Pac-12 Football: Top 10 Conference Storylines for Spring Ball
We are now more than a month removed from the national championship. The recruiting process has died down, and it's time to get ready for spring football. This is where coaches try and figure out what type of team they're working with and players try to climb up that depth chart.
Teams are beginning to take the field for practices and preparing for their spring game. We may still be several months away from the next season kicking off, but there is so much to talk about as spring ball has us in full gear.
Here are the top 10 storylines for the Pac-12 heading into spring ball.
What Can Jim Mora Do His First Year?
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I'm not sure anyone really knows the true answer to this question. Jim Mora is entering his first year as a head coach for a collegiate team, and it's going to be interesting to see just how well he does. This hire may not have been the sexiest, but after seeing what he was able to do in the recruiting process, many of the doubters backed off.
UCLA has 17 starters returning, and it could be an interesting year for the Bruins if Mora coaches the same way he recruits.
Can Washington Build on Last Season?
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Washington finished with a sub-par 7-6 season last year, but showed that they have an extremely explosive offense and one of the most exciting quarterbacks in Keith Price. The quarterback is still there along with 15 other starters from last year.
In order to build on last year's positives, they will have to improve a defense that ranked 108 in the entire country. Good news is that eight starters on that side of the ball return, and a proven defensive coordinator in Justin Wilcox was hired to help.
If the defense can get a few extra stops a game, the Huskies become a team to watch out for.
Who Will Replace Brock Osweiler?
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Quarterback Brock Osweiler was one of the few bright spots last year for the Sun Devils, and now Arizona State will move on without him. There aren't many great options out there to replace him with either. The choices include sophomore Mike Bercovci, sophomore Taylor Kelly or Michael Eubank.
All three quarterbacks have thrown a combined seven passes in their career, which can't be the greatest news for new head coach Todd Graham. Although Arizona State looks like they're in rebuilding mode, this is a race that's as wide open as it gets and it could be worth watching.
Will We See an Improved Conference?
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What in the world happened to Oregon State? They went from winning eight or more games in four straight seasons to winning a combined eight games the last two years. Colorado has been absolutely horrible over the last few seasons. UCLA, Washington State and Arizona all have new coaches and don't expect things to change overnight.
The bottom line is that the Pac-12 is really the Pac-2 and there aren't many competitive teams outside of USC and Oregon. There are a few teams that are improving and could become a force within a year or two, but that doesn't help us right now.
All I ask is that half the conference doesn't have a losing record at the end of the year, like they did last season. Is that really too much to hope for?
Does USC Have Any Depth to Their Team?
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We all know who the favorite is to win this conference and that the Trojans will compete for a BCS National Championship, but do they have any depth? I know Matt Barkley is a fantastic quarterback, but do you trust anybody else on the roster to step in? What about the defensive and offensive line that lost several key players during the offseason?
Several of the starters on this team are upperclassmen. During the spring, I would like to see some of the younger players step up. I already know what the starters are capable of.
Will Oregon Be Okay Without LaMichael James?
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Oregon has eight starters returning on the defensive side of the ball, but it's the offense that everyone is worried about as they are missing five starters on that side of the ball. Quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James are the key players to take their talents to the next level.
Kenjon Barner will become the full time starter at running back, as he's averaged no less than six yards per carry his first two seasons. He'll also get plenty of help from the speedster DeAnthony Thomas as well. And Bryan Bennett will become the quarterback; he completed 54 percent of his passes his freshman year.
Oregon is a deep team under Chip Kelly, and it would be foolish to believe that they are going anywhere anytime soon.
Can Rich Rodriguez Rebuild His Reputation?
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Rich Rodriguez isn't exactly the most loved guy in the country after what he did to Michigan (or didn't do, depending on how you want to look at things). But now, he has a shot to redeem himself in Arizona in a conference that isn't known for its defense.
The Wildcats have 12 returning starters from a year ago, but not sure exactly how many are athletic enough to run his spread offense. This question may take a year or two to come up with a real answer. Once he's able to recruit players that fit his style of coaching he'll be okay. But I really like his chances in turning this Arizona program around.
Can Mike Leach Do the Same?
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The same that was said for Rodriguez should be said about Mike Leach. A great offensive mind in a conference that doesn't play defense, and he has an opportunity to rebuild his reputation in a perfect environment. For offensive-minded coaches, the best conference to coach in is the Pac-12.
Washington State returns 17 starters, but for a program that's won nine games in the last four years combined, I'm not sure that's a good thing. The turnaround job will be a lot more difficult for Leach than it will be for Rodriguez, but who else could the Cougars have hired that would've done a better job?
Will Stanford Fall off the Map?
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Before Andrew Luck came along and became the player he was, Stanford wasn't as big on the football side of things as they are now. Now that he has moved on to the NFL, will Stanford fall off the college football map?
First they must figure out who is the quarterback, and the answer will likely be Brett Nottingham. He's only thrown eight career passes, so there will be growing pains there. They also have to replace a couple of great offensive linemen, key receivers, and they need help in their secondary.
The good news is that they still have an above-average pass rush and have a great recruiting class coming in. It's safe to say Stanford isn't going anywhere; they just need to answer a few questions heading into the spring.
Can Any Team Compete with USC and Oregon?
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The Trojans and Ducks are without question the favorites to win the Pac-12, but is there any team out there that can compete with them and give them a run for their money? With several coaching changes within the conference and the talent gap being so large, it's hard to see any other team besides these two battling it out for the Pac-12 title.
Although teams like Arizona, Stanford, Cal, Washington and UCLA are on the rise this season, it's extremely hard to pick any other team besides Oregon or USC.
Randy Chambers is a B/R featured columnist that covers college football and the NFL. You can contact him @Randy_Chambers or Randy.Chambers7@yahoo.com.