How will Colorado and Utah fare in their new conference? Will UCLA turn their program around? Who wins the Duel in the Desert? Will USC win its NCAA appeal and improve? Who wins the PAC-12 South and moves on to the Conference’s championship game?
There are more questions that come with a new conference alignment than just the typical “Can the champion repeat?” Especially since the Pac-12 South did not exist last year and there is no returning champion. Here is a quick preliminary analysis of the Pac-12 South:
Colorado (2010: 5-7; 2-6)
Colorado chalked up only five victories in 2010. Those wins came against mediocre opponents. Any time the Buffaloes faced a bigger challenge, the result was a loss. So the University fired head coach Dan Hawkins. Now Colorado has a new head coach in Jon Embree, who is busy getting to know his new staff, recruiting better players and figuring how the Buffaloes might compete in the new Pac-12 conference against new opponents.
Coach Embree inherits a less-than-average 19-39 team—comprised of recruiting classes that usually fell somewhere between 30th and 60th in the nation. Winning enough games in the Pac-12 is going to be hard for Colorado for the next few years. WR Paul Richardson, the Big 12 offensive Freshman of the Year, is someone to build on.
Offense: The Buffs were ranked a dismal 77th offensively in the nation last season. They lose four offensive starters, including OT Nate Solder. They don’t have much top offensive talent on their roster. Putting offensive players on the field that will compete well with the Pac-12 South will be a challenge next year. The Buffs offense will be less than average in 2011.
Defense: Colorado was defensively ranked a disappointing 82nd nationally last season. The loss of four of their best starters, including two of their linebackers, will make the 2011 season even more difficult. They have only a few 4-star players on their roster depth. Look for the Buffs to give up a lot of points next season.
Schedule: at Ohio State and the Pac-12 will make for eight losses next season.
Buffaloes’ 2011 Prediction: 4-8 Overall; 2-7 in Pac-12; 1-4 in Pac-12 South
UCLA (2010: 4-8; 2-7)
UCLA Bruins only won four games in 2010 and did not qualify for a bowl game. Coach Rick Neuheisel has not kept his promise of stopping USC’s monopoly in his three-year tenure (0-3 vs. USC). Coach Neuheisel’s three-year record of 15-21 is the worst Bruin losing percentage since UCLA coach James Cline went 2-10-3 back in 1923/24.
To improve the team he fired defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough and receivers coach Kevin Daft. But it was also the fact that UCLA’s new pistol offense resembled a squirt gun with its poor performance so more dismissals could be on the horizon.
Quarterback play could be an issue, or perhaps blocking on the offensive line, but losing senior center Ryan Taylor (All-Pac-10 Second Team), and senior offensive linemen Sean Sheller, Micah Kia, Darius Savage and Eddie Williams won’t help next year. There is a very strong possibility that All-Pac-10 first-teamers LB Akeem Ayers and S Rahim Moore will be bolting early for the NFL, depleting a weak defense. One positive phase of UCLA football this year was their kicking game; however the loss of Kai Forbath, (All-Pac-10 second team), may even negatively impact special teams.
Offense: A national ranking of 99th and 116th passing nationally is inept. Especially for a storied program like UCLA; however, losing five starters and still lacking a top starting quarterback means that UCLA will still play poorly. Their roster depth has top offensive talent, but it is the offensive line that will keep them from bowling in 2011. Reinventing their offensive, once again, is also not likely, so look for more of the pistol.
Defense: UCLA was ranked 95th on defense nationally last season. The Bruins lose two defensive starters and also two of their best underclassmen who will leave early for the NFL. Roster depth of top defensive talent is almost adequate, so some of the losses can be absorbed. Look for UCLA to be only slightly better on defense.
Schedule: Texas will be waiting to playing the Bruins in 2011. So will the Pac-12. UCLA will win a few.
Bruins’ 2011 Prediction: 4-8 Overall; 2-7 in Pac-12; 1-4 in Pac-12 South
Utah (2010: 10-2; 7-1)
Coach Kyle Whittingham’s Utah Utes were ranked sixth in the AP poll before their back-to-back losses to TCU and Notre Dame. Winning the "easy-ones" and losing to tougher opponents does not bode well for the Utes’ Maaco Las Vegas Bowl hopes versus Boise State.
Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn threw 17 touchdowns with 10 interceptions totaling 2,334 yards against mostly sub-par competition. The defenses Wynn will face in the Pac-12 will be significantly more challenging.
Wynn’s top targets Jereme Brooks and Shaky Smithson, were both are All-MWC second team wide receivers and will be sorely missed. Center Zane Taylor and OG Caleb Schlauderaff, both All-MWC first team players, are gone as well. Other serious impact players moving on include DL Christian Cox, DB Lamar Chapman and PK Joe Phillips. It may take Utah a few seasons of improved recruiting to compete for the Pac-12 South title.
Offense: Utah’s offense was ranked a decent 42nd in the nation last season; however, their first eight wins were against teams with a total combined losing record of 30 and 68. The competition in the Pac-12 is slightly more formidable than the Mountain West. Utah loses six starters on offense including their running back Eddie Wide. Utah’s offensive roster depth holds very little top talent. Utah’s offense will decline sharply in 2011.
Defense: The Utes were ranked an impressive 20th on defense nationally thanks to the MWC competition. Utah loses five defensive senior starters and one early departure into the NFL. The defensive roster depth is mostly average and personnel changes will have an impact. Utah’s defense will also decline sharply in 2011.
Schedule: Playing at a much-improved BYU will be Utah’s second loss early in the season.
Utes’ 2011 Prediction: 7-5 Overall; 5-4 in Pac-12; 2-3 in Pac-12 South
Arizona (2010: 7-5; 4-5)
Coach Mike Stoops led the Arizona Wildcats to a No. 13 ranking in the nation, with a 7-1 record, before a four-straight-loss meltdown left them unranked and a seven-point underdog in their own Pac-10 Alamo Bowl versus Oklahoma State. Going into 2011 with five straight losses (including the loss to Oklahoma State), and losing most of their best offensive players will drop the Wildcats to the middle of the pack.
OT Adam Grant and C Colin Baxter (who received All-Pac-10 honors along with QB Nick Foles), RB Nic Grigsby, TE A.J. Simmons, OT Phillip Garcia and OG Conan Amituanai are departing seniors. There is a very small probability that Nick Foles will forego the NFL, but big money is hard to turn down. Arizona will play a tough schedule that includes Oregon, USC, Stanford, Oregon State and Arizona State. Next year will be a rebuilding season for Coach Stoops and they will compete with Utah for the third spot in the Pac-12 South.
Offense: Arizona’s offense was ranked 23rd in the nation last season, but with the loss of seven senior starters and one early departure for the NFL, this will be a totally different offense. Quarterback Nick Foles and running back Nic Grigsby will be missed. Scarce top offensive talent on their roster will affect the Wildcats and Arizona will see a serious decline in their offense.
Defense: The Wildcats defense ranked 37th nationally, but that too will drop off next year with the loss of five seniors and the departure of cornerback Trevin Wade who will take the jump to the NFL. The defensive roster depth is not stacked with top talent and the defense will also regress somewhat in 2011.
Schedule: Arizona's trip to Oklahoma State will likely to be a replay of the Valero Alamo Bowl.
Wildcats’ 2011 Prediction: 6-6 Overall; 4-5 in Pac-12; 2-3 in Pac-12 South
USC (2010: 8-5; 5-4)
Coach Lane Kiffin assembled an impressive staff, most with NFL experience, on very short notice last year. Kiffin’s position coaches will make him look good in 2011 when the young players finally learn the schemes. Coach Kiffin’s list of coaches is as notable as the eight-straight top ten recruiting classes that USC captured (most of them were the best recruiting classes in the nation). USC secured the top group of recruits again in 2010 and the 2011 class is shaping up to be another good one.
Several of those 2010 4/5-star players were redshirted and will be unleashed on the Pac-12 in 2011. USC returns 16 of 22 offensive and defensive starters (nine received All-Pac-10 honors), but OT Tyron Smith and DT Jurrell Casey will leave early for the NFL.
Despite any personnel losses, USC has the most talent in the Pac-12 by a wide margin. Any residual bad playing habits, perhaps due to the previous coaching staff, should be eliminated by the Trojan coaches in 2011. This young team, who lost three games by a total of seven points, will most likely realize their potential next year (as will Arizona State). Considering USC’s NCAA sanctions, the possibility of going to a bowl game in 2011/12 may be added motivation (if USC wins their NCAA appeal).
The team is helped by both Stanford and Oregon losing so many significant starters (with less top talent for reloading). Matt Barkley will be the Pac-12’s leading QB in the conference and the Trojans contest the Pac-12 South title.
Offense: The Trojan’s offense was impressively ranked 28th in the country in 2010 and they only lose one starting senior with one tackle leaving early for the NFL. Matt Barkley returns at quarterback and Mark Tyler remains at starting running back. USC has tons of top offensive talent on their roster; however, the offensive line could be deeper. With Oregon losing six starters on offense and WR/KOR Robert Woods' (the Pac-10 Offensive Freshman of the Year) improvement, USC may have the No. 1 offense in the Pac-12, sans injuries.
Defense: USC’s defense was a sore spot last season being ranked 83rd nationally, and if they are to improve, this very talented group is going to have to catch on to learning coach Monte Kiffin’s scheme. There is not another team in the Pac-12 that can match USC’s talent level, so trying to explain their five losses is challenging.
USC loses three seniors and one junior to an early NFL departure. Replacements are not hard to find with the most top defensive talent on their roster in the conference; however, the linebacker position is not as deep as USC would like. Look for USC to be average on defense unless they play to their potential.
Schedule: USC does not play any top 25 teams in their non-conference schedule.
Trojans’ 2011 Prediction: 9-3 Overall; 6-3 in Pac-12; 4-1 in Pac-12 South
Arizona State (2010: 6-6; 4-5)
Coach Dennis Erickson’s Arizona State Sun Devils return nine players who earned All-Pac-10 honors. Their offense and defense return 19 of 22 starters total. The young Sun Devils team finished fifth in the Pac-10 in both total offense and defense. Arizona State lost by just one point to powerful Wisconsin, one point to USC, three points to the Beavers, four to Stanford and only by 11 to top-ranked Oregon.
Coach Erickson’s biggest decision is which quarterback to start? Steven Threet threw 18 TDs with 16 INTs to go 4-6 until he was injured. Brock Osweiler replaced him to win the last two games impressively throwing five TDs with no INTs for 797 yards.
No decisions are needed on the Sun Devils defense. DE Junior Onyeali is the Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Vontaze Burfict is arguably the best MLB in the Pac-10. Arizona State may be the Pac-12 South champions in 2011, but they will have to finish the big games.
Offense: Arizona State’s offense was highly ranked 29th in the nation last season and the loss of only one senior starter, and no one leaving early for the NFL, should see an offensive improvement. The Sun Devils may have one of the best offenses in the Pac-12. Depth is still an issue with few top offensive players on the roster, but without injuries, they should be much improved. Arizona State will have a terrific offense.
Defense: The Sun Devils defense was only ranked 59th nationally, and that may fall off a tad bit next year with the loss of two seniors in addition to juniors DT Lawrence Guy and CB Omar Bolden, who will both leave for the NFL. There is not much defensive roster depth with top talent, so replacements and depth will be an issue. The defense’s slight decline will impact games against Oregon, Missouri and possibly Cal.
Schedule: Arizona State takes on Missouri, Oregon and Cal. USC and Arizona will be a challenge too.
Sun Devils’ 2011 Prediction: 10-2 Overall; 8-1 in the Pac-12; 5-0 in the Pac-12 South
Predicted Results Summary
USC will travel to Sun Devil Stadium for a Saturday afternoon matchup on September 24th to battle the Arizona State with the Pac-12 South title on the line. This will be the game of the year in the South. The 2010 matchup at the Coliseum was a one-point victory for USC and these two teams will develop a back-and-forth relationship for the next two years.
The Sun Devils will probably go on to play Oregon in the conference title game. Colorado and UCLA will compete for the title of “cellar dwellers.” UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel will be on the hot seat by the end of the year. Utah and Arizona will tie for middle of the pack. Both Colorado and Utah will need to step it up to better compete in the Pac-12.
Pac-12 South Predicted Results Table