Time to unveil our first Pac-12 Power Ratings of the season — or ever, I guess, since we’ve never done Pac-12 Power Ratings before.
I’ll just do a 1-12 listing instead of separating them by divisions. And once the season begins, I may do these a little earlier in the week, depending on how things work out.
1, Oregon — Oregon’s had a rocky off-season. But for now, they are the top of the class until proven otherwise. Those who follow the team closely say this edition could be better than last year’s. We’ll find out quickly, however, just how much impact Oregon’s losses up front may have — as well as whether any of the off-season turmoil is taking a toll. You’ve got to figure that’s the plan for LSU, to just try to bludgeon the Ducks up front. If Oregon can handle that, it may be ominous for the rest of the Pac-12.
2, Stanford — The more I think about it, the more I think the David Shaw Era doesn’t really begin until next season. This is simply the last year of the Andrew Luck Era, and I think his return largely mitigates, for this year, the coaching turnover. And the Cardinal gets a nice way to ease into the season with San Jose State this week and then Duke next week.
3, Arizona State — I feel a lot less certain about the Sun Devils now than I did at the end of last season, when I was among those quickly jumping on the ASU train. But for now, I’m sticking with my pick of them as the South favorites. Still lots of defensive talent there as well as the entire OL and an emerging QB. And Dennis Erickson, at the college level, anyway, has always found a way when he’s had to. No problems this week with UC-Davis.
4, USC — None other than Steve Sarkisian said the other day that everyone may be overlooking USC. They may not be the USC of 2004, but still lots of talent here, and what could be a dynamic offense if Matt Barkley can find a little consistency. Should have a pretty easy time of it with Minnesota this week.
5, Utah — One of the big unknowns about the conference race this season is how well the Utes adapt to playing Pac-12 teams week-in and week-out. But I was talking to someone at a UW practice the other day and asked them about Utah and the answer was “they are probably a lot better than we all may want to think.” Should be a breeze this week with Montana State.
6, Washington — Lots of legitimate reasons for optimism on Montlake. But as Sarkisian said Monday, there’s also a lot of spots where you have to hedge the bet just a little until you see it proven on gameday. May take a few weeks to really know a lot about the Huskies, however.
7, Cal — I may be alone in thinking that the Bears may be better than the predictions suggest. Jeff Tedford’s rehiring of Jim Michalczik as OL coach and offensive coordinator may have been one of the more underrated moves of the off-season. And Zach Maynard may be the QB the team has lacked for a few years. The defense should be good, so with any offensive improvement, the Bears could surprise. One team we’ll find out a little bit about this week with a dicey opener against Fresno State.
8, Arizona — A really hard team to read. On the one hand, they have a proven QB in Nick Foles and a talented WR corps. On the other hand, major questions on the OL and a tough off-season in which a few good players have been lost to injury. We’ll find out a lot next Thursday when UA plays at Oklahoma State after playing what should be a breather this week against NAU.
9, Colorado — Another team I think I may be a little higher on than some people. Buffs should be able to run and if Tyler Hansen can do the job at QB, CU could pull a surprise or two. Interesting first-week game at Hawaii.
10, UCLA — There’s lots of undeniable talent here, but it seems hard to figure exactly what the plan is offensively and now that will all come together. UCLA has the biggest game of the first week of any conference team at Houston. Pretty obvious what this season means for Rick Neuheisel and an early defeat will only warm things up that much more.
11, Oregon State — Beavers another team that have had a tough off-season, losing some key players (most recently, cornerback Brandon Hardin) to injury, and not yet getting back team leader and leading receiver James Rodgers. OSU should breeze against Sacramento State before a real test awaits next week at Wisconsin.
12, Washington State — Unquestionably, the Cougars should be better this season. But until the lines on each side show substantial improvement, it’s hard to move them up this ladder. Playing what’s one of the worst programs in FCS this week won’t prove anything, so any real sense of WSU’s improvement will wait a few weeks.