Golden Nuggets: Cal Predicted to Finish Second in the Pac-12 North

How important is a veteran quarterback to success this season? The Seattle Times' Bud Withers looks into the importance of returning QBs in recent decades and predicts how the Pac-12 North will sort itself out.

1. Oregon. I'll take the bait and believe Oregon can do it again with an unproven quarterback, mostly because the defense might be the Ducks' best ever. But there are reasons for pause, not only the quarterback, but questionmarks at receiver, and LaMichael James is no longer around. (De'Anthony Thomas is, however.)

2. California. This could be completely crazy, but I'm banking on a quantum improvement from QB Zach Maynard. And as we know, Cal customarily plays pretty salty defense. It should also help that the Bears are back home in remodeled Memorial Stadium.

3. Washington. The Huskies have their share of questionmarks, not the least of which is how much they can obliterate memories of their awful 2011 defense. I'm guessing that can be upgraded significantly, though not to a championship level. Without Chris Polk, QB Keith Price might find the offensive going tougher, though.

4. Stanford. No doubt this pick might be the biggest stretch of the division. I think Stanford's defense will be top-shelf, but no team in the country will see a bigger shortfall at quarterback than the one left by Andrew Luck's departure. And the Cardinal also lost three high draft picks up front, which is going to change the equation as well.

5. Washington State. Part of me sees Jeff Tuel putting up preposterous numbers, throwing to more quality receivers than he can keep happy. The other part of me envisions a defense with a lot of leaks and a lot of youth. The Cougars may have to win games 47-42. (And they might.)

6. Oregon State. If anything will mark the conference in 2012, I think it's a compression from the bottom - meaning there won't be anything resembling a pushover among the 12 teams. And certainly OSU isn't. But Sean Mannion is going to have to lower his interceptions (18 last year) for the Beavers to make a serious surge upward.

After the jump softball wraps up the Pac-12 title and a likely #1 seed and both tennis teams begin the march to the NCAA Championship.

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