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It was a disappointing 2011 for head coach Mike Reily and the Oregon State Beavers. The Beavers won only one of the final five games and finished a disappointing 3-9, the team's second straight losing season.
Oregon State won at least eight games in each season from 2006-2009, finishing no worst than third in the Pac-10 during that span. However the past two seasons, Oregon State has won a combined eight games and have missed bowls in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1997-1998.
The Beavers will be without the services of play maker James Rodgers for the first time since 2007. Rodgers finished his career in Corvallis with 1,408 rushing yards and 2,578 receiving yards, and Oregon State will look to senior Markus Wheaten to fill the big shoes of Rodgers.
Oregon State Season Preview
Offensive Starters Returning: 8
Defensive Starters Returning: 8
Markus Wheaten, WR: The senior wide receiver has started 20 games for the Beavers over three seasons. Wheaten finished 2011 with 986 receiving yards and 190 rushing yards and he will be used as a multi-purpose player this season, much like James Rodgers was used last season. Wheaten earned Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 in 2011, and he was named to Phil Steele's preseason All-Pac-12 Second Team for 2012. Oregon State will rely on Wheaten to fill the void left by James Rodgers.
Jordan Poyer, CB: Poyer is one of the top cornerbacks in the conference, as he has played in every game for the Beavers over the past three seasons. The senior from Astoria, Oregon, has six interceptions over the past two seasons, including four in 2011. Poyer was named Second Team All-Pac-12 in 2011, as he finished the season with 16 pass break ups. Poyer also returns kicks and punts for the Beavers and in 2011, he set the Reser Stadium record with an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown against UCLA. ESPN's Mel Kiper ranked Poyer as the second best cornerback for the 2013 draft.
Dylan Wynn, DE: Wynn started seven games as a true freshman in 2011, earning Freshman All-American honorable mention by College Football News. Wynn finished the season with 44 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and one sack and will move to the starting role in 2012. In 2011, Wynn set an Oregon State single season school record with five fumble recoveries.
Oregon State returns Freshman All-American quarterback Sean Mannion, who threw for over 3,000 yards and 16 touchdowns last season as a redshirt freshman. Oregon State will have to replace WR James Rodgers, who started 39 games in his career.
Oregon State will have mostly new faces at the skill positions in 2012. Chandler native Markus Wheaten leads the young group that will feature Obum Gwacham, Kevin Cummings, Brandin Cooks and Mitch Singler completing for playing time at wide receiver.
One of the most important position battles for Oregon State is at the running back position. Sophomore Terron Ward is listed atop the preseason depth cart, however Jovan Stevenson and Malcolm Agnew will compete for playing time in 2012.
The offensive line returns three starters from a group that allowed 27 sacks in 2011. Junior Michael Phillips return with 22 starts in his career and will be moved to left tackle. Josh Andrews and Grant Enger return at the guard positon and Oregon State will have to replace center Grant Johnson, who finished his career with 35 starts.
Sophomore defensive ends Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn lead the Beavers defensive line. Crichton earned Freshman All-American honors from several publications after posting 74 tackles and six sacks in 2011.
Kevin Unga and Michael Doctor return to anchor the linebacking corps in 2012. Unga finished 2011 with 67 tackles and one sack in nine games played. Doctor finished second on the team with 78 tackles in 2011, and sophomore D.J. Welch is expected to start at the sam linebacker position.
Oregon State returns both starting cornerbacks in Jordan Poyer and Rashaad Reynolds. The Beavers also return safety Anthony Watkins, who led the Beavers in tackles last season with 85. The Beavers gave up just 214.4 yards per game passing, as opposed to 196.8 yards they gave up rushing.
The Beavers open with Nicholls State on Sept. 1st at Reser Stadium. Reality sets in quickly as Big Ten powerhouse Wisconsin comes to town on Sept. 8th and Oregon State's first two conference games are on the road against Arizona and UCLA.
Oregon State has winnable homes games against Washington State (Oct. 6th), Arizona State (Nov. 3rd) and California (Nov. 17th). The Beavers get a break as they do not face USC this season.
Final season record: 4-8
Up next in our Pac-12 preview series is the USC Trojans.
The 2011 UCLA Bruins won the Pac-12 South with a marginal record of 6-6 last season and played in the Pac-12's first championship game. That was the good. The bad? UCLA lost its final three games of the season, including a 50-point loss against cross-town rival USC and a bowl loss against Illinois that dropped the team to 6-8 on the season.
The Pac-12 South title was not good enough for Rick Neuheisel to keep his job, as the coach was fired after compiling a 21-29 record in four seasons in Westwood. In steps Jim Mora Jr., who returns to college for the first time since 1984, when he was a graduate assistant at Washington.
UCLA boasts one of the most talented backfields in the country with running backs Johnathan Franklin and Malcolm Jones leading the way. The biggest question for UCLA is who will be under center when the season begins August 30 against Rice. A four-way battle is expected to take place in training camp with newcomer Brett Hundley reportedly leading the way.
UCLA Season Preview
Offensive Starters Returning: 7
Defensive Starters Returning: 8
Johnathan Franlin, RB: Franklin was a honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection in 2011, rushing for 976 yards on 166 carries. Franklin averaged a career-best 5.7 yards per carry and had three 100-yard games in 2011. With uncertainty and inexperience at the quarterback position, it will be important for UCLA to have a consistant running game and it starts with Franklin.
Datone Jones, DE: Jones led Bruin lineman with 41 tackles in 2011, starting all 14 games. Jones also led the Bruins in tackles for loss (6.5) and sacks (3) last season. Jones alongside Donovan Carter, Cassius Marsh and Owamagbe Odighuzuwa give UCLA one of the most experienced defensive lines in the conference.
Tevin McDonald, SS: McDonald was named Freshman All-American by Yahoo! Sports and cbssports.com in 2011. McDonald tied a school record with three interceptions against Cal and posted 11 tackles against Arizona State. McDonald appeared in all 14 games, starting 11 of them last season and led the team in pass defenses with nine. Expect McDonald to emerge as one of the best secondary players in the conference by the end of the season.
Bryan Fischer from CBS Sports tweeted out yesterday that UCLA has named Brett Hundley its starting quarterback in 2012. The redshirt freshman beats out seniors Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, both of whom started games in 2011. Hudley, from Chandler, Arizona, was an Under Armour All-American in high school and was one of the top duel-threat quarterbacks recruited for the class of 2011.
Johnathan Franklin and Malcolm Jones give the Bruins a nice one-two punch at running back, as the two combined for over 1,000-yards in 2011. Shaquelle Evans and Joseph Fauria lead the Bruins receiving corps in 2012, combining for 58 receptions in 2011. Jerry Rice Jr., Jerry Johnson, Devin Lucien and Jordan James expect to see action at receiver for the Bruins in 2012.
The offensive line returns three starters from 2011 in Jeff Baca, Greg Capella and Alberto Cid. Six Bruin offensive lineman with playing experience return in 2012 including Xavier Su'a-Filo, who started 13 games in 2009.
The Bruins return eight starters from a defense that gave up 417.1 yards per game in 2011 as opponents outscored the UCLA 439-323 last season.
The Bruins return three starters on the defensive line with Datone Jones leading the way. Jones lead the defensive line with 41 tackles and 6.5 sacks. UCLA is very deep on the defensive line as Donovan Carter, Cassius Marsh, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Iuta Tepa and Seal'i Epenesa all return with game experience.
Damien Holmes, who started all 14 games on the defensive line last season, will move to outside linebacker in 2012. Keenan Graham also makes the transition from defensive line to linebacker for defensive coordinator Lou Spanos. Redshirt senior Patrick Larimore started 13 games in 2011 and led the team in tackles with 83.
The Bruins return their top two cornerbacks from 2011 in seniors Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price. Hester finished 2011 with 57 tackles and Price led the team with two forced fumbles. Andrew Abbott will be moved to safety after playing nickel back the past three seasons. Tevin McDonald is an emerging star at the safety position and should get national recognition this season.
UCLA faces a challenging non-conference schedule as they welcome Nebraska and Houston to the Rose Bowl in September. With an inexperienced quarterback, a challenging non-conference schedule is the last thing Jim Mora Jr. wanted to face in this first season.
UCLA gets five conference home games including USC and Stanford back-to-back the final two games of the season. UCLA also plays Arizona (Nov. 3) and Utah (Oct. 13) at home, meaning UCLA gets the most challenging conference games at home.
That being said, UCLA is a team in transition, the defense was not very good last season and offenses like Nebraska, USC, Stanford and Houston should not be easy for UCLA. Final season record: 5-7
It was an up and down first season in the Pac-12 for the Utah Utes. Many questioned how the Utes would fare in their first season in a BCS conference, and Utah exceeded the expectations of most as they came within a game of playing for the Pac-12 title.
Utah started the season 3-4 before rattling off four straight victories, putting themselves in a position to win the Pac-12 South and play for the inaugural Pac-12 title. However, Utah suffered a heartbreaking loss at home to rival Colorado, 17-14, to knock them out of the title game.
The season did end well for Utah as they defeated Georgia Tech 30-27 in the Sun Bowl to finish the season 8-5.
Utah Football Preview
Offensive Starters Returning: 9
Defensive Starters Returning: 7
Star Lotulelei, DT: Lotulelei might be the most underrated player in the country as the senior defensive tackle is projected by many as a top five pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Lutulelei was named first team All-Pac-12 won the 2011 Morris Trophy as the conference's best defensive lineman. Lotulelei has played in every game for the Utes over the past two seasons and at 320-pounds, he is a dominant force in the middle of the Utah defense. Lotulelei made 44 tackles in 2011 including nine tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
John White, RB: The senior for Torrence, California, ran for 1,519 yards in his first season, breaking the 29-year-old Utah single season rushing yards record. White was named Second Team All-Pac-12 and averaged 116.8 yards per game for the Utes. White was a workhorse for Utah, averaging 24 carries a game in 2011, and he figures to be a key cog in the Utah offense in 2012.
Reggie Dunn, WR: Dunn started eight games at wide receiver in 2011 for Utah, catching 15 balls for 211 yards. The senior also had 173 rushing yards and led the team in kickoff return yards with 614. Dunn played two seasons at Compton Community College before transferring to Utah and he has played in every game the past two seasons. Dunn is a duel-threat player, and will have an impact in both the passing and rushing game.
Utah returns nine starters from an offense that ranked dead last in the conference in total offense. Utah was last in the conference in passing offense and seventh in rushing offense in 2011.
Utah will benefit from the return of quarterback Jordan Wynn, who started the first four games of 2011 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury against Washington. Wynn threw 17 touchdowns in 10 starts in 2010 and through four games in 2011, had six touchdown passes and 727 yards passing.
Utah has solid depth at wide receiver with seniors Devonte Christopher Reggie Dunn and Luke Matthews. Christopher led Utah in receiving yards and receptions per game, finishing up with 42 receptions for 663 yards and five touchdowns in 2011. Matthews started seven games in last season and over his three-year career for Utah, has only missed one game.
John White will carry the load on the ground for Utah, after gaining over 1,500 yards in 2011. Sophomore Harvey Langi is listed as the backup for White on the preseason depth chart. Utah will go into 2012 with a veteran offensive line as two juniors and two seniors are expected to start. Redshirt freshman right tackle Daniel Nelson will be the only underclassman expected to start in 2012.
The 2012 Utah defense ranked third in the Pac-12 in total defense and first in scoring defense. Utah was also fifth in sacks and first in turnovers in 2011.
Utah returns perhaps the best defensive tackle combination in the conference in seniors David Kruger and Star Lotulelei, as the two combined for 66 tackles in 2012. Junior Joe Kruger moves from left to right end, Kruger had five tackles for loss and three sacks in 2011.
Utah will have two new starters at linebacker in 2012 as sophomores Jacoby Hale and V.J. Fehoko move into starting roles, the two combined for just 11 tackles in 2012. Former walk-on Trevor Reilly started eight games at linebacker in 2011, Reilly tied for fourth in the conference with four forced fumbles in 2011.
The secondary is led by senior cornerback Ryan Lacy, who was named Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 in 2011 after finishing with 10 pass breakups and two interceptions. Junior college transfer Mo Lee is listed as the second starting corner for Utah. After being recruited to play wide receiver, the senior from Miami, Florida, made 29 tackles and six pass breakups in three starts last season.
Utah won't have to leave the state of Utah for their non-conference schedule, as Utah faces Northern Colorado and BYU at home, with a road game against Utah State sandwiched in the middle. BYU will be tough as it is a rivalry game, but at home Utah, with 16 returning starters, should get the job done.
Utah does not play Oregon or Stanford in 2012, meaning they will have one of the easiest Pac-12 schedule of any team in the conference. Utah has difficult road games against Pac-12 South rivals Arizona State (Sept. 29) and UCLA (Oct. 13) which will not be cake walks, as both teams have talent, however both teams are in transition in 2012 with new coaches.
Utah's biggest game of the season comes on a Thursday night in primetime against USC, a game could very well decide who will win the Pac-12 South. Utah faces USC in Salt Lake City, but the Trojans will be too talented for Utah. Another difficult game for Utah will be a trip to the great Northwest to face the Washington Huskies (Nov. 13).
A road trip to Boulder, Colorado, the day after Thanksgiving to face Colorado in the season finale will be a challenge as the Buffalos beat Utah in Salt Lake City last season. Final season record: 8-4.
Next up in our Pac-12 previews is the UCLA Bruins.
The Sun Devils may have not named their starting quarterback yet but that isn't detouring head coach Todd Graham's high aspirations.
The Oregon Ducks have been the gold standard of the Pac-12 conference for the past three seasons. Over that span, Oregon has amassed a record of 34-6, winning three Pac-12 championships and playing for a national championship in 2011.
The 2011 season, Oregon averaged 522.8 yards of total offense and 46.1 points per game. Oregon also scored twice as many touchdowns in 2011 as their opponents and outscored their opponents by 300 points.
As 2012 begins, Oregon will undergo a facelift on offense as both LaMichael James and Darron Thomas left school for the NFL Draft. James gained 1,800 yards rushing last season, and Thomas was efficient at quarterback, throwing 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
Oregon Football Preview
Offensive Starters Returning: 5
Defensive Starters Returning: 7
De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR: Chip Kelly could not stop raving about Thomas at Pac-12 media day. And what's not to love about the sophomore playmaker from Crenshaw, California. Thomas did it all for the Ducks, racking up 595 rushing yards, 605 receiving yards and 18 total touchdowns as a freshman. Thomas will have a bigger role this season with James gone, and he is so versatile that he will have impact in the passing game and the running game.
Terrance Mitchell, CB: Mitchell led the team with 10 pass break ups in 2011 and was third on the team in tackles with 45. The redshirt sophomore from Sacramento has good height for a cornerback at 6-0 and with the WR talent in the Pac-12, Mitchell will be challenged every week.
Kenjon Barner, RB: I know that most people around the conference know who Barner is, but he has lived in the shadow of LaMichael James for the past three seasons. Well now it is Barner's turn to break out as the senior averaged 6.2 yards per carry in 2011 and gained over 900 yards splitting time with James. Barner does not have the speed of James but is very physical and can carry the load for Oregon in 2012. Even though he will have to share the load with Thomas and Oregon's other skill position player talent, expect Barner to be a national name by year's end.
Oregon loses its top rusher, receiver and passer from 2011 but do not worry Duck fans, as the cupboard is not totally bare for Oregon this season. Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas will be key cogs in the Oregon offense, but Oregon also returnsWR Josh Huff, who started 10 games a season for the Ducks. Rashaan Vaughn, Justin Hoffman and Devon Blackmon will also contribute for the Ducks this season.
The biggest question mark for Oregon has they head into 2012 is under center. Sophomore Bryan Bennett seems to have a leg up on the competition for the starting quarterback job after appearing in eight games in 2011. Redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota is still in the race as of now but most signs point to Bennett as the man under center for Oregon in 2012.
Oregon returns three starters on its offensive line including its center, Hroniss Grasu. Aside from LaMichaelJames and Darron Thomas, Oregon will have to replace the all-important left tackle position where Darrion Weems departs. Rght guard Mark Asper also leaves after starting every game in 2011.
Oregon returns a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball. Safety John Boyett returns after piling up 108 tackles in 2011, along with senior linebacker Michael Clay, who had 102 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles last season.
Oregon returns both starting cornerbacks, in Troy Hill and Terrence Mitchell, which will prove to be valuable against the wide receiver talent in the Pac-12.
The front seven is led by defensive end Dion Jordan, a converted tight end from Chandler, Arizona, who led the Ducks with 13 tackles for loss and sacks with 7.5 in 2011. Oregon returns both starting defensive tackles from 2011, juniors Taylor Hart and Wade Keliikipi.
Oregon will breeze through the non-conference as they get Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech all in Eugene. Oregon then opens Pac-12 play with games against Arizona and Washington State. Arizona may be tough in 2011, but not in Eugene and not that early in the season.
Oregon's biggest challenge of the season will come on November 3rd with they travel to Los Angeles to face the USC Trojans. Even though I never count Oregon out of any game, it will be very hard to beat Pac-12 favorite Trojans on the road. Final season record: 11-1 and Pac-12 North Champions.
Up next in our Pac-12 team previews is the Utah Utes.
SB Nation Arizona is previewing each team in the Pac-12, starting with the Washington Huskies. The team returns 12 starters including QB Keith Price. Expect players like Kasen Williams and Bishop Sankey to emerge this season as Washington may be a dark horse in the Pac-12 North.
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