1. Arizona Wildcats
Now that Rich Rodriguez finished playing roulette with his quarterback position, Jesse Scroggins is the man under center. A redshirt senior, the offense should move the way Coach likes it. After B.J. Denker produced a solid senior season last year with close to 3,500 yards and 29 total offensive touchdowns, Rich Rodriguez had serious questions about who will be under center this fall. With Scroggins looking as the standout to win the starting job, Rich has the right QB to run his spread, zone read offense. When running a zone read offense, there must be a running back to set off the attention from the quarterback. Is this a dilemma? Absolutely. Not getting Jared Baker back until possibly mid-season, the Wildcats are going to have to put the burden on redshirt freshman Zach Green.
The Wildcats had trouble containing offenses last year, finishing near the bottom of the conference, which was better than the defense of 2012. If Jake Casteel’s defense is going to improve they are going to have to do it without their top two tacklers and sack leader from last year in Jake Fischer, Marquis Flowers and Sione Tuihalamaka respectively. Hopefully, Wildcats fans can depend on JUCO transfers and Redshirt fill-ins can come in and do the job.
Projected record in the PAC-12 will be 6-6, and 4th in the South Division.
2. Arizona State
If the Sun Devils want to stay in the hunt for another Pac 12 Championship run it will come on the shoulders of their senior quarterback Taylor Kelly, especially since Marion Grice the Sun Devils’ top rusher gone. With experience coming back on the offensive line, they should be able to give Taylor protection and time to play pitch and catch with his receivers. Expect this offense to let it rip via the air this season.
With more than half the starters gone to the pros or graduation, Todd Graham as a lot holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball. Finding a playmaker to step into PAC-12 two-time Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton’s place will not be easy. No team in this entire Top 25 has this many bodies to replace on one side of the football. There are a few questions that need to be answered on defense for the Sun Devils. Who will new co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson get to put pressure the quarterback and play behind the line of scrimmage? Who will come forward as a playmaker in the secondary?
Projected record in the PAC-12 10-2, and 2nd in the South Division.
3. California Golden Bears
With a year of experience under his belt, sophomore quarterback Jared Goff is looking to improve the offense for the Golden Bears by leading California’s passing attack. Last season they finished third in the conference in passing yards, but the Golden Bears didn’t put many points on the board as an end result. Goff is looking to change that this season and have it translate to wins. He has a chance to have a breakout season with Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs returning, and an experienced offensive line to hopefully keep him upright. The running game will be an issue, which ranked just ninth in the conference last season. Khalfani Muhammad and Daniel Lasco will have to carry the burden of improving the running game and taking the pressure off the passing game.
From bad to worse, if you think that the offense was bad last season the defense was worse. Due to injuries and simply poor coaching, Cal had possibly its worst defense in school history last year. New defensive coordinator Art Kaufman has brought to California a more aggressive defensive scheme. Leading tackler Michael Lowe returns at safety, while sack leader Kyle Kragen returns along the defensive line. But the biggest question surrounding the defense is; can they stay healthy?
Projected record in the PAC-12 2-10, and 6th in the North Division
4. Colorado Buffaloes
This season, sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau will once again be the main man under center. Though it wasn’t a breakout finish to his season in 2013, Liufau showed some encouraging potential to Colorado that he could have a hopeful future. Unfortunately, Liufau lost his top receiver Paul Richardson, who moved on to the NFL. So, Nelson Spruce, Bryce Bobo and D.D. Goodson will now be Liufau’s main targets in the passing game. If the passing game doesn’t take off, the Buffaloes at least have a solid running game to fall back on with Christian Powell, and Michael Adkins II.
For the 2014 season, the Buffaloes defense is looking to bounce back significantly from an awful 2013 season. It starts up front with the D-Line, while Josh Tupou is a standout, he needs some help. The linebacker unit is led by Addison Gillam, a true sophomore who showed some true promise last season. Alongside Gillam, Woodson Greer and Kenneth Olugbode who will round out the rest of Colorado’s speedy linebacker trio. The Buffaloes’ strength on defense is in the secondary. Greg Henderson is the leader at the cornerback spot, and could be headed for a big season in 2014.
Projected record in the PAC-12 5-7, and 6th in the South Division
5. Oregon Ducks
Can Marcus Mariota stay healthy after spending most of last season in a knee brace? If so, the Ducks shouldn’t have any trouble in soaring through the conference. With their toughest game being at home against Stanford, if they can get past the Cardinal, they may stamp their place in the Semifinals of the College Football Playoff. Mariota is once again a preseason Heisman candidate and is more than capable of getting the Ducks to score quickly and often. While De’Anthony Thomas has moved on, Byron Marshall is back to carry the rushing load of the Ducks this season. The Ducks also return all five of their starting offensive linemen. If there are any questions or concerns it will be at wideout, losing their top four receivers.
Oregon has tried to improve their size on the defensive side, where they tend to sometimes struggle against bigger and more physical opponents. Tony Washington, who led the Ducks last season with 7.5 sacks, will be counted on to turn around these issues. The Ducks were fortunate to have cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu decide to return for another season and forgo NFL. The Ducks also get back their top tackler Derrick Malone at linebacker after leading the Ducks with 105 tackles last season. The Ducks are young in the secondary, but they are an overall solid group.
Projected record in the PAC-12 12-0, and 1st in the North Division
6. Oregon State Beavers
Mannion’s decision to come back to school was big for Oregon State’s offense. Even though the Beavers lost wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who led the country in receiving yards last season, they are going to need a huge contribution from Richard Mullaney who was the only other wideout with any experience. Oregon State had no running threat last season, Storm Woods has the potential to be a solid player, and Beaver fans are keeping their fingers crossed.
Oregon State’s defense is returning most of their players from last season, including Tyrequek Zimmerman, Jabral Johnson and Ryan Murphy. The Beavers should have a better finish this season in the rankings, finishing higher than ninth place in the conference like last season. Oregon State returns a ton of experience and talent at the linebacker position, and will get an even bigger boost with the return of Michael Doctor. The Beavers secondary will be looking for their ball hawker Steven Nelson to build on a solid season of a year ago.
Projected record in the PAC-12 6-6, and 4th in the North Division
A positive, there’s an experienced quarterback taking the reins on offense. A negative, he’ll be playing behind an inexperienced offensive line with only 26 career starts amongst them, considering Stanford has relied on their power running game over the past few years. Stanford certainly has plenty of weapons on the offensive side of the ball, especially at receiver. Ty Montgomery, is a threat on the outside and in the return game. Replacing Tyler Gaffney at running back is going to be a tough task, but the trio of Barry Sanders, Ricky Seale and Kelsey Young were once highly-touted players that should be able to carry the load.
The Cardinal returns seven starters on a defense who led the Pac-12 in scoring, while also limiting opponents to an impressive 89.4 rushing yards per game. The country needs to be aware that the defense is solid at every level, especially in the secondary. Senior linebacker A.J. Tarpley will be the leader of the linebacking corp, as he ranked second on the team with 93 tackles a season ago.
Projected record in the PAC-12 11-1, and 2nd in the North Division
Brett Hundley may be one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country. In 2013, Hundley completed 67.2 percent of his passes for over 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns, while rushing for 748 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hundley has plenty of help to support him in the passing game. At receiver, he will have Devin Fuller and Jordan Payton, who combined for 81 catches last season. The running back position is where the Bruins will need the most improvement on offense. Jordon James and Paul Perkins will have to step their game up.
The Bruins have one of the better young linebackers in the country in Myles Jack, a talented sophomore. Eric Kendricks also returns at linebacker after leading the Bruins in tackles last season. There’s also some potential in the Bruins secondary with Ishmael Adams and Randall Goforth, two players who came away with six interceptions last season. The secondary has the potential to be really good, they just need to figure out where the pass rush is going to come from. There’s going to be pressure on guys such as Ellis McCarthy to step up and fill the loss of Anthony Barr.
Projected record in the PAC-12 10-2, and 1st in the South Division
Steve Sarkisian is looking to run a fast pace offense with a lot of no huddle to keep the defense off balance. With Cody Kessler at the helm as signal caller, Kessler brings experience and reliability to the quarterback position for the first time in a couple of years for the Trojans. USC offensive weapons include: running back Javorius Allen, who rushed for 14 touchdowns and wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who is quick, fast and explosive. The Trojans’ offense has the potential to be at the top of the Pac-12 statistically with their talented playmakers. However, a lot of it depends on how well an inexperienced offensive line can get going.
The success of the Trojans new 3-4 defense will all start up front with Leonard Williams leading the way. Hayes Pullard, who decided to come back for his senior year will be anchoring the defense at the linebacker position. The Trojans secondary did lose its playmaker in safety Dion Bailey, but Su’a Cravens could show his mettle and become the standout playmaker in the secondary. Leon McQuay III and Antwaun Woods are two other names USC fans should get to know. It will come down to execution and putting themselves in the right position to win.
Projected record in the PAC-12 9-3, and 3rd in the South Division
Despite Travis Wilson’s injury prone career, he will be starting under center for the Utes. Even with Wilson starting at quarterback, running back James Poole returns after leading the team with more than 600 yards and over 4 yards per carry. Utah also has one of the more underrated wide receivers in the country in Dres Anderson. With new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen implementing a quicker up tempo offense, Utah has a chance to be a more explosive offense this season.
Utah is going to miss defensive lineman Trevor Reilly, who led the Utes in sacks and tackles for loss. With the loss of linebackers Gionni Paul and Jacoby Hale to injury, who will the Utes turn to to pick up the slack for them on the defense? The return of Jason Whittingham can be promising for Utah and Eric Rowe is a versatile defensive back, who may move to cornerback after playing safety last season. Uaea Masina is also a promising young player who can give Utah’s defense a little spark. Utah has relied on its defense to keep their head above water in the Pac-12. They must get healthy and develop some of its younger players if that’s going to be the case again the year.
Projected record in the PAC-12 5-7, and 5th in the South Division
With the loss of experience in three-year starter Keith Price to graduation, redshirt sophomore Cyler Miles, who played minimally last season throwing for just 418 yards and 4 touchdowns will be called upon to fill Price’s shoes.
Miles will provide a dual threat option at quarterback which Price didn’t really offer. Dwayne Washington is back, who shows some promise in the back field now that Bishop Sankey has moved on to the NFL. Coach Petersen will be looking for Washington to provide something different in the running game this year. Jaydon Mickens, will be back as the top receiving threat for the Huskies.
Junior Marcus Peters will be looked upon to anchor the secondary that was much maligned last year because they didn’t play up to their potential. The Huskies hopes that outside linebacker, converted defensive end Hau’oli Kikah will provide chaos in the passing game for opponents this season piggy-backing off his solid season from a year ago.
Projected record in the PAC-12 9-3, and 3rd in the North Division
12. Washington State
Mike Leach is known for having a gun slinging quarterback for his gun slinging offense, he believes he has that in senior quarterback Connor Halliday. Last season, Halliday threw for more than 4,500 yards and 34 touchdowns. It is possible that he could throw for even more this season having his top three receivers returning in Gabe Marks, Dom Williams and River Cracraft, a trio that caught 17 touchdowns last season. Running game? What running game? Senior running back Marcus Mason will have an impact, but mostly in the passing game. Swing passes and a few dinks and dunks. The running game will be minimal. If there’s one concern with Washington State’s offense, it will be the loss of three starting offensive linemen.
Washington State has the ability to improve on defense this season having a bunch of key guys return for another season. Defensive lineman Xavier Cooper, who led the team with five sacks and ready to have another standout year. Linebackers Darryl Monroe, Cyrus Coen and Tana Pritchard will need to be the heart and soul of Washington State’s defense if they’re going to be successful this season. Daquawn Brown has the potential to be a breakout player, but he has to be on the field first. A few off the field issues can hinder him. Washington State forced a ton of turnovers last year, but must learn how to get stops and stop relying so much on the game-changing plays.
Projected record in the PAC-12 6-6, and 5th in the North Division