Pac 12

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#47 California Golden Bears

NATIONAL FORECAST

#47

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Sonny Dykes, 6-18 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tony Franklin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Art Kaufman

The Golden Bears were just a handful of plays away from getting to a bowl game last fall. This team has shown marked improvement under Sonny Dykes, and with star quarterback Jared Goff poised for a breakout season, reaching the postseason in 2015 should be an extremely reasonable expectation in Berkeley. The Pac-12 has been warned.

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Previewing Cal’s Offense for 2015


The nation’s 10th-ranked scoring offense in 2014 should be even more prolific. Junior quarterback Jared Goff, who already has passed for 7,481 yards and 53 touchdowns, could own Cal’s career records in both categories by midseason. The Bears expect Goff to have even more command of the fast-tempo, no-huddle Bear Raid offense. “He just knows what he’s looking for,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes says.

A versatile running back corps is led by senior Daniel Lasco, who rushed for 1,115 yards last season. Sophomore Vic Enwere, now 6’1”, 225 pounds, could be the power back missing from Cal’s arsenal. Wide receiver remains Cal’s deepest position group, featuring senior Bryce Treggs (150 career receptions) and junior Kenny Lawler, who at 6’3” with huge hands topped the Bears in every receiving category last season. Stephen Anderson, Maurice Harris, Trevor Davis and Darius Powe combined for 115 catches.

Progress on the offensive line has been tangible, and Dykes envisions more improvement. The goal in spring was not merely to settle who would win the two vacant O-line spots but also to develop a group that goes nine or 10 deep, and Dykes feels like the Bears did that.


Previewing Cal’s Defense for 2015
 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Pac-12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

How inept were the Bears on defense a year ago? Cal gave up the mind-blowing total of 61 touchdowns, allowing each of its final 10 opponents to score at least 31 points. The defense should be better but must demonstrate its ability to hold up against the pass. With neither a consistent rush on the passer nor the ability to cover in the secondary, the Bears allowed 42 TD passes, most ever by a Power 5 team.

The Bears believe their defensive line will be improved after signing six new players at the tackle or end positions, including junior college transfer DeVante Wilson, who began his career at USC. Back after missing last season with mononucleosis is end Kyle Kragen, identified by defensive coordinator Art Kaufman as the team’s best D-lineman in spring ball. Mustafa Jalil had a solid season and may be ready to become a force in the middle. James Looney, a transfer from Wake Forest, likely will line up alongside Jalil.

Linebackers Hardy Nickerson, Jalen Jefferson and Michael Barton have combined to start 54 career games, but the secondary remains, without question, Cal’s biggest area of concern. Five new defensive backs were part of the recruiting class, but only Derron Brown, a junior college safety, was on campus for spring ball. Four returning safeties sat out while mending, prompting Dykes to label the position “a mess.” Stay tuned.


Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
 

Previewing Cal’s Specialists for 2015


There was nothing special about Cal’s kicking units last season, but at least they were improved from 2013, when the Bears allowed six touchdowns on punt and kickoff returns. Still, Cal hopes to see improvement in about every category here. Cole Leininger returns as the punter, but placekicker is up for grabs. Trevor Davis, who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns at Washington State, may add punt return duties.


Final Analysis

Cal was one of the nation’s most-improved teams. But the Bears were far from satisfied after losing six of their final seven games to miss out on the postseason for the third straight year. “We could have taken the program to the next step,” Lawler says, “but we just came up short.” 


No one in the program will be happy with anything less than a bowl game and the chance to compete near the top of the Pac-12 North. Defense remains Cal’s great unknown, and the road schedule is daunting. But Goff says the team is ready for something different. “There’s so much more confidence on our team,” Goff says. “Expectations are very high.”

The Debate

Is Jared Goff the Best QB in the Pac-12?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#46 Washington Huskies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#46

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Chris Petersen, 8-6 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jonathan Smith | DEF. COORDINATOR: Pete Kwiatkowski

Chris Petersen’s first order of business in the Pac-12 was to change the culture at Washington. Reworking a locker room’s mentality doesn’t happen over night and that led to six losses despite a glut of top flight NFL Draft picks a year ago. Petersen still has to answer questions under center and in his front seven, but his plan has worked everywhere he has been and there is no reason not to believe in the process in the Pac-12.

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Previewing Washington’s Offense for 2015


In his second season as Washington coach, Chris Petersen’s top priority is to settle on a new quarterback. Looking to improve the Huskies’ passing attack that ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in 2014, Petersen will choose between redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and true freshman Jake Browning, a pair of promising pocket passers. Carta-Samuels would seem to have the edge simply because he’s been in the program longer and is more physically developed.

The ground game is in more established hands with Dwayne Washington. The Huskies’ leading returning rusher (697 yards, 5.3 per carry) in just a half season as the starter, he’s a big back with breakaway speed. The 6'2", 221-pound junior ripped off scoring runs of 66, 68, 51 and 60 yards late in the season.

The new quarterback won’t have any shortage of passing targets, especially if he wants to throw deep. Jaydon Mickens and Dante Pettis run well as multi-purpose threats. Mickens is the Huskies’ leading returning receiver (60 catches, 617 yards), and he scored twice as a runner scooting around the corner. Pettis, the son of former MLB player Gary Pettis, best demonstrated his explosiveness with an 87-yard score on a punt return. However, the receiving corps suffered a setback with the loss of John Ross for the year with a knee injury. Ross was elusive in a limited offensive role — he started at cornerback, too — averaging 75 yards on seven scoring plays coming as a receiver, runner and returner.

Left guard Dexter Charles is the only returning full-time starter up front, back for a fourth season in the opening-day lineup. But given the experience of some of the candidates, this position area might not be as worrisome as it appears.  

Previewing Washington's Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Pac-12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The line will require a complete makeover after the Huskies graduated all four starters and now move to a truer 3-4 alignment. Which prompts this pressing question: Can this Washington team stop anyone on the ground? Redshirt freshman Jaylen Johnson, sophomore Elijah Qualls and senior Taniela Tupou will get the first shot at it. None has any starting experience.

The linebacking corps also suffered a huge loss of talent with four-year starter John Timu and All-American Shaq Thompson departing. The only full-time starter returning is senior Travis Feeney, who enters his third season as a regular. He’ll be joined on the inside by sophomores Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria, who played a lot in their first seasons.

What once was a glaring weakness — with as many as three freshmen starting at one time, compounded by cornerback Marcus Peters’ midseason dismissal — the secondary is now the Huskies’ defensive strength. Back for his second season, free safety Budda Baker arguably is the team’s best player and top honors candidate. As a true freshman, Baker was on the field more than any other Washington player, collecting 80 tackles and pulling steady special-teams duty. Sophomore cornerback Sidney Jones is a proven coverage guy who has established himself.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
 

Previewing Washington's Specialists for 2015


The Huskies have full confidence in their special teams. Placekicker Cameron Van Winkle was among the nation’s best in 2014, converting on 20-of-24 field-goal attempts. Senior punter Korey Durkee averaged 42.5 yards per kick. Ross already possesses a school-record three touchdowns on kickoff returns in just two seasons and will be missed in 2015. Pettis’ punt return for a score was the first for the Huskies in 11 seasons.


Final Analysis

For Petersen’s second season, Huskies followers will lower their expectations. Just nine starters return. The defensive front seven must be almost completely rebuilt. A new quarterback needs to be broken in. Now the rebuilding really begins. Six or seven wins would be considered progress. 

The Debate

Where Does Chris Petersen Rank Among Pac-12 Coaches?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#30 Arizona Wildcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#30

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Rich Rodriguez, 26-14 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Calvin Magee, Rod Smith | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Casteel

Arizona fans undoubtedly felt a sense of optimism with the arrival of Rich Rodriguez to Tucson. The Wildcats hoped Rodriguez could do for them what he did for West Virginia in turning a program with pockets of success into one with staying power. Even 2014, though, had to come as a bit of surprise. In only his third season at Arizona, Rodriguez led the Wildcats to the Pac-12 title game and their first 10-win season and ranked season since 1998. Could Arizona be a contender for a second consecutive year? With the backfield of Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson, a Lombardi Award winner in Scooby Wright and RichRod in tow, Arizona can’t be counted out.

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Previewing Arizona’s Offense in 2015
 

Sophomore quarterback Anu Solomon is the first holdover QB starter at Arizona since Nick Foles in 2010-11. He is not a fast runner, nor notably elusive, and he doesn’t have NFL-type arm strength. But as he was as a Las Vegas prep quarterback — 57–3 with four state championships — he has proved to be a winner at Arizona. 

Solomon’s numbers — 3,793 passing yards and 28 touchdown passes — broke school freshman records. Redshirt freshman Brandon Dawkins struggled with passing accuracy in spring practice. Fifth-year senior Jerrard Randall, once an LSU quarterback, is a running threat with explosiveness, but his decision-making and accuracy have kept him on the bench. 

Sophomore tailback Nick Wilson required little break-in time, gaining 1,375 yards as a freshman. He is a power runner with what coach Rich Rodriguez calls “good eyes,” adept at hitting openings and making something out of nothing. Fifth-year senior Jared Baker is the clear No. 2. 

Cayleb Jones is among the nation’s best receivers. In his first year as a starter, he caught 73 balls for 1,019 yards and was a go-to receiver in clutch situations. He heads a deep and experienced group, which is the strength of Arizona’s offense. Samajie Grant became a big-play receiver with 45 receptions, six for touchdowns. 

Losing three-year starting tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele hasn’t been a setback. Cal transfer Freddie Tagaloa will start at left tackle and is expected to play at an all-conference level. Guards Jacob Alsadek and Cayman Bundage are returning starters, and the new right tackle, Lene Maiava, has started at two positions up front. The uncertainty is at center; two former walk-ons, Carter Wood and David Catalano, are frontrunners.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Pac-12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Arizona’s Defense in 2015
 

Senior end Reggie Gilbert was awarded a fifth year by the NCAA, which was one of the triumphs of spring practice for Arizona. He is the rock of Arizona’s three-man front. Junior Sani Fuimaono and sophomore Parker Zellers will likely split the nose guard job; both played extensively, although Zellers, listed at 247 pounds, gets by on instincts rather than strength.

If linebacker Scooby Wright can match his sophomore numbers — 163 tackles, 29 tackles for a loss, 14 sacks — the Wildcats will be hard to beat. The Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year has considerable experience beside him: Juniors Cody Ippolito, Jake Matthews and Derrick Turituri all started at least six games.  

Arizona didn’t pause long to replace three starters in its secondary. Senior safeties Jamar Allah and Tellas Jones combined for 47 tackles last season and are physical players. Sophomore cornerback Jarvis McCall Jr., who started 12 games, might have difficulty reclaiming his job. Junior DaVonte’ Neal, who was a receiver/returner last year, moved to corner in spring ball and appeared to win the job. The Notre Dame transfer likely will be joined at the other corner by sophomore Cam Denson, also a former receiver/returner but now strictly a defensive player. 

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
 

Previewing Arizona’s Specialists in 2015
 

Senior kicker Casey Skowron and senior punter Drew Riggleman were so good last season that Rodriguez awarded both with full scholarships midway through the season. Skowron made 20-of-28 field-goal attempts, including a game-winner against Washington. Riggleman was second in the Pac-12 in punting average, at 46.1.

Final Analysis
 

Arizona has won 26 games in Rodriguez’s first three seasons, the most of any three-year period in school history. “I’m not saying we’re ahead of expectations,” says Rodriguez, “because we need to get deeper and tougher.” This is Rodriguez’s top group at Arizona, but it must play 12 weeks in succession without a bye.

The Debate

Is Rich Rodriguez the Best Coach in the Pac-12?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#31 Utah Utes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#31

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Kyle Whittingham, 85-43 (10 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Aaron Roderick, Jim Harding | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Pease

Utah should be feeling pretty good for 2015. The Utes are coming off their best season as Pac-12 member, winning nine games for the first time since 2010 and finishing with a winning conference record for the first time since moving over from the Mountain West. Yet Utah has reason for concern as defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen both left in arguably lateral moves. The defense is the question for the short term, but the long term question is if Utah will be able to continue the momentum that began in 2014.

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Previewing Utah’s Offense for 2015 
 

Utah quarterback Travis Wilson’s career was in question after the 2013 season due to an intracranial condition, but he was cleared to play and earned the starting job in 2014. Wilson’s up-and-down performance led to Kendal Thompson replacing him as the starter twice during the season, before Thompson’s knee injury enabled Wilson to regain the position through the Utes’ Las Vegas Bowl victory over Colorado State. 

Wilson succeeded in cutting down his interceptions from 16 as a sophomore to five as a junior, but he never seemed comfortable with former offensive coordinator Dave Christensen, who’s now Texas A&M’s offensive line coach. Aaron Roderick, promoted as Utah’s co-offensive coordinator, wants Wilson to complete a higher percentage of passes. “We’re not trying to reinvent what we were doing. We just want to get better at it,” Roderick says.

Running back Devontae Booker was a big discovery for the Utes in 2014 as a junior college transfer. Once he established himself as the featured back, he became a consistent force in the Pac-12, averaging 130.1 yards in conference games. Booker is a tough inside runner with explosive speed, and his 1,512-yard total fell just short of the school’s single-season record. 

Utah will rely heavily on senior receiver Kenneth Scott, who led the team with 48 catches and four touchdowns, including a game-winning reception in overtime at Stanford. 

The Utes took a hit when tackle Jeremiah Poutasi entered the NFL Draft as a junior, but they return the bulk of a line that improved in position coach Jim Harding’s first season and paved the way for Booker’s big year. Left guard Isaac Asiata and center Siaosi Aiono are returning starters who played consistently.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Pac-12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Utah’s Defense for 2015
 

Utah must replace end Nate Orchard, who recorded 18.5 sacks. John Pease, the Utes’ new defensive coordinator, hopes that end Hunter Dimick will at least match his 10 sacks from last year, even though he will receive more attention now. 

Utah’s linebackers were hit with injuries last season, but the coaches pieced things together well enough for the Utes to rank second in the Pac-12 in total defense, allowing 393.5 yards per game.  Jared Norris is the group’s most productive player, capable of covering receivers and making big hits in the running game. Norris made a team-high 116 tackles, including 13 for a loss. 

Cornerback Dominique Hatfield leads Utah’s secondary. Converted quarterback Jason Thompson was a surprise in the spring, competing at safety with Marcus Williams. 

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
 

Previewing Utah’s Specialists for 2015
 

Utah wants to move the ball and score touchdowns, but punting and kicking field goals are the team’s biggest strengths. Australian punter Tom Hackett averaged 46.7 yards, and 36 of his 80 punts went inside the 20-yard line. Andy Phillips missed a field goal in an overtime loss at Arizona State, but he was otherwise dependable, finishing 23-of-28 for the season, including 12-of-15 from 40 yards or longer.

Final Analysis 
 

Utah is getting closer. In their fourth season of Pac-12 membership, the Utes posted their first winning record (5–4) in conference play and competed favorably against nearly every opponent.  Coach Kyle Whittingham likes the program’s trajectory entering its fifth season in the Pac-12. “We’ve taken a step forward every year with our depth and talent on the roster, one through 85,” he says. “It’s still a work in progress … but we feel like last year we made a lot of headway.”

In 2015, the Utes hope to overcome a lack of experience at receiver and in the secondary while counting on their senior quarterback to play more consistently as he completes an adventurous career.

The Debate

Is Devontae Booker the Pac-12's Best Running Back?

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