2013 Pac-12 Predictions And Analysis
By Christopher Wuensch
Foretold by John Baker, Colin Huber, Henry McKenna, Alex Schultz and Christopher Wuensch
UCLA vs. Oregon State
Oregon State: The Beavers get back to their rushing offense, which makes the passing game effective once they’ve settled on Sean Mannion as the quarterback. The defense will be good and they’ll nip the Ducks in the Civil War and get into the title game via some strange tie-breaker.
Oregon State’s potential two-quarterback scenario is a bit unsettling, but with a new coach in Oregon and Stanford lacking proven starters at RB, WR and TE, we have to wonder if both can maintain their recent dominance. This could very well be the year that an outside program can slip past the powerhouses that have owned the North Division.
UCLA: The debate comes down to Arizona State vs. UCLA for the South Division. Although some of us believe USC will return to form and Arizona will win as many as eight games. UCLA is our unanimous/tenuous pick. Road trips to face Nebraska, Oregon, Stanford (back-to-back weekends) and Southern California could easily doom the Bruins to mediocrity.
Winner: With an uncertain champion coming out of the South, Oregon State makes its fourth-ever Rose Bowl appearance and first since the 1964 season.
There's something to prove after a 6-0 start and a cliff dive last year.
Top Heisman Candidate
Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona.
Plenty of names were bantered around. Marcus Mariota. Brandin Cooks. Marqise Lee. Shayne Skov. Yes, you read that last one correctly.
Carey, however, gets the nod because we believe he’ll become just the third running back in the last 37 years to lead the nation in rushing in consecutive seasons — and first since Ricky Williams did it for Texas in 1997 and 1998.
The aforementioned players certainly will receive their fair share of attention and accolades. But look for Carey, who needs just 1,272 yards to surpass Arizona all-time leading rusher Trung Canidate, to be this year’s Pac-12 Heisman candidate.
The Case For Shayne Skov: Because he probably is the best player in the Pac-12. It’s just that stuffing your pie hole into oncoming linemen and running backs isn’t glamorous enough to get you to New York. However, there’s a well-known East Coast lust for Stanford and with Notre Dame’s Manti Teo breaking the ice a year ago, Skov could get to sit with the skinny guys in January. Regardless, he’s a player’s player and deserves national awards.
Offensive/Defensive Player Of the Year
QB Keith Price, Washington.
It’s possible to be a Heisman winner and not be named your conference’s Offensive Player of the Year, right? We can’t help but think that two year’s-worth of injuries and ineffective play on the offensive line are about to end. The Keith Price we saw as a sophomore will return, but more mature and far hungrier. The Huskies started a herd of guys on the O-line the last two years, which isn’t good for anyone’s stability. Price seemed on the brink of being Marcus Mariota before Marcus Mariota arrived in Oregon. We think he rediscovers the magic, stays healthy and has a huge year. He could look like an EJ Manuel this year with lots of experience and a similar skill set.
LB Shayne Skov, Stanford.
It’s kind of hard to argue that a player should be a Heisman candidate, then turn around and not give him the Defensive Player of the Year nod. Manti T'eo whetted the voter’s appetite. If Stanford has a killer season, it will be in large thanks to Skov. That said, we’d also like to throw Trent Murphy into the conversation. The fifth-year senior would be the best linebacker on nearly every team in the country ... nearly. He sets the edge as a run-stopper and races to the passer. He's dynamic.
Coach Of The Year
Lane Kiffin, Southern California.
What happens when a coach, one who is on every sportswriter's hot seat and whose head has been called for by 99 percent of the team's fan base, silences all of his critics? He wins the conference's Coach of the Year award. Kiffin will do just that. USC returns 15 starters from last year's squad, including the country's best receiver in Marqise Lee, who caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2012. Forgotten too quickly by many is the fact that the Trojans suffered several close losses to quality teams last season. They lost to Stanford by a touchdown. They lost to Oregon by 11. They lost to Notre Dame by nine. Those aren't bad losses to bad teams. The men of Troy will rise up this season to redeem their embattled leader.
Washington State over Oregon on Oct. 19 in Eugene.
So what if Marquess Wilson is gone? The Cougs’ returning receivers accounted for 70 percent of the team's receiving yards in 2012. Washington State will have played some tough opponents — Auburn (meh), USC, Stanford and Oregon State — before traveling to Autzen, so they'll be ready to go against mighty Oregon. Remember, Wazzu trailed the Ducks at halftime by just four points in last year's game. With a year of Mike Leach's Air Raid offense under their belts, the Cougars will hang with the Ducks for four quarters and pull out a stunner this time around.
Also Considered: Washington over Oregon on Oct. 12 in Seattle, Colorado over USC on Nov. 23 in Boulder.
WR Kasen Williams, Washington.
Wasn’t this guy the national player of the year coming out of high school? Well, three years later, all the competition is gone. And, although he’s shown flashes, this year he steps up and helps quarterback Keith Price reach a higher level. Williams seemed destined for stardom out of Sammamish, Wash.’s Skyline High School. This year he achieves it.
Game Of The Year
Stanford vs. Oregon.
Because the rematch of last year’s classic is too tasty to ignore. Last year the Cardinal marched in Eugene and shot the Ducks’ national title hopes in the beak. You’d better believe new Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich doesn’t have to remind his team of the past.
The optimism of last season will be snuffed out in an early four-game stretch that starts with a visit from Wisconsin, at Stanford, home for USC and then to Arlington, Texas, for Notre Dame. The only positive is that five of their first six games are in Tempe. They’ll struggle getting through this gauntlet above .500 and healthy.
The Case For UCLA: How many killer pro prospects have failed to live up to their hype because they are stuck in bad offenses? Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech) is the most recent victim. While it's important to have a great quarterback (in Brett Hundley), the focus should be on the whole team. I don't feel that yet for UCLA.
Coach On The Hottest Seat
Steve Sarkisian, Washington.
Not too many Pac-12 coaches enter the 2013 season with their fannies held to the flames. Nine of the conference’s head coaches have been with their respective programs fewer than five years. Thanks to their tenures, Mike Reilly (13 years at Oregon State) and Kyle Whittingham (10 at Utah) will have to go winless this season to face the chopping block. The obvious pick here is Lane Kiffin, because winning nine games a year might be well-and-good at other programs, but in Los Angeles, it makes Trojans Nation uneasy. But Kiffin has the recruiting advantage, not to mention a corps of players with a chip on their shoulder after losing in last year’s Sun Bowl to Georgia Tech.
Sarkisian appears to be turning around the Huskies’ fortunes in Washington, but as he enters his sixth season with the Huskies, he’s approaching “7-6 won’t cut it any more” status. After going 5-7 in his first year in Seattle, Sarkisian has led a spectacular run of mediocrity with four straight 7-6 campaigns.
The Huskies are pointed in the right direction, but now it’s up to Sarkisian to move them forward.
• Colorado won’t win a Pac-12 game this season.
• Arizona upsets both UCLA and ASU, but fails to win the South Division.
• Paul Richardson will finish runner-up to leading receiver Marqise Lee.
• The Beavers will use the opulent palace just completed at cross-state rival Oregon as motivation to nip the Bruins in the Civil War. The Beavers will point to T-shirts that read “Marble floors…we’re not worthy!” as inspiration.
• Stanford’s Shayne Skov will announce before the Holiday Bowl matchup against Michigan that his online girlfriend is, contrary to reports, a real person.
• The Dennis Erickson as co-offensive coordinator era in Utah lasts just one year before the Utes determine that the journeyman coach’s language is just a little too “salty” for Salt Lake City.