CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: The Pac-12 South, Where I Picked Arizona State Last Year
Tried to go against the grain, shot my credibility in the process. Never trust a Todd Graham.
Last year was supposed to be the year of the South. UCLA had returning talent everywhere but QB, where Josh Rosen came in and played pretty damn well. Injuries to Eddie Vanderdoes, Myles Jack, and many others sank the Bruins. USC had talent, but Steve Sarkisian had a drinking problem. The aforementioned failed pick of mine completely fell apart. Defending champ Arizona came back down to Earth. Though USC ended up winning despite failed expectations, it was Utah who stole the show for much of the season with an opening win over Michigan and a 42-point win in Eugene.
It was a weird year for this division, and it will be weird again. Because its the Pac-12.
6) Colorado. They’ve won 14 games in the past 5 years, and inexplicably have Michigan on their schedule this year. But the Buffs are slowly improving, and will eventually beat someone of note.
More importantly, Boulder is AWESOME. Its literally in the shadow of the Rockies, has a HUGE brewery and bar scene, and is worth a visit if you’ve run out of ideas for college football trips.
5) Utah. Losing all of their offensive production, 4 of their top 5 tacklers, and waste their Pac-12 home games on some of the best teams in the league (USC, Washington, Oregon). I could make an argument for either of the Arizonas, but I like them to trend back upwards.
4) Arizona State. See? Salamo Fiso and Kareem Orr are defensive players I can name, and Demario Richard is a beast at RB. Buuutttttt….they failed me last year, are looking to a redshirt freshman QB, and lose a whole O-line that wasn’t that great anyway.
3) Arizona. Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson are a fun read-option combo for the third year running, they return 8 starters from a D that was…not great, but EXPERIENCE! Call it the “5 conference home games and one of the road ones is Oregon State” phenomenon, as well.
2) USC. That schedule, woof. Alabama and Notre Dame out of conference. Visits to Stanford, Utah (the Pac-12’s ‘where dreams go to die’ location), Washington, and UCLA. Oregon coming to Los Angeles. Oh, and they’re running out a THIRD Pete Carroll tree retread. Clay Helton is a little less flashy than Carroll/Kiffin/Sark, but they could’ve hired literally anyone else on the market.
What USC lacks in management and scheduling, they make up for in talent. The starters as listed by Phil Steele had 16 guys ranked 16th or better at their position for their classes. You’ll see a lot of names below.
1)UCLA. The only team in the division I could justify picking with a combination of talent, schedule, and experience befitting a division champ. They avoid Washington and Oregon, Josh Rosen is the truth, and they don’t have exoduses from any position groups.
Basically, I’m going to be wrong. I know that. That makes the Pac-12 fun. Due to time zones, we don’t get them in the noon timeslot and thus miss out in favor of B1G/ACC C-listers.
Five Games Worth Watchin’
- USC at Stanford, Sept. 17: USC isn’t going to beat Alabama, and two September losses would be a rough start for Clay Helton. The underdog has won the last four games, and USC should be the underdog.
- USC at UCLA, Nov. 19: I mean, it should decide the division. And both teams wear their home jerseys, which is always neat.
- UCLA at Texas A&M, Sept. 3: The rare opening-weekend marquee matchup PLAYED ON CAMPUS. Given the chaos of the North (trust me, it’ll be wild and will post Monday), UCLA may represent the league’s best shot at a playoff bid. Not if they can’t beat a middling SEC team on national TV.
- Utah at Arizona St., Nov. 10: Considering the volatility of this division, this Thursday night matchup will probably feature at least one top-1o team controlling its destiny in the division. I just set my calendar to remind myself I said this so I can mock myself.
- Stanford at UCLA, Sept. 24: Catching a trend about Stanford’s September? UCLA’s Pac-12 opener could set the tone, as they have a real shot at going 8-1 at worst if they beat the Cardinal. I should probably flip this one with #1.
So, like I said– USC opens with Alabama and closes with Notre Dame. Utah and Arizona both draw BYU. Arizona State/Texas Tech may well feature 1500 yards of offense. Colorado…uhh…goes to the Big House. Given the 9-game conference schedule, the Pac-12 schedules are no joke.
Players to Watch
Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado: Okay, bear with me here. The Buffs’ secondary intrigues me. They only gave up 229 passing yards a game in-conference– and the whole secondary returns. Awuzie stands out because I’ve never seen a corner lead a team in tackles (he did, 84) tackles for loss (8), pass breakups (7), and QB hurries (4). I kinda want to watch Colorado’s defense now, sounds like some fun.
Nick Wilson, RB, Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona: Wilson was a stud as a freshman and hobbled last year, Solomon was a stud as a freshman and a scapegoat for the defense’s struggles last year. They’re not quite Steve Slaton and Pat White, but they will make some noise.
Lowell Lotulelei, DT, Utah: Yeah, he’s related to the Panthers guy. Yeah, his numbers weren’t amazing last year, but he anchored a stout run D on Utah’s magic first two months. He’s a true two-gap tackle, and two-gap tackles get PAID.
All of these guys at USC: Buried the lede a little bit, but told you I’d circle back. CBs Adoree’ Jackson and Iman Marshall combined for 17 pass breakups, Marshall had 3 picks as a true freshman, and Jackson returned two punts for touchdowns and had 414 receiving yards. Read that Jackson line again. LB Cameron Smith was the league’s Freshman of the Year. QB Max Browne was the top recruit in his class, and he gets to throw to Juju Smith-Schuster of 1454 yards and 10 TD’s a year ago, and T’s Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler were both All Pac-12 last year. And they’re the only seniors I just listed.
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: The whole “#1 pick of NFL Draft a few years out” hype train currently has the loose dirt of Christian Hackenberg’s grave on it, but Rosen is awesome. He put a hot tub in his dorm room and wore a hat with a message towards Donald Trump while playing golf this summer. Even if he flops, he’ll do so in Manziel fashion.