1. California Golden Bears
The Golden Bears were a hail mary and a field goal away from getting to a bowl game last season. Since Sonny Dykes has gotten to the Golden Bears; they have shown some vast improvement from year to year. Junior quarterback Jared Goff had a breakout season for the Bears last season leading Cal to the 10th ranked scoring offense in 2014. Throwing for close to 7,500 and over 50 touchdowns; leading Cal to the postseason won’t be a far reach for the fans in Berkley. Sonny Dykes has the right gunslinger to lead his Bear Raid offensive attack.
The versatile 1,000-yard running back senior Daniel Lasco, who has is similar to D.J. Foster of Arizona State; he can run between and outside the tackles, catch out of the back field, and line up in the wide-out position. Sophomore Vic Enwere, could be the power back missing from Cal’s arsenal, and that can give defenses a unique look from Cal allowing Lasco to line up outside.
In a passing attack you need a slew of receivers to throw to; that is no different for the Golden Bears. Wide receiver remains Cal’s deepest position group, featuring seniors Bryce Treggs and Trevor Davis. Junior Kenny Lawler, who at 6’3” with huge hands led the Bears in every receiving category last season.
How inept were the Bears on defense a year ago? Cal gave up a total of 61 touchdowns last season. The defense should be better but must be able to stop the pass; ironic considering the offense is pass heavy, so they should have a lot of practice against the pass.
The Bears believe their defensive line will be improved after signing six new players at the tackle and/or end positions, including swooping up junior college transfer DeVante Wilson, who came from USC. Linebackers Hardy Nickerson, Jalen Jefferson and Michael Barton have combined to start 54 career games. Five new defensive backs were part of the recruiting class is a concern, and having only junior college safety Derron Brown was present for spring ball.
Projected record in the Pac-12 will be 6-6, and 4th in the North Division
2. Oregon Ducks
When Oregon coach Mark Helfrich took over at Oregon he inherited one of the most efficient quarterbacks in college football. The question hovering Helfrich has been, can he recruit another? I don’t know who convinced Eastern Washington transfer quarterback Vernon Adams, but he’s not a huge fall of from Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. As it stands now, Adams is the leading candidate for the starting job, and he has deep group of skill players surrounding him.
Last season Marcus Mariota led the FBS in passing efficiency with a 181.75 rating and averaged 9.01 yards per play of total offense with 42 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions. To replace him, the Ducks signed fifth-year transfer Vernon Adams, who led the FCS passing efficiency with a 183.13 rating and averaged 9.0 yards per play of total offense. Adams wasn’t on hand for spring drills; finishing up course work at Eastern Washington, which gave junior Jeff Lockie bulk of the work, and coaches the opportunity to see him gain more experience and trust to run the offense. Coaches value Lockie’s experience and decision-making, but feel Adams is far more a bigger threat as a playmaker.
Last season’s conference freshman of the year running back Royce Freeman is drawing Heisman buzz, and not succumb under the threat of the sophomore jinx. Teaming up again with junior Thomas Tyner and have another big season. The receiving corps, barring any injury is loaded once again led by Byron Marshall and Dwayne Stanford.
The Ducks got a big boost when defensive end DeForest Buckner opted to return for his senior season. He was easily the most disruptive player in the front seven last season; even more so than Arik Armstead, who left early for the NFL. Defensive coordinator Don Pellum was criticized for not rushing/blitzing, and not aggressive enough in 2014. The linebackers hope to make this year’s defense well-rounded up front. Senior inside backer Rodney Hardrick and Joe Walker need to find their way into the backfield more.
Projected record in the Pac-12 will be 10-2, and 1st in the North Division
3. Oregon State Beavers
The coaching carousel started early in the offseason at threw a few surprises at the nation. None surprising then Mike Riley head off to Nebraska after 12 seasons in Corvallis with the Beavers after Bo Pelini was let go. On the flip side, Oregon State pulled Gary Andersen away from Wisconsin. Andersen is a good coach, but he walks into an avalanche of uncertainty. With only two returning defensive starters and a new quarterback replacing Sean Mannion this will be a rollercoaster of a season for the Beavers.
New OC Dave Baldwin is implementing an up-tempo spread offense that will need a quarterback to beat defenses with his arm, legs and mind. With three freshman quarterbacks with virtually no college experience it won’t be easy. Patience will be the key. True freshman Seth Collins is the early named starter as his work cut out for him. By season’s end in Eugene against rival Oregon in the “Civil War” game the Beavers and Ducks can be looking at mirror images of each regarding offenses in an up and down the field game.
Fortunately for the Beavers they have leadership and experience surrounding their young QB, whoever that will be. Protecting the new quarterback will be essential, thankful for the Beavers they are bring back all five players who started the final four games of last season. Senior running back Storm Woods looks primed to push for 1,000 yards after splitting carries the last two seasons. The returning receivers are headlined by junior Victor Bolden, who grabbed 72 receptions for 798 yards, but only got in the endzone twice last season and Jordan Villamin, a 6’4″, 235-pound; a physical but only had 35 catches. In his sophomore season will have to play like a vet.
The Beavers bring in new defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake to change things up. They are applying a 3-4 base defense to allow the front line to clog up holes in the interior and the linebackers to make plays. Those linebackers led by sophomore Darrell Songy and redshirt freshman Bright Ugwoegbu, who was a pleasant surprise in spring ball. The secondary took a big hit in the offseason, losing 3 starters, but Larry Scott shows a lot of promise the way he improved his play in coverage.
Projected record in the Pac-12 will be 4-8, and 6th in the North Division
4. Stanford Cardinals
It was a disappointing 2014 season for Head Coach David Shaw and the Stanford by their standards. Finishing the season 8-5 was not what they had in mind consistently having double digit wins, and at least 11 since Shaw took over as head coach in 2011. Senior Kevin Hogan has to have a big year in order for the offense to make strides forward, who to struggle in especially in late game situations if they want to be any kind of a threat to Oregon in the North.
The Cardinal running game was not up to par last season. No one really stepped up to be the feature back, and for the first since 2007 not able to produce a 1,000 yard rusher. Seniors Remound Wright and B.J. Sander are going to have to put their foot down in the dirt and get that running game going, or sophomore Christian McCaffery will get the boat load of the carries. Either way the running game will have to have to provide some effectiveness to open up the passing game. Kevin Hogan can’t sling the ball over the field 40 times. That’s not the Cardinal offense. With Montgomery gone to the NFL, Devon Cajuste returns as the primary receiver. Stanford will get back to doing what they do best; using multiple tight end sets, and they have plenty of big bodies to put in position.
The Cardinal was the standard on defense last season. The Cardinal not only were in the top 5 in the nation in total defense, but they led the Pac-12 (282.4 ypg) in allowing more than 100 fewer yards per game than the league’s No. 2 defense Utah (393.5 ypg). The linebackers will be the heart of the defense lead by Kevin Anderson and Peter Kalambayi, who combined for 12 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss. The Cardinal are solid up the middle with Blake Martinez providing the experience with over 100 tackles last season. On the D-Line they are lacking the depth, but Cal transfer Brennan Scarlett will offer some relief at the defensive end spot. There are some veterans in the defensive backfield, but not a ton of overall experience with the graduation of safety Jordan Richards and cornerback Alex Carter declaring for the draft and the transfer of Wayne Lyons to Michigan; former quarterback Dallas Lloyd and former receiver Kodi Whitfield, who switched positions prior to 2014 are going to be counted on more than they might have expected…next man up.
Projected record in the Pac-12 will be 9-3, and 2nd in the North Division
5. Washington Huskies
Chris Petersen’s has been able to turn programs around everywhere he’s been. Most notably Boise State, but turn around doesn’t always happen at the snap of a finger despite a coach’s prestige. In his first season with the Huskies hopes were high for Petersen’s to contend for a Pac-12 Championship, but plans don’t always work out that way. The Huskies only put together 8 wins, which is good is some respects, but had only 4 wins in the conference (below .500; 4-5). Petersen still has to figure out what to do about the quarterback position and on his front seven. No sense in panicking, if the system has worked before; it should work again with time in the Pac-12.
The search is on for the Huskies’ starting quarterback. With the versatile quarterback Cyler Miles not coming back due to chronic hip pain; he was forced to give up the game of football. The news dropped by Washington in a press release back in June. The news puts Petersen in a precarious position with a tough decision to make. Jeff Lindquist played a few snaps last season, so he brings some experience but not the playmaking ability. Petersen will have the option between his two freshmen; redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and true freshman Jake Browning, a pair of promising pocket passers. The running game Dwayne Washington back, led the team in rushing with 697 yards and 9 touchdowns. He’s a big-tall back with breakaway speed.
Whoever wins the starting quarterback position won’t be without talent at the wide receiver position. Deep threats Jaydon Mickens and Dante Pettis can hurt you over the top; getting past the safeties. With speedster John Ross, who can break it open in the blink of an eye gone for the season from leg injury suffered in spring practice, Washington will need senior Marvin Hall to step “big”. The loss of Ross is such a huge piece because he could contribute in so many facets on the team, as a receiver, runner and returner.
The D-Line completely been revamped with all four starters graduating the Huskies’ have moved to a more base 3-4 defense. Redshirt freshman Jaylen Johnson, sophomore Elijah Qualls and senior Taniela Tupou will get the first shot at it. The linebacking corps also suffered a huge loss of talent with four-year starter John Timu and All-American Shaq Thompson departing. The only starter coming back is senior Travis Feeney, who has the most experience. The secondary is now the strength of the Huskies’ defense. Sophomore free safety Budda Baker arguably is the team’s best player. Sophomore cornerback Sidney Jones is a proven coverage guy who has proven to be a solid player.
Projected record in the Pac-12 will be 7-5, and 3rd in the North Division
6. Washington State Cougars
Head Coach Mike Leach “Air Raid” filled up the stat sheets in the passing game as usual but couldn’t put enough points on the board to pull out enough victories. Coming off a bowl bid in 2013; a 3-9 record wasn’t on the cards for the Cougars in 2014. Leach is no doubt a pass offense guru, but more focus will be needed on defense in 2015. Leach answered the critics by hiring former Missouri safeties coach Alex Grinch. So now for Cougar fans the defense can get the opposition off the field a little more frequently, and 31 points per game may be enough to sustain a win, instead of coming up short.
The Cougars will have a different quarterback under in redshirt freshman Luke Falk, who filled in admirably when Connor Halliday went down against USC. He threw for 346 yards and two touchdowns. In his first start against Oregon State, Falk had 471 yards in the air and threw 5 touchdowns, and showed impressive poise and mobility. WSU brings back their top two running backs Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks. Leach switched his redshirt freshman receiver Keith Harrington to the backfield to add some depth and explosiveness to the position. The fact that WSU returns all five starting offensive linemen to give Falk some solid protection, but it’s a good chance that the Cougars will run the ball a little more this season.
The Cougars lose two of their top receivers in Isiah Myers, who had 78 catches and 12 touchdowns and Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Vince Mayle, who led the team with 106 catches for 1,483 yards. But we know Leach is never short of passing targets. the Cougars will bring back Gabe Marks, who was redshirted last season after leading the team in catches and yards with 74 and 807 respectively in 2013. Marks and playmaking receiver Dom Williams will start at the outside positions, while speedster Robert Lewis will be inside along with River Cracraft, who is a good position-like receiver on third downs.
New Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch wants to bring some speed to the Cougars’ defense, and in spring practice they worked almost exclusively in a nickel defense. Grinch is going to have some work ahead of him trying to find a replacement for nose tackle Kalafitoni Pole. Making things more difficult, two of the true nose tackles on the roster, Robert Barber and Ngalu Tapa, both missed the spring with injuries.
Jeremiah Allison and Peyton Pelluer return to lead the linebackers. Getting to the quarterback is a point of emphasis for Grinch’s defense this season. The dismissal of Daquawn Brown, who was the team’s leading tackler last season shuffles the cornerbacks. Marcellus Pippins and Charleston White will fill into the starting roles this year, along with some looks for junior college transfer Treshon Broughton. Darius Lemora started in 10 games at safety last year; he will now take over the nickel back full-time.
Projected record in the Pac-12will be 4-8, and 5th in the North Division