Kyle Bonagura, ESPN Staff Writer 54d

Pac-12 preseason power rankings: USC, Washington and everyone else?

We got a taste of Pac-12 football last week, but the season begins in earnest tonight with at least one team in action for the next four days. After lots of talk, here's one last attempt at gauging how the conference's team stack up with each other.

1. USC: The program returns to a familiar place as the prohibitive favorite to win the conference and, perhaps, contend for a national title. It all seems possible thanks to the emergence of quarterback Sam Darnold, who begins the year as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

2. Washington: There is some big-time talent to replace, but the Huskies aren't short on returning stars, either. Their front-seven on defense should be among the best in the country, QB Jake Browning is set to begin his third year as the starter and receiver Dante Pettis remains one the conference's most-feared playmakers.

3. Stanford: Yes, it was Rice, so the Cardinal's 62-7 win Down Under comes with a certain level of scrutiny, but it was impressive nonetheless. Running back Bryce Love played at an unexpectedly high level (13 carries, 180 yards) and QB Keller Chryst (14-of-24, 253 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT) eased any lingering concerns about his health with one of his best career performances.

4. Washington State: The Cougars can point to their dominant win against Stanford last season as a reason they could be a spot higher. And that's a much more fun debate for a fan base that was longing for the occasional competitive game before Mike Leach arrived. A Pac-12 North title isn't out of the question.

5. Colorado: The defending Pac-12 South champs might have the best collection of offensive skill players in the conference with running back Phillip Lindsay and receivers Shay Fields, Devin Ross and Bryce Bobo all coming back. They have a lot to replace on defense, but for now, Mike MacIntyre -- the reigning national coach of the year -- gets the benefit of the doubt.

6. Utah: One of the most interesting offseason coaching moves was Kyle Whittingham's decision to bring in Troy Taylor to run the offense, which now -- gasp -- lists four receivers on the depth chart. Taylor has had a quick rise from high school to the FCS to the Pac-12 and will rely on electric sophomore QB Tyler Huntley, who unseated returning starter Troy Williams.

7. UCLA: The Bruins have the talent to be higher, but coming off a 4-8 season they'll need to earn their respect. That said, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch seems like the best fit that QB Josh Rosen has had in his three years in Westwood.

8. Oregon: On defense, the Ducks will be relying on a lot of freshmen -- too many to feel overly optimistic about a quick bounce back season. Coordinator Jim Leavitt is among the brightest defensive minds in the country, so there should be an improvement, but will it be enough to compete with the upper-echelon teams?

9. Arizona State: Coach Todd Graham says Manny Wilkins remains the Sun Devils' starting quarterback, but made it clear Tuesday that Blake Barnett isn't too far behind. While the quarterback spot is intriguing, it's the defense that has to show significant improvement for ASU to compete.

10. Oregon State: The growing sense of optimism about the direction of the program under Gary Andersen took a massive hit thanks to a 58-27 loss to Colorado State, but let's see how Arizona and Cal look before dropping the Beavers to the No. 12 spot.

11. Arizona: After a 3-9 season, coach Rich Rodriguez understands the Wildcats need to reverse course or he might not get the chance to see things through.

12. California: New coach Justin Wilcox didn't get much time to put together a complete recruiting class and has to deal with a nonconference schedule featuring North Carolina and Ole Miss. He put together an impressive staff, but this could take some time.

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