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Power Five Conference preview: Pac-12

The Pac-12 started the season last night with a Utah Utes win over the Michigan Wolverines and their new head coach Jim Harbaugh. Two other teams in the Pac-12 start their season tonight as well, with Oregon State hosting Weber State and Washington traveling to face Boise State on the blue turf.

Favorite

The USC Trojans are sanction free this season and ready to win the Pac-12 championship while gaining a spot in the College Football Playoff. They welcome back sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler (39 touchdowns, 5 interceptions in 2014), but wide receiver Nelson Agholor (Eagles) is now playing in the NFL and will leave behind a big hole in the receiving corps.

The Trojans have a solid offensive line that should help keep Kessler upright and tremendously help the running game. A tough conference schedule will be the only thing standing in their way as they attempt to become Pac-12 champions again, and Oregon will be flying high once again even though QB Marcus Mariota is now playing for the Tennessee Titans.

Runner-Up

The Oregon Ducks always seem to be flying around the top of the Pac-12 conference anymore and this season should be no different. Mariota is in the NFL and in steps Eastern Washington transfer, Vernon Adams at the helm for the Ducks. They welcome back running backs Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner and receiver Bralon Addison (missed last season), but have a very young secondary who will be tested frequently in the Pac-12.

Their schedule is one that provides a few tests but is also very winnable with Adams as quarterback. First up for the Ducks is Adams’ former team, Eastern Washington. Their biggest test in the first half of the season comes in Week 2 when they travel to East Lansing to face Michigan State. They travel to Washington and Arizona State in October, but then don’t face USC until Nov. 21 at Autzen Stadium.

Dark Horse

Most would put UCLA in this position but the loss of QB Brett Hundley will affect UCLA more than people think. Due to that, the dark horse pick should be Arizona State. The Sun Devils are led by fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Bercovici and are loaded on the defensive side of the ball.

Last season, there were moments that it seemed like ASU forgot how to tackle in big games, but expect them to be hungrier than ever in 2015. They know that they have underachieved before — though a 10-3 record in 2014 is hardly lacking — and look to “Fork ’em” this season.

A couple areas of concern for the Sun Devils: the loss of stud receiver Jaelen Strong and a special teams unit that struggles on kickoff and punt returns. This could be the year for Sparky and Co., but we won’t have to wait long to see how legit they are. Looming in the opener for the Sun Devils is a game against Texas A&M in Houston that will test them early. If they survive this test, expect them to run with the momentum and attack their conference foes.

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