USC Pac-12 Favorite; Too Much Investment in QB

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BURBANK, California – Reigning Pac-12 champion and College Football Playoff runner-up Oregon may be the media’s preseason pick to win the North, but the Ducks are not the choice to win the league title.

Pollsters like USC to win its first conference championship since 2008. The Trojans edged the Ducks, 21 first-place votes to 17.

Consider the vote of confidence in USC over Oregon a referendum on returning quarterbacks. While the Ducks seek a replacement for Heisman Trophy winner Mark Helfrich, USC redshirt senior Cody Kessler is a favorite to keep the award in the Pac-12 in 2015.

Kessler is the face of a USC team that returns plenty of talent in a number of key positions – the offensive line is loaded with proven players, the secondary should improve after youngsters gained invaluable playing time in 2014 and the linebacker corps is impressive.

But the Trojans are also replacing two-time leading rusher Buck Allen, two-time leading wide receiver Nelson Agholor and All-American defensive lineman Leonard Williams. Williams in particular will prove difficult to replace, as he led USC in sacks and tackles for loss, and was second in total tackles – all while playing on the line.

Moreover, the late-season meeting between Oregon and USC is at Autzen Stadium. Ultimately, home-field advantage has no bearing on the Pac-12 Championship Game, which will be played at the neutral site Levi’s Stadium for a second straight year, but getting the Trojans in Eugene won’t hurt the Ducks chances of eliminating USC from a competitive South division race.

Oregon’s quarterback controversy – overplayed as it may be – will long since be resolved come November.

Three teams were in the hunt for the South’s berth into the 2014 Pac-12 Championship Game on last season’s final weekend. Five were still in the mix in mid-November.

Expect more of the same, with each of the five – Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Utah – bringing back impressive lineups. USC rival UCLA returns the most veteran roster of any Power Five conference program.

Nevertheless, USC is a pretty heavy favorite in the division. Its 32 first-place votes outpace Arizona State’s seven and UCLA’s six. The margin isn’t quite as wide as Oregon’s 37-to-8 advantage over Stanford, the only other North team to receive first-place votes, but the gap is surprising given the more competitive nature of the South.

The complete vote is as follows:

NORTH DIVISION

1. Oregon (37)…………… 262

2. Stanford (8)…………… 231

3. California……………… 174

4. Washington…………… 129

5. Washington State……… 89

6. Oregon State…………… 60

SOUTH DIVISION

1. USC (32)………………. 254

2. Arizona State (7)…….. 200

3. UCLA (6)………………. 180

4. Arizona………………… 155

5. Utah……………………. 105

6. Colorado………………… 46