Pac-12 Football Preview: Projecting all 12 conference teams

Michael Tao/Senior Staff

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1. Oregon

Conference record prediction: 9-0

Player to watch: RB De’Anthony Thomas

Season outlook: Former head coach Chip Kelly departed to the NFL, but the Ducks core of star quarterback Marcus Mariota and Heisman-hopeful running back De’Anthony Thomas remain in place. Their high-octane offensive attack is still up and running, totaling 479 passing yards and 850 rushing yards through their first two nonconference games. Oregon should be able to run the table against the Pac-12 as defenses will struggle to keep up with pace of the patented Oregon offense led by new head coach, Mark Helfrich.

Sean Wagner-McGough

2. Stanford

Conference record prediction: 7-2

Player to watch: DE Ben Gardner

Season outlook: There’s a possibility that coach David Shaw and the Cardinal could be lifting the all-important crystal ball at the conclusion of the season. All of the parts are there. They have quite possibly the best front seven in college football, led by senior LB Shayne Skov and junior DE Ben Gardner. They have a killer offensive line, anchored by 6-foot-6, 318-pound left tackle Andrus Peat. And they have a potential star quarterback in Kevin Hogan. Granted, the Cardinal have to go through Oregon, but all signs point to a special year on the Farm.

Michael Rosen

3. UCLA

Conference record prediction: 7-2

Player to watch: QB Brett Hundley

Season outlook: If a Pac-12 South title is the lock, then Brett Hundley is the key. The redshirt sophomore quarterback surprised the entire conference with an extremely effective freshman campaign, passing for 3,745 yards and 29 TDs. Some see him as a dark-horse Heisman candidate, and if Hundley makes the leap — of which coach Jim Mora knows he’s capable — UCLA will find itself taking on Oregon or Stanford for a potential shot at a national championship. In only two years, Mora has done wonders in Westwood.

Michael Rosen

4. Arizona State

Conference record prediction: 6-3

Player to watch: DT Will Sutton

Season outlook: Arizona State is the wild card in the Pac-12. Will they finish at the top of the South or regress to the middle of the pack? Will Taylor Kelly make “the leap” or simply be a mediocre quarterback? Can Will Sutton carry a thin Sun Devils defense, or will their lack of depth plague the team against potent offenses? Some of those questions will be answered on Saturday night, when Arizona State takes on No. 20 Wisconsin in Tempe in its first contest against an FBS opponent.

Michael Rosen

5. Washington

Conference record prediction: 6-3

Player to watch: WR Kasen Williams

Season outlook: The Huskies thoroughly dismantled Boise State 38-6 in the season opener, led by quarterback Keith Price’s 324 passing yards. Price has been wildly inconsistent as UW’s quarterback the past two seasons, but if pass catchers Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins can live up to their hype, Price could put up similar numbers to his 2011 campaign, when he tossed 33 touchdown passes. Also key for Washington is the play of its defense, which finished the 2012 season ranked 31st in the country in total yards. After limiting the Broncos to just six points in the opener, the Huskies look to be picking up where they left off.

Sean Wagner-McGough

6. Arizona

Conference record prediction: 5-4

Player to watch: RB Ka’Deem Carey

Season outlook: You probably know what you’re going to get from Arizona: lots of points, not much defense. Remind you of anyone? After an 8-for-20 performance from quarterback BJ Denker, the quarterback situation is officially “in flux.” Luckily, the Wildcats still have superstar running back Ka’Deem Carey, who compiled 1,929 yards and 23 TDs last year behind an offensive line returning most of their key members. And although the defense wasn’t great last year, they do return all 11 starters. There’s a lot of room for variation in Tucson this year.

— Michael Rosen

7. Cal

Conference record prediction: 4-5

Player to watch: DE DeAndre Coleman

Season outlook: Two games into the season, and Cal’s strengths and weaknesses are crystal clear. Jared Goff’s 930 passing yards currently leads the nation, while the receiving tandem of Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs has combined for 36 receptions and 475 yards. Overall, Cal’s offense has put up 67 points but has been negated by its porous defense allowing 74 points, including 30 points to FCS Portland State. The offense gives the Bears a chance to keep pace with any team, but unless defensive coordinator Andy Buh finds a way to plug the California-sized holes in his unit, the Bears are likely headed towards a sub-.500 season.

Sean Wagner-McGough

8. USC

Conference record prediction: 3-6

Player to watch: QB Cody Kessler

Season outlook: How the mighty have fallen. Led by head coach Lane Kiffin, the Trojans have gone from national title contenders just one year ago to losing at home to Washington State — a team that went 1-8 in conference play in 2012. Even worse, the Cougars won despite failing to score a touchdown on offense. USC’s problems start at the quarterback position, where Cody Kessler is doing his best John David Booty impression with 136 passing yards in four quarters of playing time. Star wide receiver Marqise Lee has been kept out of the end zone through two games despite hauling in 15 passes. The receiver who comes closest to Lee’s 15 catches is Xavier Grimble. He has four catches. I spot a problem with this offense.

Sean Wagner-McGough

9. Oregon State

Conference record prediction: 3-6

Player to watch: QB Sean Mannion

Season outlook: How does a team go from ranked one week to not receiving a single vote the next? One good way is losing to FCS school Eastern Washington, like the Beavers did two weeks ago. Granted, the Eagles did win the FCS championship two years ago. But Oregon State’s defense looked absolutely hopeless, and it’s hard to see that improving against the likes of Oregon and UCLA. Quarterback Sean Mannion might be the team’s saving grace in an otherwise hapless season: The senior is currently second in the country in passing yards.

Michael Rosen

10. Washington State

Conference record prediction: 2-7

Player to watch: WR Gabe Marks

Season outlook: Don’t let the win over USC fool you — the Cougars are a bad football team. Largely due to UCS’s horrendous offense and a gift-wrapped pick-six, the Cougars pulled off the upset in LA. Starting quarterback Connor Halliday has thrown five picks in two games and averages around 5.5 yards per attempt in Mike Leach’s Air Raid system. The running game averages 2.8 yards per carry, which is twice as good as last season’s 1.4 yards per carry. With one win, WSU has already matched its Pac-12 win total from last year. I repeat: This is a bad football team.

Sean Wagner-McGough

11. Colorado

Conference record prediction: 1-8

Player to watch: LB Addison Gillam

Season Outlook: The Buffs have already eclipsed last season’s win total by downing Colorado State and Central Arkansas to kick off the season, which would be an accomplishment except the only two teams that the Buffs have played are Colorado State and Central Arkansas. Last season, Colorado was outscored by 276 points. Putting that number into perspective, no other team in the Pac-12 South had a negative score differential last season. So far, Colorado’s leading tackler is true freshman linebacker Addison Gillam. Looking at the glass half-full, Colorado’s defense should be much improved by the addition of Gillam. Looking at the glass realistically, Colorado’s best defensive player is a true freshman.

Sean Wagner-McGough

12. Utah

Conference record prediction: 1-8

Player to watch: QB Travis Wilson

Season outlook: Obviously, the Daily Cal isn’t too optimistic about the Utes’ chances in the Pac-12 this year. But there are some spots where optimism may run wild. Dual-threat quarterback Travis Wilson was a highly touted recruit out of San Clemente, Calif., two years ago, and against Weber State last Saturday, he demonstrated why. Wilson threw for 264 yards and 3 TDs, while picking up 93 yards on three carries on the ground. Even with the talented Wilson, look for Utah to compete with the dregs of the conference.

— Michael Rosen

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