Sunday, August 9, 2015

College Football Preview 2015: PAC-12

Of course every fan of every team in America wants to believe that their team belongs to the best conference in the nation. That's a universal sentiment. If you live in the south, saying that any conference outside of the SEC is pure blasphemy. I'm here to say that heading into 2015, on paper, there is no conference, top to bottom, that is better than the PAC-12. There are easily four, maybe five teams, that with the right bounce, could win the South Division. There is absolutely no insurance that Oregon will repeat in the North, and as many as three teams could win that division. Competition is such that no game is a walk away win on any given day in this conference, and you cannot say that about any other league right now. It's easier to say who won't be competing for the conference crown than who will be at this point. If you are Oregon State, Washington State, Washington, or Colorado, this won't likely be your season to play for all the marbles in this conference. If you are the other eight schools, you are in it from day one. Even Colorado, long the doormat of both this conference and the Big 12, should be much improved this season. It's going to be a meat grinder in 2015 in the PAC-12 Conference.

Projected Order of Finish

2. USC
3. Arizona
4. Arizona State
5. Utah
6. Colorado

1. Oregon
2. California
3. Stanford
4. Washington
5. Oregon State
6. Washington State

All Conference Team
QB-Jared Goff, California
QB-Cody Kessler, USC
QB-Anu Solomon, Colorado
RB-Paul Perkins, UCLA
RB-Devontae Booker, Utah
RB-Nick Wilson, Arizona
RB-Royce Freeman, Oregon
WR-Nelson Spruce, Colorado
WR-River Cracraft, Washington State
WR-Jordan Payton, UCLA
WR-Cayleb Jones, Arizona
TE-Austin Hooper, Stanford

DL-Hunter Dimick, Utah
DL-DeForest Buckner, Oregon
DL-Darryl Paulo, Washington State
LB-Scooby Wright III, Arizona
LB-Jared Norris, Utah
LB-Myles Jack, UCLA
LB-Blake Martinez, Stanford
DB-Charleston White, Washington State
DB-Kevon Seymour, USC
DB-Jordan Simone, Arizona State
DB-Reggie Daniels, Oregon

PK-Cameron Van Winkle, Washington
P-Tom Hackett, Utah
KR-Trevor Davis, California
PR-Dante Pettis, Washington

Team Previews

UCLA Bruins
2014 Record: 10-3
2015 Projected Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Jim Mora (29-11, 4th season)

The Good News: The Bruins are loaded on offense with nine starters returning. While the Bruins were ranked 22nd nationally in total offense last fall, I think they have a chance to be more diverse and even better this fall with a new QB in either Josh Rosen or Jerry Neuheisel. Brett Hundley did some great things during his time in Westwood, but he was also incredibly erratic, and rarely played four great quarters in a game. The offense also seemed one dimensional at times, and that should change with a new look at QB. Rosen was the top ranked QB coming out of high school, while Neuheisel is a favorite amongst his teammates and the fans. Either way, UCLA is just fine at QB. Speaking of being just fine, Paul Perkins rushed for 1575 yards last season, and scored nine times. He could be even better as a junior this fall, especially with Hundley not being around to steal plays. Perkins could be one of the best backs in the country, and could be on a dark horse list for Heisman candidates. Nate Starks backs him up, but look for Soso Jamabo to find some carries as a freshman at some point. He was one of the highest ranked RB recruits in the country. The WR corps is simply deep and utterly talented. Jordan Payton returns after just narrowly missing 1000 yards receiving last fall, and Eldridge Massington showed major flashes last fall as a freshman. He could blow up this fall. Devin Fuller is highly underrated at the SLOT, while Mossi Johnson showed major flashes as a freshman as well last fall. Look for Alex Van Dyke and Jordan Lasley to get some looks this season as well before stepping into bigger roles next fall. The Bruins are also loaded with incoming targets in DeChaun Holiday and Cordell Broadus. Thomas Duarte is a super talented pass catching TE, but Chris Clark could end up being one of the best TEs at UCLA in the last 40 years. The line is absolutely loaded with four starters returning in LT Conor McDermott, LG Alex Redmond, C Jake Brendel, and RG Caleb Benenoch. RT Simon Goines is back at RT, but needs to stay healthy. Scott Quessenberry is back as well backing up Brendel, and could play anywhere on the line.
The Bruins are almost as loaded on defense despite some big losses to graduation. Eight starters return. Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark return at DT and NT, and are a talented duo inside. Deon Hollins is back at OLB, and super versatile Myles Jack moves inside this season, taking over there from the departed Eric Kendricks. He should line up next to Kenny Young, who is a rising star. Cb Fabian Moreau is a playmaking CB, while Ismael Adams will rotate at the other CB spot with Marcus Rios. Adams is also a stellar return man who nobody wants to kick to. Jaleel Wadood and Tahaan Goodman are both playmaking safeties who should have big years. Randall Goforth is back at Safety, but had some bumps and bruises along the way last fall. When healthy, he is a big time play maker.
Ka'imi Fairbairn is back at PK this season after making 18/22 FGs last fall, including 13 of his final 14 kicks. It seems that he has finally found his way after some bumpy years. Like I said earlier, Adams is a huge threat as both a PR and KR.
The Bad News: Offensively, there was very little. Brett Hundley departs with several school records, and yet was still never as good as he could be last fall. The NFL noted that trend as well, as he fell from a sure fire first rounder down to the fifth round. Hundley tossed four pick six plays last season. Despite his ability, the Bruins finished just 42nd in passing last fall. Breaking in a new QB will be difficult, but I believe they can be better, and soon. If Goines is hurt again at RT, there is only a freshman behind him on the depth chart in Andre James, unless Quessenberry steps over. Depth is not great behind the starters on the line as a while.
Eric Kendricks was one of the most productive LBs in UCLA history, and is gone. Jack will have no problem being the leader in the middle, but Kendricks numbers were incredible. It may take more than one player to reproduce his numbers. Depth on the D line is thin as well, as the Bruins are young on the bench.
Matt Mengel wasn't great at Punter last season, and the Bruins normally have a tradition of having great Punters. He will have a full season with the position after having it thrust on him last fall.
The Overview: Many pundits had the Bruins competing for the national title last fall, but in my opinion, and in the opinion of many UCLA insiders, the Bruins weren't ready last season. They are more ready for it this season, but those same pundits are more cautious this season, usually solely on the fact that Hundley is gone. That's pure garbage. The Bruins are a year older in the system now, and they are as deep as they've ever been at key positions. Recruiting is up, and the talent is increased by miles over the last few seasons. UCLA could push for a top ten finish this season, and with some right bounces, could win the conference and steal a final four spot. The only thing holding them back is their own focus at this point, and some spotty depth on defense. The other issue is the depth of the conference, which is at an all time high. Every game will be a war in conference play, and that could be a huge problem. That being said, look for UCLA to continue to ascend.
First Game: 9/5 Virginia

USC Trojans
2014 Record: 9-4
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Steve Sarkisian (9-4, 2nd season)

The Good News: The Trojans have been a little topsy turvy at QB in recent seasons, but that's not the case now. Cody Kessler is one of the best QBs in college football this season, and is a sure high NFL draft pick. Kessler passed for 3826 yards and 39 TDs to just five picks. He should have a great line to work behind, as four starters return in LT Toa Lobendahn, C Max Tuerk, RG Viane Talamaivo, and RT Zach Banner. Chad Wheeler also returns at OT, and has starting experience. JuJu Smith returns at WR, and is an interesting prospect who must step into a leadership role at the position as a sophomore after catching 54 balls for 724 yards and five scores last fall.
Seven starters return on defense for the Trojans as well. The strength of the group is in the secondary, where three of those starters return in CBs Adoree' Jackson and Kevon Seymour, and FS Leon McQuay III. Jackson is the most promoted player of the group, but Seymour stands out statistically on a higher plane. Su'a Cravens is an NFL talent at OLB, and also play Safety on passing downs. He is another NFL surefire talent. Anthony Sarao is back at ILB after recording 74 tackles last fall. Delvon Simmons is back at DE, while Antwaun Woods is back at NT. The Trojans finished 26th nationally against the run last season.
Kris Albarado is back at Punter after averaging 41.42 yards per punt last fall.
The Bad News: The Trojans need to find someone at RB who can pick up the ball and run with it. Justin Davis is the favorite for the job after rushing for 595 yards last season, but he found the end zone only four times last fall. Tre Maddon is likely to share some carries, but has never fully lived up to expectations. Maybe Ronald Jones can steal some carries as well as a freshman. Other than Smith at WR, someone needs to step up as another threat amongst a group consisting of Darreus Rogers, Steven Mitchell, Isaac Whitney, Ajene Harris, and Adoree' Jackson, who will line up all over both sides of the football and on kick returns. SO far, it's a question as to whom can take some spotlight there. The Trojans have talent on the second unit line, but they lack experience and depth. Injuries could get ugly. Speaking of the run game earlier, that was a weak spot last fall, as USC ranked just 66th in rush offense.
The second team on defense is talented, but young, as USC has eight underclassmen listed as backups on defense. The Trojans are solid, but not great in the front seven outside of Cravens, and they lack big time playmakers up front. That could be a problem when playing more explosive football teams. The Trojans have another issue, as they must find out how to stop the pass after ranking 115th in pass defense last season, as they gave up 276.5 yards per game passing last fall. That dipped their total defense ranking to just 76th.
The Trojans also have an issue at PK, as they have an ongoing battle heading into fall camp. Matt Boermeester is fighting it out with Alex Wood.
The Overview: The Trojans are done with crippling sanctions, however, they never fell to the depths that some felt they would. Sarkisian was never what I'd call a rock star at Washington as a head coach, and he had a tough situation to deal with when he got to LA. USC is on their way back, but I feel that they are still a step behind UCLA, who has beaten the Trojans three straight years now. That being said, USC is on the way back, but they have more work to do to get back on top. If the right scenario approaches, and the balls bounce right, they could be a little bit ahead of where I project, as there is solid talent coming into the system, but I fell like UCLA last season, the pundits are about a year early on this football team.
First Game: 9/5 Arkansas State

Arizona Wildcats
2014 Record: 10-4
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez (26-16, 4th season)

The Good News: Six starters are back on offense for the Wildcats in 2015. QB Anu Solomon is potentially one of the most explosive QBs heading into the 2015 season. Solomon had a very nice freshman season last fall after passing for 3793 yards, with 28 TDs to nine picks. It's scary to think that he can actually be better this season than last . Nick Wilson, like Solomon, is an all league selection heading into the season after rushing for 1375 yards last fall, adding 16 TDs. Wilson, also like Solomon, is also just a sophomore, and could be even better this season. Cayleb Jones is an all league pick at WR after catching 73 passes for 1019 yards, scoring nine times. Jones will be joined by Samajie Grant, another returning starter. The Wildcats are solid at OG with the return of both Cayman Bundage and Jacob Alsadek.
Five starters return on defense, but none of those starters loom as large as junior LB Scooby Wright III, one of the most electrifying defensive playmakers in the nation. He recorded a whopping 163 tackles last fall, and added an amazing 14 sacks. No player in the nation is as diverse as Wright, and no player can get all over the field like he can. He is the centerpiece on this defense, and will rise the play of those around him. Derrick Turituri is back at LB as well, and should feast when Wright takes on extra blockers. Will Parks is back at the SPUR spot, while Jarvis McCall is back at CB.
Casey Skowron is back at PK after hitting 20 of 28 FGs last fall, and will add valuable scoring. Drew Riggleman is one of the best Punters in the nation after averaging 46.1 yards per punt.
The Bad News: The line could have some struggles, as both tackles and the center must be replaced in camp. Freddie Tagaloa has the edge over freshman Layth Friekh at LT, while senior Lene Maiava has the lead at RT over junior TD Gross as of this writing. Senior Carter Wood looks to step in at Center, but fellow senior David Catalano is in the battle as well. Josh Kern is battling Trevor Wood at TE, while Nate Phillips, Trey Griffey, David Richards, and Tyrell Johnson will all battle for one open spot at WR.

Arizona State Sun Devils
2014 Record: 10-3
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Todd Graham (28-12, 4th season)

The Good News: The Sun Devils return five starters on offense this season, with the bulk of that help coming back on the line. Christian Westerman and Vi Teofilo areback at the guard spots, while Nick Kelly will return at Center. DJ Foster is back as well, but moves out of the backfield and into the slot receiver job. He caught 62 passes last fall for 688 yards and three scores. If he has to move back to RB, he rushed for 1081 yards and nine more scores. He is viable in either place. Kody Kohl is back at TE as well.
Seven starters return on defense, with three coming at LB. Salamo Fiso and Antonio Longino are back at ILB, while Viliami Moeakiola returns at OLB. There are three returning starters in the secondary as well, with Lloyd Carrington and Kweishi Brown back at CB, and Jordan Simone back at Safety. Simone recorded 100 tackles last fall.
Zane Gonzalez is back at PK after hitting 22 of 27 FGs in a banner season for him. Punter Matt Haack is back as well after averaging 43.32 yards per punt last fall.
The Bad News: With Foster moving to the SLOT, ASU needs to find a new back to pick up the rushing void. The replacements are mere sophomores in Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage. Neither has any kind of serious experience to boast of. Mike Bercovici will take over at QB for the departed Tyler Kelly. He did have some moments when Kelly was injured, however he needs to be the guy now every week. Foster is the most experienced receiver he has coming back, and he was a RB last fall. Someone in the WR corps must step up, but once again, there isn't anyone there who has shown that kind of flash yet, despite several of the candidates to start being upperclassmen. More bad news on offense, the Devils must find two new tackles.
Defensively, their strength last fall was rush defense, where ASU ranked 49th nationally. The line is largely void of real experience after NT Tashon Smallwood, who started as a freshman last season. He is going to have to take it up to the next level this fall. There is also one open spot at OLB, where a sophomore (Kalen Ballage, who is also set to play RB) and a freshman (Ismael Murphy-Richardson) are slated to battle. Even with Fiso and Longino returning at ILB, they could lose out to a pair of sophomores in Christian Sam and DJ Calhoun. The open Safety job will also see a battle between two sophomores (James Johnson and Chad Adams) in camp.
The Overview: ASU is back to their old spot of being severely overrated heading into yet another season. Some publications and pundits have picked ASU second, or even first in the South over both USC and UCLA. I just don't see it. ASU is loaded with youth and inexperience at many spots on the field, and so I literally cannot see how that lack of experience would overcome the Bruins, Trojans, or even in state arch rival Arizona. I've seen them ranked as high as 11-13 in pre-season polls, and for this roster, that is way too high. Look for the Devils to finish fourth in a very difficult South Division.
First Game: 9/5 Texas A&M @ Houston

Utah Utes
2014 Record: 9-4
2015 Projected Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham (85-43, 11th season)

The Good News: Six starters return for the Utes in 2015 on offense, led by senior QB Travis Wilson. Wilson at times looks like a world beater, while at others leaves one scratching ones head. He passed for 2170 yards with 18 TDs to five picks last fall, but really needs to find some consistency this season for the Utes to overcome the favored teams in the division. Devontae Booker will be key at RB after rushing for 1512 yards last fall with 10 scores. Booker takes pressure off of the passing game, and will be key late in games when the Utes need to run clock. Kenneth Scott is the leading returning receiver after catching 48 passes last fall. The line is set from center to the left, with LT JJ Dielman, LG Isaac Asiata, and C Siaosi Aione all returning.
Only five starters return on defense. Hunter Dimick may be one of the better DEs in the league, and will be joined up front by the return of Lowell Lotulelei. Dimick recorded 10 sacks last fall. Jared Norris recorded 116 tackles, and will return to start at LB with Gionni Paul, who picked off four passes last fall.
Tom Hackett is one of the five best Punters in college football, and returns after averaging 46.7 yards per punt last fall. Andy Phillips also returns after connecting on 23 of 28 FGs last season. The Utes may have one of the best kicking duos in all of college football.
The Bad News: For Wilson to be truly effective at QB this season, someone at WR needs to step up and be a big time threat. Right now, nobody has been identified into that spot, so camp will be about finding some options to get the ball to in the open field. The right side of the line needs to be replaced as well, so Booker will have to focus on running behind the left side early on.
Filipo Mokofusi should start as a sophomore at DT, but has very little experience to go on. Senior Jason Fanaika will likely start at DE, but has little productivity to show for his three seasons. Three new starters need to be found in the secondary as well after the Utes ranked just 90th against the pass last fall.
The Overview: Kyle Whittingham and the Utes nearly had a nasty breakup after last season, but Whittingham was retained when cooler heads prevailed. Whittingham wanted more cash for his assistants after watching his staff turnover year after year. He may finally see some stability in the staff, but now it's time to upgrade the talent, and it's not there yet. Wilson is a senior who has not established himself as a great QB at Utah, and he needs to get the motor running for the Utes to have a shot at winning this fall. Utah ranked just 93rd in passing offense last season, and 76th in total offense. That's not getting it done in this conference. The Utes are good enough to get six wins, but not much more than that.
First Game: 9/3 Michigan

Colorado Buffaloes
2014 Record: 2-10
2015 Projected Record: 5-8
Head Coach: Mike McIntyre (6-18, 3rd season)

The Good News: Progress is a slow thing in Boulder, but this program seems to be on the verge of improvement, especially on offense, as six starters return this fall, including all league WR Nelson Spruce, who caught 106 passes for 1198 yards and 12 TDs last season. Shay Fields returns to start at WR as well this season, and they have one of the better young QBs in college ball throwing to them in Sefo Liufau. Liufau is a gamer who can wreck a day. He passed for 3200 yards last fall, and hit for 28 TDs to 15 picks. He needs to drop the INT numbers and pick up some TDs this fall, which will likely happen with another season of experience in the books. Both tackles return in Jeromy Irwin and Stephane Nembot, and C Alex Kelley returns as well.
Nine starters are back on defense this fall, with three starters back on the line. DE Derek McCartney and DE Jimmie Gilbert are both back on the edge, while NT Josh Tupou back as well. McCartney could have a corner turning season after recording 4.5 sacks last fall. Addison Gillam and Kenneth Olugbode are both back at LB, with Olugbode recording 83 tackles last fall. John Walker backs up at both CB and NB, but could start at CB this fall with a job there open. Chidobe Awuzie is the reigning starting NB.. Ken Crawley will also start at CB. SS Tedric Thompson returns as well after picking off three passes last fall.
The Bad News: The Buffs needs to find an answer at RB to protect the passing game this season after ranking just 75th in rushing offense last fall. Christian Powell should start, but rushed for just 448 yards last fall. Sophomore Phillip Lindsay will get a shot there as well. At WR, after Spruce and Shay, the Buffaloes are very young heading into camp, with three other sophomores and a freshman looking to get time in the rotation. The Buffs also must replace both OGs, and could be very young there as well. Sean Irwin and Dylan Keeney are battling for the open TE job.
The Buffaloes have a ton of experience coming back, but this unit was terrible last fall. Colorado ranked 116th in scoring defense, 102nd in rush defense, 100th in pass defense, and 111th in total defense. Those numbers will not allow for improvement.
Colorado must return both kickers this season. High School phenom Alex Kinney will likely be the Punter, and was one of the best I the nation, but has to prove he can handle a college job now. He could also be the PK, but Diego Gonzalez has an edge there.
The Overview: Colorado will not be held to two wins alone this fall. That's the likely story, but they have to prove it now. Everyone is looking for McIntyre to be on the hot seat, but I am not buying into that just yet. He has a plan, just like he had at San Jose State, and I've heard the philosophies from him during those days personally. McIntyre is a smart coach, with a rather revolutionary approach to using the best athletes at the position that works best for the player within the system. He's building that philosophy up at Colorado now, and I believe we will start to see some of those improvements this season as the Buffaloes jump from two to five wins.
First Game: 9/3 at Hawaii

Oregon Ducks
2014 Record: 13-2
2015 Projected Record: 11-1
Head Coach: Mark Helfrich (24-4, 3rd season)

The Good News: Marcus Mariota may be gone, but the Ducks are still in great shape at QB heading into fall camp. Eastern Washington grad transfer Vernon Adams ran into a bump in the road with the transfer process, but seems on pace to graduate from EWU during the Summer term in a week and a half from this writing (8/14). He may miss the start of camp, and could arrive a bit behind Jeff Lockie, but it shouldn't take long for him to catch up. Davis has been the best QB in FCS football the last two seasons, and the only question remaining is whether or not his skills translate to the bigger stage. Whomever the QB is coming out of camp will have the benefit of passing to the talented Byron Marshall, who caught 74 passes for 1003 yards and six scores. He will be the leader in the receiving corps this season, so I expect even more from him. The passing game will have their own benefit of having an amazing run game to balance out the offense. Royce Freeman returns after rushing for 1365 yards and a whopping 18 TDs as a freshman. Thomas Tyner, his backup, could likely start almost anywhere else in the conference, and in many programs around the country. He'll get plenty of work to keep him busy as well. The right side of the line is all set from center out, as RT Tyrell Crosby, RG Cameron Hunt, and C Matt Pierson all return to start.
Only five starters return on defense, and this could be the weak spot in the armor. DeForest Buckner is back at DE, and is primed for a big season. He will be joined by DT Alex Balducci, who also returns as a starter. Half of the starting LB starting corps returns as well in Tyson Coleman and Rodney Hardrick. Safety Reggie Daniels is the lone returning starter in the secondary, and recorded 83 tackles last season. One new starter to watch will be senior OLB Christian French, who recorded 6.5 sacks as a rotational player last season.
Aidan Schneider will return at PK after hitting 11 of 12 FGs in nine games last fall.
The Bad News: We haven't seen the Ducks vulnerable in a long time. No Mariota will be interesting, and it remains to be seen if Adams can play consistently every week against FBS competition. I believe he'll be excellent, because I have seen him play enough to know how skilled he is. That being said, it's still a question of productivity in games on this level. The receiving corps is talented, but very young behind Marshall and Dwayne Stanford. Another issue will be finding new starters on the left side of the line, and getting them to gel with the returning starters. Evan Baylis and Johnny Mundt will battle it out at TE, which could be a more important battle than many could realize in this offense.
Oregon ranked 108th nationally against the pass last season, and the secondary is probably the biggest problem on defense, as only Hardrick returns. DC Don Pellum's first order of business will have to be to rebuild that unit. The Ducks weren't great against the run either, as evidenced by what happened against Ohio state, when Ezekiel Elliott ran all over them. Half the LBs must be replaced, as will one DE. Oregon finished 87th in total defense on the season, and that may not fly this season.
Ian Wheeler is back at Punter, but largely struggled, averaging 39.15 yards per punt.
The Overview: Oregon is still Oregon until someone tells us otherwise. It's really that simple. That being said, the Ducks are extremely vulnerable this season, and now must fight for their place in the ranks of the best programs in the nation. They are placing a lot of trust on Adams to take over the helm of the offense, and the offense seems loaded around him at the skill spots, but there are some weaknesses in the receiving corps for the first time in a long time. The defense needs to grow as much as possible, because if the offense has some bumps getting going, that weakness may become a big problem early on. Oregon is still by far the best program in the North, but other programs are catching up. Oregon should win the North, but winning the conference is not a lock at this point.
First Game: 9/5 Eastern Washington

California Golden Bears
2014 Record: 5-7
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Sonny Dykes (6-18, 3rd season)

The Good News: Eight starters return for the Bears on offense in 2015, and that's great news, because this could be one of the best Cal offenses, and one of the better Cal teams, in years. Jarod Goff runs that explosive offense, and is one of the best QBs in the nation. Goff passed for 3973 yards last fall, with 35 TDs against just seven picks. That's a five to one ratio. Goff could be even better this fall, and has some interesting weapons to get the ball to. Kenny Lawler is his top returning receiver, and he scored nine times last fall. He caught 54 passes for 701 yards. Maurice Harris also returns at WR, but may fall behind Kenny Lawler in camp. Trevor Davis, Darius Powe, and Jack Austin will all be battling for time. The line returns three starters, including LT Steven Moore, LG Chris Borrayo, and RG Jordan Rigsbee. Running behind that line will be Daniel Lasco, who surprised everyone by rushing for 1115 yards and 12 TDs. Cal finished 10th in scoring offense last season, sixth in passing offense, and 13th in total offense, a huge move up for what had been a moribund offense in the final years under Jeff Tedford.
Only five starters return on defense, but this unit is still a work in progress anyway. Mustafa Jalil is back at DT, and only two starters return at LB in Michael Barton and Jalen Jefferson, but Jefferson could start the season on the second unit. Barton recorded 80 tackles last fall. Cedric Dozier is back at CB, but again could be a second teamer behind Darius Allensworth. Stefan McClure is the lone returning starting safety.
Trevor Davis is one of the best return men in the nation, and will return on both kicks and punts this fall.
The Bad News: Cal has one deficiency on offense, and that's total rush offense, despite the work of Lasco. Cal ranked 84th in the nation in rush offense. Of course, we all know that SOnny Dykes loves to throw the ball a million times per game.
The big worry is that defense, and that is a unit largely under construction. The Bears ranked 120th in scoring defense, 125th in pass defense, and 121st in total defense last fall. That being said, they were actually decently successful against the run, ranking 38th. Three new starters must be found on the D line, two new starters must be found at LB, and three new starters must be found in the secondary.
The kicking game has some issues as well, as Cole Leininger averaged just over 39 yards per punt last season, and a new PK must be found. Matt Anderson has the edge in the PK battle heading into fall camp.
The Overview: Cal is on the verge of something special, but they must find an identity on defense, because right now there is no identity other than bad. The offense will likely be just fine, and will be one of the best in the nation. The problem is that Cal can only score so many points before the defense fails them completely. That being said, I believe that this is the season that Cal turns the corner and surprises some people, and the offense will carry them to their first bowl under Dykes, and possibly even move past rival Stanford.
First Game: 9/5 Grambling

Stanford Cardinal
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 6-6
Head Coach: David Shaw (42-12, 5th season)

The Good News: Four starters return up front for the Cardinal in 2015, which should be a key piece of developing this up and down offense. LT Kyle Murphy, LG Joshua Garnett, C Graham Shuler, and RG Johnny Caspers all return to pave the way. Remound Wright will return as the leading returning rusher, having scored 11 TDs last fall, however, Christian McCaffery will likely be the lead back heading out of camp, with Wright and Barry Sanders backing him up. TE is a seriously important position to the Cardinal offense, and Austin Hooper returns to start there. He is the leading returning receiver for Stanford after catching 40 passes for 499 yards last season. Look for freshman Dalton Schultz to line up plenty as well, with Eric Cotton and Greg Taboada lining up as well. Devin Cajuste is the leading returning WR, but must step up and play a bigger role this season, especially as Kevin Hogan is coming off an inconsistent year at QB.
The Cardinal is in decent shape at LB with the return of Kevin Anderson at OLB, and Blake Martinez inside. Martinez recorded 102 tackles a year ago. Ronnie Harris is back at CB, while Zach Hoffpauir is back at FS as well. These are the only four returning starts on defense. Look for Peter Kalambayi to step up big at the open OLB spot, as he recorded 6.5 sacks last season.
The Bad News: QB Hogan has really not gotten any better during his reign as Stanford's starter, and has, in fact, regressed. He really looked like he was lost a lot of last season, and really never rallied until the last few games, when he started to look himself again. He'll need to play big this fall, but is lacking in big time playmakers at the WR position. There's plenty of experience returning, but not a ton of productivity.
Stanford has always been dominant on defense since the Harbaugh/Shaw eras took hold, but there are more questions than answers heading into this season. Stanford must find all new starters on the line this fall, and only two starters return in the front seven as a whole. This could create a bit of a drop off as a whole this fall early on. The defense, has in fact, kept Stanford in many games the last few years, but now it's time for the offense to step up and play a part, and that may be difficult to do.
The kicking game could be problematic this season as well. Both spots need replacing. Senior Conrad Ukropina could get the nod at PK, while freshman Jake Bailey is being given every chance to win the P job in camp.
The Overview: In my opinion, Stanford is slipping in the PAC-12 hierarchy. The Cardinal lost five games last fall, and could struggle a great deal once again this season, as they are fighting with the Cal Bears for the role of runner-up to Oregon this season. The overall talent pool is drying up seemingly, and David Shaw's star, again in my opinion, is starting to diminish ever so slightly. Stanford is slipping into the role of second tier team in conference play, and if something doesn't give this season, next season could be even more difficult to pull something off. This team lacks star power on offense, and for the first time in a long time, the defense could be vulnerable. That's not a good look for the Cardinal, especially with arch rival Cal on the rise.
First Game: 9/5 Northwestern

Washington Huskies
2014 Record: 8-6
2015 Projected Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Chris Peterson (8-6, 2nd season)

The Good News: Dwayne Washington returns at RB and will start the entire season, and will receive a majority of the carries at RB. He rushed for 697 yards and nine TDs after starting just half of last fall. With a full year under his belt, he should be one of the rising stars in the conference. Jayden Mickens will also return to start at WR this fall after catching 60 passes for 617 yards last season with four TDs. Joshua Perkins will add some depth to the passing game at TE as well.
The secondary, which was largely terrible a year ago, could be a strength this season, as three starters return there in CB Sidney Jones, and Safeties Kevin King and Budda Baker. Baker and Jones started as freshmen last fall, so their development should be noticeable this fall.
PK Cameron Van Winkle could be the best PK in the league this fall after hitting 20/24 FGs last season as a sophomore. Korey Durkee gives the Huskies a reliable punting game as well after averaging 42.5 yards per punt last fall.
The Bad News: The QB will either be a RS Freshman (KJ Carta-Samuels, brother if former Wyoning and Vanderbilt QB Austin), or a true freshman (Jake Browning). That will be really very problematic, especially with so many questions considering the line they will be playing behind. Only two starters return up front in LG Dexter Charles and RT Coleman Shelton (still just a sophomore). The receiving corps has talent, but lacks overall productivity because of messy QB play a year ago when UW finished just 87th in passing offense. Dante Pettis is a solid kick returner, but needs to refine his overall skills at WR. John Ross is a utility guy, but doesn't do any one thing great. After that, it's a pick between senior Marvin Hall, sophomore Brayden Lenius, and true freshman Isaiah Renfro.
While the Huskies were rock solid against the run last season (22nd nationally), that may be their weak spot this season, as they must replace six of their front seven, including every lineman. Jaylen Johnson, a freshman, could be starting at DE, and be rotating there with fellow freshman Vita Vela. Elijah Qualls, just a sophomore with no starting experience, is in a battle with freshman Greg Gaines at NT. Taniela Tupou, the lone senior in the group, will be battling yet another freshman in Benning Potoa'e at the other open DE spot. Three new LBs must also be identified in camp. The one open job in the secondary is at CB, where another pair of sophomores will fight it out in Darren Gardenhire and Jermaine Kelly.
The Overview: The Husky faithful had grandiose visions of what dreams were to come when they tore Chris Petersen away from Boise State to coach this program, however the man is not a sorcerer. The talent level is still a work in progress in Seattle, and it is coming up, but the Huskies are just too young and inexperienced at key positions this fall to be a factor in the conference race, and very well may miss out on a bowl trip altogether this winter. Petersen still has plenty of work cut out for his staff this fall, and it may be a year or two more before he is ready to directly challenge Oregon in the North. Good times may be coming, but it likely won't be this season.
First Game: 9/4 at Boise State

Oregon State Beavers
2014 Record: 5-7
2015 Projected Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Gary Anderson (1st season)

The Good News: I suppose the first batch of good news came when Mike Riley took his stale self and bolted for the frying pan of Nebraska football. Riley had grown to be a tired act in Corvallis, and the end was near, so in reality, he did the administration a solid and bolted before they had to fire him. Good move. Even better, Gary Anderson was lured away from an untenable situation in Wisconsin to become the next head coach of the Beavers, and Anderson can flat out coach, recruit in "untenable" situations, and win. This was a huge win for the Beavers all the way around.
On offense, the line looks to be decent this season, with four starters returning in RT Dustin Stanton, RG Gavin Andrews, C Josh Mitchell, and LT Sean Harlow. Every starter is an upperclassman now, so experience should be key here. Storm Woods should also be able to run better behind this unit after rushing for 766 yards last season, and just five scores. HE could break out in Anderson's offensive scheme. Victor Bolden returns at WR, so whomever wins the QB job should have a very good target to get the ball to this fall. Bolden caught 72 passes last fall. Caleb Smith returns at TE and should have an increased role in this new offense.
Kalani Sitake was lured away from Utah to run the defense in Corvallis, and that's another great move for OSU. He has a solid building block in the secondary in CB Larry Scott, but DE Jashwa James is the lone returning starter in the front seven. Look for Lavonte Burnett to get more looks at DE after recording 4.5 sacks in a limited role last fall. Safety Justin Strong should have a solid season at safety this season after recording 56 tackles last year.
PK Garrett Owens will likely get the PK job full time after sharing the job last season. He hit 11/13 FGs as a part timer.
The Bad News: The key component will be at QB this fall, where very little in the way of any game experience returns. A pair of freshmen will be the main competitors in the QB race in camp in Seth Collins and Nick Mitchell. The WR corps outside of Bolden will be raw as well, with three sophomores (Jordan Villamin, Hunter Jarmon, Xavier Hawkins) all vying for major playing time. The LG spot could be a weak link as well, as sophomore Fred Lauina and freshman Yanni Demogerontas will vie for the job in camp.
The defense is in full rebuild more, as a scant two starters return in 2015. The Beavers must replace six starters in the front seven, including every starting LB spot, and there is little, if any, depth. OSU will likely lead the league in yards and points allowed while getting this unit to gel as fast as possible.
The Punting job will be handed off to a new starter as well, with Nick Porebski having the job heading into camp.
The Overview: The Anderson for Riley trade was huge for the Beavers, but this team will take some time to build back up after Riley became complacent and allowed the talent pool to dwindle. Corvallis isn't the easiest place in the nation to recruit to, so Anderson has his work cut out. Remember, this is the man who put Utah State on the football map of successful programs. Dave Baldwin is an accomplished offensive mind, and the hiring of Sitake was a coups. They just have to get the right parts in place, but that could take a couple of seasons. In the meantime, OSU will have to take their lumps, just like everyone else. No bowl this year.
First Game; 9/4 Weber State

Washington State Cougars
2014 Record: 3-9
2015 Projected Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Mike Leach (12-25, 4th season)

The Good News: I always say that the main building block that must be complete before building up any other part of an offense is the line, followed by QB. The Cougars have part of that going this season, as every starter returns up front. LT Joe Dahl, LG Gunnar Eklund, C Riley Serenson. RG Eduardo Middleton, and RT Cole Madison all return. That's great news for what will otherwise be a rebuilding offense. River Cracraft is back at WR, and will be the most experienced part of the skill set on the offensive side of the football. Cracraft caught 66 passes last season for 771 yards and eight scores.
Six starters are back from a unit that was largely ravaged on a weekly basis last fall. Experience may help on the edge as both DE Destiny Vaeao and RUSH Kache Palacio. WLB Jeremiah Allison returns as well after recording 78 tackles last fall. Palacio recorded 6.5 sacks last season, and could improve on that number this fall. Charleston White is back at CB, and NB Darius Lemora returns in the five DB set.
The Bad News: Outside of the line, the are largely starting over on offense. Mike Leach will likely make that a seamless process, but that's not a great place to be right now for a building program. Luke Falk and Peyton Bender will be vying for the starting QB job, but experience is virtually nil. Jamal Morrow is back at RB, but will likely get beaten out after a camp battle by sophomore Gerard Wicks. Other than Cracraft at WR, the Cougars will be seeking out three new starters, with as many as seven receivers battling for those spots.
The line needs two new starters on defense, with the Cougars needing to find replacements at NT and DE. There is Ekuale (sophomore) and Ngalu Tapa (freshman) there to know what to expect. Another sophomore, Peyton Pelluer, will likely start at MLB, if he beats out Aaron Porter. Taylor Taliulu will return at FS, but could lose out to sophomore Isaac Dotson. In all. three new starters must be found in the secondary this fall.
The kicking game is a major mess that needs to be cleaned up this fall. Erik Powell was a disaster early last season at PK, but will be given another chance. Freshman Matt Abramo is in the mix to start at Punter.
The Overview: Mike Leach has been in Pullman long enough to start getting some results out of this Cougars club, but it seems that every time he gets a step ahead, injuries or lack of overall experience knocks the team two steps back. Pullman is one of the hardest places in the nation to win at, and so that issue is also a consideration. That being said, he has to start producing something to justify the money that the WSU administration lavished upon him to make this work. We likely won't see it this fall, as this team has far too many questions to be considered in the conference, let alone the bowl, race. Could be another long year for the Cougars.
First Game: 9/5 Portland State

Next: SEC Preview

No comments:

Post a Comment