PAC-12 South Preview: The Men of Troy Try to Reclaim the Throne [PAC-12 Football]
The South will rise again this season as USC is now postseason eligible. A couple years ago I equated the PAC-12 to west coast rap beefs after USC was ineligible for the postseason. With the top dog out, it became a bigger rush to find out who would be number one. When a top rapper is killed, like Biggie or Tupac, there are all the people just below them who are great who now vie for the top spot. Oregon was the champion in USC’s absence and now that USC has returned the former king tries to reclaim his throne.
1. USC (10.5)
USC comes back just absolutely stacked on offense. Matt Barkley returns and he is probably a first overall pick in the next NFL draft. Curtis McNeal, a thousand-yard rusher last year is now paired up with Silas Redd, a Penn State transfer who ran for over 1,000 yards last year. Robert Woods and Marqise Lee are the best receiver tandem in the country and now George Farmer joins them after being plagued by injuries last year. 4 of the starting offensive linemen return except for the left tackle.
Six starters return on defense as Isiah Wiley was recently ruled ineligible. The one weakness the Trojans have is on the defensive line where they have to replace three linemen and already have the injury bug. Dion Bailey is probably the conferences best linebacker and TJ McDonald is vying with John Boyett as the conference’s best safety. It’s just hard to find a weakness on this team where they could stumble.
Maybe the schedule is the only part where they could fall. USC has a habit of being bad in September as seen by their struggle with Minnesota last year, Hawaii, Virginia, and Minnesota in 2010. In the third week of the season they play at Stanford, a team that has beat the Trojans the last three years. Also, the Trojans play at Utah on a Thursday, historically a rough night for USC to play, against a team that played the Trojans incredibly close last season in the second week of the season. Following Utah is the game at Washington, who has had USC’s number a couple times as Sarkisian has some tricks up his sleeves when playing USC.
It is tough to pick the over on USC just because the men of Troy always seem to drop a game they shouldn’t. I would put this as a no-play but if there was a gun to my head I would pick the under.
2. Utah (7.5)
16 starters return to a team that really struggled at times last year in the PAC-12,with the lowest of lows coming in as a loss while hosting Colorado. Three starters return on the offensive line, Jordan Wynn who was lost for part of the season because of injuries returns, as does workhorse running back John White who had 316 carries for 1519 yards and 15 touchdowns. All the receivers who had meaningful stats from last year also comes back.
On defense three linemen come back as well as three defensive backs and was ranked 11 in F/+ by Football Outsiders. The beginning of the schedule is easy and they should get through without injuries before they face USC on a Thursday night on October 4th. The Utes also avoid Oregon and Stanford from the North and their schedule is completely manageable.
I like the over on the Utes this season. Many people forget that Utah missed three field goals against Colorado. If they had made two of those attempts they would have made it to the PAC-12 title game. One stat that does make me pause is they went +10 in turnovers last season. When the Utes have had double digit turnovers its likely they fall back down to earth.
3. UCLA (6)
Rick Neuheisel is bad at a lot of things. A lot, of things. One of things he is good at is recruiting, and while he was at UCLA Neuheisel brought in some of the best recruiting classes in the conference. They were the Miami of the west coast, a school where great athletes became average players.
Brett Hundley, a fast quarterback, was named the starter by Jim Mora. Mora brings a lot of NFL experience with him to Los Angeles and there is no way that UCLA plays as bad as they did last year. With Mora at the helm I like UCLA to go over their win total. Games against Rice, Houston, Oregon State, Colorado, Arizona State, and Arizona are likely wins. This means they have to win one (or two to be safe) against Nebraska, Cal, Utah, USC, and Stanford.
The Bruins could surprise a couple teams especially with bulldozer Jonathan Franklin back who averaged 5.9 yards a carry last year getting 976 yards on the ground. A huge hole is left in the receiving corps as Nelson Rosario has moved on and takes with him 64 receptions for 1161 yards and 5 touchdowns. Three starting linemen return on offense and 2 do on defense. A total of 16 starters are coming back and the Bruins only lost 18 lettermen. I think a push is the worst they could do.
The defense was the most glaring issue last year and was rated as one of the worst teams in the country by Football Outsiders in both the S&P+ and FEI. Again, UCLA has the players, and hopefully the new coach will get them to execute.
4. Arizona (5.5)
Arizona made a great move spending all the money that the PAC-12 Network is going to give them by bringing in Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez got pushed out at Michigan from a job that probably wasn’t good for either the coach or the school. Arizona is a state with a lot of speed in it and the neighboring states, so if Arizona is patient, this could be a great move.
Rodriguez is one of the best spread offense coaches in the country. He is run heavy and spreads to run, much like Chip Kelly. Quarterback Matt Scott is a fast quarterback who can run the new offense at an efficient rate. Only 6 starters return on offense and luckily five of them are on the offensive line. The Wildcats have to replace a running back and star receiver Juron Criner.
The transition to the 3-3-5 defense will be an interesting one. No one in the conference runs a 3-3-5 and with that much speed on the field they could be best set up to compete with Oregon’s speed, but the play against power running teams like Stanford will be intriguing to watch. The defense was pretty bad last year, and maybe a new defense is what they need. I’m taking the over.
5. Arizona State (5)
The Sun Devils have only 8 starters coming back on a team that went 6-6 before getting embarrassed by Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Brock Osweiler probably won’t be adequately replaced this season as there was a 3-man race for quarterback virtually all camp.
Cameron Marshall is one of the lone stars returning from last season where he rushed for 1050 yards and 18 touchdowns. Two offensive linemen return but only two members of the front seven on defense come back. Todd Graham was not exceptional at Pittsburgh and I think this was a little bit of a flop hire for the Sun Devils.
The benefit is that expectations are not high for Todd Graham, but he could easily leave in a year or two with no notice whatsoever. The Sun Devils haven’t recruited well and lack depth so I feel comfortable taking the under on the win total.
6. Colorado (3.5)
Only 9 starters return on this team, three on offense and 6 on defense. That may be for the better as Colorado was simply awful last season (although their win over Utah was pretty big). I don’t know if they can get back to 3 wins and beat the total. The only wins that are probably are against Colorado State and Sacramento State. Otherwise they could lose the rest of their games as they had only one close loss last year against Cal, which went in to overtime. The win against Utah probably won’t happen again.
Connor Wood is the starter after sitting out last year due to NCAA restrictions on transferring from Texas. 86% of the offensive production from last season is gone as well as Paul Richardson who tore his ACL in the spring. Recruiting has been pretty bad for the Buffaloes so this is clearly a rebuilding process. Under.