Pac-12 teams preparing for big changes come fall

David Shaw noticed it everywhere he walked on the Stanford

campus this spring.

Since Andrew Luck was drafted No. 1 overall by the Indianapolis

Colts, the buzz surrounding football has faded. Getting students –

and even his players – focused on the future has been a challenge

with so much of the attention revolving around the departure of the

two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up.

”I’m not going to lie,” Shaw said, ”there’s still a little

bit of an Andrew Luck hangover going on here.”

Change is in the air across the Pac-12 Conference again.

Luck and LaMichael James of Oregon are sporting NFL uniforms. A

third of the teams have new coaches and even the role of the

conference’s crown jewel – the Rose Bowl – might be morphing into

something else as the BCS explores a playoff system.

Oh, and those mighty Trojans down in Southern California, led by

Heisman Trophy candidate Matt Barkley, are no longer under NCAA

sanctions and are postseason eligible for the first time in two

years. That alone could lead to a power shift – particularly with

three-time defending champion Oregon and a stout Stanford program

replacing several starters – come fall.

”Maybe there’s a little bit different attitude as far as

confidence because they experienced some success toward the end of

last year,” said USC coach Lane Kiffin, speaking on a

teleconference with other league coaches Tuesday. ”So I think

they’re very confident. But I don’t think there’s any different

feeling because we’re eligible for a bowl game or not.”

Coping with change has been a theme this offseason for almost

everyone else.

Gone are UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel, Arizona State’s Dennis Erickson,

Washington State’s Paul Wulff and Arizona’s Mike Stoops. Entering

are Jim Mora, Todd Graham, Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez.

Utah and Colorado, coming off disappointing debuts in the

expanded conference, are still trying to find their way. And

coaches Kyle Whittingham and Jon Embree will face even more

pressure to prove the Utes and Buffaloes belong.

”I don’t know if you can term it a learning experience,”

Whittingham said, ”but I can tell you our guys are excited for

their second go-around.”

The biggest changes still remain at the top.

Stanford had four players drafted in the first 42 picks of the

draft – Luck, guard David DeCastro, tight end Coby Fleener and left

tackle Jonathan Martin – and co-defensive coordinator Jonathan

Tarver headed across the bay to the Oakland Raiders. James is now

with former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh at the San Francisco 49ers,

and the Quack Attack also needs to find a replacement for

lightning-quick quarterback Darron Thomas.

Couple that with the additions of offensive innovators Rodriguez

and Leach – whom Cougars defensive coordinator Mike Breske said

called passing plays 70-75 percent of the time this spring, joking

that league stadiums ”better have lights” because ”the ball is

going to be in the air” constantly – and the margin for error

could be slim.

”Our competition is at a level most people East of the

Mississippi don’t understand,” Shaw said. ”I think our conference

is as tough as anybody top to bottom.”

That wasn’t the case last year.

The South Division was so awful that the Bruins had to petition

the NCAA to remain bowl eligible after a 49-31 loss at Oregon in

the inaugural league title game left UCLA with a 6-7 record. The

Ducks and Cardinal turned the North into a two-team race from the

start, and the only thing really left to decide by Thanksgiving was

where the league’s top three teams – including USC – should land in

the polls.

Even that debate still rages.

Most Pac-12 coaches agree that, no matter how a proposed

four-team playoff system for the BCS national championship shakes

out, the Rose Bowl’s role shouldn’t be diminished and how the

standings are calculated is paramount. Finding a consensus on

everything from the amount of teams to include – with most wanting

more than four – to where the games are played is unlikely.

”I would like to see the top team in the state of Oregon get an

automatic bid,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly joked.

The league finished with three teams in the top seven of the

final AP poll – No. 4 Oregon, No. 6 USC and No. 7 Stanford. The BCS

standings, which include the coaches’ poll, provided enough drama

and frustration for one rookie coach to learn at least a lesson

heading into next season.

”I don’t want to be a voter again,” Shaw said, ”because I

think it’s impossible.”

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