USC Trojans: Baylor Bears
2. Turnaround II: After a 6-1 start last season, USC finished 1-5, then started this season 3-2. Goodbye, Lane Kiffin. Hello, interim head coach Ed Orgeron. The Trojans have gone 4-1 under Orgeron. They have played better defense. The offense put up 62 points against Cal last Saturday, two more than USC scored in its previous three games combined. The Trojans host No. 4 Stanford Saturday night. The Cardinal defense will serve as a benchmark for the level of the Trojans offense. The game also might serve as Turnaround III: the last USC head coach to beat Stanford was Pete Carroll (2008).
3. In the meantime, Turnaround III: Duke is 7-2 and looking to win eight games for the first time since 1994, when the Blue Devils began the season 7-0. That team finished the season 8-4, thanks to a pair of one-point losses to neighbors North Carolina State and North Carolina. This Duke team seems different. These Blue Devils are 3-0 on the road, and they have won five straight for the first time since, yep, ’94. The last Duke team to win nine? 1941, which ended with the Blue Devils playing in the Rose Bowl on the Duke campus.
If you don't like where you finished in the power rankings, you should have played better.
See the pre-bowl-season power rankings here.
1. Stanford: Oregon received a higher final national ranking, and you could make a decent challenge in favor of the Ducks. They didn't get upset by Washington, didn't play a lot of close games and beat a top-five team in the Fiesta Bowl. But, on Nov. 17, the Cardinal went to Eugene and took care of business. Stanford is the Pac-12 champion, and Oregon is not. Ergo, Stanford sits atop the power rankings. And 2013 looks pretty darn good, too.
2. Oregon: The cherry on the top of another special season for Oregon is the return of coach Chip Kelly. And we're of the mind that, if not for the slip against Stanford, Oregon would be sitting atop college football this morning after a fine evening of frolic in South Florida. The Ducks and Stanford will be national title contenders again in 2013. And guess which two teams are going to top the first 2013 power rankings?
3. Oregon State: The loss to Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl was baffling. The Beavers were a superior team that seemed to be looking for ways to lose in the fourth quarter. The quarterback carousel needs to be resolved. But the Beavers still won nine games, and their 6-3 conference record overcomes UCLA because of a head-to-head win on the road. Nice bounce back after consecutive losing seasons.
4. UCLA: Yes, the Bruins flopped in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl against Baylor, but it's impossible not to see Year 1 under Jim Mora as a success, made even more notable by USC's flop. Like last season, the Bruins won the South Division, but this time they earned it.
5. Arizona State: The Sun Devils won their final three games for the first time since 1978. That's how you go into an offseason with optimism. We hear a lot about "culture change" from programs with new coaches. The Sun Devils' culture change under Todd Graham was made manifest by what happened on the field.
6. Arizona: The Wildcats did better than expected in Year 1 under Rich Rodriguez, and the season would have been a complete success if not for what happened against that team from up north. That loss hurts, but quality wins over Oklahoma State, USC and Washington, as well as an overtime game with Stanford, show this team competed better than in recent years.
7. Washington: The Huskies finishing 7-6 against a brutal schedule probably was close to preseason expectations. But the two-game losing streak to end the season, which included a dreadful meltdown in the Apple Cup to Washington State, quashed the momentum a four-game winning steak from Oct. 27 to Nov. 17 had built. Perhaps that will make the Huskies hungrier in 2013, when they have a nice array of talent returning.
8. USC: The Trojans' season was a complete disaster. USC started out at No. 1 but turned in a white flag performance while losing a sixth game in the Hyundai Sun Bowl to a middling Georgia Tech team. The Trojans were eclipsed by rivals UCLA and Notre Dame while wasting the much-ballyhooed return of QB Matt Barkley. Coach Lane Kiffin will be sitting on one of the nation's hottest seats in 2013. We've been over this a few times.
9. Utah: The Utes' move up in class from the Mountain West Conference is proving tougher than some imagined. Utah missed out on playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2002, and there were issues on both sides of the ball. The Utes need an upgrade in talent and overall depth, sure, but consistent quarterback play would be a good place to start. Therein lies hope with promising freshman Travis Wilson.
10. California: A dreadful 3-9 finish ended Jeff Tedford's tenure in Berkeley after 11 seasons. In early October, after consecutive wins over UCLA and Washington State, it seemed as though the Bears might be poised for a rally. Alas, they lost their final five games, including a horrid performance in a 62-14 drubbing at Oregon State. Sonny Dykes has enough returning talent to produce significant improvement in the fall.
11. Washington State: New coach Mike Leach's season was bad on the field and off, but it ended on a notable uptick with an Apple Cup win over Washington that included a comeback from an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit. Still, 3-9 took a bite out of the enthusiasm Leach's hiring initially generated.
12. Colorado: A horrid 1-11 finish that was capped by a controversial firing of Jon Embree after just two seasons. The Buffaloes are probably the worst AQ conference team over the past two seasons, and that is the considerable mess new coach Mike MacIntyre was hired to clean up. Of course, MacIntyre put together an impressive turnaround at San Jose State, so he looks like a good choice to bring the Buffs back to respectability.
Alabama, Baylor, California, Florida, Georgia Tech, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Oregon, Penn State, UCLA, USC and Washington all made the cut. Vanderdoes included in his tweet that he will be cutting that down to a top 10 group soon.
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Next year? Not so certain.
Of course, if USC quarterback Matt Barkley opts to return for his senior year, he'll instantly become the favorite. But who's betting he'll return? James also could return, but that seems unlikely. The same could be said for Washington running back Chris Polk.
USC receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee? Washington quarterback Keith Price? Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler? Cal wide receiver Keenan Allen? Washington State wide receiver Marquess Wilson? Utah running back John White?
My take: Woods and Oregon's multipurpose threat De'Anthony Thomas are the Pac-12's top candidates, as of today.
But this uncertainty is not just a Pac-12 thing. As the venerable Heisman Pundit points out, it should be a wide open race nationally. It's quite possible that the preseason list of Heisman candidates won't include the eventual winner (and, really, who had Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III in their Heisman pool in August?).
The race for the 2012 Heisman appears to be wide open, especially assuming you can cross the following names off this year’s top 10 in the voting list due to either early entry into the NFL draft or expiration of eligibility:
1. Robert Griffin III
2. Andrew Luck
3. Trent Richardson
4. Montee Ball
5. Tyrann Mathieu
6. Matt Barkley
7. Case Keenum
8. Kellen Moore
9. Russell Wilson
10. LaMichael James
Whereas this past season had five of the top six finishers in the Heisman race returning, it’s very likely that nine of 10 from this season will not return (something that hasn’t happened since 2005). That means the race for the 2012 Heisman is likely to be wide open, with no real front runner in place.
And HP is not a believer in Mathieu coming back and winning next fall.
He does, however, make his own list, which includes Thomas but not Woods. He also includes USC running back Curtis McNeal.
On Thomas: "An electric will o’ the wisp who can score on the ground, in the air or by returning kicks and punts. Should be the star of yet another fine Oregon team."
On McNeal: "The USC running back position is a favorite of Heisman voters. McNeal averaged 120 yards per game and nearly 7 yards per carry in his last six games, which could point to an even bigger season in 2012."
Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson likely starts out the 2012 season as the favorite, which probably means he won't win -- see Luck. After that, everyone is just going to list returning offensive players who had good numbers in 2011.
Instead, he opted to return for his redshirt junior year, spent much of the season as the prohibitive Heisman favorite but finished second to Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III on Saturday.
If any of you are worried about Luck being crushed by disappointment, we'd like to reassure you that things will likely be OK for him. Something is sure to come up in terms of career options, we suspect. We hear he's got some real talent as an architect.
Matt Barkley, QB, USC: If Barkley returns for his senior year, he will be on everyone's preseason shortlist. He might even be considered the favorite. He'd have a high-profile team that should win, plenty of name recognition, and a supporting cast that could help him put up big numbers.
LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: Most would project James entering the NFL draft. But perhaps this will intrigue him: If he returns for his senior year and produces a fourth consecutive 1,500-yard season, he'd become the conference's all-time leading rusher, easily breaking USC's Charles White's 6,245 mark, set from 1976-79. That also, of course, would probably get him another invitation to New York for the Heisman ceremony.
Robert Woods, WR, USC: Woods will be a consensus preseason All-American. If Barkley comes back, Woods likely would play second fiddle. But if Barkley leaves, Woods still figures to put up good numbers, even with a first-year starter at quarterback. On the downside -- which is really an upside -- fellow receiver, sophomore Marqise Lee, is also an All-American candidate.
De'Anthony Thomas, WR/RB, Oregon: Thomas was just freak-show good in so many different ways in 2011 as a true freshman that he seems almost certain to become a Heisman candidate. In fact, he might be the most likely player on this list to get invited to New York because he's definitely coming back and a lot of folks already know who he is.
Chris Polk, RB, Washington: Polk is likely off to the NFL, but if he opts to return he and quarterback Keith Price would make plenty of preseason Heisman lists. Polk should put up big numbers as a rusher but his ability as a receiver would also give him a chance to put up big numbers. The Huskies will need to take another step in terms of win-loss record, though, for his candidacy to gain any momentum.
Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State: Wilson has been highly productive for two seasons. But what if new coach Mike Leach helps him put up ludicrous numbers and the Cougars start winning? Hey, you never know.
Wildcats can’t score in first loss: Both Northwestern and Baylor entered Sunday’s contest undefeated, but you wouldn’t know it from the result. Baylor won 69-41, holding Northwestern to 24.1 percent from the field. It was the worst shooting performance by the Wildcats in nearly 10 years. The 41 points are the fewest Northwestern has scored in its home court since a 40-39 win over North Florida in 2006. Meanwhile, Baylor was 25-for-30 from two-point range, an 83.3 two-point field-goal percentage that is their highest over the past 15 years.
Freshmen shine off the bench: A pair of freshmen starred off the bench on Saturday in Connecticut’s 75-62 win over Arkansas. Playing in just his second game, Ryan Boatright led the Huskies with 23 points, adding five rebounds and six assists. He’s the first UConn freshman with a 20-5-5 game off the bench since Kemba Walker against Missouri in the 2009 Elite Eight. Meanwhile, B.J. Young led all scorers with a career-high 28 points in the losing effort. It was the third most points by a freshman off the bench this season. The rest of the Razorbacks combined to shoot 24.6 percent from the field.
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