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Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014

Pac-12 preview: Can the Ducks fly past Stanford in the North?

By Dirk Facer, Deseret News

Published: Sat, Aug. 2 8:45 p.m. MDT

 Oregon's Marcus Mariota throws to prepare for the Valero Alamo Bowl NCAA college football game against Texas, Monday,  Dec. 30, 2013, in San Antonio.

Oregon's Marcus Mariota throws to prepare for the Valero Alamo Bowl NCAA college football game against Texas, Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, in San Antonio.

(Eric Gay, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Editor's note: This is the seventh and final segment in a series previewing the Pac-12 football season.

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Oregon coach Mark Helfrich doesn’t mind that his school is tabbed as the team to beat. The Ducks not only topped the preseason media poll as the choice to win the Pac-12 North Division, they’re also considered the favorites to prevail in the conference championship game.

“Obviously we’ve been asked a lot about the media poll that took place and that is a good thing,” Helfrich said. “It’s a good thing for the media and our fans and for everybody to talk about.”

Oregon was in a similar situation a year ago and things didn’t work out. The Ducks wound up dropping games at Stanford (26-20) and Arizona (42-16), finishing second to the eventual Pac-12 champion Cardinal in the division.

“Looking back to last year, it’s a great thing for our players to kind of slap ourselves in the face and go back to process, go back to culture,” Helfrich said.

Stanford coach David Shaw, meanwhile, isn’t worrying about the preseason predictions.

“All that stuff will bear itself out,” he said.

Pac-12 North

OREGON DUCKS: The Ducks are loaded once again. Junior Marcus Mariota is a candidate for every national quarterback award and runs the show for an explosive offense. On defense, senior linebacker Derrick Malone is back after leading the team with 105 tackles last season.

Question is, does Oregon have what it takes to make it to the new college football playoff system?

2013 record: 11-2, 7-2 (T-1st, North)

2014 Pac-12 media poll: 1st, North

Returning starters: 15 (9 offense, 5 defense, 1 kicker/punter)

Head coach (record): Mark Helfrich (11-2)

2014 schedule

Aug. 30 — SOUTH DAKOTA

Sept. 6 — MICHIGAN STATE

Sept. 13 — WYOMING

Sept. 20 — at Washington State

Oct. 2 — ARIZONA

Oct. 11 — at UCLA

Oct. 18 — WASHINGTON

Oct. 24 — at California

Nov. 1 — STANFORD

Nov. 8 — at Utah

Nov. 22 — COLORADO

Nov. 29 — at Oregon State

STANFORD CARDINAL: The defending Pac-12 champions still have a lot going for them.

“We’re talking about a veteran group that’s learned to play at a high level,” said Shaw, who is 34-6 at the helm.

Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan, senior receiver/return specialist Ty Montgomery and senior safety Jordan Richards are among the standouts.

2013 record: 11-3, 7-2 (T-1st, North)

2014 Pac-12 media poll: 2nd, North

Returning starters: 14 (5 offense, 7 defense, 2 kicker/punter)

Head coach (record): David Shaw (34-6)

2014 schedule

Aug. 30 — UC DAVIS

Sept. 6 — USC

Sept. 13 — ARMY

Sept. 27 — at Washington

Oct. 4 — at Notre Dame

Oct. 10 — WASHINGTON STATE

Oct. 18 — at Arizona State

Oct. 25 — OREGON STATE

Nov. 1 — at Oregon

Nov. 15 — UTAH

Nov. 22 — at California

Nov. 28 — at UCLA

WASHINGTON HUSKIES: The hiring of longtime Boise State coach Chris Petersen has the Huskies in a state of transition — and a positive one at that.

“These guys have embraced us and the culture we’re trying to get done,” Petersen said. “I’ve been so proud of them and honored to coach them and really excited to watch these guys go.”

2013 record: 9-4, 5-4 (3rd, North)

2014 Pac-12 media poll: 3rd, North

Returning starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense, 0 kicker/punter)

Head coach (record): Chris Petersen (92-12, first year at Washington)

2014 schedule

Aug. 30 — at Hawaii

Sept. 6 — EASTERN WASHINGTON

Sept. 13 — ILLINOIS

Sept. 20 — GEORGIA STATE

Sept. 27 — STANFORD

Oct. 11 — at California

Oct. 18 — at Oregon

Oct. 25 — ARIZONA STATE

Nov. 1 — at Colorado

Nov. 8 — UCLA

Nov. 15 — at Arizona

Nov. 22 — OREGON STATE

Nov. 29 — at Washington State

OREGON STATE BEAVERS: Senior quarterback Sean Mannion put up some impressive numbers last season. The 6-foot-5 signal-caller completed 400 of 603 passes for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns.

“He belongs in any conversation about quarterbacking in this country right now,” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley.

2013 record: 7-6, 4-5 (T-4th, North)

2014 Pac-12 media poll: 4th, North

Returning starters: 16 (7 offense, 7 defense, 2 kicker/punter)

Head coach (record): Mike Riley (88-73)

2014 schedule

Aug. 30 — PORTLAND STATE

Sept. 6 — at Hawaii

Sept. 20 — SAN DIEGO STATE

Sept. 27 — at USC

Oct. 4 — at Colorado

Oct. 16 — UTAH

Oct. 25 — at Stanford

Nov. 1 — CALIFORNIA

Nov. 8 — WASHINGTON STATE

Nov. 15 — ARIZONA STATE

Nov. 22 — at Washington

Nov. 29 — OREGON

WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS: Armed with senior quarterback Connor Halliday, who set a school record by throwing for 4,597 yards in 2013, the Cougars’ offense is roaring. Mike Leach’s second season as head coach resulted in the program’s first bowl appearance in a decade — a 48-45 loss to Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl.

2013 record: 6-7, 4-5 (T-4th, North)

2014 Pac-12 media poll: 5th, North

Returning starters: 16 (8 offense, 8 defense, 0 kicker/punter)

Head coach (record): Mike Leach (93-59, 9-16 at Washington State)

2014 schedule

Aug. 28 — RUTGERS

Sept. 5 — at Nevada

Sept. 13 — PORTLAND STATE

Sept. 20 — OREGON

Sept. 27 — at Utah

Oct. 4 — CALIFORNIA

Oct. 10 — at Stanford

Oct. 25 — ARIZONA

Nov. 1 — USC

Nov. 8 — at Oregon State

Nov. 22 — at Arizona State

Nov. 29 — WASHINGTON

CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS: The Bears were bad news in Sonny Dykes’ first year in Berkeley. They were 1-11 overall and 0-9 against Pac-12 competition.

“Obviously we have a bad taste in our mouth from last season and we want to get it out of our mouth as quickly as we possibly can,” Dykes said.

2013 record: 1-11, 0-9 (6th, North)

2014 Pac-12 media poll: 6th, North

Returning starters: 15 (8 offense, 6 defense, 1 kicker/punter)

Head coach (record): Sonny Dykes (23-26, 1-11 at California)

2014 schedule

Aug. 30 — at Northwestern

Sept. 6 — SACRAMENTO STATE

Sept. 20 — at Arizona

Sept. 27 — COLORADO

Oct. 4 — at Washington State

Oct. 11 — WASHINGTON

Oct. 18 — UCLA

Oct. 24 — OREGON

Nov. 1 — at Oregon State

Nov. 13 — at USC

Nov. 22 — STANFORD

Nov. 29 — BYU

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer

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1. 79Ute
Orange County, CA,
Aug. 3, 2014

The top three programs are impressive. With WSU improving and OSU always dangerous, Cal is the only team that could be classified as weak. This is as strong a division as there is in college football.