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Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes (6) throws during practice at the Dan Elliott Field at Stanford University at Stanford, Calif. on Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012. (Nhat V. Meyer/Mercury News)

SAN JOSE -- The Pac-12 has no shortage of elite receivers, creative offenses, big-name coaches, Bowl Championship Series contenders and national television exposure.

But the conference could be lacking one significant element in 2012: Drama.

It's not hard to envision USC and Oregon winning their respective divisions by two or three games, leaving a mass of mediocrity in their wake.

Our predictions:

*** SOUTH

1. USC: No team in the country has more playmakers than the Trojans. But the Pac-12 title and national championship hinge on USC's defense, in particular the inexperienced line. Then again, its job gets considerably easier if Matt Barkley and Co. put 30 points on the board ... in the first half.

2. Utah: The Utes won't win the division unless USC stumbles badly, but they're poised for a solid season nonetheless with the nation's top defensive lineman (Star Lotulelei), a first-class running game and a favorable schedule (no Stanford, no Oregon).

3. UCLA: The Bruins underachieved last season under Rick Neuheisel and, desperate for success, will undoubtedly be receptive to Jim Mora's coaching. (If you'll put up with training camp in San Bernardino, you'll put up with anything.) Redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley is gifted, but he's also a redshirt freshman quarterback.

4. Arizona: Like UCLA, the Wildcats are a prime candidate for the proverbial new-coach bounce -- an improvement of 2-3 wins based solely on a new messenger delivering a new message. It helps that a veteran quarterback (Matt Scott) is in place to run Rich Rodriguez's offense.

5. Colorado: Won the coin toss with ASU for fifth place in these projections, although there isn't much separating the teams and both figure to be the worst in the conference. The Buffaloes have a new quarterback, Kansas transfer Jordan Webb, and a soft early-season schedule to let him get comfortable.

6. Arizona State: New coach, new system, new quarterback and same old story for the Sun Devils: They won't be a factor in the division race. But tailback Cameron Marshall, from San Jose's Valley Christian High School, is worth watching.

*** NORTH

1. Oregon: The defense should be one of the league's best and there are more than enough playmakers at tailback and receiver to offset whatever inefficiency the offense may experience while new quarterback Marcus Mariota gets comfortable.

2. Stanford: Despite the expected drop in quarterback production, the Cardinal is well stocked at tailback, linebacker and on both lines of scrimmage. The challenge will be executing its approach-- use the run to set up the pass, dominate the time of possession, wear down the defense -- without Andrew Luck's third-down mastery

3. Cal: The move back into Memorial Stadium only intensifies the pressure on coach Jeff Tedford, whose teams are 21-24 in league play the past five seasons. The Bears have several elite talents but also a slew of questions. And the schedule, which includes back-to-back trips to Ohio State and USC, is demanding.

4. Washington: Even without LSU, USC and Oregon on the schedule, the Huskies would have a difficult time finishing above the masses in the rugged North: Their top tailback and receiver are gone, and the defense is in the midst of a major overhaul. But quarterback Keith Price gives them a chance to win every game ... well, almost every game.

5. Washington State: The Cougars should be one of the most improved teams in the conference, which isn't saying much given that they haven't won more than two league games in a season since 2007. But the combination of coach Mike Leach, quarterback Jeff Tuel and receiver Marquess Wilson is worth a few wins by itself.

6. Oregon State: Coach Mike Riley's teams have surprised us before when expectations are low, and they may do it this fall -- but only if the offensive line upgrades its performance and quarterback Sean Mannion cuts down on his mistakes.

*** Pac-12 Championship

USC over Oregon: A berth in the national championship game and the Heisman Trophy could be on the line when the teams collide for the second time. Advantage, USC -- by the slimmest of margins.