Expanded Pac-12 has big ambitions

Even before Utah visits Southern California for the first Pac-12

game on Sept. 10, Utes coach Kyle Whittingham is confident his

school is getting in on something big.

”You couldn’t be in a better place at a better time, as a

school or a program,” said Whittingham, whose Utes no longer need

to bust the BCS. ”This is a tremendous opportunity for everybody

involved in this conference.”

Utah and Colorado have joined the Pac-10 teams to form a league

from Seattle to Tucson, from Boulder to Berkeley – and its

footprint is just as big as its ambition.

The Pac-12 hasn’t lost its West Coast flair with the addition of

two mountain-based schools. The league still has several inventive

offenses and an impressive collection of star quarterbacks,

including Stanford’s Andrew Luck and USC’s Matt Barkley, while its

lucrative new television deal eventually will expose its stars to

an even broader audience.

Many of those stars are still at Oregon, which is favored to win

its third straight league title after last season’s run to the

national championship game. Yet the high-octane Ducks begin the

season under a cloud of NCAA investigation into coach Chip Kelly’s

questionable use of a recruiting service.

”It’s nice to be picked to win,” Kelly said. ”It’s nice to be

picked top-five in the country, but it doesn’t mean anything until

you go out and play the game, so that mindset won’t change.

Hopefully, our motivation comes from within.”

NORTH

OREGON – Key players: RB LaMichael James, QB Darron Thomas, DB

Cliff Harris, DB John Boyett, LB Josh Kaddu. Returning starters: 7

offense, 6 defense.

Notes: The Ducks are the class of the new conference after last

season’s unbeaten run through the Pac-10. … Coach Chip Kelly

doesn’t believe Oregon’s recruiting investigation will become a

distraction. … Oregon returns enviable offensive talent for

Kelly’s fast-paced scheme, including Heisman contender James. …

Harris is suspended for at least the season opener after allegedly

driving 118 mph with a suspended license. … Tough season opener

vs. LSU in Arlington, Tex.

STANFORD – Key players: QB Andrew Luck, RB Stepfan Taylor, LB

Shayne Skov, S Michael Thomas, OT Jonathan Martin. Returning

starters: 5 offense, 6 defense.

Notes: Coach Jim Harbaugh jumped to the 49ers after last

season’s stunning run to an Orange Bowl victory, leaving David Shaw

in charge. … Heisman runner-up Luck’s top two WRs are gone, but

Taylor returns. … Cardinal still have ample talent, but

recapturing last season’s unexpected momentum will be huge

challenge.

WASHINGTON – Key players: RB Chris Polk, QB Keith Price, WR

Jermaine Kearse, S Nate Fellner. Returning starters: 7 offense, 8

defense.

Notes: Huskies coming off first winning season since 2002. …

Won 4 straight to end season, including first bowl win since 2001.

… Price is likely replacement for Jake Locker, but Washington

will rely early on 1,400-yard rusher Polk and a sturdy defense.

CALIFORNIA – Key players: WR Keenan Allen, LB Mychal Kendricks,

OL Mitchell Schwartz, DB Sean Cattouse. Returning starters: 7

offense, 6 defense.

Notes: Golden Bears hope to bounce back from disappointing 2010,

which ended streaks of 8 straight winning seasons and 7 straight

bowl games. … Coach Jeff Tedford rehired offensive assistants Jim

Michalczik and Eric Kiesau, but Tedford plans to call plays. …

Cal will play most of its home games at San Francisco’s AT&T

Park while Memorial Stadium is renovated.

OREGON STATE – Key players: WR James Rodgers, S Lance Mitchell,

DT Kevin Frahm, OT Mike Remmers, LB Cameron Collins. Returning

starters: 7 offense, 4 defense.

Notes: Coming off 5-7 season and first bowl miss since 2005. …

Rodgers is back from two major knee surgeries, but coach Mike Riley

isn’t sure how much he can play. … With plenty of new players on

defense, Beavers will rely on offense and strong special teams.

WASHINGTON STATE – Key players: QB Jeff Tuel, WR Marquess

Wilson, WR Jared Karstetter, S Deone Bucannon, DE Travis Long.

Returning starters: 9 offense, 8 defense.

Notes: The Cougars have won just 5 games in their first three

seasons under coach Paul Wulff, who could be down to his last

chance. … Nonconference home opponents Idaho State and UNLV

provide good chance for 2-0 start.

SOUTH

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA – Key players: QB Matt Barkley, WR Robert

Woods, OT Matt Kalil, DL Nick Perry, S T.J. McDonald. Returning

starters: 6 offense, 7 defense.

Notes: Ineligible for postseason play in final season of bowl

ban. … Coach Lane Kiffin’s staff returns largely intact for 2nd

season after stocking roster with talent during NCAA sanctions

appeal. … Junior QB Barkley’s enviable targets include Woods and

touted newcomers Kyle Prater and George Farmer.

ARIZONA STATE – Key players: QB Brock Osweiler, RB Cameron

Marshall, RB Deantre Lewis, LB Vontaze Burfict, DE Junior Onyeali.

Returning starters: 11 offense, 9 defense.

Notes: All 5 starters return on coach Dennis Erickson’s

offensive line in front of Osweiler, the junior who led an OT win

over Arizona in his only start last season. … Sun Devils will

debut their slick new uniforms and helmets Sept. 1 vs. UC Davis.

… Burfict is a preseason defensive player-of-the-year choice by

multiple publications.

UTAH – Key players: QB Jordan Wynn, OL Tony Bergstrom, LB Brian

Blechen, DT Star Lotulelei, KR Shaky Smithson. Returning starters:

7 offense, 5 defense.

Notes: Utes are coming off 8 straight winning seasons in

Mountain West. … They got the luck of the draw in Pac-12

scheduling, avoiding Oregon and Stanford this season. … Wynn

should fit comfortably into the conference’s class of outstanding

QBs, but Utah must rebuild defense on the move.

ARIZONA – Key players: QB Nick Foles, WR Juron Criner, RB Keola

Antolin, LB Paul Vassallo, CB Trevin Wade. Returning starters: 5

offense, 7 defense.

Notes: Perpetually on-the-bubble coach Mike Stoops has led

Wildcats to three straight bowl games, but is 40-45 overall. …

Foles and his top 3 WRs return, but Wildcats must replace entire

starting offensive line.

UCLA – Key players: RB Johnathan Franklin, QB Kevin Prince, S

Tony Dye, LB Sean Westgate, DE Datone Jones. Returning starters: 7

offense, 8 defense.

Notes: Coach Rick Neuheisel knows he’s on hot seat at his alma

mater after just one winning season in 3 years, so he hired hungry

young coordinators Mike Johnson and Joe Tresey. … Bruins’ annual

injury woes already have started: QB prospect Brett Hundley hopes

to return mid-camp after tearing his meniscus playing

basketball.

COLORADO – Key players: QB Tyler Hansen, RB Rodney Stewart, S

Ray Polk. Returning starters: 9 offense, 8 defense.

Notes: New coach Jon Embree thinks Pac-12 is much better fit for

his alma mater than Big 12. He faces a high degree of debut

difficulty: After taking over a program with 5 straight losing

seasons, the Buffaloes play 13 games without a bye week. …

Colorado hasn’t won on the road since Oct. 27, 2007, but opens at

Hawaii on Sept. 3.