With the start of the 2013 season in sight, here are four under-the-radar storylines to keep an eye on in the Pac-12 North, along with the trendier topic that reduces it to second-class status:
Who replaces Dion Jordan at Oregon?
Jordan didn't put up a ton of sacks for the Ducks' ever-underappreciated defense (five last season), but he had the athleticism to line up all over the field for coordinator Nick Aliotti. Tony Washington, who played extensively in the Fiesta Bowl win over Kansas State, looks to be the next man up, but there is a lot of buzz from summer workouts about incoming freshman Torrodney Prevot.
Will be overshadowed by: How carries are divvied up at running back after Kenjon Barner's graduation.
Can James Vaughters emerge as Stanford's OLB bookend to Trent Murphy?Murphy is going to be the focus of every protection scheme, which will create opportunities for whoever claims the Cardinal's other outside-linebacker spot. Vaughters is a fantastic specimen, but simply hasn't found consistent playing time in a deep group of linebackers. Listed on the preseason depth chart even with redshirt junior Blake Lueders, Vaughters has far better physical tools than Lueders and could be the breakout star of Stanford's loaded defense.
Does California have enough running backs?Even though he apprenticed under pass-happy Mike Leach at Texas Tech, new Cal coach Sonny Dykes' offense favors balance between the run and pass. The Bears' projected top two backs were unavailable in the spring because of injuries, and Dykes has been saying since signing day that freshman Khalfani Muhammad, the two-time California state champion in the 100-meter dash, will have to contribute immediately.
Will be overshadowed by: The three-way quarterback competition between redshirt freshman Zach Kline, true freshman Jared Goff and redshirt junior Austin Hinder.
Will Washington State deliver on the buzz, one year later?The Cougars were a trendy pick to make a run at a bowl game this time last year, only to suffer through a dismal 3-9 season in which they averaged just under 21 points per game. With four of five offensive linemen returning and an intriguing nucleus of young wide receivers, Washington State should feature a greatly improved offense that more closely resembles Leach's work with the Red Raiders.
Will be overshadowed by: Whatever offbeat quote Leach delivers next
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.