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Pac-12 football: Updated projections for the league race

A busy spring is in the books — and, in some cases, on the police blotter.

Some teams have been hit with a spate of serious injuries (Arizona and Arizona State) since my initial projections.

Others have settled quarterback competitions (Washington and Cal).

Others have honed communication and responsibilities with revamped offensive staffs (UCLA, Cal and Stanford).

Others have endured off-the-field problems raging from arrests to suspensions to dismissals (Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona, to name a few).

Add those developments to the time I’ve had to ponder the vibes from each campus and media attention from around the country, and there have been a few tweaks to the original projections.

And I’m sure the final assessment in August — after I have examined each team’s schedule on a week-by-week basis — will be slightly different than what’s below.

*** North

1. Oregon (January projection: 1). No developments in the past few months have warranted moving the Ducks out of the top spot in the North. I’m continually struck by the similarity in personnel losses sustained by Oregon and Stanford (starting WRs, 3 OL, majority of the DL, key LBs, etc).

2. Stanford (2). One aspect of the schedule that I have examined is the lead-in to the Nov. 12 showdown at Stanford Stadium. The Cardinal will be coming off back-to-back trips to USC and Oregon State. The Ducks will be coming off WSU (home) and Washington (road). Potentially, that’s an advantage to Oregon.

3. Washington (5). All quarterback Keith Price has to do is not lose games, because the Huskies appear well stocked at most other positions. (Their WR/TB talent is first rate, and the defensive line is deep.) If Price actually makes winning plays, watch out.

4. Cal (4). Zach Maynard might not be a better passer than Kevin Riley — or anyone else the Bears have produced in the past five years — but he’s a better runner. That’s a vital addition and, combined with what should be a solid defense, just might get the Bears back into the postseason.

5. Oregon State (3). Dropped the Beavers because 1) the second surgery on James Rodgers’ knee (late Feb.) adds to my skepticism that he’ll be an impact player and 2) the more I looked at OSU’s two deep, the more holes I found. For my money, Mike Riley has been the best coach in the conference over the past 5-6 years, but I’ve got a bad vibe about OSU’s prospects.

6. Washington State (6). The Cougars could be the most improved team in the conference (good chance of that, in fact) and still be the worst team in the conference (good chance of that, too). Not sure how many games Paul Wulff must win to save his job, but if the Cougars struggle early, the dark clouds will gather quickly.

*** South

1. USC (2). Plenty of talent on both sides of the ball but also plenty of injuries (over and above DE Armond Armstead’s health issues). Part of my thinking in moving the Trojans up is that the postseason ban will be lifted at some point this spring/summer, providing a huge shot of excitement and motivation. In the past six months, it has gotten much more difficult for the NCAA to justify that USC’s punishment fits its crime.

2. Arizona State (1). Dropped the Devils for two reasons: 1) the injuries to all-league CB Omar Bolden and WR T.J. Simpson and 2) the expectations. I had a front seat on ASU’s bus back in January. But now that the Devils have become a popular pick — as a top-25 team and the South frontrunner — I’m jumping off: There’s something about the culture of the program that makes me wary of ASU as the favorite.

3. Arizona (3). It’s much easier to overcome a rebuilt offensive line and major injuries (S Adam Hall, RB Greg Nwoko) when you have a first-rate quarterback. And in contrast to ASU, Arizona is flying under the radar — a good spot for the Wildcats.

4. Utah (4). A difficult team to project, partly because the Utes are new to the conference and partly because their QB (Jordan Wynn) is coming off shoulder surgery and won’t have taken a snap in Norm Chow’s offense until training camp starts. (Other concerns include a rebuilt secondary and unproven TBs.) The Utes could finish as high as second and as low as fifth.

5. UCLA (5). In addition to the unsettled QB situation, coach Rick Neuheisel’s job is in jeopardy … and everyone knows it. As with Washington State, a slow start — the Bruins’ early-season schedule includes Houston (road) and Texas (home) — could spark a midseason implosion. Players know when their coach is toast.

6. Colorado (6). As last-place teams go, the Buffs should be pretty good: They’ll win a few games at home and, with a senior QB (Tyler Hansen), might steal one on the road. They could finish a spot or two higher, but this placement seems most reasonable.

 

Read more at blogs.mercurynews.com

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