2013 Pac 12 College Football Power Rankings

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2013 Pac 12 College Football Power Rankings

Pac 12 trophy
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The Pac 12 conference enjoyed a pretty successful 2012, winning a pair of BCS bowls and getting eight teams bowl eligible. It could have been better, though, as they only went 4-4 overall in the bowl games and finished third in many conference power rankings behind the SEC and Big 12. Looking forward, the conference will attempt to build off their success this season and make an even bigger impression in 2013.

But who will come out on top on the West Coast? There is plenty of talent returning throughout the conference and many teams are poised to make a strong push for conference supremacy in 2013. The offensive and defensive players of the year return along with the back-to-back coach of the year (an impressive feat considering the Siren’s song of the NFL every offseason). The conference will also get 11 total first team All-Pac 12 honorees back in 2013 along with seven second team All-Pac 12.

The conference will also get some continuity in their coaching ranks. Only three teams will have new head coaches heading into next season, and one of those was because of a “promotion” of sorts when Chip Kelly bolted to the NFL as the new head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Jon Embree and Jeff Tedford weren’t quite as lucky, but the rest of the conference enjoys the same head coach returning for another season. Some of them might find their seat a little uncomfortable following disappointing 2012 seasons (looking at you Lane Kiffin), so the pressure is on for many to find success in 2013 or face the consequences.

So who will reign in the Pac 12 conference? Let’s find out as we count down the 2013 Pac 12 power rankings, because it’s never too early to list things.

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12. Colorado Buffaloes

Colorado Buffaloes
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The Colorado Buffaloes had a disastrous 2012 season, finishing the year just 1-11 (1-8 Pac 12) and costing head coach Jon Embree his job after just two seasons. Mike MacIntyre now takes over in Boulder and will have to turn things around in a hurry with a roster that is filled with question marks heading into next season.

Chief among them: Who is going to play quarterback? The Buffs went through a revolving door of signal callers last season, failing to find the guy who could take control of the huddle and move the offense down the field. There are plenty more areas of concern as well for the Buffs, who ranked as one of the worst offenses and defenses in the country last season.

Helping them next season will be the incredibly young roster they fielded last season. They return 16 starters on offense and defense, led on defense by defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe and cornerback Kenneth Crawley. On the offensive side of the ball, the team will get a huge boost from the return of wide receiver Paul Richardson, who missed all of 2012 with a knee injury.

One of the worst teams in the country in 2012, Colorado has little room to go anywhere but up in 2013. There will be some growing pains under a new head coach, so don’t expect the Buffs to be too dangerous in the Pac 12 next season. At this point, multiple wins would be a huge moral victory.

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11. California Golden Bears

Cal Bears
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The Cal Bears became the second team to get their head coach fired as Jeff Tedford ended his "longest active consecutive tenure in the Pac 12" streak with a disappointingly inconsistent 3-9 (2-7) season. The team showed flashes of excellence, like when they upset the then-No. 25 UCLA Bruins 43-17, but more often fell flat, like their season-ending 62-14 drubbing at the hands of the No. 16 Oregon State Beavers.

New head coach Sonny Dykes will take over a team with plenty of turnover coming in 2013. The Bears will get just 11 players back on offense and defense from 2012. The defense will be headlined by defensive end Deandre Coleman and linebacker Chris McCain while the offense will turn to running back Brendan Bigelow to lead them. Dykes will be helped by a youthful receiving corps that gained a lot of experience in 2012.

The Bears will need to find a quarterback, though, and then work on utilizing their skills effectively and consistently, which they failed to do in 2012. A new head coach installing a new offensive system with a litany of new faces on both sides of the ball will likely spell rough waters for Cal in 2013 and another finish towards the bottom of the league.

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10. Utah Utes

Utah Utes
James Snook - USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Utes were put into some bad situations at the quarterback position in 2012 due to injuries and ended up putting freshman Travis Wilson into the starter’s role before he was likely ready to. His inexperience led to a rough road for the Utes, who finished the year 5-7 (3-5) and had one of the most limited offenses in the conference.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham will have his hands full trying to improve next season after losing his star players on both offense and defense. The graduation of 1,000-yard rusher John White and block-eater and potential No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft Star Lotulelei will be huge holes to fill on the Utes’ roster. The team returns just 12 starters on offense and defense, and the defense will try and replace Lotulelei’s absence with linebacker Trevor Riley and an experienced secondary with Brian Blechen and Eric Rowe.

The offense will need to find some production from someone other than the running back and will look to Wilson to grow in his sophomore season and utilize wide receiver Dres Anderson better in order to open up the Utah offensive attack. Defenses were able to stack the box against the run when playing the Utes as the passing game ranked among the worst in the country, averaging just 190.7 yards per game.

There is a significant vacuum left by the departing talent in Salt Lake City and it will take major contributions from young and unknown players for Utah to finally break through in the Pac 12. Don’t expect it to happen in 2013, though.

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9. Washington State Cougars

Washington State Cougars
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Year one for the Washington State Cougars under Mike Leach was a bit rougher than anticipated. What was seen as a team tailor-made for Leach’s air raid offense, the Cougars struggled to find offensive balance, rushing for less than 30 yards per game, and were carved up on defense, giving up 33.7 points per game, which led to a dismal 3-9 (1-8) record. WSU was plagued with injuries and controversy, with Leach repeatedly calling out his team and wide receiver Marquess Wilson accusing the coaching staff of abuse (a claim he later recounted and investigations found no evidence for).

Year two should be a bit better in Pullman as Leach continues to build the team and the players become accustomed to what their coach expects of them. The Cougars will be helped out with a pretty good recruiting class to go along with 18 returning starters on offense and defense. Connor Halliday is now the man at quarterback and should grow with the additional reps in spring ball and wide receiver Gabe Marks could become a breakout star in Leach’s system. The defense will miss the production of Travis Long, but the secondary will be helped by the return of safety Deone Bucannon.

Leach will feel some additional pressure this season to recapture the excitement that surrounded his hire last season. With another year to build his team and mold the players to his system, the Cougars should be better in 2013, though they’ll still have work to do to catch up to the rest of the Pac 12.

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8. USC Trojans

USC Trojans
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

After being the preseason No. 1 pick in 2012, expectations will be tempered with the USC Trojans in 2013. As the first team in history to fall from No. 1 in August to unranked with six losses in December, the men of Troy have plenty of introspection to do and difficult questions to tackle. If Lane Kiffin hopes to remain head coach past next season, he’d better find some very good answers and quickly.

The Trojans will be helped by the return of both their leading receiver Marqise Lee and leading rusher Silas Redd. The defense will be bolstered by the return of Devon Kennard at defensive end from injury along with Morgan Breslin and Leonard Williams on the defensive line. Their incoming recruiting class is filled with four-star studs who will be clamoring to make an impact immediately and turn the Trojans’ fortunes back around.

But there are plenty of concerning questions. Who will replace Matt Barkley at quarterback? How will USC fix their offensive line issues? And how can Kiffin and company overcome their biggest Achilles’ heel; their extreme lack of depth due to scholarship reductions?

It will be an uphill battle for the Trojans next season, but they have the talent to be a very good team. But right now, voters aren’t impressed with USC and the Pac 12 isn’t scared of the Trojans. How times have changed…

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7. Arizona Wildcats

Arizona Wildcats
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The Arizona Wildcats were extremely impressive under new head coach Rich Rodriguez in 2012. The team quickly adapted to the new offensive system and became one of the more prolific offenses in the conference, posting big wins over bowl teams like the Toledo Rockets and Oklahoma State Cowboys in non-conference play and a signature win over USC during conference play finishing the year 8-5 (4-5).

Rodriguez will have a pair of playmakers back from this season with running back Ka’Deem Carey, who led the nation in rushing in 2012, and leading receiver Austin Hill. The defense, in true Rich-Rod form, was a work in progress last season, giving up an average of 35.3 points per game, but will be aided by the return of linebacker Jake Fischer. In all, Arizona returns 17 starters on offense and defense, including 11 on defense giving them a boost by sheer continuity.

Hurting the Cats, however are some serious questions. Who will run the offense at quarterback, for example, now that Matt Scott has moved on? Will Ka’Deem Carey’s off-field issues spill over into next season? Is Rodriguez going to continue the pass-happy trend that we saw for the first time in his offense last season? Can Rodriguez spend a little time on the defense?

There’s a lot of uncertainty heading into 2013, which makes it difficult to know if the Cats will be able to replicate their impressive 2012 season. The pieces are there, however, to take the next step, so it’s only a matter of how well they put them together in Tucson.

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6. UCLA Bruins

UCLA Bruins
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

The UCLA Bruins were the surprise team of the Pac 12 last season, riding the emergence of freshman Brett Hundley at quarterback and the breakout season of Doak Walker Award finalist Johnathan Franklin, first year coach Jim Mora led the Bruins to a Pac 12 South division title and nearly won the Pac 12 Championship, finishing the year 9-5 (6-3).

The Bruins will return 12 starters on offense and defense next season, headlined of course by Hundley. He’ll be helped out by the return of a young offensive line that gelled and continued to improve as the season went on last year. The defense is fortunate to get another year out of outside linebacker Anthony Barr, who burst onto the scene in his first season playing defense, as well as fellow linebacker Eric Kendricks.

The team will have plenty to overcome, however, if it hopes to take the next step in 2013. The Bruins wilted down the stretch in 2012, losing their last three games that included back-to-back losses to the Stanford Cardinal. Two of the three losses were blowouts, punctuated by their bowl-game disaster against the Baylor Bears. Finding a way to finish and figuring out how to replace Franklin out of the backfield are key for UCLA if they hope to keep their spot atop the South division.

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5. Washington Huskies

Washington Huskies
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The Washington Huskies were hopeful that 2012 would be the year they broke into the top tier of the Pac 12. That didn’t quite happen as the Dawgs stumbled in the Pac 12 North, finishing fourth in their division with a record of 7-6 (5-4). The team struggled to utilize their talents, hurt by a struggling offensive line, which pushed them down into the middle of the pack.

The Huskies will be helped out next year with 18 returning starters on offense and defense, tied for the most of any Pac 12 team, including 10 on offense. They’ll be buoyed by the return of quarterback Keith Price along with all of his top offensive weapons: running back Bishop Sankey, wide receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The defense will get nose tackle Danny Shelton and linebacker Shaq Thompson back as well.

Steve Sarkisian thought he had the team to win the Pac 12 last season, but came up short. Next season, he’ll have many of the same playmakers with another year of experience under their belt. Will that be enough for them to finally push their way to the top?

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4. Arizona State Sun Devils

Arizona State Sun Devils
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Todd Graham brought plenty of excitement in his first season to the Arizona State Sun Devils. ASU finished third in the South division with an 8-5 (5-4) with a dominant bowl win and gutsy rivalry win over Arizona to their credit. And Graham enjoyed a great offseason as well, getting Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton to return for his senior season and push the Sun Devils towards a possible division title.

In addition to Sutton, the Sun Devils welcome back defensive end Carl Bradford and safety Alden Darby on defense while Taylor Kelly returns at quarterback along with tight end Chris Coyle on offense. In all, ASU returns 15 starters on offense and defense to go along with a strong recruiting class. Graham has the pieces to keep his strong start in Tempe going for another season if the team can pick up where they left off in 2012.

It won’t be easy for the Sun Devils, though, who have a tough early season schedule that includes trips to Palo Alto to play Stanford and to Dallas to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Cowboys Stadium. They also welcome the Wisconsin Badgers and USC into town to round out a brutal opening month of the season. If ASU can get through that stretch strong and battle tested with a couple of wins, they’ll be set up to make a run for the division and possibly the conference championship.

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3. Oregon State Beavers

Oregon State Beavers
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Mike Riley worked some special kind of magic in Corvallis in 2012, leading the Oregon State Beavers to a 9-4 (6-3) record after being picked to finish near the bottom of the Pac 12 in most conference predictions. They were able to do so by finding key contributions all over the field from previously unknown players. Now that those players have stepped up, Oregon State won’t be surprising anybody in 2013.

The Beavers will bring back 15 starters on offense and defense including both quarterbacks who startd games last season in Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz. Presumably, one of them will be able to stay healthy and win the starting job, holding throughout the entire 2013 season. Whichever one does will be helped out by running back Storm Woods, who broke out in his freshman season, along with wide receiver Brandin Cooks. The defense, which was surprisingly one of the tougher units in the conference if not the country, returns their sacks leader Scott Crichton at defensive end along with linebacker D.J. Alexander.

Oregon State surprised the country by getting great performances out of young and previously unknown players. Now that they have stepped up and delivered on their potential, will Riley be able to get them to maintain that level of play?

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2. Oregon Ducks

Oregon Ducks
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The Oregon Ducks came within an overtime field goal of playing for a BCS National Championship. That lone loss to Stanford knocked them out of the hunt for the crystal football and their second straight Pac 12 Championship, but the Ducks were still flying high in 2012, finishing the year 12-1 (8-1) after a dominant Fiesta Bowl win over the Kansas State Wildcats.

Their efforts will be helped by the return of 15 starters on offense and defense, headlined by a lot of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. They’re led by Pac 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year Marcus Mariota at quarterback who will get to expand his game with touchdown-waiting-to-happen De’Anthony Thomas as a running back/wide receiver and Josh Huff at wide receiver. The defense loses several key contributors but returns their top cover man Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

The departure of Chip Kelly to the NFL leaves some doubts about how much next year’s Oregon team will resemble this year’s dynamic squad. But Mark Helfrich should make the transition easier moving from offensive coordinator to head coach and he’s got plenty of weapons to play with to keep the high-flying offense rolling in Eugene.

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1. Stanford Cardinal

Stanford Cardinal
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The Stanford Cardinal rose to the top of the Pac 12 in 2012, winning the conference championship in dramatic fashion over UCLA. David Shaw seamlessly replaced the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft in Andrew Luck and won his second straight Pac 12 Coach of the Year award as Stanford rolled to a 12-2 (8-1) record. He’ll need to put his ability to reload to use once again in 2013 if he wants to keep Stanford on top of a very top-heavy race.

He’ll need to work his magic in order to replace three of his top offensive weapons in running back Stepfan Taylor and tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo to the NFL. He’s helped by the fact that he’s settled on his quarterback for the future in Kevin Hogan and returns several key contributors to a top-rated Stanford defense in linebacker Shayne Skov, defensive end Ben Gardner and safety Ed Reynolds. In all, 15 starters on offense and defense will come back to The Farm to defend Stanford’s conference crown.

With their quarterback in place along with one of the toughest offensive lines in the country and a hard-nosed defense, Shaw and the Cardinal have laid the foundation to remain one of the premier teams in the Pac 12 and possibly take the next step towards one of the premier teams in all of college football. With their eyes set on a return trip to Pasadena, the question becomes whether they’ll be going for the Rose Bowl or the BCS National Championship.

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