2015 CFB Preview – Pac-12

    Pac-12 Go to Selection Page           The South is rising like a bullet, but will it be enough to finally break though against

    July 7, 2015

     
       

    The South is rising like a bullet, but will it be enough to finally break though against the North Division powers?

    By Rich Cirminiello | @RichCirminiello

    Either Oregon or Stanford has won each of the last six Pac-12 titles, four from the Ducks and two from the Cardinal. At least for now, all roads to the conference mountaintop must go through Palo Alto and especially Eugene. But if the North has the quality, the South boasts the quantity, with all six members improving over the past couple of years.

    The South Division is deep; four teams finished within a game of first place in 2014, and only Colorado won’t be a contender when this season kicks off. The race to Santa Clara can be broken down geographically into two semifinal battles, the one for Los Angeles and the one for Arizona.

    The USC-UCLA rivalry is as hot as it’s been in recent memory. Both programs continue to amass a warchest of West Coast talent, fueling expectations for Pac-12 and national contention. Bruin coach Jim Mora seized the opportunity when the Trojans were still reeling from NCAA sanctions, cleaning up on the recruiting trail. And Mora has also won three straight in the series, heaping pressure on Steve Sarkisian to break through in Pasadena this November.

    Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez have been doing bang-up jobs at Arizona State and Arizona, respectively. The Wildcats played in the Pac-12 title game last December, while the Sun Devils have copped 10 wins in back-to-back seasons. Although Graham and Rodriguez won’t have the overall talent of USC or UCLA, they’ll remain in the running because their kids are well coached and routinely play to the whistle.

    Of the two newest members to the conference, Utah has enjoyed a smoother transition than Colorado. The Buffs are fighting a perennial uphill battle to keep pace in talent and facilities. The Utes, though, are classic overachievers, taking on the personality of coach Kyle Whittingham. The way this team runs the ball and plays D and special teams, it cannot be counted out of the divisional race.

    Marcus Mariota—among others—is gone. Oregon is still the class of the North Division. The Ducks remain loaded with speed and talent, and adding Eastern Washington QB Vernon Adams could end up being a stroke of genius from Mark Helfrich. Plus, unlike in the South, the North isn’t especially rich in contenders. And Stanford fell back to Earth with five losses last season and must retool on D for a second straight year. Oregon is more vulnerable than normal entering 2015, but who in this half of the Pac-12 isn’t?

    No team has more room for growth than Cal, which has a third-year coach, Sonny Dykes, a third-year star quarterback, Jared Goff, and a buzz that this could be the year that a bowl berth is earned. It’s going to help the Bears that the balance of the North has issues. Washington lost too many stars to match last season’s 8-6 mark. Oregon State has a new coach, a bunch of holes and the residue from a losing campaign. Wazzu is little more than a fantasy football owner’s dream.

    The Pac-12 continues to surge by all measures, from revenues and recruiting to the respect of being a true power conference. The South Division, though, is suffering from a slight inferiority complex that comes from a seven-year window between conference championships. USC is almost all the way back to full health. UCLA is charging hard.

    Arizona, Arizona State and Utah continue to bring it week-in and week-out. Now, the South needs one of the five to add the exclamation point to a banner regular season by handling Oregon or Stanford in the Dec. 5 title game.

    Team That’ll Surprise
    Cal – After two years in Sonny Dykes’ system, the Bears are ready to break out by returning to the postseason for the first time since 2011. QB Jared Goff headlines a dynamic offense littered with exciting skill guys. It’s on defense where Cal is hoping to finally start plugging gaping holes with an athletic corps of linebackers and underrated linemen Mustafa Jalil, Kyle Kragen and James Looney. If Art Kaufman’s D takes even a marginal step forward, the Bears will be dangerous to everyone on the schedule. This program is beginning to grow up and settle down around Dykes, which will help bump a few of last season’s excruciating losses into the win column.

    Team That’ll Disappoint
    Arizona – The Wildcats should score plenty now that QB Anu Solomon and RB Nick Wilson are a year older, and WR Cayleb Jones returned for his junior year. But it’ll take a lot more than just a dynamic trio of playmakers to get back to the Pac-12 Championship Game. The O-line has been reshuffled by graduation and the D boasts few sure things after LB Scooby Wright and Spur Will Parks. If the Cats can’t shake their reputation for defensive softness, they’re essentially a rich man’s Cal, which was a Hail Mary away from upsetting Arizona in 2014.

    Game of the Year … USC at Oregon, Nov. 21

    After missing one another the last two years, the most recognized teams from the Pac-12’s North and South Divisions will renew acquaintances in Eugene. The last time these two met in 2012, the Trojans were still caught in the thick brush of the NCAA. But the dynamic has changed since then. USC has a different coach, Steve Sarkisian, and renewed hope now that crushing sanctions are growing smaller in the rear view mirror. And the team hopes to recapture the league supremacy now enjoyed by the Ducks. When Troy fell, it was Oregon who largely filled the league void.

    5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight…
    1. RB Devontae Booker, Sr. Utah
    2. WR D.J. Foster, Sr. Arizona State
    3. LB Blake Martinez, Sr. Stanford
    4. WR Nelson Spruce, Sr. Colorado
    5. NT Kenny Clark, Jr. UCLA

    Coach on the Hot Seat
    Chris Petersen, Washington – Of course, Petersen isn’t in any kind of trouble after just one year. He’s a long-term answer in Seattle. But his debut was a disappointment, considering three Huskies were taken in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. And this program will have a difficult time regrouping in 2015 following the loss of so many key veterans on both sides of the ball. If, as expected, Washington hovers around the .500 mark for much of the fall, it’s going to start fueling the notion that former Boise State coaches get exposed outside of the cozy confines of Idaho. Petersen can change the narrative by exceeding modest expectations this fall with a very young roster.

    5 Non-Conference Games the Pac-12 better take very, very seriously
    1. San Diego State at Cal, Sept. 12
    2. Massachusetts at Colorado, Sept. 12
    3. UCF at Stanford, Sept. 12
    4. Virginia at UCLA, Sept. 5
    5. Wyoming at Washington State, Sept. 19

    Bold Statements …

    – Oregon will be the class of the Pac-12 … still.

    – In the end, it won’t matter who starts at quarterback for the Ducks. Both Vernon Adams and Jeff Lockie can thrive in a finely orchestrated system that harbors a dizzying array of backs and receivers.

    – Josh Rosen will be to UCLA what Brad Kaaya was to Miami in 2014.

    – USC prodigy Adoree’ Jackson will deserve more Heisman attention than he actually receives.

    – Arizona LB Scooby Wright will be an even better overall player as a junior, even if it’s not reflected in his numbers.

    – Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey will have his own cult following on the Farm by year’s end.

    – Cal will bowl and QB Jared Goff will finish in the top 10 of the Heisman vote.

    – Arizona State QB Mike Bercovici has the arm talent—and the surrounding talent—to have NFL scouts flocking to Tempe this fall.

    – Cardinal Kevin Hogan will remain one of the most head-scratchingly inconsistent quarterbacks in all of college football. He’ll be great one week and play like a redshirt freshman the next Saturday.

    – Teams will have success running right at Arizona State, but few Pac-12 defenses will create more chaos and money plays this fall than the Sun Devils.

    – At long last, the UCLA O-line will mercifully play up to expectations now that just about everyone is back. C Jake Brendel is the bell cow, but sophomore LT Conor McDermott is set to erupt into an all-league blocker.

    – While no single player will replace the pass rushing production of DE Nate Orchard, Utah will remain Sack Lake City because of the scheme and the high-motor kids Kyle Whittingham attracts.

    – Wazzu LT Joe Dahl will prove he can play for any Pac-12 program before flying up NFL Draft boards next February.

    – Oregon State NT Kyle Peko will be the Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year … as long as he’s academically eligible. The senior is a next-level talent, but problems with the books have kept him from playing a down at this level.

    – Washington is clearly building toward 2016. There’s a lot to like about the potential of the defenders, like S Budda Baker, CB Sidney Jones and DE Will Dissly, but producing points will be a yearlong struggle.

    – Some shrewd AD will pluck Mike MacIntyre out of Boulder, recognizing that his lack of wins at Colorado is not a reflection of ability to build a program and coach up talent.

    5 Best Pro Prospects
    1. LB Myles Jack, Jr. UCLA
    2. DE DeForest Buckner, Sr. Oregon
    3. LB Su’a Cravens, Jr. USC
    4. QB Jared Goff, Jr. Cal
    5. C Max Tuerk, Sr. USC

    5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
    1. QB Vernon Adams or Jeff Lockie for Marcus Mariota, Oregon
    2. DE Delvon Simmons for Leonard Williams, USC
    3. DT Elijah Qualls for Danny Shelton, Washington
    4. QB Josh Rosen or Jerry Neuheisel for Brett Hundley, UCLA
    5. C Matt Hegarty for Hroniss Grasu, Oregon

    2015 Team Previews
    Arizona
    Arizona State
    California
    Colorado
    Oregon
    Oregon State
    Stanford
    UCLA
    USC
    Utah
    Washington
    Washington State
    Ten Best Pac-12 Players
    1. LB Scooby Wright, Jr. Arizona
    2. LB Myles Jack, Jr. UCLA
    3. QB Cody Kessler, Sr. USC
    4. RB Paul Perkins, Jr. UCLA
    5. RB Devontae Booker, Sr. Utah
    6. LB Su’a Cravens, Jr. USC
    7. QB Jared Goff, Jr. Cal
    8. WR Nelson Spruce, Sr. Colorado
    9. RB Daniel Lasco, Sr. Cal
    10. . RB Royce Freeman, Soph. Oregon

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