The Pac 12 Preview: Stanford, Oregon excel where USC failed in 2012

Stanford was at the head of the class in the Pac 12 last season, capping the year with a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. Photo: USA Today Sports.

Crystal Ball Run will be previewing each conference for the 2013 season with week-by-week coverage. Today we continue our 2013 conference previews with a look at the Pac 12.

2012 In Review

The 2012 season was supposed to be the return to dominance by the USC Trojans. With Heisman favorite quarterback Matt Barkley returning for his senior season with the Trojans and a newly acquired running back transfer with Silas Redd leaving Penn State, the hype machine was in full working order for USC to start the 2012 season with a postseason ban now officially behind them. Unfortunately for USC, this was a machine that had to be recalled while recent powers Oregon and Stanford continued to carry the Pac 12 banner on the national level.

As it would turn out, Oregon made their run to a BCS title in to mid-November. The Ducks, always strong on offense, were led by outstanding freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota and the evasive running of Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas. The Ducks, as always, were tough to bring down, but Stanford proved to have the right mix of toughness, defensive awareness and talent to put a huge dent in the BCS title dreams cooking in Oregon.

For a year at least, UCLA was the top program in LA. Photo: USA Today Sports.

The 2012 season also saw the emergence of some programs such as UCLA and Oregon State, who each got off to hot starts and rightfully stayed in the mix along the way. UCLA opened eyes as Jim Mora proved some doubters wrong early on with a victory over Nebraska. The Bruins would wind up in the second Pac 12 championship game, this time earning their spot instead of taking advantage of a postseason ban across town. Though they put up a better fight this time, the Bruins still have some work to do before becoming a team to beat in the conference, but Mora has the Bruins on the right track it would seem after a nine-win season, their best since winning ten games in the 2005 season.

We also saw the Pac 12 coaching debuts of Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach, both looking to get their coaching careers back on track after a stint in the broadcast booth and studio, and Todd Graham made a splash with Arizona State in his latest coaching job. The Pac 12 is full of personalities and last year turned out to be a lot of fun. What will 2013 have in store?

The Pac 12 in Bowl Games

Arizona's wild victory in the New Mexico Bowl kicked off a wild postseason. Photo: USA Today Sports.

The Pac 12 performed remarkably well in the spotlight games, with a pair of BCS bowl victories in the same postseason for the second time in conference history. The Pac 10 won the Fiesta Bowl (Oregon State) and Rose Bowl (Washington) games in the 2000 season.

Oregon and Stanford scored the big wins for the conference, perhaps as expected. Stanford took the conference's crown jewel victory with their first Rose Bowl win since the 1971 season. The Cardinal held off Big Ten champion Wisconsin 20-14, sending the Badgers home with their third consecutive defeat in the Rose Bowl and sending Bret Bielema off to Arkansas. Meanwhile, Oregon was paired up in the Fiesta Bowl against Big 12 champion Kansas State in a game many thought could be the BCS championship game before both the Ducks and Wildcats took a hit down the stretch, opening a door for Notre Dame and Alabama. The game-that-could-have-been was all Oregon in a match-up of contrasting styles. Oregon proved that speed could overcome Kansas State's approach as the Ducks ran away with a dominant 35-17 victory.

Arizona State used their own high octane offense to dismantle Navy in the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. The Sun Devils jumped all over the Mids early and often en route to a blowout 62-28 decision. Arizona may have taken one of the most exciting bowl games involving a Pac 12 team in the first bowl game of the postseason. Arizona and Nevada went back and forth from start to finish and the Wildcats pulled out an improbable 49-48 victory with two touchdowns in the final minute of the game.

The rest of the conference did not fare so well. USC's lackluster performance in the Sun Bowl ended with a thud. Georgia Tech shut the Trojans down and handed them a 21-7 postseason loss. Oregon State and Texas made for an entertaining Alamo Bowl but the Longhorns came out on top with a 31-27 victory. UCLA also came up short against their Big 12 opponent with Baylor topping the Bruins 49-26 in the Holiday Bowl. In a rematch of a regular season match-up, Washington was unable to knock off Boise State with the Broncos flexing their muscle in the Las Vegas Bowl with a 28-26 victory.

Biggest Win in 2012

No. 17 Stanford 17, No. 1 Oregon (November 12, 2012) - Stanford was the biggest threat to Oregon in the Pac 12 and proved they had the toughness to slow down the high-powered Ducks. The road victory in Eugene gave Stanford the inside track to the Pac 12 championship game and eventually led to the Cardinal hosting the Pac 12 championship game against UCLA. Having the home-field advantage helped Stanford return to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1999 season.

Biggest Losses in 2012

Stanford's win over Oregon was the best win and loss in the Pac 12 in 2012. Photo: USA Today Sports

No. 1 Oregon 14, No. 17 Stanford 17 (November 17, 2012) – Conversely, the Oregon Ducks had a path to the BCS Championship game right in front of them, if only they could get by Stanford. The narrow home loss to the Cardinal dropped Oregon to number five in the polls but knocked a certain path to a Pac 12 title out of the way. Had Oregon won, the top-ranked Ducks likely would have faced off with Notre Dame (or one-loss Alabama?) in the BCS title game, potentially ending the SEC's streak of BCS titles, instead of the Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State.

No. 17 Stanford 13, No. 7 Notre Dame 20 (October 13, 2012) – The controversial ending to this game helped boost Notre Dame up a couple spots and in to the top five of the rankings. Had Stanford pulled this one out, the Cardinal may have played in to the BCS title conversation. Stanford did not lose a game the rest of the season and may have benefited from a victory on the road against a one-loss Notre Dame team. Stanford may have moved in to the top ten with a win, and with a victory later against top-ranked Oregon, who knows what would have happened.

Who's In? Who's Out?

The Pac 12 membership will stay at 12 members for the 2013 season, and it appears as though the conference will be sitting on 12 teams for a while. With no real attractive and realistic candidates for full membership, unless Texas and Oklahoma decide to partner up for a major shake-up (been there, done that?), we should be calling it the Pac 12 for quite some time.

Head Coaching Changes

While the conference membership will remain the same, the conference will welcome a few new head coaches. While there were not as many changes this off-season compared to last year, the rebuilding process is officially underway at a couple spots while one of the dominant programs looks to keep things going with a new face in charge.

California – Despite leading Cal through a bit of a renaissance early on in his tenure, Jeff Tedford was released from his position as head coach on November 20 after Cal had slumped on the field and in the classroom. Taking his place is rising coaching star Sonny Dykes, from Louisiana Tech. The focus on offense as Dykes takes over should be fun to watch as Cal tries to claw back in the to Pac 12 picture.

Colorado – After two seasons on the job, Colorado dismissed head coach Jon Embree on November 25. Colorado is a complete rebuilding project and former San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre was hired to try and breathe new life in to the once regional power. MacIntyre led San Jose State to an 11-2 record in the WAC in 2012. Colorado hopes MacIntyre can turn around their program the way he did in San Jose. MacIntyre turned San Jose State from a 1-12 program to 11-2 in just three seasons on the job.

Oregon – After the most dominant stretch in Oregon football history, the success of Chip Kelly led him to a shot to coach in the NFL. Kelly was hired away by the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. At the time it was seen as Kelly escaping the program before heavy NCAA sanctions were levied, but that turned out to not be quite the case. Kelly still has an extended show cause attached to him by the NCAA. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich takes over the Ducks as the head coach to keep Oregon on a similar track.

Kevin McGuire is the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast. Follow him onTwitterGoogle+ and Facebook.

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Kevin McGuire

About Kevin McGuire

Managing editor of Crystal Ball Run and contributor to College Football Talk on Member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. College Football Hall of Fame voter. Also managing Bloguin's and