By Fred Delkin
Here comes football, and Oregon’s Ducks can credit coach Chip Kelly, alumnus Phil Knight and a sympathetic schedule for melding to make 2012 another national title try. The Webfoot grid program has ascended into the national elite. Consider that Oregon has won at least 9 games 11 times since 1994, and has logged four straight seasons of 10 or more victories under Kelly’s guidance. Knight’s financial gifts have created facilities second to no other institution and formed a national recruiting magnet. The player talent is on hand for continued success and the ‘12 schedule opens with four straight home games and poses only two difficult away challenges, at USC and Cal. Any soothsayer will tell you that November 3rd in Los Angeles will be the date and place to determine the Pac12 title when Ducks and Trojans clash. A word of caution to Duck diehards…the titanic battle with Troy is immediately followed by a trip to Cal and the UO forces must avoid a letdown. The Berkeley battle will be a true test for Kelly’s ‘Win the Day’ mantra.
While Oregon enjoys the most favorable schedule amongst Pac12 cohorts, the Washington Huskies face perhaps the toughest lineup in the land, facing #1 LSU, #3 USC, #5 Oregon and #18 Stanford as ranked in the national coaches’ preseason poll. Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington State enter 2012 play with new coaches taking over faltering programs. Pac12 fans, whatever their affiliation, are being treated to unprecedented television coverage via the new Pac12 network slated to telecast each member’s games. We’ve watched the initial airings from the network studios in San Francisco and salute the conference for finding a new calling for Rick Neuheisel, whose coaching reigns at Colorado, Washington and UCLA led to program corruption in each case. Rick is convincing as a well-informed and personable in anchorman in his new career.
Assessing the football prospects of Pac12 members…
Oregon–only Duck drawback could be the lack of depth at running back if injury sidelines starters
Kenjon Barner or DeAnthony Thomas. Kelly’s hurry-up attack will shine under the direction of either Marcus Mariota or Bill Bennett at QB. The defense has every attribute for greatness.
USC–the overriding reason that superstar QB Matt Barkley returns to collegiate action rather than
opting for the NFL is twofold…the Trojans have outstanding talent at every position and are free of
NCAA probation. The transfer of Penn State 1000+-yard rusher Silas Redd adds to Troy’s outlook for a national championship. Three trips, to Stanford, Utah and Washington, are capable of dampening the Trojan luster before Oregon comes calling.
Utah–this squad could be the dark horse in the Pac12 title chase. Star QB Jordan Wynn returns after missing most of the 2011 campaign, and ace RB John White returns. Coach Kyle Winningham is a
proven conductor on both sides of the ball. Facing USC and Cal in Salt Lake are big plusses.
Stanford–there’s a lot of proven talent returning, but Andrew Luck’s departure for the NFL leaves a yawning cavity at quarterback. By midseason, this group could be a threat to any opponent.
California–the Golden Bears have outstanding veterans at both QB & RB, and coach Jeff Tedford has
always fielded a capable defense. Cal returns to a remodeled Memorial Stadium, where it will be a definite threat to Washington and Oregon, but traveling to Utah and USC bodes defeats.
Washington–the Dawgs are edging back to their former winning status, but a killer schedule will make
getting to a meaningful bowl game doubtful. Keith Price is one of the nation’s top QB’s and he has great receivers to target. The challenge lies in building a defense, and a pair of former Oregon Duck
performers, coaches Justin Wilcox & Peter Sirmon, have been brought in to take on the task.
Arizona–now we’re getting into the likely bottom half of the conference. The Wildcats have a proven new coach in Mike Montgomery, former mentor at both Michigan and West Virginia, but he will be molding a green bunch of talent, including a rookie QB.
Arizona State–another new coach venue, with Todd Graham, formerly of Tulsa, stepping in. He, too
has to rebuild from scratch on both offense and defense, with QB a real question.
Oregon State–no coaching changes, and a talented QB returns, but the Beaver talent tank is not deep
and a .500 season seems likely. The Bevos are far from the pace set by their foes just to their south, and Coach Mike Riley’s inveterate optimism won’t be justified, once again.
Washington State–downtrodden Cougar fans will be entertained by the work of new mentor Mike Leach, who created pass-laden fireworks at Texas Tech, but he’ll need time to restock the talent tank.
UCLA–another re-coaching task, with Neuheisel thrown out in favor of NFL veteran taskmaster Jim Mora. He inherits a fair amount of proven talent, including QB’s Kevin Prince and Richard Breahaut, who alternated in ‘11. If Mora quickly adapts to the collegiate scene, this could generate surprises.
Colorado–no coach revamp here, but the Buffalos were the conference doormat last season and are not likely to radically change that status, based on known player talent.
Closer to home, Portland State enters play in an expanded Big Sky conference with a new crop of talent yet to prove its worth. The schedule skips perennial powerhouse Montana and is favorable enough to advance the Vikings to a national FCS playoff berth. Biggest question for coach Nigel Burton is which of six new QB’s will get the starter’s nod to lead his ‘Pistol’ attack.
ROSES & RASPBERRIES–a beauteous bouquet to the formulators of the Pac12 telecasting
project which creates a dramatic regional image that transcends time zones…raspberries to the struggles of the Portland Timbers, proving that financing and a new playing venue are not enough to create success in that worldwide activity known as ‘futbol’…a rasher of roses for the U.S. women’s soccer squad, who do their sport proud…no plaudits for Paul Allen’s non-management of his hobby, the Portland Trailblazers, but we can all hope that yet another change of personnel will return to the glory days of a national championship in 1977 under different guidance.