We continue our coverage of all things NFL and College Football by bringing you an extensive preview of Pac-12 football this upcoming season. We will give you a look at some of the key storylines to keep an eye on this season, some of the most important Pac-12 games, and who are the Heisman Trophy candidates.

Season Overview: We will start off with the two clear cut favorites in this conference: USC and Oregon. Of course the Trojans upset the Ducks in Oregon last year to deny them a shot at the national title, and USC looks to be even better this year. There are little points of concern on the offensive side of the ball. The addition of Silus Redd to go with Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, and Marqise Lee means that USC will be getting plenty of points. The offensive line is the weak point, but as long as they can stay relativity healthy, they should be good.

Now USC and Oregon have virtually the same issues. Both can light up the scoreboard, but their defenses can be suspect at times. USC does get their star TJ McDonald back, but their defensive line could be weak. If either offense has an off night, don’t be surprised to see some upsets.

As has been the case in recent years, the teams up in Nor Cal look to be the biggest threats to these two. Stanford is 18th in the nation, but with no Andrew Luck, it will be tough for them to be legitimate Pac-12 title threats. The same goes for Cal, who have a few solid offensive weapons, but don’t have much in the way of defense.

Stanford isn’t the only team that will be bringing in a new quarterback this season: Arizona(Nick Foles) and Arizona State,(Brock Osweiler) will both be trying new signal callers.  Overall, the conference appears to be very top heavy, with a few middle pack teams capable of knocking them off on a good night.

Games You Won’t Want to Miss: 

Sept. 15 USC at Stanford– This should be a great indicator of how the season will go for Stanford. If the Trojans throttle the Cardinal, you can expect a severe fall in production. However, Stanfrod could easily hang with the Trojans, and show that they weren’t simply the product of a once in a generation talent.

Sept. 15 Cal at Ohio State-  Not many exciting non-conference games to look at outside of this one.  This is the week before Cal plays USC, so this game could serve as a motivating tool in several ways.  Ohio State has one of the toughest home crowds in the nation, but it’s expected to be a down year for them, so Cal could very well pull off a big upset here.

Spet. 22 Cal at USC– USC is getting both Nor Cal games out of the way in the first month of the season.  In recent years, this rivalry has turned into a one sided affair, as Cal last won in 2003.  In fact, not many have been close, as only two of the last ten matchups have ended in a one possession difference. However, now that expectations are high again at USC, Cal would love to do nothing more then play spoiler.

October 20 Stanford at Cal– Also known as the big game, this is one of the most exciting rivalries in college football. Regardless of their records, both teams fight hard each year for bragging rights to the Bay area. Even without Andrew Luck, the Cardinal are favored to keep up the success they recently enjoyed in this matchup, but of course, Cal won’t go down without a fight.

November 3 Oregon at USC– These two teams met for what was essentially the Pac-12 Championship late last year, and USC came out on top, effectively ending Oregon’s national title hopes. The Ducks surely have this date circled on their calenders, as USC figures to be in a very similar position this year. Barring some whacky twists, these two should be at the top of the standings column when this matchup happens, so make sure you clear your schedule!

In all likelihood, these two will meet up again in the Pac-12 Championship. It will be very hard for one team to win both of these games, but whoever wins this first one will likely be in the driver’s seat for a shot at the National Championship.

Heisman Candidates: 

Matt Barkley– The USC starting Quarterback is not only the top Heisman candidate from this conference, but he is widely considered the favorite in the whole nation. Barkley passed on the NFL to come back for his senior season, and quote “Handle unfinished business.” With all the weapons he has at his disposal, there’s no reason to believe that Barkley won’t be in New York in December, as one of the Heisman Trophy Finalists.

 

De’Anthony Thomas– This flex player who was used at Running Back, Wide Receiver, and Quarterback for the Ducks last year is entering his sophomore season, and will surely be one of the most exciting players in the nation. Thomas is known for his big paly capability, and could be extremely effective on special teams as well. Thomas will be the most important player for Oregon if they want to knock off the mighty Trojans.

Robert Woods– It’s highly unlikely that Woods will get the Heisman nod over his QB Barkley, but for lack of a better candidate in the Pac-12, I will go with “Rollywood.” Woods led the team in recieving last year, and is the favorite for the Biletnikoff Award (best WR in the nation), this year. What’s scariest is that Woods is finally healthy, after saying that he was never 100% last season.

That wraps up our Pac-12 preview. What are your thoughts on the conference? Will USC win the title in their first year back from sanctions? Will Barkley claim the Heisman trophy? And which team will be the big surprise? Let us know in the comments!