A four-game stretch early on that includes Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame is really going to test what this team is made of. If they can come out of that at 4-0, 3-1 or even 2-2, it will be a huge confidence boost for this team moving into the second half of the season -- when they close out with Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona.

The South figures to be an exciting race right up until the end of the season. But when you look at what ASU has in its arsenal, it's hard not to like them.

Ted Miller

Buy: Kevin and I already talked about how the second guy in this can't just go, "Ditto." But Kevin correctly touched a lot of bases.

I go back and forth between the Sun Devils and UCLA as the Pac-12 South Division front-runner. Both look like top-25 teams.

Both are solid at quarterback and have an All-American coming back to lead strong defensive fronts. Both give some pause in the secondary. Both have some questions at receiver. The Sun Devils are much better at running back, the Bruins a little better at linebacker. Both offensive lines seem solid. Heck, both must replace good punters.

So there's a lot to like about Arizona State heading into 2013. The biggest question is the schedule. It's entirely possible the Sun Devils could be a whole lot better next fall than 2012, but only win eight or so regular-season games. Yet if things fall into place, this also could be a 10-win team.

The key is the nonconference schedule, but perhaps not as you think. A visit from Wisconsin and game with Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium -- read: a road game -- are sandwiched around a trip to Stanford and home date with USC. Those conference games are infinitely more important to Arizona State than the nonconference games, because the name of the game here is winning the South Division. Ergo: At least splitting the conference dates is the priority compared to beating the Badgers and Fighting Irish.

I realize that's not genius analysis, and that the Sun Devils will prepare to win each and every week. The point is this: Win or lose versus Wisconsin and Notre Dame, Arizona State needs to be focused and mentally tough. The results against the Badgers and Fighting Irish -- celebration or sadness -- can't distract from what immediately follows.

Say the Sun Devils start 4-0 or 3-1. They can't get full of themselves. Just as a 1-3 start won't doom the season, particularly if that one win comes against South Division rival USC.

So my "buy" here is about more than returning talent. It posits a belief in coach Todd Graham, his staff and the new, more disciplined culture in the locker room. It's a statement of belief that the Sun Devils will hit mid-October still focused on the immediate task at hand instead of thinking big picture, one way or the other, which would be a kiss of death to a promising season.
With recruiting behind us and most schools in the swing of spring drills (the last of the bunch kick off next week), the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to examine each team's chances of winning its respective division.

This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.

SportsNation

Buy or sell Arizona winning the South?

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    24%
  •  
    76%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,070)

Buy or sell Arizona winning the South?

Ted Miller

Buy: Arizona has a sneaky-strong position as it sets up for the 2013 season and the South Division race.

It starts with the schedule, which includes fortuitous misses of Stanford and Oregon State. In fact, when you toss in three horribly weak nonconference games -- the nonconference schedule would make an SEC team blush -- you can envision seven games in which the Wildcats will be clear favorites. After that, you see three rugged road games -- Washington, USC and Arizona State -- and a pair of home games in which Arizona figures to be the underdog: UCLA and Oregon.

As it stands now, this schedule suggests seven or eight wins. What could swing the Wildcats in the upward direction -- or downward, if you want to be a pessimist -- is quarterback play. While the Pac-12 blog suspects many Wildcats fans don't realize just how good Matt Scott was last season -- obviously the Ted Miller half of the Pac-12 blog believes he was one of the elite players in the conference in 2012 -- the recent strong performances across the Pac-12 of first-year starters at the position means it doesn't require a Herculean leap of faith to wonder this with a degree of hope: What if the Wildcats are at least solid at the position?

[+] EnlargeJeff Casteel
AP Photo/John MillerA second season under coach Rich Rodriguez and defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, left, could boost the comfort level for Arizona's returning players.
Solid at quarterback, coupled with a lot of guys coming back everywhere else, would make Arizona a dark horse in the South, particularly if the defense is significantly improved. And the front-runners falter.

Now, I'm not picking the Wildcats to win the South. I'd rate them fourth at this point, behind Arizona State, UCLA and USC. But none of those teams is a sure thing. I also see a team that should be more comfortable with second-year coach Rich Rodriguez, one that has a lot of intriguing elements coming back.

Looking at this like a stock purchase, if you're willing to take on some risk, the Wildcats might be a team that will yield high reward.

Kevin Gemmell

Buy: I wanted Ted to go first for Arizona because I wanted to see how long it would take him to mention Matt Scott in relation to skeptical Arizona fans. He waited all the way until the middle of the third paragraph. His restraint is commendable. (Though it took him only three sentences to sneak in an SEC jab. Golf clap.)

The Wildcats are right on the edge -- and I agree that they are probably fourth in the pecking order of teams in the hunt for the division. As of today, I wouldn't pick them to win the South. But I wouldn't rule them out either. So I'm buying because of … wait for it … the improved defense! That's right, Jeff Casteel, this is your time to shine.

We're not talking about a handful of returners, we're talking about the entire defense returning. Are the Wildcats going to be at the same level as Stanford, Arizona State, Oregon State, et al? No. Probably not even in the same neighborhood. But they will be better than 105th against the run, 118th in total defense and 102nd in points allowed.

If the Wildcats make even incremental defensive progress, it is going to be a huge step forward and should be enough to offset a quarterback change on the other side of the ball. The 3-3-5 is a risk-reward scheme that, when run properly, can give offenses fits. It's unique to the conference, so teams aren't going to be used to seeing it, and Year 2 is usually when teams start to see progress because there is a better understanding of the big-picture concepts. I'm expecting the sacks to go up, the turnovers forced to go up and the yards allowed to go down.

The offense has enough elite playmakers to put points on the board. I think whoever wins the quarterback job is going to have enough warm-up time before that Sept. 28 game at Washington (and as of today I'd pick the Huskies in that one). With guys such as Ka'Deem Carey and Austin Hill, the Wildcats will again be an offensive force to be reckoned with. More importantly, the defense should do a much better job protecting leads in 2013, which gives the Wildcats a fighting chance against the South elite.

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