PAC-12 South Preview
As goes USC, so goes the PAC-12 South, sort of. WIth the Trojans on the rise many are expecting the South division to be the stronger of the two. UCLA needs a strong season to salvage Jim Mora’s job while Colorado hopes to build off of last season’s momentum. The two Arizona programs also need winning seasons but appear to be falling behind the rest of the division under their current regimes. With two excellent quarterbacks in Los Angeles, this should be a fun year to watch football on the west coast.
Top Draft Prospects
1: Sam Darnold, USC
2: Josh Rosen, UCLA
3: Porter Gustin, USC
4: Lowell Lotulelei, Utah
5: Cameron Smith, USC
Order Of Finish:
1: USC Call me crazy but I am not as sold on USC as everyone else seems to be. I think Darnold is very good, but Rosen is better. Helton has done a good job, Ronald Jones is the real deal at tailback, Deontay Burnett is a talented and experienced receiver, and Darnold is…..very good, but the offense only returns two other starters and might struggle early to maintain consistency and they play Stanford in week 2. Defensively the team will be led by linebacker Cameron Smith and defensive end Porter Gustin, both are first round prospects with Gustin being among the handful of players being discussed as top 10 caliber talent. Losing Adoree Jackson at cornerback will hurt the team's big play potential but might help their yards per game and pass defense efficiency overall. I would expect USC to pick up close to where they left off but September matchups against Stanford and at Washington State are both going to be tough matchups for a team with only 5 returning starters on offense. They’ll need their defense to dominate early. I see 11 regular season wind for the Trojans.
2: UCLA I am not buying that whichever coach loses the Texas A&M UCLA game is going to be fired immediately. It is an important game for both programs but each coach deserves the benefit of the doubt until conference play begins, at least. Josh Rosen will get a lot of hype this year and needs to stay healthy to make sure that NFL teams can talk about his play and not his eccentricities off the field. Rosen returns with 8 other starters from last year’s squad, including 4 offensive linemen. Darren Andrews and Jordan Lasley give Rosen to experienced and productive targets at receiver and the top 4 rushers from last season also return. UCLA should be able to score early and often. The Bruins return 6 defensive starters, including 3 defensive backs. Safeties Jaleel Wadood and Adarius Pickett will both push for All Conference honors and should help stabilize the defense along with senior inside linebacker Kenny Young. Given that 5 of the returning starters line up in the middle of the defense I would expect UCLA to improve upon last seasons numbers and be stingier in the redzone and on third down plays. There are 4 games on the Bruins schedule where they are going to be even or underdogs. I expect them to win at least 1 and finish with 9 regular season wins.
3: Colorado Mike MacIntyre’s Buffalos were one of the better stories of 2017. It was nice to see Colorado return to a place of prominence for the first time since the 90’s. MacIntyre appears to be grooming his players for a few years, which is smart, instead of chasing players that barely qualify and will expect early playing time. With 9 returning starters the Buffaloes offense should pick up right where it left off. Phillip Lindsey should have another great season rushing the ball while Devin Ross, Shay Fields, and Bryce Bobo will provide three steady receiving options for first time quarterback Steven Montez. It also helps that the offensive line returns 4 starters. With only 3 defensive starters returning what was a strength of last season’s team will almost certainly be a weakness.The secondary will still enjoy some veteran leadership after losing it’s two All Conference cornerbacks last season. Afolabi Laguda is a steadying force that will help his teammates out immeasurably while Isaiah Oliver offers similar potential to last years starters. Colorado isn’t going to win 10 games this year. They should win 7 though which will allow them to qualify for the postseason for the second time in a row. A nice step up for their program.
4: Arizona State The biggest addition the Sun Devils made this year was the hiring of Billy Napier from Alabama. With a slew of skill position talent returning, including excellent running back tandem Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage I would expect the Sun Devils to run all over their opponents. Defensively the team has 6 returning starters including linebackers Koron Crump and DJ Calhoun and linemen Tashon Smallwood and Jojo wicker. The Sun Devils should have just enough ability to run and stop the run that they will have an edge against many of their similarly talented opponents. I expect the team to win 7, or maybe, 8 games and make a bowl game.
5: Utah Few coaches are more unheralded than Kyle Whittingham. Whittingham has won 9 or more games in 7 of his 12 seasons as Head Coach and has never won fewer than 5 games. This season a winning record might be harder to come by. Utah returns only 9 starters to this team and while quarterback Troy WIlliams returns, along with two returning starters at receiver, the Utes have only a single offensive lineman returning. Offensive line experience is the best indicator for offensive efficiency in college football and without it I expect Utah to struggle. Defensively Lowell Lotulelei should be among the first defensive linemen drafted and the best defensive linemen in college football. He’s an All American and should help stabilize a defense that sorely needs veteran leadership. Chase Hansen is a solid player that will make sure inexperienced teammates are in the right position. I’m not high on Utah’s chances this season though. I expect them to win 6 or 7 games.
6: Arizona The Wildcats are a tough team to scout. They simply don’t have a lot of talent on their roster, which Rich Rodriguez has been known to work around in the past. Their OOC schedule has Houston, which will likely be a loss, and they will not be able to hang with the PAC-12 heavyweights. They do have 14 returning starters though which could give them an edge in games against Utah, Colorado, Arizona State, Oregon and Oregon State. How they do in those 5 games will determine their season. 3-2 there should have them bowl eligible. I think they’ll fall just shy and win 5 games.