Pac-12 spring preview: South Division
With a handful of schools already starting their spring practice session last week – and the latest being April 3 – we can get a small glance of how teams will be shaping for this fall.
Spring games usually take place in the latter end of April, but there will be some played in March.
That said, I will be releasing pre-spring power rankings for every major conference, while giving a short explanation for my decision.
Here is a spring preview of the Pac-12 Conference: South Division.
1. UCLA Bruins (9-5, 6-3 Pac-12 in 2012)
UCLA really stumbled in the final weeks last season, losing three games in a row and two to Stanford. The Bruins were able to make a conference championship appearance with the inferior competition of the South, and that looks like it could be the case again in 2013. UCLA has a lot of issues, but the backfield may the biggest one. It has to replace arguably the best running back in school history in Johnathan Franklin, and at this point it could go to anyone. Still, the Bruins have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and are the favorites to repeat.
2. Arizona State Sun Devils (8-5, 5-4)
My dark horse to win the South Division is Arizona State. Returning is a healthy offensive line and a sleeper Heisman candidate in QB Taylor Kelly, and he’ll have a strong receivers corps to his aid. The Sun Devils lose quite a bit on defense, but have some real talent from the 2013 recruiting class coming this fall to contend for starting positions.
3. USC Trojans (7-6, 5-4)
If the Trojans don’t pull off a 180 from a year ago, we will be kissing good bye to Lane Kiffin in Pasadena – and it’s looking like that’s what’s going to happen. An entirely new staff will help USC switch to a 5-2 defense, all while trying to replace QB Matt Barkley with either Max Wittek (who didn’t look the part as a freshman) and Cody Kessler. Neither side of the ball looks too promising at this point, with major changes at key positions. I’m not tossing the Trojans to the side – they do have a lot of talent – but until I see some life of Kiffin and Co., I can’t put them any higher.
4. Arizona Wildcats (8-5, 4-5)
Arizona posted a surprising eight-win season in RichRod’s first year as coach, including marquee wins over then-ranked No. 18 Oklahoma State and No. 9 USC. It’ll be difficult for the Wildcats to repeat or improve on those numbers in 2013, but still very possible. Although they lose the duo of Matt Scott and Kyle Quinn under center, the ‘Cats return RB Ka’Deem Carey – the NCAA’s leading rusher – and WR Austin Hill, along with the majority of its offensive line. The real story this spring will be to see how the defense continues to develop in the 3-3-5 scheme after allowing over 35 points per game last year.
5. Utah Utes (5-7, 3-6)
The offseason acquisition of co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson was a good one. Now Utah has someone with a ton of experience that can help develop quarterback Travis Wilson, who is expected to replace Jordan Wynn as the outright starter. The offense will be improved, but can the same be said for the defense? The Utes lose a lot of “star” power up front with the departure of All-American tackle Star Lotulelei to the NFL.
6. Colorado Buffaloes (1-11, 1-8)
It’s going to take more than one offseason for Mike MacIntyre to make any significant progress with the dismal Colorado roster. Remember, this is a team that was beat by 28 or more points in seven different games last year. This spring will be all about finding leadership and filling roles – I’m sure MacIntyre would like to have his fall depth chart set by mid-April.
Click here to check out the Pac-12 North Division spring preview.