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Pigskin Pete:    

Ducks, Cardinal Easily Top 2011
Pac12 National Honors
 by Fred Delkin

Barring any interference from the NCAA recruiting investigation results, Oregon is again poised to compete for a national title as the newly formed Pac12 conference enters its inaugural season.  Stanford is likely the only other league member likely to earn serious national attention.
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Both the Ducks and Cardinal are in the North division, which includes Washington, Washington State, Oregon State and California.  USC is the best squad in the South division, which includes Arizona State, Arizona, UCLA and newcomers Utah and Colorado.  The SC Trojans are ineligible, due to recruiting peccadilloes, for both a league title and a bowl bid.
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Here's a rundown on the Pac12 members:
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OREGON   the Ducks return not one, but two Heisman Trophy player prospects in halfback LaMichael James and QB Darron Thomas.  The offensive line is a tinge green, but all other positions have proven veterans returning.  The opening game is a national TV headliner with   Louisiana State.  UO defensive backfield star Cliff Harris will sit this one out, but will return for the balance of the schedule. Webfoot coach Chip Kelly Has already proven his leadership worth.
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STANFORD   The Cards have probably the best quarterback in all the land, Andrew Luck, returning, but lost some stellar rushing strength.  Nonetheless, new head coach David Shaw has a host of strong veterans returning and a resume' honed under the reign of Jim Harbaugh, now coaching the Fortyniners. Stanford went 13-1 last year, we expect them to be no worse than 9-3 this time around.  The Cards get Oregon in Palo Alto, which should be a do-or-die confrontation.
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WASHINGTON   Jake Locker now toils in the NFL and his replacement at QB will make or break this season.  The defense is good, the offense returns running star Chris Polk, so coach Steve Sarkisian should go bowling again.  We predict a 7-5 record as the Huskies play their home games at the Seattle Seahawks' Qwest Field while the campus kennel is being renovated.
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OREGON STATE   the Beavers slumped into a losing season last year and don't return enough proven talent to do more than break even in 2011.  There are major questions on both offense and defense. The return of QB Ryan Katz is a plus.
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CALIFORNIA   the Bears are on a search for a talented signal-caller.  Coach Jeff Tedford can produce a strong rushing attack, but suffers elsewhere and another losing season looms.
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WASHINGTON STATE   Coach Paul Wulff has gone 5-32 in his first three years with the Cougars, and this remains the sorriest squad entering a new season.  This should definitely be Wulff’s final performance in Pullman.  The Cougs do not have the talent to play in the majors and a 3-9 record would be a peasant surprise.
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SOUTHERN CAL   sanctions aside, the men of Troy are well stocked with proven players, including veteran QB Matt Barkley.  They can be expected to do no worse than 9-3, and if   the mean ol' NCAA weren't so harsh, they'd be odds-on favorites for the Pac12 southern crown.  Their late season expedition to Eugene will be well worth attending.
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ARIZONA STATE   Coach Dennis Erickson hasn't exceeded his national title-winning exploits at other institutions, and Sun Devil fans are growing very impatient.  Denny does have a returning QB star in Brick Orweiler and a vicious defense, which could propel him into another bowl outing.  We predict an 8-5 mark overall.
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UTAH   this newcomer has frequented major bowls under coach Kyle Willingham, but those credentials were earned as a member of the Mountain West conference.  We expect the Utes to go 7-5 in 2011 and retain their bowl standing.
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ARIZONA   the Wildcats return a standout QB in Nick Foles and Mike Stoops can coach, but an opening 2011 schedule that features Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon and USC should dampen any Wildcat ambitions for anything but a 6-6 record.
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UCLA   ll' Ricky Neuheisel has failed so far to buff up his coaching credentials, going 15-22 in his first three seasons at the Bruin helm.  It's significant that Norm Chow, who earned his reputation as a mentor at USC before going with Neuheisel, has abandoned the Bruins and taken his background to Utah.   Looks like 4-8 is what 2011 will total.
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COLORADO   the Buffalos were a perennial major bowl and national contender until their past two head coaching eras.  Things won't improve with their conference transfer.  The Gold & Black have perhaps the toughest 2011 schedule in the college major league, facing no less than 11 recent BCS major bowl-goers.  A 3-10 mark is likely.
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ROSES & RASPBERRIES posies to Portland State if Nigel Burton's second coaching term can   win in a new venue at a refurbished Civic Stadium, now dubbed Jeld-Wen Field by those sponsors of another form of football...nothing but resounding boos are deserved by a Portland City Council that utterly failed to find a home for a pro baseball team, which now seems likely to   show up in neighboring Vancouver... ooo 
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© 2011 Oregon Magazine