2012 Pac 12 South Division Preview

College Football
Pac 12 South Division
All odds courtesy of Bovada

USC is a heavy favorite to win both the Pac 12 South and the Pac 12 Championship game.

After being on probation for the last two seasons, the USC Trojans are again eligible for the Pac 12 title and post season play. The Trojans are loaded and expected to be the #1 team in the pre-season rankings. They will likely battle three time defending conference champ Oregon for the Pac 12 title.

Let’s take a look at the Pac 12 South Division. The winner will face the winner of the Pac 12 North Division November 30 in the Pac 12 Championship game. I will give the odds to win the South Division, the Pac 12 title, and the BCS Championship courtesy of Bovada.

USC – (1/6 South, 5/8 Pac 12, 7/2 BCS)

Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley decided to return to the Trojans for his senior year rather than go to the NFL draft. He said he wanted to pursue a national championship. It goes without saying that USC coach Lane Kiffin and Trojan fans were very happy with that decision. The Trojans finished 10-2 last season with losses to Arizona St and Stanford.

Even though the postseason ban has been lifted, USC still has scholarship restrictions that will affect the depth. The Trojans still have one of the most talented teams in the nation. Barkley, the pre-season Heisman Trophy favorite, will have plenty of targets to catch his passes. Robert Woods and Marqise Lee might be the best wide receiver tandem in the country. Woods had surgery to repair some torn ligaments in his ankle last December. He didn’t play at all during the spring, but reports say he should be medically cleared by the time fall practice starts. Running back Curtis McNeal will get most of the carries. However, the Trojans don’t have a lot of depth behind him, so needs to stay healthy.

USC gave up a ton of big plays through the air last year on defense, but should be much better this year. There are questions on the line, but the rest of the defense is very solid.

USC plays non conference games against Hawaii, Syracuse (in East Rutherford, NJ), and gets rival Notre Dame at home to close out the regular season Thanksgiving weekend. The conference schedule includes road games at Stanford, Utah, Washington, Arizona, and UCLA and home games against Cal, Colorado, Oregon, and Arizona St. Both USC and Oregon should both be undefeated and ranked in the top 10 or maybe even top 5  at the time of their November 3 showdown in LA. The two will likely meet again the Pac 12 Championship game. USC has a very good shot of winning the Pac 12 and at least going to the Rose Bowl if not the BCS Championship game.

Arizona – (10/1 South, 35/1 Pac 12, 250/1 BCS)

Arizona fired coach Mike Stoops last year after 8 years.  Stoops complained that Arizona’s football facilities were woefully inadequate, and it would be impossible to build a winner in football at a perennial basketball school. Former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez takes over the program after a disappointing 4-8 campaign last year. Rodriguez will try to prove Stoops wrong. Rodriguez will still employ the spread, but will focus more on the run instead of the pass. Rodriguez also switched the defense to his preferred 3-3-5 system under defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel.

Quarterback Matt Scott takes over at quarterback for the departed Nick Foles. Scott has the tools to succeed as the dual run/pass threat that Rodriguez likes to use in his system. Rodriguez has recruited such quarterbacks as Shaun King, Woodrow Dantzler, Pat White, Denard Robinson in his coaching career as an offensive coordinator at Tulane and Clemson, and head coach at West Virginia and Michigan.

If Scott settles into the new system, the offense should do well with running  backs Ka’Deem Carey and Daniel Jenkins. The Wildcats lost 4 of their top 5 receivers from last year, but Dan Buckner is a reliable target. The line was very young last year due to some injuries, but that experience will make the young kids forced into action last year better this year.

Arizona opens with three home games against Toledo, Oklahoma St, and South Carolina St. The conference slate includes road games at Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, and Utah, and home games against Oregon St, USC, Washington, Colorado, and Arizona St. The Wildcats might get to six wins, but it will be difficult with a new offense and new defense.

Utah – (10/1 South, 35/1 Pac 12, BCS No Line)

Last year, Utah had a chance to win the South division. All the Utes had to do was beat lowly Colorado at home in the last game, and they would have gone to the Pac 12 Championship game in their first year in conference. However, turnovers doomed the Utes in a sloppy 17-14 loss that dropped them to 7-5 and gave the division title to UCLA. Utah did beat Georgia Tech 30-27 in overtime in the Sun Bowl.

Utah, coached by Kyle Whittingham, has a lot of talent returning and should be the second best team in the Pac 12 South behind USC. (USC would have won the division title last year handily had they been eligible.) Utah replaced offensive coordinator Norman Chow who left to become the head coach at Hawaii. In a risky gamble Whittingham went with 25 year old former Utes quarterback Brian Johnson, who led Utah to an undefeated season and a Sugar Bowl upset over Alabama a few years ago. He coached the quarterbacks last year under Chow, but he is still just 25 years old.

Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn is a senior and actually took over for Johnson as a true freshman in 2009. Wynn has battled injuries to both shoulders in his career. He missed the last 9 games last season with a shoulder injury but is expected to be ready by fall practice. The offense wasn’t great with him, but it got worse without him. Junior college transfer Jon Hays took over for Wynn. He was a better downfield passer, but he was sacked more often then Wynn and threw more picks.

The offense will lean heavily on running back John White IV, who rushed for over 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. The receivers are experienced and should be better with a healthy Wynn. DeVonte Christopher, Luke Matthews, and Reggie Dunn are all seniors. Sophomores Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott join tight end Jake Murphy to create depth at the receivers.

The defense kept the Utes in most games last year. Utah averaged just 13 points a game in their five losses, but were 8-0 when scoring more than 14 points. The defense should be another top 25 unit, despite some losses at the linebacker position.

Utah plays all of it’s games in the Pacific or Mountain time zones, and does not have to travel east of Colorado. The Utes have non-conference games at home against Northern Colorado and rival BYU and at Utah St. In conference Utah has road games against Arizona St, UCLA, Oregon St, Washington, and Colorado, and home games against USC, Cal, Washington St, and Arizona. I think Utah can win 8 or 9 games if Wynn stays healthy.

UCLA – (15/1 South, 40/1 Pac 12, 250/1 BCS)

Last year, UCLA was given the Pac 12 South division title thanks to USC being ineligible and choke jobs by Arizona St and Utah. The  Bruins were outscored 99-31 in their last two games against rival USC and against Oregon in the Pac 12 Championship game. The Bruins finished 6-7 but were given a special exemption by the NCAA to play in a bowl game. The Bruins lost 20-14 to Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Coach Rick Neuheisel was fired before the Oregon game, but coached in the last games against Oregon and Illinois.

Neuheisel was replaced by Jim Mora, Jr. Mora has never coached in college but was the head coach of the Falcons and Seahawks in the NFL. The hiring was widely panned in December, but Bruin fans have calmed down a little since then. Crosstown rival USC had success with a failed NFL coach in Pete Carroll.  UCLA fans would love to see similar success without the NCAA sanctions, of course. Mora brought in Arizona St offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to run the offense. He will install a no huddle offense similar to Oregon’s for UCLA.

Mazzone wants to pass as much as he did at Arizona St but the problem is UCLA doesn’t really have personnel to pass that much. Senior quarterbacks Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut split the snaps last year, but neither was that great. They will compete for the job with redshirt freshman Brett Hundley, who had a good spring. The Bruins lose their top 3 receivers from a year ago. UCLA’s top receivers will be Shaquelle Evans, Ricky Marvray, and Jerry Johnson. Jonathan Evans returns at running back after averaging almost 6 yards a carry last year.

Last year, UCLA’s defense was awful raking 93rd out of 120 teams. Mora brought in long time NFL assistant Lou Spanos to fix it. Spanos will install a 3-4 defense that should help especially on the line. UCLA was especially bad against the run last year, but was decent against the pass. Of course, teams didn’t need to pass because they could gain so much on the ground. The defense should improve slightly this year.

UCLA has non-conference games at Rice, and at home against Nebraska and Houston. In conference, the Bruins have home games against Oregon St, Utah, Arizona, USC, and Stanford, and road games at Colorado, Cal, Arizona St, and Washington St. I don’t see UCLA making a bowl game.

Arizona St – (18/1 South, 50/1 Pac 12, No Line BCS)

After a 6-2 start Arizona St appeared well on their way to winning the South division. However, the Sun Devils lost 5 of their last 6 games and gave the division title to UCLA. Coach Dennis Erickson was fired, but did coach in the Las Vegas Bowl, where the Sun Devils were destroyed by Boise St 56-24.

After Erickson was fired, it set off a wild chain of events where they hired SMU’s June Jones. It was an unpopular choice to say the least among the ASU boosters and the university rescinded the offer. Later, ASU hired Pitt coach Todd Graham. Graham left Pittsburgh after one season, and informed his players by text message.

Graham will use the spread offense at ASU , but likes to focus more on the run. Fortunately he inherits a deep backfield that could rival Oregon’s for best in the conference. Cameron Marshall rushed for over 1,000 yards last season. Sophomore Deantre Lewis returns after missing last season due to a gunshot injury.  Kyle Middlebrooks, James Morrison, Marion Grice, and D.J. Foster will also get some carries.

The quarterbacks and receivers are a question mark. Sophomore Mike Bercovici and redshirt freshman Michael Eubank will compete to replace Brock Osweiler at quarterback. ASU also lost 4 of their top receivers from last year. Jamal Miles should be a better playmaker than he is, but he only averaged 6 yards a catch. He did return two kicks and a punt last year for touchdowns, so he is very fast. He caught 60 passes last year, but no other returning receiver caught more than 18 last year.

The defense wasn’t great last year, but it wasn’t terrible either. They lose two linemen and the top 4 linebackers from that unit. The secondary should be the strength of the unit.

Arizona St has non-conference games against Northern Arizona and Illinois at home, and travels to Missouri. In conference, the Sun Devils have home games against Utah, Oregon, UCLA, and Washington St, and road games at California, Colorado, Oregon St, USC, and Arizona. They might eke out a bowl bid, but they have a lot of questions at quarterback and receiver.

Colorado – (30/1 South, 100/1 Pac 12, No Line BCS)

Last year, Colorado finished 3-10 in their first season in the Pac 12. First year coach Jon Embree and the Buffaloes battled injury all season. You would think that if either Colorado or Utah would struggle moving to the Pac 12, it would have been Utah coming out of the Mountain West. However, Colorado is arguably the worst team in the Pac 12, and I don’t see much of a an improvement from last year.

The Buffaloes will have to replace their starting quarterback, running back, and top three receivers. Texas transfer Connor Wood will be the quarterback. He played well in the spring game. The running backs will be sophomore Tony Jones and Josh Ford. Top receiver Paul Richardson is out for the season with a torn ACL suffered in spring practice. Redshirt freshman Nelson Spruce will probably be the top receiver without Richardson.

The defense will also have a lot of personnel changes, but they were terrible last year. They did battle a lot of injuries. Only one defensive back started all 13 games last season. Expect a little improvement if they can stay healthy. the problem might be an inept offense keeping them on the field for a long period of time.

Colorado could equal their win total from last year in the first month as they have a soft non-conference schedule. They open in Denver against rival Colorado St, before hosting Sacramento St and traveling to Fresno St. In conference, have road games at Washington St, USC, Oregon, and Arizona, and have home games against UCLA, Arizona St, Stanford, Washington, and Utah. Like Utah, they play all their games in the western United States, but that two game road trip to USC and Oregon won’t do them any favors. The Buffs might win 5 games, but 4 is more likely.

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