Pac 12

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#46 Arizona State Sun Devils

NATIONAL FORECAST

#46

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Todd Graham, 34-19 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Chip Lindsey | DEF. COORDINATOR: Keith Patterson

After a disappointing season in 2015, the Sun Devils look to get back atop the Pac-12 South. Coach Todd Graham has always had the offense on point, but in 2016 the defense might have to carry the weight. Losing quarterback Mike Bercovici hurts a lot, but coordinator Chip Lindsey feels confident they’ll have a competent player under center come fall. Until a quarterback emerges, expect the Sun Devils to lean on the one-two punch of Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage at running back.

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Previewing Arizona State’s Offense

In four years under coach Todd Graham, Arizona State has fielded a top-35 scoring offense, but continuing that trend this season might be difficult. The Sun Devils lose seven starters from last year’s offense, including quarterback Mike Bercovici, receiver D.J. Foster and four offensive linemen.

A quarterback isn’t expected to be named until the final week of preseason practice. Sophomore Manny Wilkins and redshirt freshmen Brady White and Bryce Perkins battled through the spring with little separation. True freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole will join them in the summer. None has started a college game.

One thing in Arizona State’s favor — its running backs. As a sophomore last season, Demario Richard became the 19th back in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards. After recovering from mono during the season’s first month, Kalen Ballage added 653 rushing yards.

The Devils lose their top receivers in Foster and Devin Lucien, but they return Tim White, who had 57 catches for 633 yards in his first year out of junior college. Also back is deep threat Cameron Smith, who missed last season with a knee injury.

Previewing Arizona State’s Defense

, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Graham is known for his aggressive, blitzing ways. That won’t change, but it’s possible the coach will back off the accelerator — slightly. Last year, Arizona State gave up 33.5 points per game, the most under Graham. They still ranked in the top five nationally in both quarterback sacks and tackles for a loss, but the pressure often left them vulnerable to big plays, especially in the passing game.

Arizona State last season allowed 337.8 passing yards per game, the worst in the country and the worst in school history. A better four-man pass rush should help, and Graham likes what he has up front in end JoJo Wicker, nose tackle Viliami Latu and tackle Tashon Smallwood. Wicker started last season as a true freshman and has all-conference potential, while Latu and Smallwood are seasoned veterans.

A three-year starter, senior strong-side linebacker Salamo Fiso is the defense’s anchor, but the key to Arizona State success likely will come in the secondary. With the Sun Devils down three starters to graduation, Graham plans to move outside linebacker Laiu Moeakiola — a two-year starter at Spur linebacker — to free safety, providing some back-end experience. Sophomore Kareem Orr, who last season led the Pac-12 with six interceptions, will help.

Previewing Arizona State’s Specialists

No concerns here. Second-year coordinator Shawn Slocum has made special teams a strength. Arizona State has four specialists who should be among the best in the Pac-12. Senior placekicker Zane Gonzalez — already the school’s third all-time leading scorer — last year led the nation in touchback percentage. Senior Matt Haack’s 43.1-yard average is tops among the conference’s returning punters, junior long-snapper Mitchell Fraboni seldom makes a mistake, and White last season ranked 15th nationally in kick-return yardage.

Final Analysis
 

After consecutive 10-win seasons — the program’s first since the early 1970s — Arizona State last year took a step back, finishing 6–7. This season, the Sun Devils could struggle to reach bowl eligibility. With Richard and Ballage, the Devils likely will have one of the Pac-12’s top backfields, but the uncertainty and inexperience at quarterback — to go along with four new starters on the offensive line — will be tough hurdles to clear. An advantage: The schedule. Arizona State opens against Northern Arizona, Texas Tech, UTSA and California, with three of the four in Sun Devil Stadium. That could give the offense time to find its footing before the Pac-12 schedule kicks into high gear with contests against USC, UCLA, Washington State and Oregon.

The Debate

Where does Todd Graham rank among Pac-12 coaches?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#44 California Golden Bears

NATIONAL FORECAST

#44

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Sonny Dykes, 14-23 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jake Spavital | DEF. COORDINATOR: Art Kaufman

Losing the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft will hurt, but coach Sonny Dykes landed a replacement for Jared Goff in May with the addition of transfer Davis Webb. In addition to getting Webb settled at quarterback, the Golden Bears have to find a few weapons at receiver. The defense has improved every year since 2014 and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t continue.

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Previewing Cal’s Offense
 

Quarterback was the big unknown for the Bears with departed star Jared Goff’s backups from each of the past three seasons among the frontrunners to win the job. The Bears began spring practice with five candidates hoping to fill the biggest shoes on campus, but the answer came in May with Davis Webb's arrival from Texas Tech. Webb is eligible immediately as a graduate transfer and should be a good fit in the Bear Raid offense. Third-year sophomore Chase Forrest worked as the backup in 2015 and should return in that role for 2016. 

The new QB will operate behind a line with four returning starters. “It’s huge, especially for young quarterbacks,” Spavital says of the experience up front. Running backs Tre Watson, Khalfani Muhammad and Vic Enwere each rushed for more than 500 yards last fall, and the Bears expect to use a committee approach again. Gone are six receivers who totaled 265 catches for 3,878 yards and 38 TDs last season. Replacing them is a group of nearly a dozen that brings size, speed and versatility.

Previewing Cal’s Defense
 

, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Defensive coordinator Art Kaufman has overseen gradual progress after inheriting one of the nation’s worst defenses when he arrived in 2014. The Bears allowed 45.9 points per game in ’13, then improved to 39.8 in ’14 and 30.7 last season. “Last year was better — wasn’t where we wanted it to be,” says Kaufman, who has five starters back from 2015 and greater depth almost everywhere. “Defensively, it’s time to make another jump.” 

Kaufman believes the line will be stronger, led up front by tackle James Looney and end DeVante Wilson. Mostly, the Bears have developed greater numbers of capable players. “You can’t afford to have one-and-a-half at any position. You’ve got to be two-deep, plus,” Kaufman says. The linebacking corps, however, took a huge hit when star Hardy Nickerson announced in late April that he was transferring to Illinois to play his final season for his father, the Fighting Illini’s new defensive coordinator.

The biggest hole on defense is at the second cornerback slot, opposite returning starter Darius Allensworth. One or more of five incoming DBs could fill that void. The status of senior Damariay Drew, expected to anchor the defense from his strong safety spot, is unclear after he had left knee surgery for an injury he sustained in spring camp.

Previewing Cal’s Specialists
 

Matt Anderson was a pleasant surprise at placekicker last season, converting 18-of-21 field goals with just one miss inside 40 yards. Sophomore Dylan Klumph, at 6'3", 230 pounds, won the punting job with a strong performance in spring ball. The Bears hope to get more punch from a return game that was anemic last season.

Final Analysis
 

Dykes understands that outside expectations for his team will be diminished this season following the departure of star quarterback Goff and his receiving corps. But he isn’t lowering the bar after the Bears posted an 8–5 record and a bowl victory in his third season. He considers the performance of Washington State, which jumped from 3–9 in 2014 to 9–4 a year ago, and says, “We’re hoping we can be next year’s surprise team and continue to progress without having to take a step backward.” If the offensive line is as good as Dykes hopes, Webb stabilizes the quarterback play as expected and the defense continues to make progress, perhaps the Bears can avoid taking a step back.




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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#32 Utah Utes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#32

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Kyle Whittingham, 95-46 (11 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Aaron Roderick, Jim Harding | DEF. COORDINATOR: Morgan Scalley

After another productive season in Salt Lake City under coach Kyle Whittingham, the Utes look to take that next step for the program. The offensive line will be a strength, but that’s about it on offense with numerous question marks at the other positions. Utah hopes junior college transfer Troy Williams is the answer at quarterback, while running back Joe Williams looks to build off a strong finish to 2015. The defense is anchored by a strong front seven and has a chance to be the best in the Pac-12.

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Previewing Utah’s Offense
 

The discussion of Utah begins the same way every year. The Utes’ defense compares favorably to any group in the Pac-12, so if their offense improves, they will challenge for the South title.

Travis Wilson finished his career No. 2 on Utah’s list of career wins for a starting quarterback (24) after taking the job midway through his freshman year. The Utes will miss Wilson’s running ability but hope to expand their passing game with any of three contenders for the position. Troy Williams was the presumed favorite as a junior college transfer who started his career at Washington. Williams was unable to play during the last three weeks of spring drills, however, due to a sore arm. Brandon Cox is the only remaining quarterback from previous recruiting classes, and his only action came in one game in 2014. Injuries have limited Cox’s chances of climbing the depth chart in the past, but the coaches like his ability. They’re also impressed with freshman Tyler Huntley, who joined the team in January. Utah is listing all three as co-starters going into August.

Utah’s offense relied heavily on Devontae Booker for two seasons, but the Utes made a discovery in November when Booker was sidelined by a knee injury after gaining 1,261 yards in 10 games. Joe Williams emerged as a productive, explosive runner with 399 yards in the final three games.

The inability of Utah’s receivers to get open, particularly on deep patterns, held back the offense in 2015. Some talented players are available, including Tim Patrick, who needs to stay healthy. Cory Butler-Byrd was primarily a cornerback for most of the season, while appearing occasionally on offense.

Utah expects to have five juniors or seniors starting up front, led by right tackle J.J. Dielman.

Previewing Utah’s Defense 
 
, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

In his first year as Utah’s coordinator, Morgan Scalley says he wants to field a “fast and nasty” defense. It all starts up front for the Utes, who keep producing NFL-level talent on the line. The leader is junior Lowell Lotulelei, who made the All-Pac-12 first team after recording five tackles for a loss and helping the Utes rank first in the conference in rushing defense, allowing 108.6 yards per game.

Dealing with spread offenses, the Utes employ only two linebackers about 80 percent of the time. Sunia Tauteoli and Cody Barton made good progress in the spring after playing behind some talented linebackers last year. The Utes also expect immediate impact from junior college transfer David Luafatasaga.

The Utes recorded 22 interceptions in 2015, two years after picking off only three passes. Free safety Marcus Williams made the All-Pac-12 first team after leading Utah with five interceptions.

Previewing Utah’s Specialists 
 

Punter Tom Hackett was one of Utah’s biggest weapons, averaging 48.0 yards as a senior and often pinning opponents deep in their territory. The Utes have landed another Australian punter, Mitch Wishnowsky. Andy Phillips is one of the Pac-12’s top kickers. Phillips made 23-of-27 field goals last season, including 15-of-15 from inside 40 yards.

Final Analysis 
 

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham considers a 2015 Pac-12 South co-championship both an achievement for the program and a missed opportunity. The Utes regret November losses to Arizona and UCLA that kept them from overtaking USC in the standings and playing in the conference championship game, but they’ve advanced to a point where they’re in the conversation among the South’s contenders.

“Nobody cares about being close; you’ve got to actually win it,” Whittingham says. “But we hope we’re a team that people take notice of every year.”

The Debate

Is Troy Williams the Pac-12's top impact JUCO transfer?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#30 Washington State Cougars

NATIONAL FORECAST

#30

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Mike Leach, 21-29 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Leach | DEF. COORDINATOR: Alex Grinch

Washington State improved its win total by six games last season after a 3-9 mark in 2014. The Cougars also claimed the program’s second bowl trip under coach Mike Leach. As usual for a Mike Leach-coached team, Washington State will be dynamic on offense. Quarterback Luke Falk headlines the high-powered passing attack, while receiver Gabe Marks should push for All-America honors. The defense showed improvement under new coordinator Alex Grinch last season but has to retool in the front seven. 

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Previewing Washington State’s Offense 
 

Luke Falk, who threw for more than 4,500 yards, 38 touchdowns and just eight interceptions a season ago, will surely have the numbers to support a dark horse Heisman campaign. If everything else breaks like the Cougars think it could, Washington State may have the wins to make that dream for Falk a reality.

Biletnikoff Award semifinalist receiver Gabe Marks delayed entering the NFL Draft and heads a deep receiver corps that should give Falk plenty of capable targets. Marks caught 104 passes for 1,192 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, and fellow starting receivers Robert Lewis and River Cracraft are also back. The new starting receiver, sophomore Tavares Martin, is also the team’s fastest player.

It’s true that the Cougars must replace a pair of three-year starters on the left side of the offensive line, but the three returning starters each earned some sort of postseason honors last year.

Falk threw game-winning touchdown passes with just seconds left at Rutgers and UCLA, and tied the game with a scoring toss with just one second left in the overtime win at Oregon. If the new starting offensive linemen can protect his blind side, Falk — who missed the Apple Cup and left two other games because of injuries — can lead the Cougars to new heights.

Previewing Washington State’s Defense 
 

, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Mike Leach took a chance when he hired a first-year defensive coordinator in his mid-30s, and oh, did Alex Grinch deliver. The WSU defense improved its points-allowed average from 38.6 points per game to 27.7 in one year under Grinch and tripled its takeaways from eight to 24.

Depth along the defensive line is a concern after losing two all-conference defensive ends, but big things are expected from sophomore Hercules Mata’afa, who was named Outstanding Lineman of the Sun Bowl win after drawing double teams from Miami’s offensive linemen all game. Nose tackle Robert Barber has shown flashes but will need to play consistently for the Cougars to hold up along the line.

At linebacker, Dylan Hanser and Nnamdi Oguayo are inexperienced but athletic options at the rush linebacker position. Peyton Pelluer is a steady and sound presence at middle linebacker, while weak-side linebacker Frankie Luvu brings size and athleticism to the defense’s second level.

Grinch’s biggest impact was turning the secondary from a weakness to a strength last year, thanks in part to the stellar play of junior college transfer Shalom Luani at strong safety. Darrien Molton and Marcellus Pippins are capable cornerbacks, and Charleston White and Deion Singleton are rangy backups.

Previewing Washington State’s Specialists
 

Erik Powell has a big leg, but he must become more accurate from distance after making just half of his 10 attempts from 40 or more yards last season. Zach Charme was solid for a freshman punter last season and is expected to improve on his 39.6-yard average.

Final Analysis
 

The Cougars were left for dead by some after their season-opening home loss to FCS Portland State. Then they rattled off wins against some of the Pac-12’s toughest programs, winning on the road and often coming from behind in the final minutes to do so. New offensive coaches Dave Nichol and JaMarcus Shephard have brought energy to the wide receivers, and the defense is playing with a swagger not seen in Pullman since the Palouse Posse days of the mid-’90s. WSU won’t sneak up on anyone this year and still has to get through the Pac-12 North, which should be one of the toughest divisions in the nation this year. But Marks set a tone for this season when he announced that he would spurn the NFL to chase a Rose Bowl with the Cougars, and with so many key contributors returning, perhaps the Cougars won’t need to rely on Falk to lead game-winning drives in 2016.

The Debate

Is Luke Falk the Pac-12's best quarterback?

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