Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, July 28, 2013 at 7:00 AM
It’s very tough to make a confident call in the Pac 12 South right now, with four clear contenders who all have issues that could prevent them from going the distance. USC is always a popular pick. But, the Trojans could only go 7-6 last year after being a Preseason national #1! Now they have to replace their quarterback. Cross-showbiz-town-rival UCLA is moving in the right direction, but they were outclassed by quality last year. The two Arizona schools are led by coaches who are better at running up the score on bad teams than they are at beating good teams.
In other words…NOBODY is battle-tested and ideally suited to make a statement. Yet, any of the four could step up and impress. Let’s run some numbers and take a closer look. The returning starter data comes from the respected Athlon publication. Be sure to check out JIM HURLEY’S big display ad on page 173 across from Notre Dame! (Note that Notre Dame will play both USC and Arizona State from the Pac 12 South this year, as well as Stanford of the Pac 12 North).
PAC 12 SOUTH
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 8 on defense
Quarterback: Taylor Kelly
Head Coach: Todd Graham
We’ve been running through the teams this year in the order Athlon picked them in the conference. The magazine has Arizona State at the top of the heap just barely over USC. You can see why in the numbers above. There are a lot of starters back on defense. The starting quarterback returns. And, a respected head coach has created enthusiasm on the home front. The problem with falling in love with the Sun Devils is the fact that they lost by three touchdowns to USC last year, and couldn’t beat UCLA in Tempe. Graham’s style of coaching tends to run up stats vs. soft opposition, but hit a wall vs. quality.
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Lane Kiffin
USC was such a huge disappointment last year that people were calling for Kiffin’s head. Those calls will be listened to very seriously if the Trojans don’t start showing more consistency on both sides of the ball. They will return a lot of experience…but it’s experience from a team that could only rank #41 nationally on offense with an NFL-bound quarterback and #60 defensively. The Trojans will have to dodge a potential sleeper from Utah State on September 21 before a huge conference game at Arizona State on September 28. Yes, the two current favorites for the division play each other in September!
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
Quarterback: Brett Hundley
Head Coach: Jim Mora
UCLA played some very exciting football games last year. In college football, that’s a sign of a bad defense! The offense is a lot of fun to watch. The defense needs to take a step forward or you can’t take the team seriously as a conference championship contender. They did win the division last year because there just wasn’t anybody special in the division. Maybe that’s their destiny again. The Bruins will only play three games before October…but will have to sweat both Nevada and revenge-minded Nebraska.
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 11 on defense
Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez
Rodriguez teams usually have feast or famine results. When things are clicking, they look awesome vs. anybody (they beat Oklahoma State badly last year, and took Stanford to overtime on the road). But things can fall apart quickly when turnovers come into play. Arizona lost to UCLA last year 66-10, and Oregon 49-0. It’s great to have 11 guys back on defense…but the defense ranked #118 last year! If the right quarterback gets the job…then the South crown is within reach. If all of the options have turnover issues…then another midlevel bowl awaits .
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 4 on defense
Quarterback: Travis Wilson
Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham
Reality has finally set in for a fan base that had expected their Utes to be really dangerous in their new league. Sorry, the Pac 12 really is a lot better than the Mountain West in terms of talent depth and top-to-bottom quality. You can’t just focus on 2-3 games a year to trick the pollsters. The Utes were 3-6 in league play last year, and only 5-7 overall. Graduation hurt…returning quarterback Wilson is still likely to be outclassed by others in this league. We’ll learn a lot about the team quickly with Utah State, Oregon State, and BYU on the schedule in the first month of action.
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense
Quarterback: Connor Wood
Head Coach: Mike MacIntyre (new)
Can MacIntyre save the program? He comes over from San Jose State, where he was definitely getting some things done. Colorado’s talent base is shot from years of mismanagement. The Buffaloes only win last year was a one-point thriller at Washington State. They couldn’t even beat Sacramento State in Boulder! Assume the worst…but give MacIntyre a chance to move things in the right direction. We’ll back the Buffs as value underdogs in the second half of the season if they start to show some promise.
That wraps up the Pac 12 South…the full Pac 12…and our summer series of college football conference previews! If you missed our earlier reports, please check the archives for your favorite conferences. We’ll begin our NFL Divisional previews next Sunday to get you in the right frame of mind for the Hall-of-Fame game.
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We’ll focus on baseball through the week as we wait for the NFL Preseason to arrive. Monday we’ll preview the much anticipated St. Louis/Pittsburgh series matching NL Central powers. Tuesday will likely be a preview of the brief return engagement for the NY Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. Later in the week, Texas visits Oakland in a huge series in the AL West. Plenty to look forward to!
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