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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, August 5, 2015 at 7:00 PM

There’s a lot of optimism about the South Division of the Pac 12 conference heading into the 2015 college football season. USC is one of the early frontrunners for the Final Four discussion (current offshore odds have them more likely than Oregon to make it that far). UCLA and Arizona State are getting some hype…despite lacking quarterbacks with much starting experience. Fully five of the six divisional teams are rated in the top 31 of Athlon’s Preseason rankings.

Is this group really that good?!

It’s worth remembering that USC is often overrated because the mainstream media has a distressing bias towards major media markets. And, last year’s bowl performances didn’t establish superiority for the Pac 12 South over other major conference entries…

*USC (-7) won a nailbiter over a disappointing Nebraska team

*Arizona State (-7.5) barely got by undersized Duke

*Arizona (-2.5) lost to Boise State

*UCLA (+1) held on to beat Kansas State after blowing a big lead

Hey, nothing wrong with winning most of your games! But…if you’re just slightly better than a composite of Nebraska, Duke, Boise State, and Kansas State, then you’re not about to take the sport by storm. Particularly when uncertain quarterbacks and shaky defenses are in play.

Let’s run JIM HURLEY’s key indicator stats for the Suoth…

 

USC

2014 Record: 9-4

2014 Rankings: 29 on offense, 76 on defense

Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense

Head Coach: Steve Sarkisian

Notebook: It’s very hard to make a run at a national title when you have such a bad defense. Even Boston College embarrassed these guys! There’s no margin for error over a dozen regular season games plus the postseason. Yes…the offense should still light up the scoreboard with Cody Kessler at quarterback. Can you run the table vs. a competitive division…plus Stanford AND Oregon from the North…AND Notre Dame in South Bend in non-conference action? Look for shootouts and Overs. Good early September tests for the defense against Stanford and ASU.

 

Arizona State

2014 Record: 10-3

2014 Rankings: 34 on offense, 81 on defense

Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 7 on defense

Head Coach: Todd Graham

Notebook: New starting quarterback Mike Bercovici has seen action in the past as a fill-in. But, he’s never dealt with the extended pressure of being the main guy. Handicappers should always be at least slightly skeptical of senior quarterbacks who are just now getting their call. Another team where defense is a huge concern. Playing shootouts every week is great for ticket holders and TV viewers…but not for winning titles. Be sure you watch the season opener vs. Texas A&M in Houston. Possibly a tone-setter for both programs.

 

UCLA

2014 Record: 10-3

2014 Rankings: 22 on offense, 63 on defense

Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 8 on defense

Head Coach: Jim Mora

Notebook: The Bruins will have to replace quarterback Brett Hundley, a highly regarded playmaker who struggled too often in big games last year (the Bruins lost at home to Oregon, Utah, and Stanford!). How will they win big games this year with a worse quarterback? You can just assume defense will be a concern for all six teams being discussed today. Definitely a danger here of the Bruins getting left at the starting gate if the new signal caller isn’t ready to produce. Possibly the linchpin program for the whole division. If UCLA looks sharp early…then this whole division may be legitimate. If not, it’s a parity-racked collection that can’t defend.

 

Arizona

2014 Record: 10-4

2014 Rankings: 25 on offense, 103 on defense

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense

Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez

Notebook: Speaking of not defending…#103 in the nation? Coach Rodriguez loves fast-break football. That just leads to exhaustion on defense, and blowouts if the offense is turning the ball over. Quarterback Anu Solomon is another player who runs up great stats vs. soft defenses, but seems to be in over his head vs. top competition. The Wildcats have the easiest schedule of anyone we’ve discussed so far…with a creampuff non-conference slate and good fortune in the cross-division rotation. Don’t let early blowouts trick you into thinking these guys are better than they are.

 

Utah

2014 Record: 9-4

2014 Rankings: 76 on offense, 58 on defense

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense

Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham

Notebook: Utah’s issue is with consistency. Last year, the team scored impressive wins vs. Michigan, UCLA, USC, and Stanford, yet had a tendency to lose their fight right after climbing a mountain. Respect this team when fresh. Experienced signal caller Travis Wilson has a knack for late dramatics despite other struggles. Remember, an offense ranking #76 in THIS conference is pretty bad. Utah needs to punt less and score more to climb the ladder this year. Big first month of rematches with a Michigan, Utah State, and Oregon.

 

Colorado

2014 Record: 2-10

2014 Rankings: 37 on offense, 111 on defense

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 9 on defense

Head Coach: Mike MacIntyre

Notebook: You’re probably hearing some sharp rumblings about meaningful improvement for the Buffs this season. Respected bettors love Coach MacIntyre! A soft September slate should be a confidence builder for improving quarterback Sefo Liufau. For now, Colorado is still more likely to be a value dog that cashes tickets an upset machine that stuns the division. Stay alert with your Power Ratings on this team!

That wraps up our two-day look at the Pac 12. Only one more conference to cover. That will be the Big 12 tomorrow. Be sure to check the archives for all of our other previews. YOU SHOULD BE PRINTING ALL OF THESE OUT!

As we wait for the football season to arrive, let’s keep building our bankrolls with DAILY BASEBALL. You can purchase daily BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office during normal business hours at 1-888-777-4155. Remember to ask about our very popular “Dollars of August” package when you call.

On tap in the NOTEBOOK…

Friday: College Football Preview…Big 12

Weekend: NFC North Preview to get you ready for the Hall of Fame Game (Vikings vs. Steelers)

Monday: MLB Series Preview…Washington Nationals at LA Dodgers

Tuesday: MLB Series Preview…Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals

Wednesday: MLB Big Game Preview…choosing from Houston/San Francisco, Texas/Minnesota, and Detroit/Kansas City.

Thursday August 13 thru Sunday August 16: four straight days of NFL Divisional previews that line up with marquee Preseason matchups Green Bay/New England, Denver/Seattle, San Francisco/Houston, and Indianapolis/Philadelphia!

It’s hard to say right now just how important the Pac 12 South will be this season. But, there’s no doubt when naming the best handicapper in the business. HOOK UP TODAY WITH JIM HURLEY!

 

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Jim Hurley on twitter @vsm_hurley

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