NCAA Football

The 2014 Pac-12 North pre-season power rankings

The 2013 college football saw the Pac-12 conference assert itself as one of the more dominant, and deepest, football conferences in the nation. For many college football fans, the conference’s emergence was a bit of a surprise; but to Pac-12 fans, the emergence of the conference was the result of schools pouring millions of dollars into athletic facilities and coaching staffs. Last year was a major success for Commissioner Larry Scott, and the conference athletic directors who have spent the last couple of years rebuilding their respective programs.

It is now up to the coaches and athletes to keep the momentum going into 2014.

The 2014 season for the Pac-12 honestly shouldn’t look all that different from it did in 2o13. Many of the conference’s teams are returning starters on both sides of the ball. As a result of that experience, the athletes should continue to improve off of where they were the previous season. And it will be interesting to see how that impacts the Pac-12 power rankings.

First up is the rankings for the North division, second will be the South, and third will be the overall conference ratings.

1) Stanford Cardinal: Stanford is returning seven starters from a defense that was ranked as the 10th best defense in college football (by Sports-Reference) in ’13. The Cardinal’s defensive strength should continue to be their defensive line, as it will continue to put all sorts of pressure on the opposing teams’ quarterbacks and disrupting the opposing offenses’s ability to function. It’s an extremely effective strategy that limited opposing QBs to a 253.8 yards per game.

The biggest question facing Stanford heading into 2014 is how the offensive line will respond to losing four starters from last season. If the offensive line can successfully handle the loss of those four linemen, then the Cardinal offense will continue to be able to pound the ball on the ground…and not turn it over. Stanford head coach David Shaw has had no problem recruiting O-linemen since he took over for former head coach Jim Harbaugh, so the offensive line should continue to be a strength for the team.

2) Oregon Ducks: The Ducks’ 2013 season was disappointing because of the team’s surprising loss to Arizona (in Tuscon) and near loss to the Beavers in the Civil War — not to many people are going to fault Oregon for losing to Stanford in Palo Alto. Oregon returns nine starters on the offensive side of the ball, including QB Marcus Mariota. As a result, the Ducks’ already dangerous offense should be even more dangerous in ’14.

A big question mark for the Ducks is the defense. Only five starters are returning for Oregon, from a defense that finished ranked as the 13th best in the country. The defense should still be dangerously talented, but its relative inexperience has to be a concern for Duck fans. After all, the more experienced defense that imploded over the last two regular season game — but was pretty good against Texas in the Alamo Bowl — but now the defense is lacking experienced athletes, and leadership. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays against he high scoring offenses of the Pac-12.

3) Washington Huskies: The Huskies biggest loss of the off-season wasn’t former QB Keith Price or any other player, it was head coach Steve Sarkisian. Sarkisian’s departure to USC stunned the college football world because he finally had a program that was not only talented but deep. While new head coach Chris Petersen is probably a better coach than Sarkisian, there is always a period of adjustment and attrition when a new head coach comes into a program. For Washington, this adjustment is coming shortly after the program surpassed the seven win mark for the first time since the 2000 season (also the last time the Huskies Rose Bowl appearance).

The good news for the program is that they are returning seven starters on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. This includes defensive tackle Danny Shelton, who was an absolute beast in the trenches last season. Outside of Shelton, the Huskies will also be returning linebacker Shaq Thompson; that’s a dangerous pass rushing duo for Washington and one of the reasons many people expect that the Huskies defense will be one of the top defenses in the conference in 2014.

4) Oregon State Beavers: The Beavers started off the 2013 season red-hot, they had a 5-1 record at the midway point it the season, but imploded to a 6-6 regular season finish (7-6 with a victory over Boise State). The Beavers are losing a lot of their offensive pieces — only six starters are returning in ’14 — and that should impact the team’s offensive production early on in 2014. Fortunately for the Beaver faithful, QB Sean Manion is returning for his senior season.

The difference maker for Oregon State is going to be the experience that they have on defense, eight starters are returning. OSU’s defense was often gashed on the ground by their opponents in 2013 — opponents averaged 190.3 rushing yards per game; that should change in 2014 as the front seven is where the majority of returning defensive starters play. If the defense can improve for Oregon State, look for them to win more ball games this season…and put some pressure on the Huskies in the standings.

5) Washington State Cougars: Washington State surprised the college football world by making a bowl game in 2013, head coach Mike Leach’s second season in charge. The Cougars were able to reach a bowl game because of some timely plays from their experienced secondary in ’13 — which included first round pick Deone Bucannon — and some explosive plays from the offensive side of the ball. As the Cougs head in to the 2014 season, the optimism about the program is sky-high.

The reality is that the Cougars still have several glaring holes on their starting roster, and the biggest one is the defensive secondary. WSU lost one of its starting safeties, and two of the corner backs that saw a significant amount of playing time in the ’13 season. This means that the Cougs are going to be throwing out talented, but inexperienced, underclassmen against the high-octane Pac-12 offenses. It’s going to come down to the ability of WSU’s offense to outscore the others…if the Cougs are going to go bowling in December, 2014.

6) California Golden Bears: The Golden Bears were an absolute disaster in 2013, head coach Sonny Dyke’s first season at the helm. Cal’s defense struggled to stop anybody as injuries rapidly ate away at the team’s depth chart. One thing that went the Golden Bears’ way last season was the introduction of (at the time) true freshmen QB Jared Goff; Goff became the starting QB early on in the 2013 season, and never looked back. His development is going to be crucial to Cal success in 2014.

Cal is also going to need to improve it’s defense heading into the 2014 season — the Golden Bears defense finished the 2013 season as the 123rd best defense in the country. It’s might be hard for Cal’s defense to improve though, as they only have six experienced starters coming back. Despite the fact that the defensive unit struggled in ’13, having experienced starters who have had already had learning experiences against Pac-12 opponents is a major benefit to any program. It’ll be interesting to see how the team performs in ’14, because Cal needs to improve quickly.

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