Pac-12 South: Team-by-Team Division Preview
It is a new era out west and what was once the Athletic Association of Western Universities has transformed to the Pacific-12 conference. Some would say it is about time the conference stepped up and plays a conference championship game. Personally, I am not a big fan of the idea but I do like the idea of more football.
So what can we expect from the new Pac-12? Pretty much the same thing we have been getting for years, fast, hard hitting competitive football.
I have already made the argument that the North will be stronger than the South.
And I have made my selections for the teams going bowling although I did so before the New Mexico Bowl and Pac-12 were official partners and I left the bottom a little vague.
So let's take a quick look at the South teams, shall we?
People keep talking about this rise that Stoops has Arizona going through but really I don’t see it. I mean I guess from the perspective of the first few seasons compared to the last few. But really it is kind of inconsistent and I wonder if he has hit his peak. The 8-5 seasons of '08 and '09 may be as high as he can take them.
This year is as good as any to prove me wrong. The offensive skill players are as good as any in the conference. Quarterback Nick Foles has a strong arm and his targets are top notch. The wide receivers are top of the conference and could make an argument for top in the nation. Antolin was a solid running back with Grigsby but now will carry much more.
The offensive line is green. Out of all the returning players on the line, one guy has one start. That is all. This unit needs to come together fast to provide Foles protection and time, and open holes for Antolin.
When going for points, having a reliable kicker like Zendejas is always a plus. He finished the year on a low note though so hopefully he has recovered.
The defense may be leaned on a bit to start the season. Unfortunately what was a strength last season is a weakness this year. The defensive line, and more specifically the ends, is pretty much starting from scratch. Washington, the only starter back, is only a sophomore. It gets a little better in the middle and the spring loss of Fischer didn’t help.
The secondary looked good but suddenly after last week might be a question. Starting corner McKnight went down with a knee injury. While he was announced as the starter in the reports, most all early projections had him as a backup. This means the position should still be in fairly good shape.
The scheduler must not care much for Arizona because they have one of the hardest stretches of games I have seen on any schedule this season. After opening with Northern Arizona, the Wildcats will take a trip to No. 8 Oklahoma State, host No.3 Oregon and No. 6 Stanford before going to No. 25 USC in four consecutive weeks. The rest of the schedule looks manageable but I still see another 8-win season coming.
The Wildcats could be a South Division contender but I wouldn’t put money on it. They will still get a decent bowl bid. Hopefully they can show better than in their last two bowls.
Since the end of last season all I have been hearing about from the South Division is Arizona State. I don’t get it. Was it the 6-6 record and no bowl game? Was it that two of those wins were over FCS teams? Maybe because two of their other wins were by 10 and one point.
So they have eight starters back on offense. That’s good I suppose but it is being led by a new quarterback. The run game will need to be the strength behind Marshall and Lewis and there should be just enough in the passing to keep defenses honest. Still, I see a fairly average offense this season.
Defensively they are really strong. Oh wait, they are falling apart. Right now Arizona State will be without the services of starting line backer senior Brandon McGee and All Pac-10 corner Omar Bolden. There was also the loss of starting defensive end Brooks for personal reasons and you have to wonder if the defense will be one of the best in the nation as some projected.
The Sun Devils go from one of the only teams to play two FCS teams last season to being one of the only teams playing two teams from BCS conferences in the non-conference slate. Both are winnable, however. They avoid Stanford out of the north and have to travel to Utah and Oregon as two of the potentially most difficult road games.
I do like them to contend for the division but they are not my favorite. I also look for them to return to a bowl this season.
Keep with me here as this might be difficult. I honestly don’t know a ton here. As a new team to the conference I haven’t followed them as close as the other teams. And it is a little hard to know just what the numbers will mean as they will now be facing different offenses and defenses than last year.They now have different coaches to coach against and different players to plan for.
Not to mention they have a new coaching staff themselves.
What I do know that I do like is running back Rodney Stewart. Stewart is a quality back who will end the season as one of the top backs in the conference. The line in front of him is experienced and should open great lanes for him. Quarterback Hansen has experience and is serviceable and if the coaches play it right he could break out this season.
I don’t have much faith in the defense. They only return a handful of guys from a defense that wasn’t much to talk about last season. Up front, in the middle, or on the corners, it doesn’t matter what level you are talking about, there are holes. Hartigan and Perick are a couple bright spots up front but they can’t do it all themselves.
Colorado plays 13 games in 13 weeks with no breaks. They play nine conference games but have 10 conference teams on the schedule as California will be played as a non-conference game. The Buffs play five conference road games and have to make trips to defending WAC champion Hawaii, defending Big 10 champion Ohio State, as well as Stanford, Arizona State, and Utah.
I don’t expect them to be in a bowl at season's end but they wont fall flat on their face either.
There was a lot of hype and fanfare when Neuheisel was brought in to coach and revive the bruins. Now there is a lot of muttering and seat burning.
Neuheisel has always been touted as a quarterback coach so he took over the position this year along with his overall duties. Last I knew though the job was still being fought over between Brehout and Prince.
Running back on the other hand is no question as Jonathan Franklin is back to lead the charge. With Coleman and Jones behind him, UCLA will be strong running the ball. That is to say if the line rebuilds. Only two returning starters are back but Franklin should be able to run through whatever holes they provide.
Last season the defense was, in a word, bad. The Bruin defense finished ranked 94th in the country and 108th against the run. While they lose Moore, they return the other three in the secondary and I think this will be the strength of this years defense.
I will give the line some credit as they also only lose one starter but like I said the run defense wasn’t that great last year.
I have a hard time with this team and how I think their schedule breaks down. I know they beat Houston and Texas last season, but I am not sure they can do it again. In conference they do miss Oregon but for all the games that I see as winnable for them, I would have to say are nearly losable too. I have to go with my gut and say no bowl and bye bye Neuheisel.
NCAA sanctions, post season bans, scholarship losses and USC is still one of the best teams out there. They have highly touted players at every position and backing them up too. No, the questions don’t come from talent on the field. No, it takes more than talent all over the place to make a good overall team.
Quarterback Barkley was highly recruited but hasn’t lived up to the hype in my opinion. He has only one proven wide out back in Woods. The running back position here has been done by committee for a few seasons and with Tyler and Baxter here I expect much of the same. The offensive line is my main question with a couple of new guys stepping in maybe even some freshman both true and red shirt.
Defensively they are just as loaded with talent but again a lot of it is untested and unproven. Coordinator Monte Kiffin has been considered a great defensive minded coach especially in the NFL. So far in college, it hasn’t translated as well.
If I had to pick a weakness I think I would go for the secondary. They only return two starters from a unit that, believe it or not, ranked 109th nationally in pass defense. I fully expect an improvement because really I can’t see it getting worse.
I am still not sold on Kiffin as a coach either. I don’t think he is a bad coach, but he hasn’t really shown he is a good one either. Really with a record of 15-11 in his college career what would you call it? Just a small step above average?
With seven home games which they should be favored in all but Stanford they should still have a good season. Their toughest road games will be late in the season with trips to Notre Dame and Oregon.
In the end I feel like USC could be the best in the division but it doesn’t really matter, they are ineligible for the conference championship game and ineligible for a bowl game.
Everybody wants to see how they do. People have been saying it for years that teams like Utah, TCU, Boise State, and BYU couldn’t hack it in a BCS conference. Now we are going to find out.
Me? I am buying in. I think Utah will come in and contend for the south in the first year. Wynn is a good quarterback who has a couple good targets to throw to. The O-line isn’t coming back intact but isn’t being rebuilt entirely either. Running the ball is a bit of a question as it appears the job will go to true freshman and four start recruit Harvey Langi.
The defense is more of a question with only one starter back up front and an entirely rebuilding secondary. Most of those jobs will be going to juniors and seniors. It will be interesting to see how an untested secondary will do in what is considered a pass happy league.
Utah got a mixed welcoming message from the conference. Somehow Utah misses both Oregon and Stanford from the north. On the other hand their first conference game is a trip to USC. They get to host south contender Arizona State but have to travel to Arizona in November when the Wildcats are known for upsets.
I honestly feel that with USC ineligible for the conference title and issues at every south division school that this race is wide open and Utah is right in the thick of it. I said in one of my other pieces that Utah would be playing in the Pac-12 championship game in their first year in the conference and I am sticking by it.
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