Cal trumps Stanford as early pick

For the first time since 1999, the media that covers the Pac-12 picked somebody other than Stanford to win the conference title, choosing the Cal Bears. That is just the latest bit of evidence that the balance of power in this conference might be shifting. It's an easy argument to make that almost all of the teams in the Pac-12 are better this year than they were last season -- with the exception of Stanford, which lost the conference's all-time leading scorer and rebounder in Chiney Ogwumike. But that doesn't mean it's time to put the Cardinal out to pasture. It just means this is going to be a very, very interesting Pac-12 season.

Pac-12 predicted order of finish

1. California (22-10 in 2013-14): The Bears are the team with the best inside-out tandem in the conference with seniors Brittany Boyd, the Pac-12 assist leader, and post Reshanda Gray. Cal was the media pick to win the Pac-12 title despite only 10 players on the roster and three freshmen, including Mikayla Cowling, rated as the No. 2 wing in the country.

2. Stanford (33-4): The first season without an Ogwumike on the roster in seven years is one of change for the Cardinal, who will be a guard-oriented team for the first time in memory. They will be led by senior Amber Orrange and sophomore Lili Thompson, who had a breakout debut season. But the key to Stanford's success might lie with lithe sophomore forward Erica McCall, who will be the player who determines whether Stanford can find some offense in the frontcourt as well.

3. Oregon State (24-11): The Beavers are back in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 1996 after reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament last spring. Sophomore point guard Sydney Wiese is the backbone of an experienced team that returns all five starters.

4. UCLA (13-18): The Bruins are bringing in the nation's top recruiting class to help them forget about last year's struggle-rich season in which they barely finished with enough healthy players to put a team on the floor. Junior guard Nirra Fields will show the freshmen -- including McDonald's All Americans Recee' Caldwell, Jordin Canada and Lajahna Drummer -- the way.

5. Arizona State (23-10): Charli Turner Thorne no doubt thinks her team deserves more regard after a strong season a year ago -- the Sun Devils won 23 games and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament -- and she has four starters back. The Amukamara sisters, Promise and Peace, will play important roles, as will 6-foot forward Kelsey Moos.

6. USC (22-13): Cynthia Cooper led the Women of Troy to the Pac-12 tournament title and an NCAA berth a year ago, but has to make up for some missing pieces with the graduation of Cassie Harberts and the dismissal of leading scorer Ariya Crook, the pair accounting for nearly 50 percent of USC's scoring last year. Senior forward Alexyz Vaioletama is the leading returning scorer (8.6 PPG). Sophomore Jordan Adams will be looking for a breakout.

7. Washington State (17-17): June Daugherty says this is the best team she has fielded in Pullman, Washington, and the Cougars are prepared to take a shot at making the NCAA tournament. WSU has four returning starters, including guards Lia Galdeira and Tia Presley, who combined to average 37.5 points a game last season.

8. Washington (20-14): The Huskies have a shot at the NCAA tournament this season with the return of two of the conference's best guards in three-time all-conference performer Jazmine Davis, who is on pace to break the school's scoring record, and sophomore Kelsey Plum. Highly touted post Katie Collier is also back on the floor and looking to increase her minutes.

9. Oregon (16-16): Kelly Graves takes over a Ducks program that might be the dark horse in the conference if the team can come around to playing some defense. There is no lack of offensive talent on this squad with Jillian Alleyne -- the nation's leading rebounder last season -- and Chrishae Rowe. And Graves' track record suggests a quick turnaround.

10. Utah (12-19): Utah had a disheartening number of injuries last season and lost stalwart Michelle Plouffe. But all is hardly lost. Taryn Wicijowski returns for a sixth season, and 6-5 Emily Potter, the only returning scorer in double figures, is back.

11. Colorado (19-15): The Buffaloes have a habit of winning a lot of games in the nonconference and then having trouble with the successful carryover when conference play begins. Coach Linda Lappe says consistency is a big emphasis for her team. But it's going to be harder without Arielle Roberson, who is missing the season with an ACL tear.

12. Arizona (5-25): The Wildcats have a way to go to catch up with the rest of an improving conference. But with three returning starters, including fifth-year senior guard Candice Warthen, the comeback of Alli Gloyd (who missed last season with an injury) and a top-25 recruiting class, better days should be ahead.