Beavers have a shot at Ducks, with Stanford, UCLA the teams to beat

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF STANFORD UNIVERSITY - Wide receiver Ty Montgomerys abilities give a partially reloading Stanford Cardinal football team the potential to be a huge force again in the Pac-12 this season.How do I see the Pac-12 football season playing out?


With upsets aplenty, or will they be considered upsets?

And with no unbeaten teams — far from it.

With showdowns nearly every week, because it’s going to be a balanced league and because 10 returning quarterbacks lead teams.

Nine Pac-12 teams made bowl games last year — going 6-3 — and the conference doesn’t figure to be any weaker this time around. I think the other Pac-12 teams, minus California, have caught up to Oregon’s pace and style and conditioning and depth, although the Ducks will be considered contenders based mostly on the presence of No. 8, quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Right there with the Ducks, I believe, will be Oregon State, which I think will finish with a better season than its rival and win the Civil War game.

Stanford remains solid. UCLA has built up its roster. USC has lots of top-notch talent.

It should be interesting. Let one of the more intriguing Pac-12 football seasons begin.

Here’s the way I see it (predicted records in parentheses):


1. Stanford (10-2, 7-2)

The Cardinal, two-time Pac-12 title game winners, have tweaked their team with the loss of several players, but QB Kevin Hogan will have ample weapons (Ty Montgomery, Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector at receiver) and a running back by committee. Coach David Shaw has big expectations for the versatile Montgomery. A young offensive line needs to develop. The defense lost its coordinator, but returns seven starters to deal with the variety of Pac-12 offenses. The Cardinal will always be fundamentally sound — blocking and tackling and not making mistakes.

2. Oregon State (9-3, 6-3)

As long as senior QB Sean Mannion stays healthy, the Beavers will chug along — and beat Oregon in the Civil War to cap an outstanding year. The offensive line has to develop, and running backs Storm Woods and Terron Ward and versatile Victor Bolden need room to operate. Clearly, the receivers have to step up with 2013’s top receiver in college football, Brandin Cooks, gone to the NFL. The defense should be solid with the likes of end Dylan Wynn and linebacker Michael Doctor. If the Beavers falter with one of the country’s best quarterbacks, it won’t look good for coach Mike Riley.

3. Oregon (8-4, 6-3)

The Ducks have lost their edge, mainly because everybody else in the Pac-12 improved. If Mariota has a great year, great things can happen. We’ll know a lot more about the Ducks on Sept. 7 — the day after they play Rose Bowl champ Michigan State. UO’s receivers have to develop, as do assorted other players. The defense, led by cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, has to be stout when needed under new coordinator Don Pellum. And, we’ll see whether coach Mark Helfrich, Pellum and the other hand-picked coordinator, Scott Frost on offense, can outsmart the Ducks’ opponents.

4. Washington (9-4, 5-4)

Boise State legend Chris Petersen takes over as coach, and he likes what he sees on the offensive and defensive lines — good units in which to have confidence. A fellow named Jeff Lindquist has been named the season-opening starting QB, but presumably only because Cyler Miles has been suspended. The Huskies have a defensive star in linebacker Shaq Thompson. But the Huskies need to have some players step up on offense, given that their good 2013 starters at QB, running back and tight end have left.

5. Washington State (7-5, 4-5)

Does coach Mike Leach open up the offense? Meaning, does WSU run the ball better than the 53.4 yards per game it averaged on the ground in 2013? Or does Leach still allow QB Connor Holliday to throw on virtually every down? The Cougars figure to be even better offensively, if it’s status quo, because Holliday and his receivers have another year with Leach coaching them. The Cougars have decent talent and experience on defense. Leach has WSU poised to do some damage in the Pac-12; the Cougs play host to Oregon in their Pac-12 opener. Upset?

6. California (2-10, 1-8)

It’s the second year for the Bears under the guidance of coach Sonny Dykes, and, really, not much looks better in Berkeley, Calif. — Cal has only 10 returning starters. The best thing going for the Bears is the experience that QB Jared Goff received in his true freshman season — right there with Holliday and Mannion in chucking the football, about 44 times per game. Dykes’ team showed very little in his first season, ranking last in the Pac-12 in scoring and scoring defense and almost losing every game; the Bears squeezed one out against Portland State.


1. UCLA (10-2, 7-2)

Things have aligned for the Bruins, with coach Jim Mora and quarterback Brett Hundley returning. Like with Mariota, the national pundits will be watching the dual-threat Hundley in the quest for the Heisman Trophy. The Bruins have been good defensively under Mora, and should remain that way with the likes of linebackers Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack (who doubles as a running back) for new coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, although some good defensive players have departed. Expect a big season for the UCLAns.

2. USC (9-3, 6-3)

Coach Steve Sarkisian inherited some very good players — QB Cody Kessler, running back Javorius Allen, receiver Nelson Agholor, defensive end Leonard Williams, linebacker Hayes Pullard and safety Su’a Cravens among them. Sarkisian helped rebuild Washington from a winless season, and the Trojans have seemingly recovered from their NCAA sanctions. It’s hard to imagine Sarkisian not finding some success in Los Angeles, but to what extent remains to be seen, because of the Pac-12’s depth.

3. Arizona State (8-4, 5-4)

The Sun Devils feature a pretty good one-two punch on offense with QB Taylor Kelly and running back D.J. Foster, who is equally dangerous in the run and pass games. Arizona State lost two Pac-12 games, both routs to Stanford (during the regular season and in the Pac-12 title game). The defense needs to be rebuilt, but the Sun Devils have been on the upswing under coach Todd Graham, and having

Kelly back at the controls will allow them to roll along offensively while their defense


4. Arizona (7-5, 4-5)

Like Washington, the Wildcats lost both their quarterback and running back — but the Ducks, for one team, surely remember UA’s B.J. Denker and Ka’Deem Carey. Also, UA has a unique situation, with several candidates at quarterback and running back and maybe the Pac-12’s best set of receivers, including Austin Hill, Trey Griffey, Nate Phillips, David Richards and more. If coach “Rich Rod” (Rodriguez) can develop a quarterback who can throw accurately in the spread offense (Jesse Scroggins?), and another good running game, watch out.

5. Utah (4-8, 2-7)

It appears QB Travis Wilson has recovered from the concussion problems that bothered him in 2013. As always, the Utes will play teams tough in Salt Lake City — they beat Stanford and pushed Arizona State last year. But the Utes have a 9-18 mark in Pac-12 play since joining the league, and signs point to them not being much better. Coach Kyle Whittingham, who followed Urban Meyer as coach, enjoyed great success before joining the Pac-12. But the league’s depth has been too much to handle.

6. Colorado (3-9, 1-8)

Expect the Buffaloes to be competitive in every game, based on the return of QB Sefo Liufau and running back Christian Powell. And, Mike MacIntyre was hired at Colorado before last season after much success at San Jose State. He’s a good one. But, like Utah, the Buffaloes have seen poor results in the Pac-12 — 4-23 — and it’s just too good of a league to see Colorado improving much in MacIntyre’s second year. None of the games in Boulder, Colo., should be gimmes for the opponents, though.

Pac-12 championship game

UCLA 27, Stanford 21: The Bruins, behind the play of QB Hundley, finally reach the Pac-12 mountaintop under coach Mora, beating Stanford and likely earning a berth in the NCAA Final Four football playoffs because of the strength of the league.

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