WSU/Pac-12 story lines
The first year of the Pac-12 doesn’t seem to be fair or balanced. In the North, there’s Oregon and Stanford, ranked third and seventh in the nation, respectively. In the South, there’s USC, Arizona State and a bunch of question marks. But the Trojans, ranked 25th, are ineligible for the first Pac-12 title game Dec. 2 and ASU has been racked by injuries.
The Heisman hunt
Stanford returns 2010 Heisman runner-up quarterback Andrew Luck, who enters the season as Sports Illustrated’s pick to win the award, which just might be unlucky. But Luck wasn’t the only Pac-12 player in New York last season. Oregon running back LaMichael James finished third in the balloting. And James isn’t the only Heisman candidate on his team. Quarterback Darron Thomas will pick up interest as the season wears on if the Ducks continue to win. There are always darkhorse candidates and the Pac-12 will have its share, quite possibly UW running back Chris Polk and Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, but only if their teams post some early surprises.
Other players to watch
The conference features more stars – and future stars – than those listed above. The term explosive comes to mind when talking about Arizona’s Juron Criner, USC’s Robert Woods and WSU’s Marquess Wilson, all deep-threat receivers. It also comes to mind when talking about ASU linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who already has gotten into a locker-room fight with a teammate. Punishing is a good word to use to describe Stanford guard David DeCastro and USC safety T.J. McDonald. And no better word than quick describes ASU defensive end Junior Onyeali and Oregon corner/kick returner Cliff Harris, though Harris turned out to be too quick on Interstate 5 this summer when he was clocked driving at 118 miles per hour.
What are the answers?
There’s not a team in the Pac-12 that doesn’t have questions, including favorites Oregon – what will happen with the Willie Lyles investigation? – and Stanford – how will the rebuilt Cardinal offensive line hold up? Some are just more important than others. Can Utah stand up to the rigors of a BCS conference? Will the preseason injuries be too much for Oregon State and Arizona State to overcome? Is coach Rick Neuheisel’s hot-seat status a distraction for UCLA? Can Washington get good enough quarterback play to take the pressure off Polk? How about California and its new transfer quarterback? Does Colorado respond to new coach Jon Embree? Will Washington State win enough games to ensure Paul Wulff another season? When will the NCAA sanctions really begin to show at USC? Can Arizona’s new offensive line produce results?