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2012 Pac-12 Preview - South Team Breakdown
Arizona QB Matt Scott
Arizona QB Matt Scott
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 16, 2012


Preview 2012 - CFN Pac-12 Team By Team Quick Looks and Predicted Finish


Preview 2012

Pac-12 South Team By Team

 
NORTH
- 2012 Cal Preview | 2012 Oregon Preview
- 2012 Oregon State State Preview | 2012 Stanford Preview 
- 2012 Washington Preview | 2012 Washington State Preview

SOUTH
- 2012 Arizona Preview | 2012 Arizona State Preview
- 2012 Colorado Preview | 2012 UCLA Preview  
- 2012 USC Preview | 2012 Utah Preview  

- 2012 Pac-12 Preview
- 2012 Pac-12 Unit Rankings
- 2012 CFN Pac-12 Schedules & Picks
- 2012 CFN All-Pac-12 Team & Top 30 Players
- 2012 Pac-12 North Team Looks & Predicted Finish  
- 2012 Pac-12 South Team Looks & Predicted Finish    

1. USC
2012 CFN Prediction: 11-1
2012 Pac-12 Prediction: 8-1

Offense: From the moment Matt Barkley announced on Dec. 22 that he’d be returning for his senior year, it was a foregone conclusion that Troy would boast one of 2012’s most potent passing attacks. The quarterback, who could have been a top 5 overall pick in April’s NFL Draft, figures to be unstoppable as the triggerman for the Trojans’ dynamite corps of receivers. Robert Woods is already an All-American, who could join Barkley as a first round pick next spring, and Marqise Lee is on the verge of being every bit as talented. The duo, plus seam-busting tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble, will be virtually impossible to shut down this season. While USC is concerned about its depth at running back, it has few worries about its feature back. Senior Curtis McNeal was a surprise 1,000-yarder, but needs to stay healthy now that Dillon Baxter and Amir Carlisle have transferred. If the offensive staff experiences any sleepless nights, it’ll probably be having nightmares about the offensive line. The comforting news is that four starters do return, headed by All-Pac-12 C Khaled Holmes. The doubt centers on left tackle, the position that had been manned so competently by Minnesota Viking rookie Matt Kalil. Current RT Kevin Graf held the job at the beginning of spring, but was displaced by enormous sophomore Aundrey Walker. Assuming he stays put, all the 6-6, 320-pounder needs to do this fall is make sure Barkley absorbs as few hits as possible.

Defense: For good reason, the offense is making a lot of offseason headlines and watch lists. The D has a chance to be pretty special, too. The Trojans have decent depth, but a terrific first line of defenders, especially along the back seven. The trio of sophomore linebackers Dion Bailey, Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson is oppressive, covering the field with the range of safeties. Bailey was All-Pac-12 in 2011, while Pullard and Dawson have the skill set to join him in coming years. Although the defensive backfield lacked consistency—and takeaways—last fall, it’s far too talented to underachieve for a second straight year. Lockdown corner Nickell Robey and FS T.J. McDonald are returning all-stars, with All-American potential. Strong safety is a battle between Jawanza Starling, Demetrius Wright and JUCO star Gerald Bowman when he arrives. The other cornerback position will come down to Isiah Wiley, Torin Harris or Brian Baucham. All eyes will be on the defensive line, the same one that lost three key players. On the outside, the time has arrived for ends Devon Kennard and Wes Horton to finally fulfill all of their potential. The Trojans need the seniors to deliver as steady pass rushers. The defense could be especially vulnerable on the inside, where underclassmen George Uko and J.R. Tavai don’t yet have the experience to match their considerable responsibility.

2. Utah
2012 CFN Prediction: 9-3
2012 Pac-12 Prediction: 6-3

Offense: With seven starters returning, and an all-star contender at each level, might this be Kyle Whittingham’s best defense at Utah? Whittingham and his staff have seemingly always done a great job of transforming marginal defensive recruits and junior-college transfers into bona fide stoppers. Sure, the 2012 edition has concerns, like at defensive end and at linebacker, but nothing so egregious that it can’t be overcome by the holdovers. The Utes will again be tough to run on, thanks in large part to NT Star Lotulelei, who just might be the first defensive player taken in next April’s NFL Draft. Oh, and good luck throwing on an athletic, ball-hawking secondary with a slew of All-Pac-12 candidates, such as SS Brian Blechen, FS Eric Rowe and CB Ryan Lacy. Utah is at it again. The team doesn’t have a mess of household names, but a degree of anonymity won’t keep it from excelling on this side of the ball – again.

Defense: Keep No. 3 healthy. That’s been the edict to the offense throughout the offseason. Utah was awful offensively in 2011, due in large part to another season-ending injury suffered by QB Jordan Wynn. When he’s out, the Utes are stagnant. When he’s piloting the attack, they’re far more balanced and unpredictable. A healthy Wynn, which was the case in the spring, plus All-Pac-12 RB John White will give Utah the ingredients of one of the league’s better backfields. White was a godsend in his JUCO debut, setting a single-season school record with 1,519 yards on the ground. Wynn will also have access to a quality collection of wide receivers, led by senior DeVonte Christopher. What the quarterback won’t have is complete confidence in his offensive line, a unit that needs to replace both of last year’s all-conference tackles. Competition is going to be heated up front, as the staff searches for its best possible combination in the trenches.

3. UCLA
2012 CFN Prediction: 7-5
2012 Pac-12 Prediction: 4-5

Offense: With the arrival of head coach Jim Mora, UCLA is making a seismic shift from the run-first “pistol” to a far more passer-friendly pro-style attack. Long-term, the move makes sense. Short-term, there are justifiable concerns whether this program houses the necessary personnel to pull it off. The Bruins have had all kinds of problems through the air lately, unable to achieve any degree of sustained excellence. So, deciding on a starting quarterback is going to be a seminal moment for the staff. Stay tuned. Mora wanted to anoint someone at the end of spring, but will wait until summer to decide between veterans Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, and unofficial savior Brett Hundley. UCLA wants to throw more often in the direction of the tight end, which makes sense since 6-8 Joseph Fauria is one of the best at his position in the Pac-12, and the wide receivers still have plenty to prove. The team, though, will certainly not abandon the run. The Bruins have a nice ensemble of runners, beginning with mainstay Johnathan Franklin, but also including talented kids, such as Malcolm Jones and Steven Manfro. As is often the case in Westwood, fingers will be crossed regarding the line. While there’s experience on the inside, tackles Xavier Su’a-Filo and Torian White will hold the fortune of the group. Both are immense talents, but Su’a-Filo has recently returned from his Mormon mission, and White is a redshirt freshman.

Defense: The Bruins lost very little from last year’s defense, lending genuine hope that this could be one of the surprise units in the Pac-12 this fall. For all of the problems that the prior regime had, recruiting talent to this side of the ball was not one of them. UCLA will boast an ideal blend of youth and experience as it makes the move from a 4-3 to a 3-4 alignment. While nose tackle might be a little vulnerable this fall, the team’s depth and talent at defensive end has allowed Damien Holmes to move back a level to outside linebacker, where he’ll join a solid group highlighted by Eric Kendricks, Jordan Zumwalt and Patrick Larimore. Defensive ends Datone Jones, Cassius Marsh and Owamagbe Odighizuwa are ideal fits for the new system, strong enough to stuff the run, yet still need to get more consistent backfield penetration. All four starters are back in the secondary, a unit that needs to step it up in the red zone. Andrew Abbot and budding sophomore Tevin McDonald form an athletic tandem at safety. Cornerbacks Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester possess the size and physicality to match up well with some of the conference’s bigger wide receivers.

T4. Arizona
2012 CFN Prediction: 5-7
2012 Pac-12 Prediction: 3-6

Offense: Think Morgantown, with a better climate. New head coach Rich Rodriguez is in the embryonic stages of installing his read-option offense in Tucson. The system, so successful at West Virginia, yet not at Michigan, calls for the attack to flood the backfield with speed and explosiveness on the ground, including at quarterback. The staff caught a break that Matt Scott still had a year of eligibility left, ensuring a smoother-than-expected transition to an entirely new playbook. The quarterback might not run the ball as much as Rodriguez’s recent pupils behind center, but he’s athletic, experienced and can really zip the ball through the air. Scott should have few problems locating his receivers, a physical and rangy group that includes Dan Buckner, Austin Hill and Tyler Slavin. While the coaches weren’t pleased about much in the spring, they did like the depth and talent they inherited in the running game. Ka’Deem Carey is the budding star of a group that boasts multiple players capable of earning meaningful minutes. After going young up front a year ago, the Wildcats are set to really reap the benefits in 2012. All five starters are back to reprise their roles, with C Kyle Quinn and 6-8 tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele hoping to form the foundation. The biggest adjustment for this group will involve new blocking schemes and a mandate for quicker and better conditioned linemen.

Defense: The offense is getting an overhaul in Tucson. So, too, is the defense. Head coach Rich Rodriguez is reuniting with coordinator Jeff Casteel, who employs a unique 3-3-5 stack D that was highly successful for years at West Virginia. The new staff covets speed over size, and versatility. The linebacker who can defend the pass, and the safety who hits like a heavyweight are going to find their way on to the field. Sophomore Tra’Mayne Bondurant, for instance, is an ideal fit at the Spur, a hybrid on the back level. He was a revelation in his first year, the kind of defender who could become the face of the D in time. Arizona will be getting an influx of talent in the back eight this season. LB Brian Wagner is a ready-made transfer from Akron, and LB Jake Fischer, S Adam Hall and CB Jonathan McKnight are all making their way back from ACL injuries that kept them off the field throughout 2011. Along the D-line, the Wildcats are facing a split personality. They’re loaded with depth and experience on the interior, but who’s going to get to the pocket from the edge? The team ranked 116th in sacks last season, and moving well-sized former tackles outside doesn’t seem to be the answer. Casteel may need to blitz liberally if he plans to unsettle the quarterback.

T4. Arizona State
2012 CFN Prediction: 5-7
2012 Pac-12 Prediction: 3-6

Offense: New head coach Todd Graham and his staff want to spread out the field, but not just for the benefit of the passing game. No, this regime wants to exploit running lanes, while occasionally bloodying its opponent’s nose. Arizona State plans to move at a frenetic pace, yet still be a physical team, which could fit the personnel rather well. The strength of the Sun Devils is clearly at running back, where 1,000-yarder Cameron Marshall leads a very deep and talented collection of holdovers and newcomers. The program will have success on the ground, but balance is likely to escape it. A starting quarterback has yet to be named after underclassmen Mike Bercovici, Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank failed to distinguish themselves. And aside from Jamal Miles, the receivers are pedestrian. Arizona State could be content to simply employ a ground-and-pound persona in the early part of the fall, mixing in some play-action to the tight ends and receivers. After scoring 33 points a game in 2011, the Sun Devils are poised to regress this season.

Defense: First-year coordinator Paul Randolph wants the defense to be stylish this fall, sporting uniquely different looks to suit the situation. Fans will see their Sun Devils in a lot of 4-3 sets, the occasional 3-4 and even some 3-3-5. Versatility will be a key to getting on the field, which is why hybrid positions, such as Devil and Spur will be utilized. Seven starters are back from a D that underachieved in 2011, often at the least opportune times. While Randolph doesn’t inherit much in the way of star power, he does have enough key pieces at each level to construct a foundation. DT Will Sutton is about to emerge into an inside force. Physical and emotional leader Brandon Magee returns to linebacker after missing all of last year to injury. And the secondary breeds hope with the likes of CB Osahon Irabor and S Alden Darby. While they won’t be enough to completely transform this unit, Arizona State has a chance to be improved from a season ago.

T4. Colorado
2012 CFN Prediction: 6-6
2012 Pac-12 Prediction: 3-6

Offense: After showing intermittent hints of progress in its new pro-style offense, Colorado could be in store for another reboot in 2012. Not only have seven of last year’s starters graduated, but star WR Paul Richardson was lost for the year to a spring ACL tear. The Buffs are going to be painfully young on offense, especially at the skill positions. With youth, though, comes hope. QB Connor Wood, a transfer from Texas, is the most decorated passer to wear the gold and black in more than a generation. RB Tony Jones is coming off a terrific spring. Receivers Nelson Spruce and Tyler McCulloch appear poised to pick up some of the slack left by Richardson. And the line, the strength of the ground-based attack, will start no more than one senior. Colorado will be rather green and inconsistent this fall, but those fans who are patient will be rewarded with a unit that’s going to get increasing better with more seasoning.

Defense: Colorado houses talent on the defensive side of the ball, but is there enough to spur a turnaround from the past few dismal years? The Buffs were brutal in 2011, ranking last in the Pac-12 in takeaways, pass efficiency defense and total D. Still, this is not a program without potential. And the defense is going to be ahead of the offense for at least the early part of the season. Out of coordinator Greg Brown’s 4-3 alignment, Colorado will have a couple of players at each level capable of contending for all-star honors. Up front, DT Will Pericak is an underrated mainstay, and DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe has the look of a breakout star. The linebackers, behind Jon Major and Doug Rippy, will be the strength of the defense. The secondary, while vulnerable, has more depth than it’s had in recent years. There’s certainly a lot of work to be done in Boulder, but Colorado feels as if it finally has the troops to start getting the job done.

NORTH
- 2012 Cal Preview | 2012 Oregon Preview
- 2012 Oregon State State Preview | 2012 Stanford Preview 
- 2012 Washington Preview | 2012 Washington State Preview

SOUTH
- 2012 Arizona Preview | 2012 Arizona State Preview
- 2012 Colorado Preview | 2012 UCLA Preview  
- 2012 USC Preview | 2012 Utah Preview  

- 2012 Pac-12 Preview
- 2012 Pac-12 Unit Rankings
- 2012 CFN Pac-12 Schedules & Picks
- 2012 CFN All-Pac-12 Team & Top 30 Players
- 2012 Pac-12 North Team Looks & Predicted Finish  
- 2012 Pac-12 South Team Looks & Predicted Finish