W. Soccer: A look at the Pac-12

Gracie Malley/File
Sophomore midfielder Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick leads the squad in assists with six in 16 games.

1. UCLA:
Despite being the favorite to finish second behind Stanford in the 2012 Pac-12 Coaches Poll, UCLA will not hand over the Pac-12 title on a silver platter. With 10 of its 11 starters back from a team that only lost one game in 2011, the squad may be able to take care of the Cardinal when the latter travels to Westwood.

2. Stanford:
The Cardinal did not lose a single game in 2011, going 25-0-1 en route to a national title. Despite Stanford’s tremendous amount of talent, the team will face the two other top teams in the Pac-12 on the road in Berkeley and Westwood. The only direction the Cardinal can go is down, but the soccer world can count on the fact that the team probably won’t fall too far.

3. Cal:
Coming off its best year under coach Neil McGuire, Cal will make another run for a postseason berth. The loss of leading scorer Katie Benz hurts, but the team has already proven it can play without her by making it to the second round of NCAAs after she suffered a season-ending injury last year. A gritty midfield and a group of forwards with plenty of potential bodes well for the Bears.

4. Oregon State:
Beaver head coach Linus Rhode has his squad moving in the right direction after back-to-back NCAA tournament bids in the last two seasons. With its upward trend, Oregon State has finally been a nationally recognized threat and will likely finish the season in the top 25.

5. Washington:
For the second straight year the Huskies were chosen to finish fifth in the league by the coaches. The team disappointed in 2011 with a seventh-place finish, there’s uncertainty as to whether the Huskies can live up to the preseason hype. A strong recruiting class will leave 19-year head coach Lesle Gallimore with a lot to work with.

6. Washington State:
Coach Keidane McAlpine inherits a successful team in his first year at the helm of the Cougars. A strong keeper in Gurveen Clair and many returners from the 2011 fourth-place squad seems promising for Washington State, but it may take a season for McAlpine and the Cougars to gel.

7. Arizona State:
In 2009 and 2010 the Sun Devils made appearances in the NCAA tournament, and 2011 looked to be a breakthrough year for Arizona State. However, injuries derailed the team’s plans. Although many of their players from the tournament years have graduated, the Sun Devils look to improve off their dismal 8-11 record last season.

8. USC:
In 2011, the Trojans resembled their historical counterparts: they were beaten and battered. The 2011 season was a step backward for the program, but this year’s squad boasts a 34-woman roster, all of whom are healthy and looking to improve on their ninth-place Pac-12 finish.

9. Utah:
The Utes did not enjoy traveling in their new conference in 2011, if their 1-7 away record is any indication. However, their 8-2 home record presented a radical study in opposites. The squads has many new faces will not help their road woes and their loss of leading goal scorer leaves Utah in a rebuilding year.

10. Oregon:
Oregon had a solid nonconference record in 2011 (5-3-1). Then the conference season began and the Ducks fell flat. The team finished with an overall win percentage that ranked them 7th in the Pac-12, but a 3-6-2 in conference dropped them to 10th and this year will be very similar.

11. Colorado:
Colorado returns nine athletes from a team that only scored 21 goals in 19 games in 2011 and also lost 8-0 to UCLA. The Buffs will be better than Arizona, but too far behind Oregon to leave the 11th spot.

12. Arizona:
The Wildcats check in at last in our preseason rankings based off their horrid 2011 campaign. Although the team is returning 14 players, they will need to do much better than their 1-16-2 record last season if they hope to emerge from the bottom of the well.