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Who is the team to beat in the Pac-12 in 2012

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This years post season isn't even over yet and there are some already looking ahead to next year.

Oregon took the next step in its evolution Monday by winning the Rose Bowl. The Ducks are, indisputably, a college football power to be reckoned with.

They return most of their top players in 2012. They’ll probably be ranked in the preseason top five. Yet they might not be the best team in their own conference.

USC, which beat Oregon in 2011, is just as loaded, maybe more so. The Trojans and Ducks are clear co-favorites next season, destined to battle for the Pac-12 championship and, yes, the national championship.

Both return star quarterbacks and elite skill-position weapons. In all, 33 of the 44 players on Oregon’s two-deep depth chart are expected to return next season. (I’m assuming LaMichael James goes pro. He’s nuts if he doesn’t. Running backs can only take so many hits.) For USC, it’s 32 of 44.

It’ll be a lot like Oregon and Stanford this past season, with one significant exception: USC and Oregon can meet in the Pac-12 Championship Game. It’d be an upset if they don’t.

Hard not to understand why, with Oregon's big win in the Rose Bowl and with USC's strong finish in the regular season, the separation between the top two teams from the rest of the Pac is pretty clear.

Here is a little more...

The return of quarterback Matt Barkley makes the Trojans a preseason top five team. Remember, this is a group that beat Oregon in Eugene and fell to Stanford in three overtimes. Stanford won't have Andrew Luck anymore, and Oregon has to come to the Coliseum at least once -- and twice (for the Pac-12 title) if USC is as good as everyone thinks it will be. Barkely has the luxury of throwing to Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, and USC's defense will be led by constantly improving linebacker Hayes Pullard, who led the Trojans in tackles this season as a redshirt freshman.

They are all getting on the band wagon now...Even the GameDay guys.

USC will continue to recruit a number of top players even with the NCAA mandated 75-player limit. Oregon will get a nice bump on the recruiting trail with their win over Wisconsin.

Stanford is going to take a step back with the loss of Andrew Luck.

As an Aside...In watching the Fiesta Bowl last night David Shaw revealed something interesting to me (even if it is only my opinion)...He doesn't have that killer instinct. He is a talented OC, experienced for sure, I think Luck could have lead this team to a win, not having to relay on the Stanford kicker. You have the number one pick in the NFL Draft, a player that some consider the most complete player since Elway and you rely on your kicker?

Mike Gundy had no problem going for it on 4th and 5. Stanford may not have a receiver like Blackmon but they have some stud TE's...he didn't roll the dice.

I think the changes at UW will be for the better but they still have some work to do.

USC also has some work to do in 2012.

It won't be a cake walk but I am confident that THIS staff will keep USC in the National discussion.