An Average College Football Fan’s Prediction Of How The PAC 12 South Will End Up

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Pac 12

1. UCLA

I know, I’m buying way too much into the Josh Rosen hype. Who cares? The kid had a phenomenal freshman season, has the sort of build and arm talent that would’ve had him at least in the conversation with that goofball from North Dakota State for the #2 overall pick, and possesses a sort of lovable/abhorrent swagger that you can only hope doesn’t take the Manziel path towards infamous “what might have been”-dom. Unless, of course, you’re a USC fan.

In one of college football’s weakest divisions (last season only Utah finished ranked in the AP Top 25 (17)), UCLA and USC are head and shoulders above the rest in total talent. But with USC breaking in a new QB (former five-star phenom Max Browne looks to be leading the competition) and the worst coaching hire of 2016, along with the departure of half their defense, I like the Bruins to roll towards the PAC 12 Championship game.

UCLA will have one of the nation’s best defensive lines, led by likely All-American Eddie Vanderdoes, two returning starters at linebacker, and a plethora of skill position talent. If Jim Mora Jr. doesn’t implode amidst rumors of his potential NFL return, the Bruins are in for a run in 2016.

2. Utah

Kyle Whittingham just keeps winning, even amidst rumored discontent within his own staff and the Utah administration, and with a recruiting class that looks like shirtless me standing next to USC/UCLA’s Ryan Reynolds. Utah consistently signs middle-of-the-road (at best) rated classes, relying on two and three-star talent to build a now sustainably successful program.

I liken Utah to the Michigan State of the West, using superior development, an eye for under-the-radar players, and the importance of experience (they’ve had fewer early NFL departures in the last five years than UCLA did just last season) to average over nine wins a season since 2010.

While the Utah roster is not flashy, and the Utes lost quarterback Travis Wilson, Utah’s defense is paced by the younger of the Lotulelei brothers, Lowell, a penciled-in All-American for the 2016 season and a possible first round pick. Whittingham is one of the best coaches in the country, consistently doing more with less, at least on paper.

3. USC

This is more by default than anything, as the rest of the PAC 12 south outlook can shake out in numerous ways. The Trojans are an extremely talented team, the result of nearly a four-star average rating for recruits signed to the Trojans since 2012, comprising all of the current roster.

To put this in perspective, there are roughly 300-350 four and five-star prospects in the nation each year, depending on the ranking service at which you look. On average, roughly twenty of them, or one out of every fifteen or so, signed with USC. That is an incredible clip, topped only by Alabama and Urban Meyer’s Ohio State.

Yet 2016 should be a bit of a mess. Opening with Alabama is disastrous for their first-time head coach, Clay Helton, and they’re breaking in a new starter at quarterback after losing almost half of their overall first team from 2015. The Tide will massacre them, leaving Helton in the precarious position of instilling belief in the players, his staff, and the alumni base just one week into his tenure.

I absolutely hate the Helton hire. When will USC realize hiring their offensive coordinator (Kiffin, Sark, Helton) is not the route to recreating the Pete Carroll magic?

4. Arizona

I think this is the end of the Rich Rod era in the desert. Not because he’s fired, but because the place he was meant to be is about to have a job opening: West Virginia. With that said, Arizona returns a decent quarterback in Anu Solomon, who has shown flashes of the sort of dynamic running and passing ability integral to the success of the Rodriguez offense.

Unfortunately, as Anu giveth, he taketh away, to the tune of a mind-boggling nearly 1:1 touchdown to turnover rate. The kid throws interceptions, he fumbles, and is regularly injured, suffering two probable concussions just last season.

As is a trademark of Rodriguez coached teams, the firing of long time friend and DC Jeff Casteel, the supposed reason Rodriguez failed miserably at Michigan, wreaks of desperation and frustration on the part of the Arizona head coach. The Wildcats lose their best defensive player in All-American Scooby Wright, and will again suffer Rich Rod’s apparent disinterest in all things defense.

5. Arizona State

Todd Graham is having some issues. The Sun Devils have not entrenched themselves squarely in the pursuit of elite prospects as Graham had hoped, buoyed by his successful first two classes. The momentum seems to have waned, with the Devils signing the worst class of Graham’s tenure in 2016 according to most ranking services.

ASU loses A LOT from a team that already wasn’t every good, including starting QB and hot girl wrangler Mike Bercovici and former phenom recruit DJ Foster. Again, the Sun Devils should have one of the weakest front sevens in the conference, after finishing nearly last in the division in yards allowed per rush.

Could be a long season in Tempe. Thankfully for students, who actually watches the games with the real talent drunk and bouncing up and down in the stands?

6. Colorado

I feel bad for Coach Mike MacIntyre, as he seems like a good guy and has put his best foot forward in Boulder. But the move to the PAC 12 made absolutely no sense and has harmed the program immeasurably. Good west coast players do not want to play for Colorado when they have USC, UCLA, and Stanford in their backyard, Chris Peterson surging at Washington, the allure of Oregon, and the women at the Arizona schools. They can’t even take advantage of Colorado’s legal weed due to NCAA rules, so what’s the point?

The Big 12 is where Colorado belongs and should have stayed. A far easier recruiting base, a down conference, and some semblance of a tradition for kids from the area relating to Colorado. You think anybody from LA was watching Colorado save maaaaybe the Kordell Stewart era? Neither do I.

The Buffalos are overmatched on the field, and the decisions of the administration have damned them off of it. They will improve this year, but it will be interesting to see how long Coach Mac is given.

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