2013 Pre-Preseason Pac-12 South Rankings
USC WR Marqise Lee
USC WR Marqise Lee
Posted Jan 23, 2013

The too early look at how good the Pac-12 South teams should be in 2013.

CFN 2013 First Look Rankings

Pac-12 South

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- Rankings 68-86Rankings 87-105The Bottom 19

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- Based On Opinion ... CFN 2012 FINAL Rankings, Top  25  
- CFN 2012 Pre-Preseason Pac-12 North Rankings
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It might seem way too early, but considering the returning starters and the teams coming back, where does everyone stand before Signing Day and spring ball? Here's CFN's first look at all the teams for 2013 based on how good they appear to be at the moment. 

- CFN 2013 Pre-Preseason Pac-12 Rankings - North

1. UCLA (9-5)

It was a terrific stepping-stone first year for Jim Mora, but now the starving Bruin fans want more success. Now there's hope and promise with a terrific recruiting class coming in and some dynamic returning players on both sides of the ball. The goal of going to a third straight Pac-12 title game won't be enough – the team should be good enough to get to the Rose Bowl.

The emergence of running back Johnathan Franklin was one of the biggest keys to the team's success, finishing ninth in the nation in rushing, and now it'll be up to Jordan James to handle more of the rushing workload. The passing attack will be the star with Brett Hundley quickly emerging as a special talent to revolve the offense around. Top receiver Shaq Evans will be featured even more with the loss of tight end Joseph Fauria and outside target Jerry Johnson. The O line might have been a disaster in pass protection, but three freshmen got the call up front. With four starters returning, the production should be there.

The defense has room for improvement, but the pass rush that became one of the bright spots should be terrific again with outside linebacker Anthony Barr and end Cassius Marsh leading the way. It's a deep line with lots and lots of size, while the linebacking corps should be a rock helped by the return of leading tackler Eric Kendricks. Only one starter – free safety Tevin McDonald – is back in the secondary. Veteran punter Jeff Locke will be missed.

2. USC (7-6)

Call 2012 the regression to the mean. The Trojans weren't as good as many thought in 2011, and they weren't as bad as they seemed last year – losing Matt Barkley was a big deal – and now everyone gets to see 1) if Lane Kiffin can guide the team through adversity, again, and 2) if the fan base will be patient enough to get through another year or two until the terrific recruiting classes can start to mature.

Can Max Wittek play? The 6-4, 235-pounder has all the tools and all the talent to be the next great USC quarterback, and he has Marqise Lee to throw to, but he needs to be a lot better than he was against Notre Dame and Georgia Tech to close out the year. The offensive line should be terrific with four starters returning – only losing center Khaled Holmes – and Silas Redd should bust out and be an All-America caliber back. In all, nine offensive starters are back from the bowl loss, and there should be more consistency if the depth can be counted on.

Eight starters are back on the defensive side with three starters returning to a front line that finished fourth in the nation in sacks. Dion Bailey is a terrific linebacker and Lamar Dawson is a potential killer in the middle, but the defense has to be much, much more physical and far stronger against the run. Safeties T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling are gone, but corners Nickell Robey and Josh Shaw are back.

3. Arizona State (8-5)

Todd Graham put together a terrific first season with three wins to close things out including a 62-28 stomping of Navy in the bowl and a rivalry victory over Arizona. The offense finished second in the Pac-12 in scoring, while the defense led the nation in tackles for loss and was second in sacks.

Eight starters return to the balanced offense, led by rising star quarterback Taylor Kelly along with Michael Eubank, who saw his share of time and should be more than ready if needed. Running back Cameron Marshall is gone, but Marion Grice ended up leading the team in rushing and turned into a nice receiver. Leading target Chris Coyle is back in an H-back role, but wide outs Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles have to be replaced.

Will Sutton, a terror of a defensive tackle is back along with the rest of the defensive line including pass rusher Carl Bradford on the outside. Leading tackler Brandon Magee is done, but the rest of the linebacking corps is back. Corner Oshahon Irabor and safety Alden Darby will anchor a pass defense that led the Pac-12 and finished third in the nation. The Pac-12 leading punting game loses Josh Hubner.

4. Arizona (8-5)

The first year under Rich Rodriguez was a success winning eight times and finishing off with a thrilling bowl victory over Nevada. The offense worked, the defense didn't, and now it's going to take a little more work to become just consistent enough to make some more noise in the Pac-12 South. Being loaded with experience should help the cause.

The defense that was the fifth-worst in college football and sixth-worst in pass defense took its lumps, but there's a chance to make a big jump up with all 11 starters back on defense. Not only are all the No. 1s returning, so are all the twos led by pass rusher Marquis Flowers on the strongside while middle linebacker Jake Fischer should be among the Pac-12's top tacklers.

Of course, it's all about the offense, and the spotlight will be on the nation's leading rusher, Ka'Deem Carey. The quarterback situation has to be settled after losing Matt Scott, but Austin Hill is a top target to help make B.J. Denker or Richard Morrison shine. Three starters – including tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele – are back.

5. Utah (5-7)

After a disastrous season with no offense, weak special teams and not enough strong defensive performances in key games, the Utes have some work to do. The big problem is the rest of the division and the conference; both are getting better while Utah is trying to rebuild the league's worst passing game and a defense that allowed 34 points or more in each of the last three games.

Losing running back John White takes away the team's top weapon and puts more pressure on quarterback Travis Wilson, who struggled to find his way through a true freshman season. However, the 6-6, 230-pound bomber has the tools, and he has a few interesting receivers in Kenneth Scott and Drew Anderson to throw to. The line that had problems has to replace three starters and needs big young tackle Jeremiah Poutasi to become a rock.

There's no replacing Star Lotulelei off the defensive front, and losing end Joe Kruger early to the NFL and Dave Kruger to graduation will hurt. The entire linebacking corps returns and needs to be stronger so the secondary doesn't have to bear so much of the workload – it won't be a positive if safety Brian Blechen is leading the team in tackles again. Both corners Ryan Lace and Reggie Topps are gone from a secondary that wasn't that bad.

6. Colorado (1-11)

After what Mike MacIntyre did with San Jose State, turning around Colorado should be a breeze. A year after the Buffs finished dead last in the league in almost all offensive categories, and last in the nation in total defense, there's nowhere to go but up. On the plus side, 19 starters return. On the negative, 19 starters who went 1-11, with the lone win coming 35-34 over Washington State, are back.

First and foremost, the defense has to stop someone after allowing 30 points or more in every game but the 22-17 loss to Colorado State in the opener. Two true freshmen were thrown in the mix on the defensive interior, but Josh Tupou is a big 325-pound body and Tyler Henington and Samson Kafovalu have the potential to shine in the rotation. Doug Rippy and Jon Major are gone off the linebacking corps, but three starters are back in the secondary. End Chidera Uzo-Diribe is the team's best pass rusher to build around.

The D was miserable, and the O wasn't much better, finished second-to-last in passing efficiency thanks to a line that got the quarterbacks killed. All five starters are back up front, but the quarterback situation has to improve. Kansas transfer Jordan Webb was out late in the year with a finger injury, and MacIntrye will open up the competition to see who can be the most efficient, accurate thrower. True freshman Donta Abron led a deep and young class of running backs, but they need room to move behind the lousy line. Inside receiver Nelson Spruce is the best of the targets.

- CFN 2013 Pre-Preseason Pac-12 Rankings - North