Sun Aug 07 03:16pm EDT
A dozen hyper-specific predictions for the 2011 season. Wrapping up Pac-12 Week.
• As expected, quarterback Andrew Luck will earn the headlines and be back in New York City in December as a Heisman Trophy finalist, but Stanford will lead the nation by placing at least four other players — offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro, tight end Coby Fleener and linebacker Shayne Skov — on postseason All-America teams en route to its first conference title in more than a decade. First-year head coach David Shaw will also bring in at least one trophy as the national coach of the year — more if the Cardinal manage to land in the BCS Championship Game.
• After leading the nation with a school-record 47 points per game in 2010, Oregon's scoring average will drop at least a full touchdown per game. The bevy of options in the Ducks' loaded backfield will convince coach Chip Kelly to reduce the heavy workload on prolific tailback LaMichael James, but three new starters on the offensive line will frustrate efforts to match last year's blockbuster pace.
• USC quarterback Matt Barkley will easily lead the conference in passing yards and touchdowns, outpacing Andrew Luck on both fronts in an effort to overcome a still-porous Trojan defense. After the season, Barkley will announce he's passing up a certain first-round paycheck in the NFL to return to USC with a deep corps of blue-chip receivers at his disposal in 2012, whereupon he will be anointed the undisputed Heisman frontrunner and — with a two-year postseason ban finally lifted — the Trojans anointed undisputed favorites to return to the top of the conference.
• On the heels of a terrible start over the first half of the season, Arizona State will rally to make the Pac-12 Championship Game despite failing to appear in the Associated Press or Coaches' polls at any point in the season. The Sun Devils' first seven games put them up against Missouri, Illinois, USC, Oregon State, Utah and Oregon in consecutive weeks, but they'll likely be favored to win each of their last five on the other side of an Oct. 22 bye week, giving ASU the jump on the South Division title USC is still barred from claiming.
• Oregon State will produce a 1,000-yard rusher for the 13th time in 14 years. The Beavers open the season with no good idea who will replace outgoing workhorse Jacquizz Rodgers in the backfield, but between Ryan McCants, Jovan Stevenson and newcomers Terron Ward and Malcolm Agnew, someone will emerge to add another link in the chain of steady, between-the-tackles pluggers — including Rodgers, Steven Jackson and Yvenson Benard — first forged by career rushing leader Ken Simonton back in 1998.
• Utah will play in three overtime games and at least four more decided by a touchdown or less. Between a Sept. 10 trip to USC (a likely loss) and a Nov. 19 date at Washington State (a likely win), the Utes play eight straight games that could go either way, and will find in heart-stopping fashion that most of them do.
• Junior Kevin Prince will start every game at quarterback for UCLA, becoming just the second Bruin QB in the last six years to make it through an entire season without missing multiple starts to injury. With the continuity and a revamped offense under NFL refugee Mike Johnson, production will improve by at least five points and 50 yards per game, good enough to get the Bruins into a bowl game and save head coach Rick Neuheisel's job for another year.
• Washington quarterback Keith Price will finish with a pass efficiency rating slightly above 130 in his first season as a starter — higher than celebrated Jake Locker achieved in any of his four seasons atop the depth chart. The Huskies' subpar scoring average will improve by at least a field goal per game, but the final record will not, leaving Price in relative obscurity nationally.
• After skidding in with five consecutive losses to close 2010, Arizona will open 2011 by losing five of its first six. After an opening-day warmup against Northern Arizona, the Wildcats face three straight opponents (Oklahoma State, Stanford and Oregon) ranked in the top 10 to start the season, followed immediately by trips to USC and Oregon State — all with a totally revamped offensive line that boasts one career start between the new starting five.
• California will once again look like an entirely different team depending on the venue, winning most of the games in its temporary new home across the San Francisco Bay while losing five of six games on the road. Last year, the Bears veered from ugly, blowout wins over Colorado, UCLA and Arizona State and a toe-to-toe struggle with then-No. 1 Oregon in Berkeley to equally ugly, double-digit losses at the hands of Nevada, USC and Oregon State away from home — an extreme take on a consistent theme in coach Jeff Tedford's decade-long tenure.
• Just a few months into its contract, a new corporate sponsor will ask to have its name removed from Colorado's stadium after the Buffaloes slink in at the bottom of the South Division standings. "While we appreciate the team is improving under first-year coach Jon Embree," an official statement from the company will read, "our board has decided it no longer wishes to have our name associated with this particular brand."
• Washington State will drop a majority of its games by at least two touchdowns for the third year in a row, and wind up starting at least two different quarterbacks behind the league's most porous offensive line.
But the Cougars will also pull a pair of upsets that leave them with multiple conference wins for the first time since 2007, just enough — along with two non-conference wins and a competitive finale against Washington — to bring coach Paul Wulff back for another season in 2012.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.
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