2015 College Football Preview: The Pac-12
Continuing my look at the Power Five Conferences with the Pac-12. In years past, the Conference seemed to be on the outside looking in, but recently the teams have made their presence known on the polls, with Oregon making the playoffs last year. The Pac-12 has not had a National Championship since 2004
University of Oregon Ducks
Oregon Ducks coach Mark Helfrich faces life without his Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Marcus Mariotta. To fill the void behind center, they signed a fifth year transfer from Eastern Washington Vernon Adams. Running backs Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner combined to rush for nearly 2,000 yards last season and the receiving team welcomes back returning receiver Bralon Addison. The defense also welcomes back defensive end DeForest Buckner. They have to replace a few key positions on defense and they have a young backfield.
Stanford University Cardinal
Although the Stanford Cardinal had an 8-5 record last season, they lost three of those games by only three points. This season should see the continued improvement of Quarterback Kevin Hogan, and running back Christian McCaffrey was strong at end of last season. The offensive line is returning four out of five starters. Their defense was tight last year, but their secondary is very inexperienced this year due to losing players to both graduation and selections by both the NFL and Major League Baseball drafts.
University of Southern California Trojans
USC Trojan quarterback Cody Kessler had thirty-nine touchdowns and only five interceptions. Although the backfield will miss Javorius “Buck” Allen and his 1,489 yards rushing, they intend to replace him with rushers Justin Davis and Tre Madden. The Trojans still look strong on defense even with the loss of defensive end Leonard Williams and leading tackler Hayes Pullard.
Arizona State University Sun Devils
The Arizona State Sun Devils won't have to look far to replace Taylor Kelly at quarterback. In three relief starts last year, back up Mike Bercovici demonstrated his abilities. The running game will be handled by the trio of rushers Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage and Gump Hayes. The Sun Devils have to replace losses on defense: Jaelen Strong went to the NFL and Cameron Smith will miss the entire season after knee surgery. The defense lost a number of key players: defensive lineman Marcus Hardison and safety Damarious Randall. However they retain three returning starters on the secondary squad.
University of California Los Angeles Bruins
UCLA Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley is now off to the NFL, and the offense looks to replace him with the nation’s top quarterback recruit, Josh Rosen. He'll be protected behind an offensive line that returns all five starters from last year. The Bruins defense will have to make due without linebacker Eric Kendricks, defensive end Owa Odighizuwa and cornerback Anthony Jefferson. The defensive line looks promising but the secondary is untested.
University of Arizona Wildcats
In his third season at Arizona, Rich Rodriguez led his Wildcat team to the conference title game. His quarterback returns. Anu Solomon passed for 3,793 yards and 28 touchdown passes, breaking Arizona school freshman records. Last year, tailback Nick Wilson rushed for 1,375 yards in his freshman year. Also last year, receiver Cayleb Jones caught 73 balls for 1,019 yards. On defense, senior defensive end Reggie Gilbert was awarded a fifth year of eligibility from the NCAA. Also returning to the team is linebacker Scooby Wright who had 163 tackles, 29 tackles for a loss, and 14 sacks.
I wouldn't expect to see much of an improvent from either Colorado or Utah, having to play in the competitive southern half of the conference, although the Utes did have a good season last year, winning nine games and having a winning record in the conference. The other teams in the northern half will have a hard time competeing with the Ducks and the Cardinal. If Oregon has lost a step due to Mariotta's departure, then it looks as if the field is wild open. We may have someone from the South division. USC looks like a contender again.
Next Week: I wrap up my preseason round up with the SEC