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  • Writer's pictureFred Wheeler

Previewing the Pac 12 South

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

With our look at the Pac 12 North complete, let’s head south to the land of Trojans, Bruins, Wildcats, and others, in fact, let’s start with…

Utah – 9-5 (6-3) – It took the Utes eight years to break through and claim their first division title in the Pac 12 South, but with 17 Starters from last year returning, it’s a good bet they won’t be waiting another eight for their second. With experience and depth at almost every position the Utes seem poised to take the next step, a step they just missed last year losing to Washington in the Pac 12 Championship game. If the Utes have a weakness, it’s the offensive line where they lost three of five starters from last year. The defense looks to be solid if grad transfer LB Manny Bowen can fill in for the loss of Cody Barton (now of the Seattle Seahawks).

If everything goes right – The Utes can capture a second consecutive South division title and make a play for their first Pac 12 title and a potential CFP berth.

If everything goes wrong – The offensive line can’t gel and the offense never really gets rolling. The defense spends too much time on the field and is exhausted late in the year when they’ll be needed most – a four game stretch to finish the season with games @ Washington, Vs UCLA, @ Arizona, and Vs. Colorado.

Prediction – The Utes will win the Pac 12 South for the second time, but will lose again in the Pac 12 CG.

UCLA – 3-9 (3-6) – I don’t have a ton of confidence in the order I’m placing the next four teams. For instance, I can’t look at a Bruins team that won three games last year and convince myself that they can win the 8-9 games they would need to place second in the South. With that said, they return sophomore QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, senior RB Joshua Kelly, and most of an offensive line that became a strength as the season went along. The defense also returns everyone in the front seven, on the other hand, only junior CB Darnay Holmes returns in the secondary.

If everything goes right – this prediction comes true, Thompson-Robinson continues to grow into Marcus Mariotta 2.0, HC Chip Kelly continues to recruit talent to L.A., and the Bruins (not the Trojans) are the talk of L.A.

If everything goes wrong – We see a repeat of last year (and opening the season with Cincinnati and @ Oklahoma isn’t a great way to start) and Kelly’s seat starts to heat up, let’s face it, they didn’t bring him to L.A. to lose.

Prediction – The Bruins beat Cincy to open the season, get drilled by the Sooners, and finish September equaling last season’s win total. They get into November still in contention, but back-to-back games @ Utah and @ USC (losses both) sink them out of contention.

Arizona State – 7-6 (5-4) – Herm Edwards was an easy target last off season. Many (myself included) wondered how well college kids would respond to someone who had spent the bulk of his career coaching professionals and who hadn’t coached ANYWHERE in 9 years. Turns out… not bad, not bad at all. With a potential QB battle brewing in the fall between junior Dillon Sterling-Cole and a pair of 4-star freshmen (Jayden Daniels and Joey Yellen), it’s hard to feel confident about the Sun Devils’ ability to put up points. DC Danny Gonzales’ installation of a 3-3-5 defense last year will benefit them this year as well, with a bend-but-don’t-break style that keeps plays in front of the secondary.

If everything goes right – They get through a four game stretch in Oct-Nov against Washington State, @ Utah, @UCLA, and against USC either undefeated or 3-1, putting them in contention for a South title.

If everything goes wrong – That same stretch? Either 1-3 or winless that leaves the Sun Devils reeling and unable to finish the season on a positive note.

Prediction – The Sun Devils get better, regardless of who is under center they return next year, but it may not be the sort of better that is reflected in their record.

USC – 5-7 (4-5) – Despite winning a conference title in 2017, it feels like it’s been longer than that since the Trojans were relevant on a national scale. Maybe it’s because when you’ve been on top for so long an off season is felt more acutely or maybe because after Pete Carroll’s run at USC, that 2017 championship has been their only one. We’ve seen it everywhere, when a blue blood is down, their fan base demands that the school do anything they can to get “back”. Alabama, Notre Dame, Miami (FL, but really, was anyone thinking Ohio?), Texas, all of them. Fortunately, they’re still USC. They’re loaded with talent and return their QB (Soph, JT Daniels) and a trio of WRs (Michael Pittman Jr, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Tyler Vaughns) who combined for 15 TDs last season. The defense should be solid despite losing LB Cameron Smith who led the Trojans in tackles three years running.

If everything goes right – The offense improves by leaps and bounds and puts genuine fear in opposing defenses this year. If that were to happen, the Trojans would be in position to at least play for the Pac 12 title.

If everything goes wrong - The Trojans start off 1-4 with games at BYU and Washington in addition to hosting Stanford and Utah, the opener against Fresno State should get the season off on the right foot.

Prediction – The Trojans lose three of the four aforementioned games and never get out of their own way leading to a season that sees the Trojans fail to go bowling and leads to Clay Helton losing his job.

Arizona – 5-7 (4-5) – There were a lot of ways that the Wildcat faithful imagined last season playing out. Wondering what had happened to their star QB (Sr Khalil Tate) who went from Heisman candidate to merely mortal and questioning Kevin Sumlin's commitment were surely not among them. In any case, Tate decided to return for his senior year and rehab his stock for the NFL. Sumlin is back because, well, how do you fire a coach after only one year on the job? Returning with Tate is a good portion of the offense in the form of Jr-RB J.J. Taylor, Jr-TE Bryce Wolma, and Sr-WR Cedric Peterson. In addition, it looks like 4-star freshman Jalen “Boobie” Curry has earned a starting spot and could add a spark to the passing game. The defense will have questions to answer, but have until their game Oct 12 Vs Washington to do so.

If everything goes right – Khalil Tate returns to the electric form we’ve come to expect from him and is an even better passer. The defense pulls it together and the Wildcats enter the Washington game needing just one more win to go bowling.

If everything goes wrong – Arizona will see Tate struggling with the offense again, the defense doing its best impersonation of a sieve, and a six game stretch against Washington, @USC, @ Stanford, Oregon State, @ Oregon, and Utah leaves the Wildcats limping into the “Duel in the Desert” against the Sun Devils.

Prediction – I’ve never been a fan of Sumlin, I feel he relies too much on recruiting and the “Johnny Football” legacy from Texas A&M, and that there’s no substance to him at all. He won’t be fired this year, but another 5-7 (or worse) season and his seat will warm up considerably.

Colorado – 5-7 (2-7) – Just two 5-7 seasons removed from a Pac 12 Championship appearance and the Buffaloes are starting over, this time with Mel Tucker who’s only prior Head Coaching experience was as the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars interim in 2011. Tucker is pretty intense guy and his new charges got a taste of that with the strength and conditioning program he instituted which left Sr-QB Steven Montez to say that spring practices were “kind of like a blessing”. In addition to Montez, the Buffs return 4 of 5 offensive linemen and all-league WR, Jr Laviska Shenault Jr. The defense is going to end being a piecemeal affair with only five returning starters. Keep an eye out for Jr-DE Mustafa Johnson and Jr-LB Nate Landman, they can bring the heat.

If everything goes right – The Buffs will be 5-0 when they go to Oregon on Oct 11, paving the way for a potential bowl game.

If everything goes wrong – Colorado finishes the schedule out winless with a brutal seven game stretch.

Prediction – This is going to be rough start to the Mel Tucker era in Boulder, if I’m being honest I don’t truly see more than four wins on the schedule.

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