Know Your Other Conferences: The Pac-12 South (Five Viable Teams and Colorado)
Let’s go back in time 25 years, and picture a Pac-12 with divisions as they stand today. Historically great USC. UCLA with the tradition of playing home games in the Rose Bowl. Arizona State being a good, sometimes great program. Hell, even Colorado (as of 1991) was the two-time defending Big Eight champion.
Meanwhile, the North had Washington at its peak…and nothing else, really.
Why do I bring this up? Because after a few years of Stanford and Oregon dominating the conference from the upper reaches of the American Pacific, the South has risen again.
What Happened Last Year?
Excluding Colorado, who finished 0-9 in the conference, the South was a ridiculous 15-6 against the North (with four losses to Oregon, including the Ducks beating Arizona’s brakes off in the title game). Both USC and Arizona swept the North in the regular season, and five teams had winning conference records.
Division champ Arizona seems poised for the biggest dropoff, but its pretty fair to argue that they are still the best-coached team in the league as long as Rich Rodriguez is at the helm. They return linebacker Scooby Wright, who won the Nagurski, Bendarik, and Lombardi awards last year as a sophomore, a ton of skill talent…and are still picked by Phil Steele to finish 5th in this division. USC is everyone’s sexy pick to make the CFP. UCLA is a Brett Hundley replacement away from being another viable contender.
If the SEC West had a team as weak as Colorado, one could make the argument that the Pac-12 South is set to be the best division in college football this year. It may be anyway.
6: If you read above, duh: Colorado is really bad at football, but they showed a pulse for the first time since the infamous A.J. Green suspended in 2010 win over Georgia. They took Cal and UCLA to double overtime, and lost to Oregon State and Utah by a combined nine points as well. In the old Bobby Bowden “lose big, lose close, win close, win big” paradigm, the Buffs could be approaching “win close” status. They’ll get their fifth Pac-12 win this year, maintaining their four-year average of one per year. Poor Colorado.
5: The other new-ish-comer: Utah rode a hellacious front seven to a 9-4 record last year, but as Jason Kirk of SBNation said on a recent episode of the “Shutdown Fullcast”, it was a Utah team that we’d all be talking about coming off a 13 or 14 win season if they were still in the Mountain West.
4-1: The CaliZona Foursome: I originally lumped the first two together because they have the trickiest roads to hoe, and both suffered major personnel losses. Upon a quick copyedit, however, I can’t really do enough to separate them.
4) Arizona: Reading above, you’d think I’d be higher on the Wildcats. They still have Rich Rodriguez, Scooby Wright, and sophomore QB Anu Solomon. What they don’t have, however, is a terribly easy schedule. They miss Oregon for the first time in forever, but travel to Stanford, Washington, USC, and Arizona St. I could probably talk myself into them if I wanted to.
3) UCLA: They suffer the biggest personnel loss in the conference, as Brett Hundley is replaced either by a true freshman or Rick Neuheisel’s walk-on son. Why might I regret this? The true freshman QB (Josh Rosen) was the top-ranked passer in his class, they return their top five receivers, and the Pac-12’s leading rusher. And five starters on the OL.
I could probably talk myself into UCLA, too. But, passing league and freshman QB. Let’s stick here.
2) USC: Yesterday, I was still fighting non-firing brain synapses writing the North preview, and I picked Stanford to win. Today, I become one of few NOT to pick USC to win the South. Why?
Well, you take good Steve Sarkisian with bad Steve Sarkisian. The guy who’s only won more than 7 games twice (each of the past two years). The guy with inexplicable losses at Oregon State and Washington State with good Washington teams, and Boston College with a talented Trojan team last year.
On the other hand, Cody Kessler and his 70% completions, 39 TD, and 5 picks is back. They return 14 starters in mostly key spots, including the OL, interior DL, and secondary.
They’re still a year away for my tastes. Road trips to Arizona State (SPOILER!), Notre Dame, and Oregon don’t help.
1) Arizona State: I mention Sark not winning the games he should, then look at ASU missing the Pac-12 championship game because of a loss to Oregon State. Yeah.
The Sun Devils return a TON of their defense, and bring in a Bill Snyder-ian haul of JuCos to further bolster that side of the ball. They moved D.J. Foster to the Jaelen Strong role in the receiving game, and have a QB in Mike Bercovici who played exceptionally well in his injured predecessor’s stead last year.
Or maybe I am biased because TimeHop tells me I was overlooking Sun Devil Stadium two years ago today.
Let’s see how wrong I can possibly be!
Top Five Games
1) UCLA at USC, Nov. 28: Got to start at the pundits’ top, and not my own. And hey, Rage wrote the name of the rivalry!
2) USC at Arizona State, Sept. 26: After five of these articles, I think this is the first intra-conference battle with legitimate consequences for the division race. ASU has won three of four against SoCal, and gets the Trojans licking wounds from the always-physical Stanford game.
3) Oregon at Arizona State, Oct. 29: HALLOWEEN WEEKEND THURSDAY NIGHTERS IN THE DESERT!
4) USC at Oregon, Nov. 21: Man, the Ducks have a lot of tough games this year.
5) Colorado at Oregon State, Oct. 24: So, SO far from the 5th best game on the Pac-12 South schedule, it’s Colorado’s aforementioned best shot at a conference win. This is almost assuredly one of the midnight start #PACtion games we love.
5a) Arizona State vs. Texas A&M (in Houston), Sept. 5: We quickly get to see just how wrong I was in annointing Todd Graham’s Sun Devils. You’re welcome, readers.
Ten Players to Watch
Yep, back to ten for the good divisions.
– D.J. Foster, RB, ASU: Ran for 1081 last year, and caught 62 passes out of the backfield. Now, he’s a full-time receiver, so the Marshall Faulk act is over.
– Cody Kessler, QB, USC: Everyone’s favorite for the Heisman. He loses 5 of his top 7 targets from last year, and his leading rusher. We shall see…
– Su’a Cravens, ROV, USC: He was the nation’s top safety coming out of high school a few years ago, and has already been a freshman All-American and a third-team All-American in two years. Pac-12 Rovers are essentially nickel backs, but it would be fascinating to see him as a Roy Williams-type box safety at 6’1 225.
– Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: I keep hearing the words “he’s not a normal freshman” on SiriusXM previews. He’s still a freshman, and it’s a shame because UCLA is STACKED.
– Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA: This guy. 15 tackles for loss, 18 pass breakups, and 380 rushing yards in two years? Beast.
– Eddie Vanderoes, DT, UCLA: Y’all may remember him as the one who showed up to fall camp at Notre Dame and transferred to UCLA like, a week in. Turns out he ended up being better than like, 99.9% of the wishy-washy mega recruits before him.
– Lowell Lotulelei, DT, Utah: Panthers DT Star Lotulelei apparently has a brother, and he had 33 tackles and 4 sacks as a true freshman. That havoc-wreaking Utah defense? He’s going to play a vital role keeping Gionni Paul and Jared Norris clean.
– Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona: Clinched the win at Oregon with a strip-sack of Marcus Mariota to make a name for himself…then finished the season with 163 tackles (15 for loss) AND 14 sacks. Yeah.
– Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona: He and Anu Solomon are going to make a HELLUVA read option combo in year two.
– X, Y, Colorado: Man, I tried, y’all.
Time to get back to the East Coast tomorrow.
6/30: Big XII: https://dudeyoucrazy.net/2015/06/30/know-your-other-conferences-big-xii-edition/
7/1: B1G West: https://dudeyoucrazy.net/2015/07/01/know-your-other-conferences-b1g-west-im-sorry/
7/2: B1G East: https://dudeyoucrazy.net/2015/07/02/know-your-other-conferences-the-b1g-east-the-one-where-the-fun-schools-play/
7/7: Pac-12 North: https://dudeyoucrazy.net/2015/07/07/know-your-other-conferences-pac-12-north/