Spring Primer: Pac-12 South

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Is USC or Arizona State the team to beat in the Pac-12 South?

Is USC or Arizona State the team to beat in the Pac-12 South?

-by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Spring Primers: ACC Coastal | ACC Atlantic | Big 12, Part 1 | Big 12, Pt 2 | Notre Dame |Big East, Part 1 | Big East, Pt 2 | SEC West | SEC East | Big Ten Legends | Big Ten Leaders | Pac-12 North | Pac-12 South

Arizona

2010 Record: 7-6, 4-5 Pac-10
Spring Practice: March 21-April 16
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 6
 
Spring storylines facing the Wildcats:
 
1. With quarterback Nick Foles and the Pac-12’s best group of receivers returning, there’s no reason Arizona should struggle to put points on the board in 2011 – with one glaring exception. The offensive line loses all five starters, including all-conference selections in center Colin Baxter and tackle Adam Grant. The new line could feature several young players stepping into a starting role next year, which is certainly a cause for concern for coach Mike Stoops. To counter with a young front five, the Wildcats are expected to use more of a spread attack, with quick passes to get the ball into the hands of receivers Juron Criner and Dan Buckner. If the line is settled, the Wildcats should have no trouble emerging as one of the top offenses in college football.
 
2. Similar to the offense, the defense has question marks up front. Ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed combined for 17.5 sacks last season, but have completed their eligibility. The Wildcats are in good shape on the interior of the line, with Justin Washington, Sione Tuihalamaka and Willie Mobley returning. However, generating production from the ends will be the key for this defense in 2011. Adding to the uncertainty, is a lack of experience from the returning players at the ends. Redshirt freshman Dan Pettinato and senior Dominique Austin will be counted on to step into significant roles this year. Depth at end also took a hit when senior Apaiata Tuihalamaka was forced to give up football due to injuries.
 
3. Arizona has made three consecutive bowl trips, but the momentum from that success is tempered by a disappointing five-game losing streak to close out 2010. The Wildcats should win the opener against Northern Arizona, but the next five games on the 2011 slate are brutal – at Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon, at USC and at Oregon State. The trenches aren’t usually a spot where you want to have question marks, and it’s an area that will hinder Arizona’s chance to make another postseason trip.
 
Redshirts to watch: OL Mickey Baucus (RS), OL Fabbians Ebbele (RS), DE Dan Pettinato (RS), OL Trent Spurgeon (RS)
 
Fantasy tip: The offensive line is a huge concern, but quarterback Nick Foles and receiver Juron Criner should put up solid numbers each week.
 
Early Enrollees: OL Addison Bachman (JC), P Kyle Dugandzic (JC), DL Saneilia Fuimaono, QB Daxx Garman, TE Drew Robinson (JC)
 
Arizona State
 
2010 Record: 6-6, 4-5 Pac-10
Spring Practice: March 22-April 23
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 7
 
Spring storylines facing the Sun Devils:
 
1. Coach Dennis Erickson enters 2011 on the hot seat, but there’s plenty of optimism in Tempe. The Sun Devils return 14 starters and are considered by some to be the favorites to win the Pac-12 South. Are the Sun Devils ready to handle the high expectations? Another disappointing season with no bowl game will likely result in Erickson’s firing. With USC dealing with NCAA sanctions and Arizona, UCLA and Utah rebuilding, it’s Arizona State’s time to emerge as the frontrunner in the Pac-12 South. 
 
2. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone proved to be a solid hire last year, with Arizona State finishing 28th nationally in scoring offense. The offensive line has been a longstanding issue in Tempe, but played well last year and four starters are back. With the line, receivers and running backs looking set for 2011, the Sun Devils just need quarterback Brock Osweiler to deliver. Osweiler has shown the ability in limited action, but needs to put it together for a full season.
 
3. Arizona State should have the Pac-12’s top linebacking corps in 2011 and that’s a good thing with the concerns about the middle of the defensive line. Tackle Lawrence Guy decided to bolt to the NFL a year early, while Saia Falahola finished his eligibility. Bo Moos missed four games due to injury, but should be a solid player in the rotation. The line will get a boost with William Sutton returning from academic ineligibility, while Corey Adams will be relied upon for a bigger role in 2011. The Sun Devils have the bodies, but someone must step up and replace Guy’s steady performance.
 
Redshirts to watch: WR Kevin Anderson, DE Jordan McDonald, OL Sil Ajawara, LB Carl Bradford, OL Jamil Douglas
 
Fantasy tip: Take a wait and see approach with the Sun Devil offense in 2011. The running back and receiver corps could be a committee approach, while Osweiler needs a little more time to develop.
 
Early Enrollees: QB Mike Bercovici, P John Hubner (JC)
 
Colorado
 
2010 Record: 5-7, 2-6 Big 12
Spring Practice: March 11-April 9
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 6
 
Spring storylines facing the Buffaloes:
 
1. With a move to the Pac-12 and a new head coach, there’s a new feeling surrounding Colorado in 2011. New coach Jon Embree wasn’t exactly a wow hire, but played and coached under Bill McCartney, and the move to the Pac-12 should help build on the recruiting base in California. Although the Buffaloes will struggle in 2011, Embree should have a couple of years to get the program back on track.
 
2. Running back Rodney Stewart is one of the nation’s most underrated backs and should contend for all-conference honors. However, the Buffaloes need to find some other weapons on offense. Quarterback Tyler Hansen suffered a ruptured spleen against Texas Tech and missed the final five games of last season. Although Hansen is expected to win the quarterback job, he needs to show improvement in 2011. The receiving corps must replace dependable Scotty McKnight, but Paul Richardson is a promising sophomore. The offensive line loses likely NFL Draft first-round pick Nate Solder, but four starters return up front. Stewart is a good building block, but the Buffaloes have a lot of work to do on offense.
 
3. The back seven of the defense is in need of a major overhaul this spring. The linebacking corps must replace B.J. Beatty and Michael Sipili, and the secondary loses Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith. Pass defense wasn’t exactly a strength for Colorado last year, finishing 110th nationally. Considering the Buffaloes lost their top two corners, the secondary could be a glaring area of weakness in 2011.
 
Redshirts to watch: RB Tony Jones, TE Harold Mobley, QB Nick Hirschman, OT Kaiwi Crabb, LB Lowell Williams
 
Fantasy tip: Rodney Stewart looks like the lone fantasy option from Colorado this year. Stewart should hit 1,300 yards and 8-10 scores in 2011.
 
Early Enrollees: QB Brent Burnette (JC)
 
UCLA
 
2010 Record: 4-8, 2-7 Pac-10
Spring Practice: March 31-April 23
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 6
 
Spring storylines facing the Bruins:
 
1. Rick Neuheisel came to UCLA with a lot of hype, but the Bruins have largely been a disappointment under his watch. After a 4-8 record last year, 2011 will be a make-or-break season for Neuheisel. The Bruins desperately need to show progress is being made. Making 2011 even more interesting for UCLA will be two new coordinators. The offense will be led by former San Francisco 49ers assistant Mike Johnson, while Joe Tresey will be the defensive coordinator. Although Johnson was hired from the NFL ranks, the Bruins will continue to run the Pistol offense, as evidenced by the hire of Jim Mastro away from Nevada to coach tight ends and F-backs.
 
2. Quarterback Kevin Prince has been unable to stay healthy in two seasons as the starter, missing most of last year due to a knee injury. Prince has shown flashes of ability, but has to fight for his job this offseason. Richard Brehaut will figure into the mix in the fall and early enrollee Brett Hundley will be awarded every opportunity to win the starting job. Hundley is a good fit for the Pistol offense, but will take time to adjust to the college game – something Neuheisel probably can’t afford. The offense should get a boost from the offensive line, which returns two starters and adds Kai Maiava and Jeff Baca after missing all of last season. 
 
3. Six starters are back on defense, but UCLA has some key pieces to replace. Linebacker Akeem Ayers and safety Rahim Moore both departed to the NFL a year early. Linebacker Sean Westgate and safety Tony Dye are two pieces to build around, and the return of end Datone Jones from injury should give UCLA plenty of reasons to be optimistic about improvement. However, the Bruins finished 108th against the run and 94th in total defense last year. New coordinator Joe Tresey knows the entire staff is on the hot seat entering 2011, so immediate improvement is a must if the Bruins want to reach a bowl. 
 
Redshirts to watch: RB Jordon James, LB Aramide Olaniyan, FS Tevin McDonald, CB Anthony Jefferson
 
Fantasy tip: Running back Johnathan Franklin appears to be the safest pick on the UCLA roster, but don’t rule out Malcolm Jones and Jordon James from stealing some carries in 2011. Franklin should reach 1,000 yards, but don’t expect him to top last season’s numbers.
 
Early Enrollees: QB Brett Hundley, DE Sam Tai, LB Aaron Wallace, LB Ryan Hofmeister (JC)
 
USC
 
2010 Record: 8-5, 5-4 Pac-10
Spring Practice: March 22-April 16
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 8
 
Spring storylines facing the Trojans:
 
1. USC’s offense certainly wasn’t the problem last year, ranking 26th in total offense and 37th in scoring last season. Quarterback Matt Barkley figures to challenge for all-conference honors this year and has one of the Pac-12’s best receivers in Robert Woods back for his sophomore season. Although the Trojans have the weapons, there’s a big concern along the offensive line. Two starters are back and there’s very little depth. Junior college prospects Jeremy Galten and David Garness weren’t elite recruits, but will be counted on to provide depth and figure to immediately contribute to the rotation. Left tackle Matt Kalil and guard/center Khaled Holmes are the only two returning starters up front. If the Trojans solidify the offensive line, they should finish among the best in the Pac-12 in scoring and total offense.
 
2. Veteran defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has a lot of work to do this spring. The Trojans finished 109th nationally against the pass and 84th in total defense last season. Eight starters are back, but the line loses tackle Jurrell Casey and cornerback Shareece Wright must be replaced. The linebackers were a source of concern all last season and the duo of Chris Galippo and Devon Kennard must pickup their play in 2011. End Armond Armstead is expected to be a key piece to the defensive line, but has been dealing with chest pains and his status for this season is uncertain. The Trojans have a lot of question marks, but there is promising young talent in place.
 
3. USC’s appeal to have the sanctions from the Reggie Bush case reduced was still pending as spring practice kicked off. If the Trojans can win any sort of reduction in the penalties, it should be a shot in the arm for a program that could still win the Pac-12 South. Utah, Arizona and UCLA need a lot of work to win the South division, while Arizona State appears to be on the rise. The Trojans lost three games by four points or less, so despite the sanctions, Lane Kiffin should have this team back in the mix for a finish near the top of the division.
 
Redshirts to watch: WR Kyle Prater, CB Anthony Brown, TE Xavier Grimble, DT George Oko, RB D.J. Morgan, C Giovanni Di Poalo, LB Dion Bailey
 
Fantasy tip: If the defense continues to struggle, the Trojans may have to win a lot of shootouts in 2011. Don’t be surprised if quarterback Matt Barkley approaches 30 touchdown tosses this season.
 
Early Enrollees: K Andre Heidari, QB Cody Kessler, LS Peter McBride, FB Soma Vainuku, QB Max Wittek, OL Jeremy Galten (JC), OL David Garness (JC), LB Dallas Kelley (JC)
 
Utah
 
2010 Record: 10-3, 7-1 MWC
Spring Practice: March 8-April 16
 
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 4
 
Spring storylines facing the Utes:
 
1. The Utes will be one of the most interesting teams in college football to watch in 2011. Making the move from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 will be a difficult transition, but the Utes return 11 starts and coach Kyle Whittingham is 57-20 in six seasons. The Utes are 3-1 in their last four games against Pac-12 foes. Utah has proven they can beat the teams in its new conference, but can they withstand a tougher schedule and do they have the depth to win the Pac-12 in 2011?
 
2. Quarterback Jordan Wynn had offseason shoulder surgery and will be out until fall practice. Wynn’s absence is a big blow for an offense breaking in a new scheme under coordinator Norm Chow. Although Chow didn’t have much success at UCLA, the veteran coordinator should be a good resource for the Utes as they enter their first season in the Pac-12. While Wynn is sidelined, Griff Robles and Tyler Shreve will run the offense in spring practice.
 
3. Running backs Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide combined for over 1,400 rushing yards last season, but both have completed their eligibility. The Utes’ top returning rusher is Robles, with 124 yards on 17 attempts last year. Running back is a huge area of concern, but incoming freshman Harvey Langi and junior college transfer John White were two huge pickups for this offense. Luke Matthews caught 18 passes last year, but is shifting to running back in 2011. The Utes should feel optimistic about this position, but it’s always a concern entering a season with so many question marks at one position.
 
4. The Utes finished last season 73rd nationally in pass defense and it’s arguably the biggest area of concern going into spring practice. Cornerback Brandon Burton earned second-team All-Mountain West honors last year, but decided to bolt to the NFL. In addition to Burton, cornerback Lamar Chapman and safety Justin Taplin-Ross have finished their eligibility. Brian Blechen started all 13 games at strong safety last year, but is moving to linebacker. Four new starters will takeover in the secondary in 2011, making this one of the Pac-12 South’s biggest question marks.
 
Redshirts to watch: DB Terrell Reese, WR Kenneth Scott, LB V.J. Fehoko, OL Zach Bolton, DB Damian Payne, WR Dres Anderson
 
Fantasy tip: Either Langi or White could emerge as a fantasy option for select matchups. Keep a close eye on this battle throughout fall practice.
 
Early Enrollees: RB Harvey Langi, OL Isaac Asiata, RB John White (JC)
Exclude From Games: 
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<p> Athlon takes a look at some of the key questions from around the Pac-12 South this spring.</p>