Pac 12

Ranking the Toughest Games on Oregon's College Football Schedule in 2016

Oregon faces a challenging slate with 11 Power 5 opponents
Ranking the Toughest Games on Oregon's College Football Schedule in 2016

Oregon grew into one of Pac-12 football’s two pace-setters since 2009, splitting four of seven conference championships with rival Stanford in that time.


5 Teams That Could Surprise in Power 5 Conference Title Races in 2016

These teams aren't the favorites, but each has what it takes to win their conferences and possible qualify for the College Football Playoff
5 Teams That Could Surprise in Power 5 Conference Title Races in 2016

Athlon Sports has unveiled its projected Top 25 for the 2016 college football season.

College Football's 10 Most Explosive Receivers Returning for 2016

Who are the top big-play threats returning for 2016?
College Football's 10 Most Explosive Receivers Returning for 2016

Having a wide receiver who has the ability to stretch the field and take the top off the defense is a must for passing attacks. These receivers have the unique ability to turn ordinary plays into paydirt and six points for the offense. They come in different shapes and sizes, but there are a few qualities each big-play receiver seems to possess - speed, acceleration and great hands.

Athlon Sports College Football 2016 Team Rankings 1-128

Athlon ranks every team for the 2016 season.
College Football 2016 Team Rankings 1-128

The 2016 college football season is less than 100 days away, but the countdown to kickoff is officially underway. Athlon Sports’ 2016 College Football Preview annuals are already on newsstands across the county and available for order in the online store, hosted by Amazon. Each year, Athlon Sports produces regional preview magazines for the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC, as well as a national edition with previews for all 128 teams.



#61 Colorado Buffaloes





HEAD COACH: Mike MacIntyre, 10-27 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Lindgren, Darrin Chiaverini | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jim Leavitt

Previewing Colorado’s Offense in 2016 

The big news early in the offseason in Boulder was that former Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb had committed to join Colorado as a graduate transfer. However, Webb decided in May to transfer to California instead, leaving uncertainty at the quarterback position for the Buffaloes. Three-year starter Sefo Liufau is recovering from a Lisfranc foot fracture that ended his junior season prematurely. With Webb choosing California and Liufau still recovering, redshirt freshman Steven Montez could be starting his first game in the season opener. He would compete with senior Jordan Gehrke for the job in camp - if Liufau is not back at full strength.

Colorado’s offense took a step back last season in many regards, and the inconsistency of offensive line play was a big reason why. It will be a boost to get left tackle Jeromy Irwin back from a knee injury. Center Alex Kelley and left guard Gerrad Kough return to their starting roles, making the left side of the line the strength of the unit.

Colorado has four running backs returning who have made significant contributions in the past, but there could be times this fall when all of them are on the sideline watching true freshman Beau Bisharat carry the ball.  Bisharat is the highest-rated recruit of MacIntyre’s tenure. He should help the Colorado ground game improve after ranking 87th nationally in 2015.

CU signed five wide receivers in its recent recruiting class, and it wasn’t with an eye toward the future. Junior college transfers Kabion Ento and Juwann Winfree are expected to make an immediate impact and could earn starting roles.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2016 Pac-12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Colorado’s Defense in 2016 

There are a lot of players returning on this side of the ball and reason to believe the Buffaloes will continue to improve in their second season under defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. 

Once again, the secondary appears to be the strength of the defense, with cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and safety Tedric Thompson figuring to have a chance to play in the NFL in the future. Free safety Ryan Moeller returns from injuries he suffered when he was hit by a car last season, and junior Afolabi Laguda and senior Ahkello Witherspoon bring versatility and experience. Young cornerbacks Nick Fisher and Isaiah Oliver should be improved after being thrown to the fire as true freshmen a year ago. 

Three different linebackers have led the team in tackles the past three seasons, and they’re all back. Senior Kenneth Olugbode, junior Addison Gillam and sophomore Rick Gamboa, along with junior college transfer Drew Lewis, will compete for the two starting jobs at inside linebacker, but they ought to be able to keep each other fresh regardless of who starts. 

The defensive line and pass rush should be stout with senior Josh Tupou expected back from a year-long suspension. He will team with Derek McCartney, Jimmie Gilbert, Jordan Carrell and Leo Jackson, who were impact players in 2015.


Previewing Colorado’s Specialists in 2016 

Colorado allowed six blocked kicks last season, which led to the firing of the former special teams coordinator and splitting those duties among the staff. Punter Alex Kinney averaged 38.1 net yards per punt, and placekicker Diego Gonzalez made only 18-of-29 field goal attempts, including 3-of-7 from 30-39 yards. 


Final Analysis

This will be the most experienced team CU has had in years. The pieces are in place for the Buffaloes to finally make a jump up the Pac-12 standings, especially if Liufau returns at full strength in time for the season opener. No one is expecting Colorado to contend for a title, but the program must continue to show progress in MacIntyre’s fourth year on the job.



#90 Oregon State Beavers





HEAD COACH: Gary Andersen, 2-10 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kevin McGiven, T.J. Woods | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Clune

Gary Andersen's debut at Oregon State resulted in just two wins last season, but everyone was aware of the rebuilding project he was taking on. Year 2 should show more signs of progress, but how much remains to be seen with just 10 starters returning and new coordinators on both sides of the ball.

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Previewing Oregon State’s Offense in 2016

Oregon State hopes to make a vast improvement in 2016 after ranking 115th nationally in scoring offense with only 19.0 points per game. The first step would be better quarterback play after a tumultuous carousel last season saw Seth Collins, Nick Mitchell and Marcus McMaryion all make at least one start and combine to rank 116th nationally in passing offense (159.1 ypg) and 121st in quarterback rating (96.9). Now, Utah State transfer Darell Garretson has officially joined the fold after tallying 2,586 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 13 games over two seasons at his former school. 

Collins, meanwhile, has moved to a multi-dimensional “slash” role following a bizarre offseason saga in which he announced his decision to transfer before opting to return to the Beavers in the middle of spring practice. Collins’ explosive athleticism — which was on display when he lined up at receiver, running back and quarterback in the 2015 finale against Oregon — adds another weapon to an intriguing group of skill players that includes 6'2", 235-pound running back Ryan Nall, receivers Victor Bolden and Jordan Villamin and speedy running back/receiver Paul Lucas. 

Veteran Sean Harlow will anchor an offensive line that lost standouts Isaac Seumalo and Josh Mitchell but returns several pieces with starting experience.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2016 Pac-12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Oregon State’s Defense in 2016

Oregon State also struggled mightily on this side of the ball in 2015, ranking 114th nationally in scoring defense while transitioning to a 3-4 base system. This season, the Beavers have a new coordinator in Kevin Clune after Kalani Sitake left Corvallis to take the head coaching job at BYU. And there are plenty of spots up for grabs, after the Beavers lost their biggest contributor at each level in defensive lineman Kyle Peko (exhausted eligibility), linebacker Rommel Mageo (transferred to Ole Miss) and safety Justin Strong (transferred to Montana). 

Junior college transfer Phillip Napoleon is a potential immediate impact player at defensive end. The secondary is full of players who redshirted last season, as cornerbacks Jay Irvine, Xavier Crawford and Shawn Wilson and safeties Jalen Moore and Omar Hicks-Onu will challenge returning contributors Treston Decoud, Dwayne Williams, Kendall Hill, Brandon Arnold and Devin Chappell for playing time. 

The two gems of OSU’s 2016 recruiting class — safety Shurod Thompson and cornerback Christian Wallace — are in the back end, and the Beavers also stockpiled players at the hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker spot in hopes of creating more pressure on the quarterback in 2016. Early enrollee Shemar Smith already made an impression at that spot during spring practice.
Related: Athlon's 2016 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Oregon State’s Specialists in 2016

The Beavers return the key contributors on special teams. Garrett Owens made 11-of-15 field goals with a long of 50 yards last season, while Nick Porebski averaged 41.1 yards per punt with a long of 66 yards. Bolden, an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection as an all-purpose player a season ago, is dynamic on returns — as evidenced by his 78-yard punt return for a touchdown against Oregon. 

Final Analysis
The Beavers should take positive steps in Year 2 of Gary Andersen’s massive rebuild. But how will that progress show up in the win-loss column while navigating the difficult Pac-12, where the Beavers have lost 21 of their last 23 contests? Oregon State’s schedule includes road dates with defending champion Stanford, upstart Washington and always-talented UCLA to go along with non-conference contests at Minnesota and against Boise State. Even if the Beavers improve drastically on both sides of the ball, they will likely still need a few more years before consistently competing in the Pac-12.
The Debate

Where Does Gary Andersen Rank Among Pac-12 Coaches?

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#50 Arizona Wildcats





HEAD COACH: Rich Rodriguez, 33-20 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Calvin Magee, Rod Smith | DEF. COORDINATOR: Marcel Yates

As usual, offense will once again be carrying the weight for Arizona. The Wildcats return seven starters on offense and are led by two players who need to get back to their 2014 form - quarterback Anu Solomon and running back Nick Wilson. Defensively, nobody knows what to expect with a new staff in Tucson. Both sides are going to have to live up and exceed expectations for Arizona to make it to another bowl under coach Rich Rodriguez.

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Previewing Arizona’s Offense

Junior Anu Solomon, twice sidelined with concussion issues, dropped from 3,793 passing yards as a freshman to 2,667 and is no longer considered the team’s quarterback of the future. But the Wildcats haven’t had time to make full evaluations of his challengers, sophomore Brandon Dawkins and freshman Khalil Tate. There is similar uncertainly at tailback, where junior Nick Wilson, a revelation as a freshman in 2014 (gaining 1,375 yards), has been frequently injured. He rushed for just 729 yards as a sophomore. Sophomore Orlando Bradford emerged as a possible starter in spring practice.

The receiving group is Arizona’s most experienced position but not necessarily its most skilled. Seniors Trey Griffey, Samajie Grant and Nate Phillips have combined for 299 career receptions, but they aren’t game-breaking, down-the-field receivers who can outrun coverage. Junior Cam Denson was used as a cornerback in 2014 and 2015 to help with depth issues on defense. He has returned to his original position and could emerge as the only deep threat of the group.

The Wildcats might be improved on the offensive line. Junior tackles Layth Friekh and Gerhard de Beer both played extensively last season and now project as starters, if not stars. The leader of the group is junior guard Jacob Alsadek, who emerged as the club’s most reliable lineman.

Previewing Arizona’s Defense

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.

Rich Rodriguez fired his entire defensive staff and hired former Boise State defensive coordinator Marcel Yates to remake this unit. If, as expected, Arizona abandons its old 3-3-5 formation, former nose guard Sani Fuimaono will play tackle. He seemed overmatched at nose guard for two seasons. It will also give undersized junior Parker Zellers better matchups against offensive linemen; Zellers might be the team’s most fundamentally sound defensive lineman. The rest of the line is untested and probably the league’s smallest.

Arizona has few game-ready linebackers. One of the few is senior graduate transfer Michael Barton, who made 80 tackles at Cal in 2014 and is expected to be eligible immediately. Junior DeAndre Miller recorded 50 tackles last season, but he has been injured frequently. Senior Paul Magloire was forced to move to linebacker because of injuries, not his normal position. He was overpowered and out of position much of the year but is the returning leader in tackles with 72.

About the only certainty in the secondary is that senior DaVonte Neal will start again at cornerback. He is adequate. Everything else is up for grabs. Senior Tellas Jones, who made 55 tackles a year ago, will likely reclaim his free safety job, although he was suspended for off-field disciplinary infractions in spring practice. One-time starting corner Jarvis McCall has been moved to safety, perhaps because junior Dane Cruikshank, who has not played previously, appears to be good enough to start at the other corner.

Previewing Arizona’s Specialists

Arizona is starting over in the kicking game. Freshman Josh Pollack became the clear leader as its field goal kicker in spring practice. He was also its best punter, although the Wildcats don’t want to use him both ways. Kickoff returner Tyrell Johnson is probably as fast as any returner in the Pac-12. Phillips has been outstanding returning punts.

Final Analysis

Rodriguez’s decision to start over on defense, with an entirely new staff and system, suggests the Wildcats will struggle to avoid their first losing season since 2011. Arizona’s only all-conference player in 2015 was a punter. This year’s club might not have any all-conference players. The defense lacks a go-to player and is undersized based on Pac-12 standards. Much spins on whether Solomon will be healthy enough to start every week, or if the Wildcats will have to start over at quarterback, as they are doing on defense.


#46 Arizona State Sun Devils





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

Order a copy of Athlon's 2016 Pac-12 College Football Preview, 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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#44 California Golden Bears





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

Order a copy of Athlon's 2016 Pac-12 College Football Preview, 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.