Sports handicapper Ian Cameron provides a preview of the PAC-12 South Division for the upcoming College Football season, alongside useful betting angles.
Here is a preview of the PAC-12 South Division for the upcoming College Football season:
UCLA just extended head coach Jim Mora Jr. and he will continue to try and keep UCLA a force within the PAC-12. Josh Rosen returns at QB and is expected to take steps forward in his 2nd year with the Bruins. They lose RB Paul Perkins which is a big blow so it will be up to the replacements to fill the void. There are also plenty of new faces in the receiving corps with UCLA seeing most of their top receivers from last year's squad depart.
On defense, UCLA no longer has dominant and versatile LB Myles Jack but the defensive front looks solid and the secondary has plenty of athleticism and speed on it and should be ready to improve after that UCLA pass defense was a bit suspect last season. I expect UCLA to be right in the mix for the division crown with an improved defense and a QB in Josh Rosen who should have the experience and certainly has the talent to be one of the top QB's in the conference.
Clay Helton embarks on his first full season as head coach of the Trojans and will do so with a new QB under center with Cody Kessler off to the NFL and his shoes will be filled by one of either Max Browne or Sam Darnold. The good news is the new QB will have an experienced OL to operate behind with four starters back and the WR corps is deep and talented led by JuJu Smith-Schuster.
The defensive front does provide some concerns though with a lot of inexperience along the defensive line and the LB position is also retooling a bit having seen three of the top four LB's depart from last year's USC squad and they are likely to have a fair share of youth suiting up for them at LB this season. The secondary is the strength of the Trojans defense by default with the most returning experience of any unit on the defensive side of the football but even they will have to show improvement from last year's 87th ranked pass defense. USC has plenty of question marks up front on defense and the QB position as to whether or not Max Browne (the likely starter) can adequately take over the reins from Cody Kessler but the Trojans have enough talent and have recruited well enough to still be in the PAC-12 South title conversation despite tough schedule.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State is a team in transition this season on both sides of the football. They will have to find a new starting QB with Mike Bercovici gone and it will be either be sophomore Manny Wilkins or one of two redshirt freshman in Brady White and Bryce Perkins that will be the new QB. None of them have thrown a single pass in the Division I ranks so ASU has plenty of inexperience at the most important position on the field. They also have a new OC in Chip Lindsey and although his offensive system at Southern Miss did not differ much from what ASU likes to do, these two situations will prove to challenge Arizona State's ability to duplicate the massive offensive numbers they put up last season.
On defense, Arizona State was horrendous for the most part last season and they have a lot of ground to make up but they at least have some solid experience back at DL and LB but the secondary has a dearth of returning talent and will be a major question mark heading into the season. The defense has a major gap to make up and their offense is likely to take a small step back this season as they break in a new QB so the jury is out on whether this team has it in them to compete at the top of this division.
Rich Rodriguez has led the Arizona Wildcats (+30000 to win BCS at Bovada) to four straight bowl games in his four years as head coach and will look to keep that trend going but it won't be without its challenges. The offense should be dangerous with the Wildcats bringing back their starting QB Anu Solomon and their dynamic RB Nick Wilson along with a solid receiving corps and three OL starters back so I expect Arizona to be able to move the football and score points at a productive clip. The areas of concern are mostly on the defensive side where the team needs to get better. They brought in former Boise State DC Marcel Yates to take over the DC job here in Tucson but he does have some talent to work with up front and in the secondary as 8 starters altogether return for the Wildcats on the defensive side of the football.
The secondary and defensive line have a lot of returning experience but it is a team that surrendered 35.8 points per game last year and will need to show improvement. I like the offense but the defense is still an unproven commodity and although improved, I still expect this team to be engaged in more shootouts like they often were last season.
The Utah Utes are a team being picked to suffer a tumble this season by many preseason prognosticators but I am not willing to underestimate the ability of head coach Kyle Whittingham to coach ‘em up and have his team ready to play and compete as they always do. Whittingham has led the Utes to B2B winning seasons and even though the void at QB is a big one and something Utah will have to address, the other factions of this team look solid. The offensive line should take big strides forward with the return of a much better and more experienced group. The receiving corps isn't as experienced but has as much if not more talent and speed. They have a strong duo at RB.
On defense, they once again will have a stiff and fierce defensive front which should once again do a solid job stopping the run and pressuring the QB and that has been a staple of previous Utah teams. The LB corps does lose some quality personnel from last season as three seniors at LB have departed and they combined for 230 tackles last season. The secondary looks to be very strong and could be one of Utah's best pass defenses in many years. I'm a little surprised many people are calling for a major decline for Utah this season. They are breaking in a new QB and it will be either Troy Williams or Brandon Cox that gets the job but there isn't real one major weakness on this team on either side of the football outside of maybe LB will they have some new faces. Kyle Whittingham remains a very underrated head coach and I would expect Utah to have another winning season and also a winning one against the point spread as well.
The Colorado Buffaloes were expected to improve in the 3rd year for Mike MacIntyre as head coach but injuries really derailed their season along with a handful of close losses leading to a tough 4-9 campaign. Colorado will be looking to the return of Sefo Liufau at QB to spark their offense and the pieces around him should be solid with a decent RB tandem of Phillip Lindsay and Michael Adkins. They have a much deeper and more talented WR corps even despite the loss of Nelson Spruce. The offensive line has more career starts returning to it this season and that group could be the best OL that Colorado has had in the last four years.
On defense, the pass rush and ability to stop the run should improve with the Buffaloes returning the majority of their personnel along the defensive front this season while also possessing solid depth. The LB has 5 returnees who have been full-time starters and the secondary returns 5 of the top 7 DB's from last season which should give them the chance to have their strongest pass defense in the MacIntyre era. I think this is the year where Colorado has a legitimate chance to make a run at 6 wins and a bowl game. The schedule isn't easy including a non-conference battle against Michigan in September but I expect improvement from the Buffs and for them to have a decent chance to exceed last year's 4 wins and I wouldn't rule out their chances of finally getting to a bowl game. I also anticipate the Buffs being a solid pointspread team in 2016.