Following is our Pac-12 preview for 2013, provided by Senior Editor Chuck Sippl. Teams are presented in predicted order of finish; last year's straight-up, spread, and over/under records are included. First up will be a look at the Northern half of the loop; the South will follow...Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor

OREGON (SUR 12-1; PSR 8-5; O/U 7-5)... It’s a new era in Eugene. Or is it? The Ducks literally sped to a 46-7 record in their four years under Chip Kelly. His “fast, faster and fastest” version of the no-huddle spread option was the state of the art in college football when Kelly departed last winter for the Philadelphia Eagles. Now in command of the Webfoots is Oregon native Mark Helfrich, the team’s offensive coordinator and QB coach the last four seasons. There is a good history of promotion of o.c.’s in Eugene, as the popular Mike Bellotti replaced Rich Brooks, and Kelly replaced Bellotti.

Spring practices were mostly closed in Eugene, so major changes in the offense--if any--aren’t likely to be seen until September (the Ducks’ Aug. 31 opener vs. Nicholls State is a virtual walkover). With yard-gobbling RB Kenjon Barner having moved on to the NFL, many are speculating the offense will be more focused upon the multiple talents of soph QB Marcus Mariota, a prime Heisman candidate this season after hitting 68.5% with 32 TDP & just 6 interceptions as a RS frosh. Mariota also bolted for 752 yards and 5 TDs on the ground against tiring defenses spread way too thin trying to chase down OU’s playmakers. Go-to WR Josh Huff (32 recs.) and mobile TE/FB Colt Lyerla (25 recs.; 77 YR) both return, while 6-6 soph TE Pharaoh Brown showed in spring he is a new weapon ready to come on line.

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But don’t overlook the potent ground game (No. 3 in the nation LY), because OU’s basic read-option plays set up everything in the Duck offense. Helfrich will be going out of his way not to over-expose valuable property Mariota, as fleet-footed, experienced backup QB Bryan Bennett has transferred to SE Louisiana in search of more playing time. That leaves RS frosh Jeff Lackie and Jake Rodrigues as the backup QBs this season.

Carrying the torch at RB will be tested 5-10, 201 soph Byron Marshall, who dashed for 447 YR in a backup role in 2012. Lightning-bolt RB/KR/WR De’Anthony Thomas darted for 701 YR and caught 45 passes. But OU coaches are reportedly hoping true frosh Thomas Tyner can assume the backup RB role this season, allowing them to employ the elusive Thomas to best matchup advantage. With 3 of 5 starters (the Gs are new) back in Oregon’s athletic OL, expect the offense to roll much like last year. The Ducks were No. 2 in scoring (49.6 ppg) last season, but that is a misleading stat for a team that outscored foes 397 to 117 in the first half in 2012 and was often on cruise control in the second half, playing at a slower tempo to prevent humiliation of many opponents (when Oregon kept its webfoot on the gas, the Ducks piled up 730 yards at USC). OU was +21 in turnover margin to lead the nation.

The Ducks’ only loss last season was 17-14 in OT in Eugene to Stanford, a defeat that cost OU a second straight spot in the Pac-12 title game. That Cardinal victory came in only the second start for QB Kevin Hogan, who figures to be improved for this year’s meeting, which will take place at Palo Alto. That means there is at least some concern for the Duck defense, which has lost four starters in its front seven, including top pass rusher Dion Jordan, the third pick in the NFL draft. The Oregon secondary, paced by cover corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (4 ints., 20 passes defensed) and FS Erick Dargan (5 ints.), is one of the best in the west, as is 6-6 sr. DT Taylor Hart. But the new LBs will be thoroughly tested by Stanford’s power ground attack in Oregon’s key game of the season.

Credit Helfrich for reaching out to former Duck coaches Brooks, Bellotti, and Kelly about taking over what is now one of the premier programs in the country. In essence, they told him to be himself, which he is likely to be regardless. Meanwhile, Oregon escaped serious blowback from the Willie Lyles incident, in essence getting three years’ probation, loss of one scholarship for two years, and a three-year prohibition from employing recruiting services. But Helfrich (who must prove himself as a HC) takes over in Eugene with the bar very high. Will the o.c.-turned-HC be a Bill Callahan taking over for John Gruden, or a Chris Peterson taking over for Dan Hawkins? With a schedule made for a red-hot Oregon start, we might not find out until that Nov. 7 contest at Palo Alto.

STANFORD (SUR 12-2; PSR 7-6-1; O/U 5-9)...The Cardinal are going to open the 2013 campaign very highly ranked, and why not? The defending Pac-12 champs have gone 35-5 the past three years (one under Jim Harbaugh, two under David Shaw; the first two behind QB Andrew Luck). Last season, Stanford lost only two games—17-13 at Washington in late September, and then 20-13 controversially in OT at Notre Dame two weeks later. But after mobile RS frosh Kevin Hogan was installed at QB November 10, the Cardinal rolled to a 5-0 finish, including a 17-14 overtime upset (as a 20½-point dog) at Oregon and a 20-14 triumph over a Barry Alvarez-coached Wisconsin team in the Rose Bowl.

With Chip Kelly now in the NFL, Stanford is the early co-favorite with Oregon in the Pac-12 North and a pick to be a major factor in the national title chase. After Stanford was out-muscled for years on end, Harbaugh & former asst. Shaw have turned the Cardinal into one of the premier smashmouth teams in the country. [Please note that despite all the spread-football, big-play pyrotechnics elsewhere in recent seasons, power football has held out pretty well atop the BCS (see Alabama & LSU)].

Stanford enters this season with one of the biggest and nastiest offensive lines (4 of 5 starters return) in the nation, with 6-5, 301 sr. LG David Yankey the latest Cardinal mauler coveted by the NFL. While the major move in college football these days is to uptempo spread systems, Stanford has successfully recruited for and has run power, from a West Coast-offense base, usually utilizing multiple TEs. This year, there might be a slight adjustment on the Farm, as 6-7, 260 soph Luke Kaumatule is the only returning TE mismatch on the team. The 6-4, 220-pound Hogan (71.7%, 9 TDs, 3 ints.) has proven to be an accurate, physical QB with surprising mobility (263 YR). And there is some nice size at WR in 6-2, 215 Ty Montgomery (limited to 26 recs. LY due to injury) and 6-4, 232 WR Devon Cajuste. Soph Michael Rector and others supply the speed, so the Cardinal might spread the field a little bit more this in order to exploit the impressive Hogan.

However, don’t look for HC Shaw to expose his valuable QB overly often, as 2012's 9-game starting QB Josh Nunes has had to give up football after tearing a chest/arm muscle while lifting weights, while once-touted QB Brent Nottingham has transferred to Columbia. That means inexperienced 6-5 soph Evan Crower is this year’s backup. Crower thus received extra attention in the spring.

Despite the fact 1530-yard rusher Stepfan Taylor has moved on to the pros, Shaw (a former o.c. and RB coach for Harbaugh) says his RB situation is just fine. Sr. backup Anthony Wilkerson (214 YR last year) shined in spring. And 2011 rotating RB Tyler Gaffney (449 YR, 7 TDs that season) has returned to football after a year in the Pirates’ baseball system. Then you get to 5-10, 190 RS frosh RB Barry S. Sanders (son of the one and only Barry Sanders himself), a four-star recruit in 2012. These days on the Farm, the list goes on in terms of talent.

This year’s defense figures to be just as nasty as last year’s (No. 5 vs. the run, No. 11 in scoring, No. 1 in sacks with 57). Last year’s DE rotation of Ben Gardner, Henry Anderson & Josh Mauro cashed in for a combined 18 sacks. 6-6 sr. OLB Trent Murphy added 10 and says he should have had more. HC Shaw says hard-nosed ILB Shayne Skov (77 tackles, 3 sacks; emotional leader of the defense) will be better in 2013 after Skov played at less than 100% last season in his first year back after major knee surgery. Returning safeties Ed Reynolds & Jordan Richards picked off nine balls last season, while new starting CBs Wayne Lyons & soph Alex Carter, plus returning N-B Usua Amanam, all have starting experience.

Despite the team’s obvious overall strengths, there are also several potential bumps in the road for the Cardinal. PK Jordan Williamson, owner of a powerful leg, missed 10 of 27 FG attempts (two blocked) last season and has a previous history of some misses in the clutch. Stanford’s Pac-12 schedule (no Colorado TY) is about as tough as it gets, and is virtually relentless beginning in October. The campaign concludes with a visit from Notre Dame. All these challenges coming while the pressure telescopes if the Cardinal manage to continue to carry a top-ten ranking. Lastly, Stanford’s proud, physical, grind-it-out offensive style tends to produce a relatively large number of tight, tense, low-variance games (10 of 14 Cardinal contests last season were decided by a TD or less). Unless RS frosh RB Sanders or some of Stanford’s speed receivers develop quickly, look for a continuation of nailbiters in 2013 (Stanford was only 4-6-1 as a favorite LY).

OREGON STATE (SUR 9-4; PSR 9-4; O/U 7-5).. .OSU was one of the nation’s surprise teams last season, ascending from 3-9 in 2011 to 9-4 in 2012. However, the campaign ended on a big downer when the Beavers blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in losing 31-27 to Texas in the Alamo Bowl. OSU isn’t likely to sneak up on anyone this season. But the Beavers--now outfitted in their slick new array of Nike uniforms with a modernized Beaver logo--won’t have to.

The 2013 team returns plenty of experience (4 of 5 starting OLmen, two starting QBs, a promising receiving corps, 8 starters on defense, plus P Keith Kostol and PK Trevor Romaine). In short, OSU is one of the more complete teams in the nation heading into August practice, with its biggest questions at DT and who will be the starting QB.

As for the latter issue, respected HC Mike Riley (now in his 13th year in Corvallis, although not continuously) says not to worry. 6-5 jr. Sean Mannion (2440 YP, 64.7%, 15 TDs, but 13 ints.) and 6-1 sr. Cody Vaz (1480 YP, 58.9%, 11 TDs, 3 ints.; five career starts) have both proven they can run the team, and both had some injury problems last year. Riley has told everyone not to bother asking him who will start the opener. Both can improve. The coach says his goal is to develop each into a bona fide starting QB, and he is pleased he can choose between two passers who have proven they can win.

A problem two years ago, the OSU offensive line is now big, deep, and experienced (although starting C Isaac Seumalo is recovering from an elbow injury in the spring). Thus, there’s a great chance the Beavers will cut down on their 33 sacks allowed and spring RBs Storm Woods (941 YR, 38 recs. LY) and Terron Ward (415 YR, 6.1 ypc) more often. WR Brandin Cooks (67 recs., 17.2 ypc playing opposite Steeler draftee Marcus Wheaton) and 6-7 H-B Connor Hamlett (32 recs.) are now the top targets. Insiders say the TE/H-B spots are deep and will allow the Beavers to play some Stanford-style smashmouth football, but coaches were working in spring to develop a quality complement to the speedy Cooks, who’s sure to get extra attention TY.

Jr. DE Scott Crichton (9 sacks LY) has developed into one of the top pass rushers in the West, and jr. Dylan Wynn is a reliable counterpart on the opposite side. But the Beavers have lost both starting DTs from LY (including 354-pound man-mountain Castro Masaniai). With this year’s team otherwise set for a contending run in 2013, Riley acted expediently to fill the holes in the middle, signing three quality big men from the JC ranks. 6-1, 320 jr. Siale Hautau (back from a two-year LDS mission) is a space-eating run-stuffer, but suffered a hand injury in spring. 6-3, 295 juco Edwin Delva showed promising quickness in spring. And juco DT Kyle Peko is expected to push for a starting job once he arrives on campus in August.

The secondary lost only one starter from LY, but that was ball-hawking CB Jordan Poyer, who had 11 ints. the past two seasons. Sr. CB Rashaad Reynolds (3 ints. LY) now becomes the Beavers’ top stopper. But juco CB Steven Nelson impressed in spring and will press sr. returnee Sean Martin for the other starting CB job. [You can never have too many quality CBs in these days of fast-paced attacks in the Pac-12.] PK Trevor Romaine converted 16 of 18 FG tries last season.

With such a veteran team, OSU should get off to a nice start in 2013. But in order for Riley’s team to be a major factor in the Pac-12 race, the Beavers are going to need a fast finish. Oregon State’s last five games are vs. Stanford, vs. USC, at Arizona State, vs. Washington, and at Oregon. That list implies quite a challenge. But there are few easy schedules these days in the deep Pac-12. So if QBs Mannion and Vaz improve as expected, and if OSU has reasonable injury luck, that last game for Riley’s boys at Kelly-less Oregon might prove quite meaningful.

WASHINGTON (SUR 7-6; PSR 8-5; O/U 5-7)...Despite what figures to be a tough schedule, 2013 figures to be a promising year for Washington. The Husky Stadium renovations are nearly complete, with luxury suites, improved concessions and amenities, and seating that will reach even closer to the field. Head coach Steve Sarkisian—equipped with a veteran, mobile QB (sr. Keith Price)—has installed a hurry-up, no-huddle offense to quickly and relentlessly attack opposing defenses. The stop unit of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will be in its second year operating its 3-4 front, which helped the Huskies reduce their allowance to a manageable 24.2 ppg last season. Perhaps best of all, U-Dub goes into August returning 4 of 5 starters along its offensive forward wall, plus three others with starting experience (including two starters who were lost for the 2012 campaign due to injuries after the first two games!).

As with most teams, there is a major concern heading into the fall. For Washington, that concern is the March DUI arrest of TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (69 recs., 7 TDs LY). Thus, UW’s top NFL prospect remains on indefinite suspension until his case is resolved. With Seferian-Jenkins in the lineup, the Huskies would boast a group of established “quadruplets” on offense that stack up well with just about any team in the country. QB Price (67%, 33 TDs in 2011) hit only 61% of his throws for 19 TDs, 13 ints. in 2012. He was sacked 37 times while often running for his life and fighting through injuries. With a healthier, deeper, more experienced OL in 2013, Price should blossom in the no-huddle, as should jr. RB Bishop Sankey (1439 YR in 2012), and 6-2 go-to WR Kasen Williams (77 recs. LY). Ten starters overall will be back on offense (IF TE Seferian-Jenkins is available). Plus, Sarkisian has brought back former Husky star Marques Tuiasosopo to coach UW QBs, and positive effects were already noticeable in the spring.

On defense, 8 starters are back, including most of the unit’s top playmakers (top cover corner Desmond Trufant must be replaced). The brightest star is impact soph Shaq Thompson (67 tackles, 3 ints., 2 sacks), now a speedy 225-pound OLB after starting out last season as a valuable nickel-back. Sarkisian believes up-the-field disruption is the key to countering the many volatile offenses in the Pac-12. And d.c. Wilcox has a couple of effective pass rushers (DE Josh Shirley & DE Andrew Hudson had 6½ sacks each last season), a run-stuffing 300-pounder (jr. Danny Shelton) in the middle, an improving ILB (jr. John Timu, 91 Ts, 2 ints., 2 sacks) to chase down RBs, and a deepening secondary to match up with the league’s many talented WRs. Soph CB Marcus Peters had 8 starts and 3 ints. LY, and he’ll be joined this season by quick RS frosh CB/KR Cleveland Wallace and by RS jr. Travell Dixon, a JCAA in 2011 who had to sit out last season.

Getting back to that tough schedule mentioned previously, U-Dub opens 2013 vs. Boise State, the same team that beat the Huskies 28-26 in last year’s Las Vegas Bowl. Then a trip to Big Ten country for a game vs. Illinois at Soldier Field. None of the Huskies’ other road games figures to be easy—at Stanford, Arizona State, UCLA, and Oregon State. And UW—5-1 SU and vs. the spread last season at CenturyLink Field, the Huskies’ temporary home for 2012—was only 2-5 SU and 3-4 vs. the line on the road. But Washington (7-6 SU each of the last three seasons) has all the makings of a go-with team in 2013. And, should the Huskies beat hated Oregon in Seattle October 12, big things could be in store. [The Ducks have won the last nine meetings, by an average margin of 26 points. Maybe U-Dub’s new, super-slick, gold-chrome helmets will help?]

WASHINGTON STATE (SUR 3-9; PSR 5-7; O/U 6-5)...To the surprise of few who have observed him over the past decade, Mile Leach’s first season in Pullman was not without controversy. Among other things, the eccentric head coach told his players after their very first game (a 30-6 loss at defensively-rugged BYU) that if they couldn’t get the job done, he’d get some players who could. [Just where he was going to get those players until after the season was left unexplained.] Then, after a 49-6 November defeat at Utah, Leach described the performance of some of his players as “bordering on cowardice.” Suspended after that game was top WR Marquess Wilson (drafted by the Bears), who then quit the team, accusing Leach and his staff of “physical, emotional and verbal abuse” that went beyond the tough love commonly dispensed in football.

WSU’s three victories last season came at the expense of Eastern Washington, UNLV, and arch-rival Washington, which threw a careless interception on its first play in overtime. Seeking to find the right triggerman for his “Air Raid” pass offense, Leach juggled his QBs most of the season (Jeff Tuel has since moved on), as they were assaulted for an NCAA-worst 57 sacks, with the Cougars finishing last in rushing (349 yards; 1.4 ypc). Wazzu’s 30 giveaways were fewer than only 10 teams. The 2012 defense, sometimes overwhelmed, usually fought hard, however. Partly because of the turnovers, WSU gave up 33.7 ppg, but the Cougar defenders hustled to collect 35 sacks and 21 takeaways.

The core of that defensive unit returns, including sr. S Deone Buchanan (106 Ts, 4 ints. LY) and a veteran, improving group of LBs, led by 6-3, 241 jr. Logan Mayes (2½ sacks LY), with Mayes being counted upon to become a disruptor from the outside. All told, however, the front seven remains a bit undersized and must do better at stopping the run in order to relieve some of the pressure on the Cougar secondary.

Still, the key to an improved record in the Palouse will be Leach’s patented spread pass offense, likely operated by skinny 6-4, 183 jr. Connor Halliday, who completed only 52.2% with 15 TDs vs. 13 ints. last season, getting four starts and also seeing lots of relief duty. Quick reads and accurate throws are key to maximizing the option routes in the Leach aerial offense. And, while Halliday exhibited potential with four 300-yard games in 2012, Leach says it’s clear that the stringy QB must get his completion percentage up and his interceptions down if the junior is to hold off rising 6-3 RS frosh Austin Apodaca in the fall.

Overall, however, Leach says spring of 2013 was much more fruitful than last season, with his players now used to his schemes. There is more depth and competition in the OL, although the desired roadblock OLman size Leach desires is still coming along. Quick 5-8, 197 soph Teondray Caldwell (269 YR, 4.8 ypc LY) gets the first chance as the RB to get all the draws and swing passes in the Cougar attack. And Leach says he is pleased with the needed Air Raid depth at WR, led by 6-0 soph Gabe Marks (49 recs. LY), with 6-3 JCAA WR Vance Mayle joining the group in the fall.

If Halliday progresses, as expected, in year two in the Air Raid, Wazzu is unlikely to suffer four losses by 24 or more points, as it did LY. However, Cougar insiders now realize it will take more than two seasons to rebuild in the Palouse. And this year’s schedule is fraught with potential difficulties. Only five games in Pullman; first two 2013 games both on the road (at Auburn & Southern Cal!); no game vs. last-place Colorado from the Pac-12 South; the tough Stanford game being played in Seattle (instead of Pullman); a certain-to-be-wild Halloween night game in the desert at Arizona State; and short prep time before a Friday road visit to the revenge-minded Huskies. It’s a tough slate. And it’s not Leach’s nature to ease up when facing adversity. But the pirate aficionado head coach might be well advised to select his motivational ploys carefully in “lucky” 2013.

CALIFORNIA (2012 SUR 3-9; PSR 3-9; Over/Under 5-6)...Get ready for some wild and crazy fast-paced football in Berkeley! Head coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin have taken their variation of the spread passing game to Cal from Louisiana Tech, which led the nation in total offense (578 ypg) and scoring offense (51.5 ppg) in 2012 and was third in pass offense (351 ypg). Yes, most of those numbers were produced in the wacky WAC, which lacks large numbers of premium defenders. But it was the development of the La Tech offense over Dykes’ three years in Ruston that makes his move to Cal intriguing.

The Bulldogs produced only 27 ppg in Dykes’ first season in 2010. It took a while for Dykes and o.c. Franklin to refine their “Big Wishbone” variation of the spread, to find the right QB, and to recruit to the formation’s strengths. Now, Dykes has junked the thick playbook of former Cal coach Jeff Tedford (82-57 in 11 years; the most wins for any Bears coach) in favor of his own scheme, which he understatedly calls “simplistic.” By his third year at Tech, Dykes was very fond of his Big Wishbone spread that featured two wideouts, and varied sets of players joining the QB in the backfield. Those sets might include 1 RB & 2 WRs, 1 RB & 2 TEs (one of them often a guard with a TE number), or 3 RBs. Often executed with quick-hitting Pistol action, the various combinations allowed Dykes to either flood the field with WRs, or with RBs, or with blockers, at his choice, creating lots of mismatches vs. tiring defenses. Facing players with dual skills (say a RB/WR or WR/TE type), defenses found themselves in big trouble. Colby Cameron, last year’s Tech QB, finished with 4147 YP, 31 TDs, and only 5 ints., once completing an NCAA-record 444 straight passes without an interception. But there’s no such QB experience this year at Cal.

The 2012 starting QB in Berkeley is not likely to be known until midway through August practice. Sr. Zach Maynard has exhausted his eligibility. And the job became wide open when much-maligned backup returnee Allan Bridgford transferred to Southern Miss. 6-2 RS frosh Zach Kline has a strong arm, but needs more accuracy and touch. 6-4, 185 true frosh Jared Goff (a prized recruit and early enrollee) mixes quality passing with some escapability. 6-4 RS jr. Austin Hinder possesses a running dimension. Elusive jr. Brendan Bigelow (he of the 81 and 59-yard TD runs LY at Ohio State) gets the first shot at RB, but has a history of knee problems. However, Tedford left behind good speed at RB and good depth at WR (soph Chris Harper had 41 recs. LY). 6-3 RS frosh WR Kenny Lawler impressed in the spring, while 6-6 juco WR Drake Whitehurst offers the prospect of matchup advantages in Dykes’ offense, as does talented 6-4, 270 soph TE Richard Rodgers.

Overall, the Bears return only ten starters, among the lowest number in the league, with the secondary and DL most in need of rebuilding. But insiders in Berkeley say the upcoming Cal defense should not be underestimated. Sure-fire pro Deandre Coleman (6-5, 320 sr.; 3 sacks LY) will anchor the new 4-3 defense. Juco pass rushers Kyle Kragen (14 sacks in JC LY) & Sione Sina were early enrollees and went through spring. 6-6 jr. OLB Chris McCain (3½ sacks LY) should be ready to blossom. And Penn State transfer MLB Khairi Fortt comes on line this season. CB Cameron Jackson moves into a starting role after 3 ints. in just 3 starts as a soph last season.

Even though the 2012 Bears won only three games (So. Utah, UCLA, Washington State) in last year's injury-plagued season, a broad base of residual quality recruits is available for Dykes, who has added some key jucos and has shown a previous knack of winning over his players (Dykes once covered 17 times in a 20-game stretch at La Tech). A very tough schedule will probably keep Cal from getting over the .500 mark in 2013. But if the Bears develop as expected for Dykes (who was 12-6 as a dog at Tech), Cal figures to make its finale at highly-regarded Stanford even wilder than usual.


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