2014 Scout Pac-12 Football Preview

Marcus Mariota

A snapshot preview of the Pac-12, where the conference may be the strongest its ever been...

It’s been four seasons since a Pac-12 team has played for the national title, but three schools have a legitimate shot this year to be in the conversation: two-time defending champion Stanford; Oregon, which won the previous three conference titles (and was the last conference school to play for the national championship); and fast-rising UCLA, in year three under Jim Mora.

The last two conference schools to win national championships, USC and Washington, each will be breaking in new head coaches, though both had success at their previous stops. New USC head man Steve Sarkisian was an assistant coach at USC before helping to rebuild the Washington program, while new Washington coach Chris Petersen ran things at Boise State for eight years before taking over for Sarkisian in Seattle.

Arizona State lost a ton of players from their defense this year, but they did win the Pac-12 South a year ago. Arizona lost a lot on offense, but they’ve won their last two bowl games. Washington State is looking to continue its ascent under Mike Leach in his third season in Pullman, while Oregon State is hopeful that they can find a number-one receiver to replace Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks. Year Two of Mike MacIntyre in Colorado is full of optimism, while Year Two of Sonny Dykes at Cal is full of hope that things can only go up after his rough first season. And the return of Travis Wilson at Utah at quarterback has the Utes ambitious to get back to a bowl game for the first time since 2011, their first year in the conference.

The conference is home to eight quarterbacks who made the Davey O’Brien Award watch list, and two of them are considered to be Heisman Trophy candidates: Marcus Mariota at Oregon and Brett Hundley at UCLA. So, 2014 could finally be the year that the Pac-12 gets its chance to once again go toe-to-toe with the SEC.

OFFENSIVE MVP
QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon – He’s been the All-Pac-12 first-team quarterback in each of his first two seasons in Eugene; this year, he’s hoping that to add at least one more honor to that recognition...preferably a national championship, but perhaps a Heisman, too.

DEFENSIVE MVP
DL Leonard Williams, USC – Despite personnel losses around him, Williams is still the heavy favorite to win the league’s defensive player of the year award. He’s been one of the nation’s best defensive linemen during his first two seasons at USC.

COACH ON THE HOT SEAT
Sonny Dykes, Cal – You could make an argument that Kyle Whittingham could be on the hot seat, but Dykes’ first season in Berkeley was a case of Murphy’s Law. Everything that could go wrong, generally did. The Bears will have the offensive firepower to put up some points, but they have to look competitive this year, something they rarely did a year ago.

SLEEPER TEAM
Utah – The Utes have won before, and they’ve been good against the conference’s best the past few years. But they somehow find a way to lose games they shouldn’t. With Travis Wilson back at QB, the Utes could be the surprise of the conference this year.

MUST-SEE NON-CONFERENCE GAME
Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6 – Offense vs. Defense. Power vs. Speed. Green vs. Green. The reigning Big Ten champions would like nothing more than to go on the road and beat a Pac-12 power, both for themselves and for their conference. The Ducks, on the other hand, would like to show that their speed can beat brute strength.

IMPACT RECRUIT
CB Adoree Jackson – Scout’s No. 1 prospect in the West in the 2014 class, Jackson is an electric player who is dangerous with the ball in his hands and just as scary when the ball is in the air. USC will try to get him the ball, but he may be best suited for the secondary. He’ll also likely return kicks and punts for the Trojans.

BEST TAILGATING
tie/Husky Stadium (Washington) and the Rose Bowl (UCLA) – Washington wins for the first half of the season, when the color changes, the sunset is magnificent and Lake Washington glistens. The Rose Bowl wins the second half, when everywhere else around the country starts to cool or get wet, while the 70+ degree Saturdays of October and November, with the San Gabriel Mountains as a stunning backdrop, keep the party going right up until kickoff.

BOLD PREDICTION
Oregon plays for the national title - The Ducks have the team and the speed to play for the title, and aside from having to go to the Rose Bowl to play UCLA, the schedule to either go unbeaten, or lose no more than one game. The Ducks will travel well to the Pac-12 Championship Game in Santa Clara, where they’ll celebrate their fourth conference title in six years before they beat Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, then play Florida State for the national championship in Jerry’s World.

HEISMAN CANDIDATES
1. QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon
2. QB Brett Hundley, UCLA
3. WR Ty Montgomery, Stanford
4. QB Sean Mannion, Oregon State
5. WR Nelson Agholor, USC

TOP QUARTERBACKS
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
2. Brett Hundley, UCLA
3. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
4. Kevin Hogan, Stanford
5. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State

TOP SKILL-POSITION PLAYERS
1. WR Ty Montgomery, Stanford
2. WR Nelson Agholor, USC
3. RB D. J. Foster, Arizona State
4. WR Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
5. WR Austin Hill, Arizona

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYERS
1. DT Leonard Williams, USC
2. CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
3. LB Myles Jack, UCLA
4. DE Henry Anderson, Stanford
5. DT Danny Shelton, Washington

BIGGEST SHOES TO FILL
1. LB Kenny Orjiokie, UCLA
(for Anthony Barr)
2. WR Victor Bolden, Oregon State
(for Brandin Cooks)
3. LB Kevin Anderson, Stanford
(for Trent Murphy)
4. DT Dalvon Stuckey, Arizona State
(for Will Sutton)
5. RB Zach Green, Arizona
(for Kadeem Carey)

BREAKOUT PLAYERS
1. WR Devon Allen, Oregon
2. CB Ishmael Adams, UCLA
3. WR Michael Rector, Stanford
4. LB Jabari Ruffin, USC
5. WR River Cracraft, Washington State

BEST HEAD COACH
1. David Shaw, Stanford
2. Chris Petersen, Washington
3. Jim Mora, UCLA
4. Todd Graham, Arizona State
5. Mike Riley, Oregon State

TOP CONFERENCE GAMES
1. Stanford at Oregon, Nov. 1
2. Oregon at UCLA, Oct. 11
3. Stanford at UCLA, Nov. 28
4. USC at Stanford, Sept. 6
5. Washington at Oregon, Oct. 18

N1. Oregon
eDuck.com
Offensive MVP: QB Marcus Mariota
Defensive MVP: CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
Top NFL Prospect: QB Marcus Mariota or C Hroniss Grasu
Breakout Player: RB Thomas Tyner
Fan Favorite: Former hoops PG Johnathan Loyd
Top 2014 Signee: RB Royce Freeman
Impact Freshman: WR Jalen Brown
Must Win Game: Stanford
Biggest Game of the Year: Vs. Michigan State
Best Road Trip: @Oregon State
Best Local College Sports Bar: Sixth Street Grill
Best Tailgating Spot: Autzen!
Outlook: This team will live and die with QB Marcus Mariota. He has the "It" factor that can develop the Ducks offensive weapons. The real question will be, Did the defensive line improve enough to stop power backs from grinding the game to a halt?
Season Prediction: 11-1, College Football Playoff

N2. Stanford
theBootleg.com
Offensive MVP: WR Ty Montgomery
Defensive MVP: SS Jordan Richards
Top NFL Prospect: Richards
Breakout Player: CB Wayne Lyons
Fan Favorite: RB Barry Sanders
Top 2014 Signee: OL Casey Tucker
Impact Freshman: TE Dalton Schultz
Biggest Games of the Year: @ Oregon and @ UCLA
Best Road Trip: Washington
Best Local College Sports Bar: The Old Pro (ride the bull!)
Best Tailgating Spot: Chuck Taylor grove
Outlook: The Cardinal gets tested early with a September 6th showdown at home versus the Sarkisian led Trojans. Pass that exam and they’ve got a tough run of road games (@Washington, @Notre Dame, @ASU, @Oregon and @UCLA) with lots of “should-wins” at home (UC Davis, Army, Washington State, Oregon State, Utah).
Season Prediction: 10-2, Fiesta Bowl

N3. Washington
By Dave Samek, Dawgman.com
Offensive MVP: WR Jaydon Mickens
Defensive MVP: DL Danny Shelton
Top NFL Prospect: LB Shaquille Thompson
Breakout Player: WR John Ross
Fan Favorite: RB Deontae Cooper
Top 2014 Signee: S Budda Baker
Impact Freshman: S Budda Baker
Must Win Game: Stanford
Biggest Game of the Year: Vs. Oregon
Best Road Trip: @Hawaii
Best Local College Sports Bar: The RAM in University Village
Best Tailgating Spot: E12 Parking Lot
Outlook: Washington returns a ton of depth on both lines, but questions remain at the skill positions. Replacing QB, RB, TE, secondary will be vital to Huskies' success.
Season Prediction: 10-3, Holiday Bowl

N4. Washington State
By Greg Witter, CougFan.com
Offensive MVP: WR Vince Mayle
Defensive MVP: MLB Darryl Monroe
Top NFL Prospect: DT Xavier Cooper
Breakout Player: OL Cole Madison
Fan Favorite: DL Toni Pole
Top 2014 Signee: WR Vince Mayle
Impact Freshman: CB Sulaiman Hameed
Must Win Game: Washington
Biggest Game of the Year: Vs. Washington
Best Road Trip: @Arizona State
Best Local College Sports Bar: The Coug
Best Tailgating Spot: RV Lot
Outlook: Great home schedule and favorable non-conference slate puts eights wins well within reach.
Season Prediction: 8-4, Las Vegas Bowl

N5. Oregon State
By Barry Bolton, BeaverFootball.com
Offensive MVP: QB Sean Mannion
Defensive MVP: S Ryan Murphy
Top NFL Prospect: QB Sean Mannion
Breakout Player: DL Jalen Grimble and WR Victor Bolden
Fan Favorite: TE Connor Hamlett
Top 2014 Signee: OL Drew Clarkson
Impact Freshman: RSFr. RB Damien Haskins
Must Win Game: Arizona State
Biggest Game of the Year: Vs. Oregon
Best Road Trip: @USC
Best Local College Sports Bar: Upper Deck
Best Tailgating Spot: Multiple spots around campus, including Benton Place and Washington Way
Outlook: Oregon State is likely to go as far as the arm of Sean Mannion will take them. The Beavs could be better on defense this season than many are giving them credit for.
Season Prediction: 8-4, Fight Hunger Bowl

N6. California
By Ryan Gorcey, BearTerritory.net
Offensive MVP: WR Chris Harper
Defensive MVP: DE Brennan Scarlett
Top NFL Prospect: DE Brenna Scarlett
Breakout Player: CB Darius White
Fan Favorite: S Avery Sebastian
Top 2014 Signee: LB Luke Rubenzer
Impact Freshman: RB Tre Watson
Must Win Game: Northwestern
Biggest Game of the Year: Vs. Stanford
Best Road Trip: @Northwestern
Best Local College Sports Bar: Pappy’s on Telegraph
Best Tailgating Spot: Fraternity Row on Piedmont Ave.
Outlook: After going 1-11 last season, Sonny Dykes and the Bear Raid have a very short leash. Dykes has yet to score an FBS win at Cal, and last season, the Bears owned the worst defense in the history of the program. This has the potential to be a turnaround season with new DC Art Kaufman coming in as the fixer. Dykes's job depends on it.
Season Prediction: 6-6, Minor Bowl

S1. UCLA
By Tracy Pierson, BruinReportOnline.com
Offensive MVP: Brett Hundley
Defensive MVP: Myles Jack
Top NFL Prospect: Brett Hundley
Breakout Player: Kenny Orjioke
Fan Favorite: Steven Manfro
Top 2014 Signee: Zach Whitley
Impact Freshman: Zach Whitley
Must Win Game: Oregon
Biggest Game of the Year: Oregon and Stanford
Best Road Trip: AT&T Stadium in Arlington against Texas
Best Local College Sports Bar: Barney's Beanery, Westwood
Best Tailgating Spot: At the Rose Bowl
Outlook: Jim Mora has won 19 games in his first two seasons and now looks to take the program to the next level in 2014 with Heisman candidate Brett Hundley and national championship aspirations.
Season Prediction: 12-2, Rose Bowl (College Football Playoff)

S2. USC
By Lindsey Thiry, SCPlaybook.com
Offensive MVP: QB Cody Kessler
Defensive MVP: DL Leonard Williams
Top NFL Prospect: DL Leonard Williams
Breakout Player: WR Steven Mitchell
Fan Favorite: DL Leonard Williams
Top 2014 Signee: WR/CB Adoree Jackson
Impact Freshman: WR/CB Adoree Jackson
Must Win Game: @ UCLA
Biggest Game of the Year: vs. Notre Dame
Best Road Trip: @ Stanford
Best Local College Sports Bar: 901 Club
Best Tailgating Spot: USC Psychogate in the Quad
Outlook: USC will play under first-year coach Steve Sarkisian. After going 10-4 with three head coaches in 2013, the Trojans only lost one key player on offense in Marqise Lee. Look for them to contend for a Pac-12 South title.
Season Prediction: 8-4

S3. Arizona State
By Hod Rabino, DevilsDigest.com
Offensive MVP: RB D.J. Foster
Defensive MVP: DB Damarious Randall
Top NFL Prospect: WR Jaelen Strong
Breakout Player: LB D.J. Calhoun
Fan Favorite: RB D.J. Foster
Top 2014 Signee: WR Eric Lauderdale
Impact Freshman: LB D.J. Calhoun
Must Win Game: UCLA
Biggest Game of the Year: Vs. UCLA
Best Road Trip: @Washington
Best Local College Sports Bar: Firehouse
Best Tailgating Spot: Sparky’s Lawn
Outlook: An explosive offense with question marks on defense has the 2014 ASU team be a bit of an unknown, yet could still repeat as Pac-12 South Champs.
Season Prediction: 8-4, Alamo Bowl

S4. Utah
By Brian Swinney, UteSportsReport.com
Offensive MVP: WR Dres Anderson
Defensive MVP: LB Gionni Paul
Top NFL Prospect: WR Dres Anderson
Breakout Player: RB Devontae Booker
Fan Favorite: WR Kenneth Scott
Top 2014 Signee: OT Jackson Barton
Impact Freshman: DT Lowell Lotoulelei
Must Win Game: Colorado
Biggest Game of the Year: Vs. Oregon State
Best Road Trip: @UCLA
Best Local College Sports Bar: Fiddler’s Elbow
Best Tailgating Spot: Rice-Eccles parking lot
Outlook: Tough schedule in a tough conference for a team that is marginally improved. Bowling will be difficult to do.
Season Prediction: 5-7

S5. Arizona
By Jason Scheer, WildcatAuthority.com
Offensive MVP: WR Davonte Neal
Defensive MVP: LB Scooby Wright
Top NFL Prospect: WR Cayleb Jones
Breakout Player: DE Jordan Allen
Fan Favorite: WR Austin Hill
Top 2014 Signee: OLB Jamardre Cobb
Impact Freshman: OLB Jamardre Cobb
Must Win Game: ASU
Biggest Game of the Year: Vs. ASU
Best Road Trip: @Oregon
Best Local College Sports Bar: Dirtbag’s
Best Tailgating Spot: U of A Mall
Outlook: Questions at quarterback, but stability would go a long way. Arizona has talent to win
Season Prediction: 8-4, Las Vegas Bowl

S6. Colorado
By James Bryant, BuffPlaybook.com
Offensive MVP: QB Sefo Liufau
Defensive MVP: LB Addison Gillam
Top NFL Prospect: OL Stephane Nembot
Breakout Player: WR Bryce Bobo
Fan Favorite: LB Addison Glliam
Top 2014 Signee: WR Shay Fields
Impact Freshman: WR Shay Fields
Must Win Game: vs. Colorado State
Biggest Game of the Year: Oregon State
Best Road Trip: at Massachusetts
Best Local College Sports Bar: The Lazy Dog
Best Tailgating Spot: the Rose Bowl
Outlook: In Year Two under head coach Mike MacIntyre, the Buffs are inching closer to being bowl eligible. They should go 3-0 in non-conf. and have two manageable conf. road games at Cal and Arizona. Win those and steal another one at home and the Buffs could be in a bowl for the first time in seven years.
Season Prediction: 5-7, no bowl

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