USC Last year, many had the Trojans playing in the BCS National Championship after QB Matt Barkley decided to come back for his senior season. Instead, the Trojans suffered through a miserable 2012 campaign, finishing a disappointing 7-6, after a loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. This year Barkley departs, but eight starters return to an offense that scored 32.1 PPG. A very experienced front wall has four returning starters, RB Silas Redd will be back, as will star receiver Marqise Lee who caught 118 balls last year, good for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. I actually look for the Trojan offense to put up solid numbers this season, despite a new signal caller. Poor play on the defense, really hurt the Trojans last year. Head coach Lane Kiffin made the tough decision to fire his dad, Monty, at the end of the season after he had served as defensive coordinator for the past three years. Seven starters return, including five of the six top tacklers. The secondary needs to replace two starters, but several highly touted recruits are ready to step up. The expectations are down a bit this year, but I think USC is flying under the radar, and will end up being a player in the BCS. Road games at Notre Dame and Arizona State are critical.
- KEY GAME……..NOVEMBER 16, HOSTING STANFORD
- THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH……QB Max Browne, WR Nelson Agholor, DT Antwaun Woods
- MY PREDICTION 11-2 OVERALL, 8-3 IN CONFERENCE
ARIZONA STATE The environment in Tempe changed quickly when head coach Todd Graham came to ASU last year. The Sun devils went from a 6-6 to an 8-5 mark including a huge 62-28 bowl victory over Navy. The Sun Devils are primed to make even a bigger jump this year as 15 starters return from last years squad! The offense which features QB Taylor Kelly and RB Marion Grice, will be very potent! Kelly, completed 67% of his tosses for 3,039 yards and 29 touchdowns. Grice added 684 yards on the ground and another 425 receiving. If the young receiving core develops, the offense should have NO trouble duplicating last years stellar 38.4 PPG. The defense is also loaded! The Sun Devils have one of the best defensive lines in the country, as all four starters return, including Will Sutton who turned down the NFL to return for his senior season. I think the defense will be better than last year’s 24.3 PPG. The schedule has several stern tests as they face both Wisconsin and Notre Dame out of conference. Road games at Stanford and UCLA will determine if ASU can crash the BCS party.
- KEY GAME ….. SEPTEMBER 21 AT STANFORD
- THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH…..WR Kevin Ozier, WR Alonzo Agwuenu, DB Damarious Russell
- MY PREDICTION – 10-2 OVERALL, 7-2 CONFERENCE
UCLA The Bruins head into the 2013 campaign with high hopes as head coach Jim Mora welcomes back QB Brett Hundley. Last year, Hundley led the Bruins to a 9-5 record, throwing for 3,740 yards 29 touchdowns, and rushing for 702 yards. They’ll need to replace Johnathon Franklin and his 1,819 yards on the ground. Junior RB Jordon James, figures to get the first shot, but the Bruins have several highly touted backs to choose from. The Bruins also lose TE Joseph Fauria and WR Jerry Johnson, but the good news is that four of five offensive linemen return. I expect the Bruins to be able to put up numbers similar to last year’s 34.4 PPG The defense is what concerns me for the Bruins. They lose six starters, and must replace the entire secondary! They do get back LB Anthony Barr and his 13.5 sacks, and DE Cassius Marsh. . The Bruins gave up 27.6 PPG last year and I think it will be extremely tough to match those numbers with a new secondary in a pass happy league,. The Bruins have a rough road schedule as they play Nebraska, Stanford, Oregon, Arizona, and USC all on the road.
- KEY GAME……NOVEMBER 15 HOSTING WASHINGTON
- THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH…..RB Jordon James, LB Jeremy Castro, DB Preist Willis
- MY PREDICTION 7-5 OVERALL, 5-4 CONFERENCE
ARIZONA The Wildcats could be one of the more intriguing teams in the country, and the fan base in Tucson is really excited about the upcoming season. Rich Rodriguez took over as head coach last year, and he immediately put his stamp on the high-octane offense. He directed them to a 7-5 record, followed by a tremendous come-from-behind bowl win over Nevada 49-48. The offense will be paced by running back KaDeem Carey. The multi-talented back ran for 1,975 yards and 23 touchdowns and added 36 receptions out of the backfield. I do expect quality play from the QB position even though there will be a new starter. However, it may be tough to approach the 38.2 PPG from last year. On defense, the Wildcats return all 11 starters from last year! The Wildcat “D” gave up 35.3 PPG last year. A look inside the numbers shows us that the Wildcats had only 16 sacks, and gave up 293 passing yards per game. Improving the pass rush will be critical in improving the defense. I do think they will be significantly better on this side of the ball, and if they can pull off an upset or two they could easily reach nine wins.
- KEY GAME…….11/9 versus UCLA
- THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH….. QB Jesse Scroggins, QB B J Denker, WR David Richards
- MY PREDICTION 7-5 OVERALL, 4-5 CONFERENCE
UTAH Transition to the PAC 12 has been tough on the Utes. In two years of Pac-12 play, the Utes have managed just a 7-11 conference mark. Sophomore QB Travis Wilson will be back to direct the Ute offense. He looks to improve on a freshman season that saw him throw for 1,311 yards with a 7-6 touchdown to interception ratio. Only five other starters return to the offense. Leading rusher John white, 1,085 yards and three offensive linemen need to be replaced. Wilson, does get back his top three receivers. Head coach Kyle Whittingham brought in Dennis Erickson to help with improving the offense. He will sever as Co-offensive coordinator with Brian Johnson. Overall with the edition of Erickson and improved play from Wilson, I see improvement over last years 26.7 PPG. The defense took a big step backwards last year. From 2006-11, the Utes allowed 20 or fewer PPG every season. Last year, that total went to 25.1 per game. The Utah D has six starters back, including the top four tacklers from last years squad. They should be strong along the defensive line and also at linebacker, but must replace three in the secondary. The schedule features two tough non-conference games against Utah State and BYU. They host Stanford, Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona State. For the Utes to have any shot at a bowl, they must win at least two of those games.
- KEY GAME…..NOVEMBER 9, HOSTING ARIZONA STATE
- THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH……RB Kelvin York, WR Andre Lewis, DB Keith McGill
- MY PREDICTION – 5-7 OVERALL, 3-6 CONFERENCE
COLORADO Mike MacIntyre takes over at head coach, after turning around the football fortunes at San Jose State. The rebuilding of the Colorado program has been going on now since 2007, the last time the Buffs went to a bowl game. He inherits a veteran team, as the Buffs have 16 starters returning from last years squad, including seven on offense. MacIntyre and offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren bring their high-powered offense with them from San Jose State. Typically new coaches in the first year of a new program struggle offensively, but with the top two receivers and top running back returning, Colorado may see improvement. The Buffs averaged only 17.8 PPG last year. On defense, nine starters return to a unit that allowed a whopping 46 PPG last year! The Buffs played many underclassmen on defense last year, and they’ll be much more experienced this season. I look for big strides to be made on this side of the ball. The Buffs have winnable games against Colorado State and Central Arkansas to start the season, but I don’t see them winning any games in conference play.
- KEY GAME…….SEPTEMBER 1 VS. COLORADO STATE
- THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH……QB Connor Wood, WR Paul Richardson, DE Samson Kafovalu
- MY PREDICTION 2-10 OVERALL, 0-9 CONFERENCE