USC (9) – Last year, the Trojans were banned from postseason play, but still went 10-2, losing to Arizona State and Stanford in triple-overtime. The ban has been lifted, and USC is once again a title favorite. The Trojans are led by senior quarterback Matt Barkley, one of the best signal callers in the country. Its schedule is challenging, with games against Stanford, Oregon, and Notre Dame, but the Trojans should still be favorites in each of those match-ups.
Oregon (10) – The past few seasons, the Ducks have scheduled big-time non-conference opponents early in the season (Boise State, LSU). The one time it didn’t? 2010, the year Oregon played Auburn in the BCS National Championship. This year, the Ducks get Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech to open the season, and realistically don’t have a tough game until November 3rd at USC. The Ducks may have lost LaMichael James, but at Speed-U, they always have a running-back-in-waiting. Kenjon Barner should see the ball plenty for an offense that’s perennially ranked in the top ten. The USC/Oregon game and possible rematch in the PAC-12 Championship Game will be must-see-TV.
Why No Others? – Stanford and Washington should both have solid seasons, but it’s clear that USC/Oregon are a step above the competition this year. The Cardinal lost Andrew Luck to the pros, and while QB-in-waiting Brett Nottingham is highly regarded, to think he’ll produce the same results as the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft would be foolish. As for Washington, have you seen its schedule? On top of a rough PAC-12 slate that includes Oregon, USC and Stanford, the Huskies have to travel to LSU the second week of the season. Yikes.