What did we learn this spring that we can cogitate endlessly about this summer?
Thanks for asking.
1. Oregon and Stanford are the class of the conference: The Ducks and Cardinal finished 2010 ranked in the top five and likely will start there -- or close to it -- in 2011. Both are national title contenders, which means their Nov. 12 showdown on The Farm should have huge implications, starting with the Pac-12 North Division.
2. Arizona State is the South front-runner (by a little), but things are murky thereafter: Most preseason rankings will put the Ducks and Cardinal in the top 10 and the Sun Devils somewhere in the top 25. So who's the No. 4 team in the preseason? USC likely will be most folks' first thought. The play of quarterback Keith Price this spring suggests that Washington isn't going away. It's also hard to ignore Utah's 33 wins in the past three seasons. And is there a dark horse? Is it just me, or does Oregon State seem to play its best when ignored? Or is it Cal or UCLA?
3. There are no patsies in the Pac-12: A fair share of you seem to believe that Colorado will get clobbered and Utah will be exposed this season. One word: No. Both will be competitive from the start. Further, Washington State is going to be different in 2011. That lousy, FCS-looking team in 2008 and 2009? Gone. The Cougars were mostly competitive in 2010, particularly down the stretch, when they nearly beat Cal and Washington and did beat Oregon State. They will win multiple Pac-12 games in 2011. There is no team in the conference that you can look at and say, "No way that team wins six games and ends up bowl-eligible."
4. The quarterbacks are legit, but two have questions: No conference -- for the second consecutive season -- offers the quality at quarterback that the Pac-12 does. It's possible that three will be first-round NFL draft picks next spring: Stanford's Andrew Luck, USC's Matt Barkley and Arizona's Nick Foles. And that leaves out Oregon's Darron Thomas, who might become a Heisman Trophy candidate. Washington State's Jeff Tuel has an NFL future, and that also might be the case with Arizona State's Brock Osweiler and Oregon State's Ryan Katz. Colorado and Utah are solid at the position with Tyler Hansen and Jordan Wynn, while Price has Huskies fans feeling better about the departure of Jake Locker. Only Cal and UCLA have worrisome issues at the position.
5. There will be plenty of preseason hot-seat talk: Ever look at the website Coaches Hot Seat? Notice something? Washington State's Paul Wulff is No. 2, UCLA's Rick Neuheisel is No. 5 and Cal's Jeff Tedford is No. 8. You might not agree with that -- Tedford's seat likely is closer to merely warm -- but it's out there. You probably could toss in Arizona State's Dennis Erickson if the Sun Devils fall short of high expectations this fall. And what if USC crashes and burns? Fact is, most coaches are just a few bad bounces from job jeopardy.