- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's never too early to look ahead, and even if it is, it's not against the law or anything.
And so we have our way-too-early 2012 power rankings.
By the way, schedule does not factor into these. This is a projected pecking order based on where a team stands right now -- Jan. 10, 2012.
And, by the way No. 2, if you don't like where your team is in the way-too-early power rankings, then I'd suggest whining about it until you get to play better.
By the way No. 3, Nos. 1 & 2 were easy. The rest is pretty darn murky, not in small part due to four new coaches.
1. USC: The Trojans welcome back 19 starters from a top-five team, including quarterback Matt Barkley. They beat Oregon in Autzen Stadium on Nov. 19. USC might be the preseason No. 2. Or No. 3.
2. Oregon: The Ducks have a strong mix of talent coming back from a team that won the Rose Bowl, but it's not just about 16 returning starters. If you want a reason to favor the Ducks over the Trojans, it's depth. Oregon welcomes back most of its two-deep. By the way, old Ducks fans probably grin about the idea of their team having better depth than USC.
3. Utah: The Utes welcome back 18 starters, though replacing both offensive tackles will be a huge task this spring. The defense has a chance to be beastly. The key? Utah proved it can win eight games with poor-to-middling quarterback play. But does a healthy Jordan Wynn -- back to late 2009, early 2010 form -- mean 10 wins?
4. Stanford: Many will count out the Cardinal, post-Andrew Luck. The Pac-12 blog will not. The over-under with this team is eight wins. Two gigantic holes on the offensive line and at both safeties are major issues, as is quarterback.
5. Washington: The Huskies welcome back seven starters on both sides of the ball, including up-and-coming quarterback Keith Price. The question is how quickly the defense can improve under Justin Wilcox.
6. California: While Cal only welcomes back 11 starters, there's plenty of intriguing talent on the roster, particularly on defense. Will quarterback Zach Maynard take a step forward? And what about his receivers after Keenan Allen? The pressure is on Jeff Tedford to win inside a renovated Memorial Stadium in 2012. If things come together, he just might do that.
7. Arizona: The Wildcats have more potential than most realize, starting with five returning starters on the offensive line and three defensive starters returning from injury, as well as an experienced quarterback in Matt Scott, who looks like a nice fit for Rich Rodriguez's spread-option offense.
8. Washington State: With 18 starters back, I'll go ahead and type it: New coach Mike Leach will lead the Cougars to a bowl game. And, hopefully, someone tips their cap to former coach Paul Wulff for collecting some solid talent, including two quarterbacks, Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday, who appear capable of flinging the rock as Leach likes to, as well as a potential All-American receiver in Marquess Wilson.
9. Oregon State: The Beavers could be a surprise team if all the young players who were inconsistent in 2011 grow up in 2012, starting with true freshman quarterback Sean Mannion. With 17 starters back, experience won't be an issue. But those returning players went 3-9, so it's difficult to project a top-half finish. At least, not at this point.
10. UCLA: New coach Jim Mora doesn't start with an empty cupboard -- 16 starters are back. But the overall talent is dubious and, even more challenging, Mora needs to rebuild a culture. Further, taking the Bruins back to a pro-style offense, if that's the ultimate plan, might be a struggle in Year 1. First question: Is Kevin Prince the quarterback, or does Mora go with talented redshirt freshman Brett Hundley?
11. Arizona State: The Sun Devils tumbled in these rankings when quarterback Brock Osweiler, curiously, opted to enter the NFL draft. With just 10 starters back, a quarterback with no real game experience -- whoever wins the job -- and a challenging locker room, new coach Todd Graham might find the going rough in Year 1.
12. Colorado: The Buffs welcome back 13 starters from a team that went 3-10 and ranked last in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The rebuilding job on offense, in particular, will be significant with the loss of quarterback Tyler Hansen, running back Rodney Stewart and receiver Toney Clemons. The rebuilding job in Boulder won't happen overnight-- or over two seasons -- for second-year coach Jon Embree.