The Pac-12 North has developed into a deep and powerful division over the last couple of seasons. Oregon and Stanford have cemented themselves as national powerhouses since 2009, and Oregon State and Washington have proven that they are bursting at the seams with potential, regularly bouncing in and out of the Top 25.
Even Cal, who always plays its division foes in a tight manner, and Washington State have played host to some excellent talent since the Pac-10 became the Pac-12 in 2011. Sonny Dykes and Mike Leach will be looking to turn their respective programs around in the coming years, and may have the talent to do it.
Looking at the six teams from the Pac-12 North, it becomes clear that it is a potent division. As Oregon State proved last season, any one of these teams could burst onto the scene and become a force to be reckoned with. For now, however, here are my Pac-12 North power rankings heading into the 2013 season.
6. Washington StateNov. 23, 2012; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach glances up at the scoreboard against Washington Huskies during the second half at Martin Stadium. The Cougars would go onto beat the Huskies by a final score of 31-28 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
The Cougars looked as though they may break out heading into the 2012 season under new head coach Mike Leach. However, their season fell apart when star wideout Marquess Wilson left the team after accusing Leach of abusing his players.
Washington State ended up finishing 3-9 overall with only one conference win, but they did manage to play Oregon and Stanford relatively close, at least in the first half. The Cougars do have a decent quarterback in Connor Halliday as well as two promising young receivers in Gabe Marks and Dominique Williams. However, there are too many unknowns on both sides of the ball to put them any higher than No. 6.
Cal is one of those teams that could easily make a push to
end the season much higher up in the standings. With good amounts of talent returning on both sides of the ball, including a true playmaker in Brendon Bigelow and a standout safety in Avery Sebastian, the Bears have some of the necessary key pieces to return to the national spotlight.
However, with Zach Maynard out of the picture, the quarterback situation is up in the air, and the transition away from Jeff Tedford to Sonny Dykes will likely put the team through some turbulence. Nonetheless, the Bears are always a force at home, and tend to step it up a notch against division foes.
4. Oregon StateDec 29, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oregon State Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion (4) warms up prior to kick off against the Texas Longhorns of the Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
The Beavers came out of nowhere in 2012 to spend most of the season ranked in the nation’s Top 20. Excellent talent at the offensive skill positions such as receiver and running back will make the team explosive once again, and will combine with defensive standouts such as Scott Crichton and Michael Doctor to make Mike Riley’s squad a potent one.
Still, is it going to be Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz under center? Both have proven themselves as solid starters, but a team can only do so much without a true leader cemented at quarterback. Nonetheless, this is a good problem to have, and the Beavers return enough talent on both sides of the ball to remain in the Top 25 in 2013.
This feels like it will finally be the year that Washington breaks out and becomes a true contender in the Pac-12.
We’ve been saying it for a few years now, but with Keith Price returning alongside Bishop Sankey, Kasen Williams, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and a plethora of young talent and upside on the defensive side of the ball, Steve Sarkisian has the tools to compete for a Pac-12 North championship.
Price needs to become a bit more consistent under center, though he has proven himself to be a good leader for this team. The potential is there, but it’s time the Huskies converted it into something special, starting with a rematch against Boise State to open the 2013 campaign.
2. StanfordApril 13, 2013; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) passes the football during the Cardinal
It’s hard to put Stanford at No. 2 rather than No. 1, but there are a few reasons for it. Perhaps most importantly, Pac-12 teams will have spent all off-season figuring out how to stop Kevin Hogan. The young quarterback is outstanding, and a true magician with the ball in his hands, but he no longer has the extremely reliable pieces around him, such as Zach Ertz and Stepfan Taylor, that played such a big part in allowing him to extend plays in the pocket.
The Cardinal return immense amounts of talent, especially on defense, but the offense lacks true playmakers, especially at wide receiver. Stanford will likely remain a power-oriented team, and continue to pound the ball and play great defense, but it might not be enough to beat out Oregon’s elite athleticism on both sides of the ball.
The Ducks have been consistently dominant since 2009 when Chip Kelly took over as head coach, and even with
the transition to Mark Helfrich, this year should be no different. Marcus Mariota was one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation last year, and Oregon lacks no firepower on the offensive side of the ball.
The biggest losses come in the front seven on defense. However, defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is always rotating players in and out, so it’s not as if the Ducks lack experience in that area. Ultimately, Oregon returns enough talent both on the field and on the sideline to continue its success, and losing to Stanford in 2012 may have lit enough of a fire under its belly to be unstoppable in 2013.