Power Ranking Every Pac-12 Football Team Post-Spring Practice
There's nothing quite like power ranking each Pac-12 team post-spring practice to stir up some emotion among the fanbases.
It's only April, and yes, barring significant developments (read: injuries, off-field issues, etc.), you shouldn't expect the order to change much between now and the start of the season.
If you read every piece of information written about each team throughout the previous two months, you'd think the Pac-12 has 12 teams primed to reach bowl games and at least four or five championship contenders. After all, optimism abounds in the spring and rarely do negative developments take center stage.
Oregon losing wide receiver Bralon Addison to injury may be the most noteworthy (and unfortunate) news of the year to date, but it's safe to assume that every team worked hard, got better and is at a good spot heading into the summer months.
So how do these 12 teams stack up? Are there any major changes from how you saw things two months ago? As always, click ahead to find out where we see the Pac-12 as its teams head into the last few lonely months without football.
12. Cal Bears
The Cal Bears kick off the party (can we call it that for the bottom half of the list?) and for good reason: The team won just one game in 2013. That's three fewer games than any other team in the league.
Whether it was an aberration or simply coach Sonny Dykes struggling to implement his system in year one, the Bears have a lot to prove. Unless Aaron Rodgers was granted an extra year of college eligibility and Marshawn Lynch used his magical skittles powers to morph into his 20-year-old self, this team wasn't going to be any higher than No. 12 regardless of what happened during spring practice.
There are two things that must happen if the Bears hope to get back to at least four or five victories in 2014. The first is that the team must be very self-aware of what it needs to do to make Dykes' system work. That means owning what went wrong in 2013 and learning how to fix it.
The second thing is that quarterback Jared Goff, even as a true sophomore, must become the unquestioned leader in the locker room. He dealt with as tough of a year one as you could possibly imagine and still played some solid ball. If those things happen, Cal could take a giant leap forward in the power rankings.
11. Colorado Buffaloes
The hope here is that Colorado fans won't look at the No. 11 spot as a "hooray, we're not last!," but rather, "how much higher can we move up before the end of the 2014 season?"
In recent years, Colorado was the Pac-12 doormat and a squad that was routinely blown out of games. However, four wins in 2013 seemed to signal the start of an upward climb, which just happens to coincide with both the hire of Mike MacIntyre and the emergence of quarterback Sefo Liufau.
Now, with a few more players in place who are capable of taking over games at the college level, it's all about consistency and taking away mistakes that once led to bad defeats. On defense, linebacker Addison Gillam has All-Pac-12 talent, and the Buffaloes should be hungry for the taste of winning more than just four games.
Will MacIntyre's team reach a bowl game? It might still be a year away from that, but this is a team that should be able to hang tough with most of the schools on its schedule.
10. Utah Utes
It's difficult to say exactly where Utah might rank if quarterback Travis Wilson had been able to finish out the rest of the 2013 season, but even in his time as the starting signal-caller, we saw enough to know that Utah was far from contending in the rugged Pac-12.
Still, the Utes took both UCLA and Oregon State down to the wire and even knocked off a then-undefeated Stanford team. The issues, however, involved never quite getting both the offense and defense on the same page.
When Wilson and the offense were humming against the Beavers, the defense was unable to come up with stops. When the defense was slowing down Marcus Mariota and the Ducks, it was the offense that couldn't do its part.
In any case, having Wilson back provides an immense boost to the entire team. If he can return to top form and the defense plays more like what we're used to seeing from a Kyle Whittingham-coached team, the Utes should be bowl-bound once again in 2014.
9. Washington State Cougars
Mike Leach has come in and already made some dramatic changes within the Washington State football program, many of which led directly to the Cougars' first bowl appearance since the invention of the forward pass (it's actually only been since 2003, but you get the point).
Despite blowing a lead against Colorado State, the Cougars should be feared by everyone in 2014. Why? Because of Leach's air-it-out attack that forces defenses to play great throughout the game and harrass the quarterback as often as possible.
If quarterback Connor Halliday gets time to throw, good luck holding this team under 30. The top six pass-catchers all return, and that includes mammoth wideout Vince Mayle who looks like a linebacker on the field.
The biggest issue will be replacing safety Deone Bucannon on defense, but the offense should keep Leach's squad in the majority of its games, and you can pretty much guarantee Washington State will notch an upset or two in the fall. That means Oregon, Stanford and Washington should be on the lookout.
8. Oregon State Beavers
Oregon State was the most difficult team to rank, mainly because of who the Beavers lost in the offseason.
On defense, it was defensive end Scott Crichton who helped the unit maintain a pulse (albeit a slow, lifeless one) when it may have otherwise been the worst group in the country. On offense, wideout Brandin Cooks turned what would have likely been a solid unit into a downright deadly one.
We know what Mike Riley has in quarterback Sean Mannion; a gunslinger who can make all the throws and who, with time in the pocket, will pick apart any defense in the Pac-12. But the question from that side of the ball is whether or not the end-of-year run production was a sign of things to come and if anybody besides Richard Mullaney will help out at receiver.
Then on defense, it's all about which names will step up in the front seven to help what should be a solid secondary. The Beavers have the talent and coaching to surprise everyone and notch eight or nine wins. But a few bad breaks or flaws in team chemistry could also send the squad spiraling into just five or six wins in 2013.
7. Arizona Wildcats
You could probably make a case for Arizona to be behind Oregon State; you could also make a case that the Wildcats should be ahead of the next several teams as well.
Ultimately, it's the uncertainty at quarterback that puts Rich Rodriguez's team in the No. 7 spot on our countdown. Jesse Scroggins, Connor Brewer and Anu Solomon all have the qualities Rodriguez likes to have in his signal-callers, and you've got to think that given what he was able to do with B.J. Denker in just one year, the eventual starter will be quite the weapon.
In addition to the quarterback battle, however, the loss of running backs Ka'Deem Carey and Daniel Jenkins stings. At receiver, you have probably the deepest, most talented group in the entire conference, led of course by Austin Hill.
Believe it or not, the defense allowed fewer than 25 points per contest in 2013, and should that side of the ball continue to get better, the Wildcats will not only reach another bowl game, but perhaps they will also even contend for the South Division title.
6. Washington Huskies
The arrival of Chris Petersen in Seattle has created some major buzz around a Washington program looking to break through and become the power in the northwest that it once was. Steve Sarkisian took the "dawgs"out of the cellar, and now Petersen is hoping to reach the penthouse.
To do that, however, he'll have to find ways to replace quarterback Keith Price, running back Bishop Sankey and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the three most important players from the 2013 offense.
It remains to be seen what will happen with Cyler Miles, the signal-caller who replaced an injured Price toward the end of the season. Miles showed promise, but his backup, Jeff Lindquist, is a complete unknown at this point.
The defense should be even better than last year when it allowed fewer than 23 points per game, especially if linebacker Shaq Thompson and linemen Danny Shelton take another step forward. The Huskies are by no means an easy out in 2014, but it may take a year or so for the skill players to get used to the system and give the team a shot at the conference title.
5. Arizona State Sun Devils
We're now hitting the point in our power rankings where there may be some disagreement. Actually, let's all be honest; half of you have disagreed with every pick thus far. Yet we move on, undeterred, and next up is Arizona State.
After reaching the Pac-12 title game in 2013, the Sun Devils have some major questions to answer on defense after losing key players from every level, namely defensive tackle Will Sutton and linebacker Carl Bradford.
But Todd Graham continues to pull in talent, and if the Sun Devils can get some key stops here and there, it may be all the offense needs. That's because starting quarterback Taylor Kelly put up Mariota-esque numbers in accounting for more than 4,000 yards of offense to go along with 37 touchdowns.
He'll have the benefit of throwing to a strong, physical wideout in Jaelen Strong and D.J. Foster remains a threat both on the ground and through the air out of the backfield.
Whether this is a team that returns to the conference title game or one that simply can't keep up with UCLA will depend on the defense. But if you can't put up a decent chunk of points against the Sun Devils in 2014, you aren't walking away with a win.
4. USC Trojans
"Really? USC at No. 4?"—says fans of every Pac-12 team besides USC. "We're only at 4? You're nuts!"—says every born-and-bred Trojans supporter.
We'll compromise with both sides and put USC just a notch below the upper-tier teams in the conference but with the full understanding that no one would be shocked to see Sarkisian's team reach the Pac-12 title game in 2014.
Sarkisian himself has to prove that he can do more than lead a team to a mediocre bowl game, but he'll get the chance to do so with more talent than he ever had at Washington. Cody Kessler had a better first year than most people remember after throwing for 20 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards.
The running back stable is loaded, with Javorius Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis leading the charge, and the defense, with a loaded secondary and big Leonard Williams up front, is beginning to look an awful lot like the Trojans of '04-'09. Can they put it all together? The answer to that question will determine whether USC is higher or lower in the power rankings at the end of the season.
3. Stanford Cardinal
The reigning Pac-12 champions fall to the No. 3 spot, and though it might not make too many folks happy, there's certainly good reason behind the move.
Let's start on offense, where quarterback Kevin Hogan has had to rely on those around him to lead his team to victory more than the other way around. He's a tough, gritty leader to be sure, but he was never really forced to make big-time throws in clutch situations. Now, he'll be without Tyler Gaffney as well as David Yankey up front.
Both Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste return to the receiving corps, but they'll need big seasons to help the Cardinal along as the running backs find their footing.
On defense, David Shaw's team will be without Ed Reynolds, Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy and Ben Gardner, among others. That's not only a major talent exodus, but it's a loss of leadership as well. With questions on defense and an up-in-the-air running game on offense (which is Shaw's bread and butter), the Cardinal will have to do some proving for doubters such as yours truly wrong once again in 2014.
To be clear, this is still a top-15 team. They're just a notch below the following two teams as we exit spring practice.
2. UCLA Bruins
As one of the premier weapons in the country, it will be up to quarterback Brett Hundley to help UCLA reach its full potential in 2014. He has a big arm, the knowledge of several years in the system and the athleticism to hurt defenses in a variety of ways.
He'll rely early and often on the tandem of Paul Perkins and Jordon James in the backfield as the receiving corps, though talented, is young and has a lot to prove. Up front, the loss of Xavier Su'a-Filo at guard hurts a bit, but the rest of the unit is back and should be among the best offensive lines in the league.
There are questions at linebacker where the Bruins are without Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt, but perhaps you've heard of Myles Jack and Eric Kendricks? They're not too shabby. Eddie Vanderdoes and Owamagbe Odighizuwa will be a terrible (in a good way) twosome on the line, giving UCLA the best front seven in the conference.
What does it all mean? Well, if everything comes together, Jim Mora's squad has a shot at the inaugural college football playoff. Several players will have to step up at receiver, and the secondary must make some forward strides, but UCLA should be one of the best teams in the country next fall.
1. Oregon Ducks
The Oregon Ducks haven't won the Pac-12 since 2011 and failed to reach a BCS game in 2013 for the first time since the conclusion of the 2008 season. But Eugene is still home to a quarterback named Marcus Mariota, and last we checked, he's pretty darn special.
Mariota alone wouldn't be enough to put the Ducks atop the list, but four out of five starters returning along the offensive line will help, as does the return of both Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner in the backfield. Add a deep tight end group to the mix and you have an offense that has just one major question mark: receiver.
Depth will be an issue along the defensive line, but the linebackers should be steady after a mediocre 2013 campaign, and the secondary, led by cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, should vie for the honor of being the league's best.
Can Oregon break through and reach the mountaintop next season? The Ducks aren't without their flaws, but they still have the most explosive offense in the conference and a talented defense hungry to erase last year's late-season woes. Heading into summer, Oregon is the best team in the Pac-12.
All stats via cfbstats.com.