Rob Malara

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 1

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Year four of the Pac-12 in its present configuration kicks off on Thursday with Arizona State, Utah, and Washington State all getting games in during prime time against less than stellar opponents.  There’s nothing to make you put aside plans to watch any full game start to finish this week, but there are some key storylines that will keep you from dozing off as you get used to watching football again towards the end of summer.

The conference that just keeps getting deeper in terms of quality of play boasts six teams ranked in the pre-season AP Poll not to mention another three to four teams with realistic bowl expectations.  Add to that the increase in expectations with Cal and Colorado to get better and you have a conference that looks once again to show that it is clearly the second best among the five power conferences if not gaining ground on the SEC.

1. #3 Oregon 

The Ducks return the second best quarterback in the country, a stacked backfield, experience on the offensive and defensive line and the best defensive player in the conference.  Their game against South Dakota on Saturday should only cement these facts as the Ducks starters get to play barely a half of football against their FCS opponent.  But things will get more interesting next week when the Ducks host the defending Rose Bowl champs in Michigan State.

2. #7 UCLA

UCLA must really be appreciating life with a healthy offensive line.  You know you can put quarterback Brett Hundley at the top of that list.  The redshirt junior will have to deal with a lot of expectations this year as he turned down NFL glory for a chance to show he can win the big games in Westwood.  None of that matters this week however as the Bruins head out to Charlottesville to face an experienced defensive secondary and a 1,000-yard rusher and not much else.

3. #11 Stanford

Last we Stanford has some leaders to replace on defense and four-fifths of their offensive line.  But when you recruit like the Cardinal have over the last four or five years, you reload instead of rebuild.  On the eve of their game against the Trojans in Palo Alto, Brian Shaw will have the opportunity to roll out a slew of candidates at the running back position before feeling comfortable.

4. #15 USC

Wait, didn’t these two teams just play?  Last we saw the Trojans they were playing Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl running out their third coach of the season.

Everyone’s sleeper team out west that could definitely surprise some folks as long as they don’t suffer any injuries to their offensive and defensive lines.  Cody Kessler gets one tune-up game with his new look pro style hurry-up offense before playing their first Pac-12 tilt of the year against Stanford.  Fresno State has to replace Derek Carr at quarterback in 2014, and that’s no easy task for a team that led the country in passing yards.

All things being equal this could be the most entertaining game of the week among Pac-12 teams, for two quarters.

5. #19 Arizona State

Last year’s Pac-12 South champs have a lot to prove in 2014, both to themselves and to the national press if they want to keep their pre-season rankings where they are for more than a few weeks.  Todd Graham has preached redemption going into this season after tough losses to both Stanford and Texas Tech to close out 2014.

He’s also said that a defense looking to replace nine starters will surprise people.  In order to do that they are going to have to come up with ways to apply pressure in new and innovative ways as the personnel the defense has to work with this season is both raw and untested.

Thankfully he has what could be the makings of a top flight offense if he can keep the trio of Taylor Kelly/Jaelen Strong/D.J. Foster healthy for the entire season.  All of which should expect to see about 40-50 plays if all goes as planned against Weber State in the Devils home opener on Thursday.

6. #25 Washington

We won’t know for a while whether or not Steve Sarkisian bolting for USC was a blessing for the Huskies, but what we do know is that replacing him with Chris Peterson was one of the best reactionary decisions one can make given the situation.  Unlike Dirk Koetter or Dan Hawkins, Peterson won a lot of big games with Boise State and should succeed moving on to a power conference.

But ask Kyle Whittingham about past success and what that means in 2014.  Not too much until you can prove yourself week-in and week-out during Pac-12 play.

Quarterback Cyler Miles will be serving a one game suspension this week against Hawaii team that lost both its games against the Pac-12 last year as well as its first 11 to start 2013.

7. Oregon State

The Beavers always seem to make these opening contests against FCS schools interesting don’t they?  Add to that the fact that Portland State is an island of Pac-12 misfit toys with eight players formerly calling schools in the conference home.

Sean Mannion is the most experience quarterback in the country as he begins his senior season and is armed with a new offensive coordinator in John Garrett that looks to bring a freshness to the Beavers offense.  If Garrett can straighten out the run game to team with a set of fantastic tight ends and an explosive downfield passing attack Oregon State could once again play the role of spoiler against the Pac-12 heavyweights as the season progresses.

8. Arizona

Rich Rodriguez has his starting quarterback named finally.  For the first time in his three seasons as head coach of the Wildcats it will not be a senior at the position however.  Anu Soloman won a four-horse race with the announcement coming early on Monday that the redshirt senior would lead an offensive with boatloads of talent at the receiver position but lots of questions in the offensive backfield.

Soloman has a chance to be the first young starting quarterback at Arizona since Nick Foles was putting up eye popping numbers half a decade ago.

9. Washington State

Wazzu comes into 2014 looking to get the sour taste out of their mouth from last year’s bowl loss to Colorado State that spoiled an otherwise productive second season for Mike Leach.  With a three year starter at quarterback and one of the more talented groups of receivers in the Pac-12, you can expect more gaudy passing statistics coming out of Pullman.

This week they face an overmatched Rutgers team in Seattle that will attempt to feed running back Ronnie James early and often to slow down the Air Raid.

10. Utah

Utah enters 2014 having never lost a game to a team in the Big Sky Conference, let alone to Idaho State.  And that’s a good thing when you are Kyle Whittingham coming off back-to-back 5-7 seasons and looking for anything you can to boost that win total, FCS opponent or not.

Idaho State hasn’t won a game since way back in early October, so they are ripe for the picking against a Utah team breaking in their seventh offensive coordinator in seven seasons.

11. Colorado

The Rocky Mountain Showdown pits two teams that haven’t looked better as a whole in at least the last decade.  Not suggesting either team is going to make a major bowl or challenge to win their conference, but both teams have good young coaches that are still dealing with the dearth of talent they were left to build with when they took over.

With all that being said you can look at the money the two schools generated from football in 2013 (over $41 million) and still see there is a long ways to go here.  But ask Mike Leach about how he enjoys playing a Mountain West team like Colorado State?

12. Cal

Fans of the Pac-12 Networks hit show “The Drive” are still wondering why the Sun Devils had to share episodes with the Bears each and every week.  Even if you live in Berkeley, I still think this was the case.

Regardless, year two of the Bear Raid offense has to show better results.  Especially when you consider their fans never saw a lead in the second half after their season opener to start 2012.

How do you rank the Pac-12 top-to-bottom? Let us know on Twitter and you could make it on the next ASU Devils Den Podcast.

 

About Rob Malara

Rob Malara

Rob Malara is a 2002 Sun Devil grad having spent the majority of his time in Tempe as a football, basketball, and baseball season ticket holder and front row inhabitant. A member of the Football Writers Association of America, he hosted the ASU Devils podcast and was its sub-optimal technical producer through its lifespan. Currently the president of the ASU Alumni Association's Northern Colorado Club, he is part of a family of maroon and gold residing in Fort Collins with his Sun Devil wife and nearby Sun Devil sister.

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