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Pac-12 power rankings: Surprise, Oregon starts at the top in 2014

The Ducks are on top, but UCLA isn't far behind.

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

1. Oregon Ducks: Until there's any evidence that the Ducks are on the decline, there's no doubt Mark Helfrich's squad starts atop this guy's power rankings. In fact, it would be hard to find anyone betting against Oregon, though well-respected Fox Sports writer Stewart Mandel thinks they'll be the flop team in the Pac-12. The second year past the Chip Kelly era and first without defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti -- now a Pac-12 Networks analyst -- could mean trouble. Plus, the Ducks are without vet left tackle in Tyler Johnstone and start the year without one of their best receivers, Bralon Addison, as he recovers from his own ACL injury.

2. UCLA Bruins: Jim Mora talks a motivational bunch of stuff even during his teleconference calls that I listen in on every week. His teams buy in. His quarterback returned when he didn't need to. Anthony Barr is in the NFL now, but there's still too much talent on both sides of the ball to ignore these guys. Unless USC surprises to a great degree, UCLA is far and away the best team in the South.

3. Stanford Cardinal: Because any time you count the Cardinal out, there's bound to be even more motivation there. Receiver Ty Montgomery is good to go after a quick recovery from a shoulder surgery.

4. USC Trojans: No controversy here. I'm just going with the polls through the top four.

5. Washington Huskies: I just about leapfrogged the Huskies past the Trojans. Then I remembered the Huskies are with Arizona in dealing with a quarterback unknown. They're also like the Wildcats in replacing a ridiculously good running back. But that Chris Petersen magic ... I'm curious to see how it'll work in Pac-12 play.

6. Arizona State Sun Devils: This is where things get interesting. No bias at all, I think the Sun Devils will be darn good. But it's hard to call them a top-5 team until we find out if Todd Graham has recruited well on the defensive side of the ball over the past two years. Replacing pretty much the entire defense, save for Damarious Randall, is a big issue.

7. Arizona Wildcats: It's easy to see Arizona winning a lot of games. Under RichRod, they haven't exactly tanked many games unpredictably, though last year's WSU loss in Arizona Stadium certainly could qualify. The system will make them competitive. Hey, RichRod somehow built up B.J. Denker into a confident and dangerous quarterback. There will be the same optimism for Anu Solomon and the new crew of running backs.

8. Oregon State Beavers: Well, if they're healthy, expect the Beavs to do some damage. Replacing Brandin Cooks will make Sean Mannion's season pretty interesting.

9. Washington State Cougars: It feels weird to put the Cougs way down here. Of volatile teams that could jump up these rankings ahead of all of Washington, ASU, Arizona and OSU, it'd be Mike Leach's squad. Off topic, but fun Leach quote about WSU not getting hurt, like, ever: "We haven't had so much as a hangnail in two and a half years."

10. Utah Utes: A new offensive coordinator has these guys going up-tempo. Quarterback Travis Wilson is back after a curious head injury threatened his career, and defense should be solid, as usual. If they don't take a step forward, however, coach Kyle Whittingham might be on the hot seat.

11. Colorado Buffaloes: Mike MacIntyre is probably not on the hot seat because this team needs a lot of growing and a bit of stability. There's some offensive talent with sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau and a few solid running backs, but the Buffs need to play defense, some way, some how.

12. California Golden Bears: Hang in there Sonny Dykes. Health will go a long way in improving from an awful 1-11 season from a year ago.