LOS ANGELES (AP) — Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is honored to be considered a strong candidate for the Heisman Trophy, and he would love to lead the Ducks to a national championship this fall.
As a Pac-12 quarterback, Mariota realizes his immediate goals must be a bit smaller.
"We're just trying to win the North first," Mariota said, referring to the Ducks' division in the powerful conference.
Indeed, the Pac-12 is packed yet again with elite quarterback talent, up-and-coming coaches and inventive offensive schemes. The West Coast's power conference was ranked as the nation's best top-to-bottom league last year, and it's even more stacked this fall.
"The Pac-12 is better than it's ever been," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "And it's not going backwards. It's forcing all of us to keep making sure that we're pressing the envelope to keep our program up."
Whether it's perennial power Oregon, two-time champion Stanford, up-and-coming power UCLA or a surprising contender, the Pac-12 is primed to crown a powerful champion. Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley lead a group of returning veteran quarterbacks that might be the most impressive in this conference's stellar history at the position.
The Pac-12 might even have a chance to break the South's grip on the national title in the new playoff system, but that's all a postscript to what's certain to be a compelling run to the league title game at Levi's Stadium in December.
Here are 10 things to watch while the Pac-12 prepares for another season:
QB CENTRAL: The Pac-12 has a whopping 10 returning quarterbacks, and at least seven are among the nation's best at the position, all short-listed for awards and targeted for NFL shots: Washington State's Connor Halliday, Stanford's Kevin Hogan, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, USC's Cody Kessler and Oregon State's Sean Mannion along with Hundley and Mariota, who both delayed their NFL dreams to lead their schools' pursuit of a national title.
BRUISING BRUINS: During coach Jim Mora's first two seasons, UCLA seized Los Angeles supremacy from USC. While the Trojans rebuild, the Bruins are loaded for a run at the league title as the Pac-12 South's preseason favorites. Hundley's steady veteran leadership is the biggest reason, but Mora has a wealth of young talent led by Myles Jack, who starred as a linebacker and a tailback as a freshman.
PETERSEN ARRIVES: When Steve Sarkisian returned home to Southern California, Washington pried coach Chris Petersen out of his comfortable job at powerhouse Boise State. The Huskies are eager to see whether Petersen's system will succeed at the sport's highest level.
DUCK SPOTLIGHT: After nearly three decades in Eugene, Don Pellum has the unenviable task of succeeding retired Nick Aliotti as Oregon's defensive coordinator. The Ducks' former linebackers coach isn't overhauling Aliotti's schemes, but his biggest task might be slowing down Stanford after two straight losses to the powerful Cardinal.
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