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Pac-12 North 2015 Spring Preview and Power Rankings

Washington Huskies

Washington Huskies

Spring practice is already underway for a handful of college football teams, and the offseason workouts and scrimmages provide the first glimpse of how all 128 teams will look in 2015.

After claiming a Heisman Trophy and reaching the national championship game, the Oregon Ducks likely enter the season as the Pac-12 North Division favorites. But it's not nearly as clear-cut as years' past, as Cal, Stanford and Washington could all be improved from a year ago. Oregon State and Washington State don't appear to be particularly scary with new quarterbacks but both coaches are among the most respected in the country.

Pac-12 North Spring Preview and Storylines to Watch

(Teams listed by pre-spring power rank)

1. Oregon

2014 Record: 13-2 (8-1 Pac-12)
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 5

Ducks' Spring Priorities


1. How good is Vernon Adams?
Some may not like the transfer trend but no one can deny it won’t be fascinating to watch a player who dominated his level try to run the most exciting offense in the sport. Vernon Adams posted huge numbers for Eastern Washington but replacing Marcus Mariota is a different task altogether. Adams won't practice with Oregon this spring, which means Jeff Lockie and Morgan Mahalak will get the majority of the snaps with the No. 1 offense. Although the job is considered to be open, Lockie and Mahalak are keeping the No. 1 spot warm until Adams arrives.

2. Find some defensive backs

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Troy Hill and Erick Dargan were all selected to either the first- or second-team All-Pac-12 team a year ago. All three are gone and Mark Helfrich needs to find capable replacements. Reggie Daniels and Tyree Robinson are extremely talented but the depth chart needs to be developed around the two safeties.


3. Support DeForest Buckner

The defensive line and front seven also is replacing plenty of star power. DeForest Buckner returns as the most experienced player on the line but he needs a supporting cast. The good news is Oregon’s style of substitutions lends itself to replacing bodies easily. Can Tui Talia, Alex Balducci, Joe Walker and Rodney Hardrick step into starring roles this spring?

2. Stanford

2014 Record: 8-5 (5-4)
Returning Starters: Offense - 8, Defense - 4

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Cardinal's Spring Priorities


1. Reorder the defensive line
Last year, Stanford lost its defensive guru in Derek Mason. This year, it loses all three defensive line starters, including two All-Pac-12 picks in Henry Anderson and David Parry. The Cardinal always have bodies and are always coaching them up, but Luke Kaumatule, Harrison Phillips, Aziz Shittu (out this spring due to injury), Solomon Thomas and Nate Lohn need to settle into a rotation.

2. Find some defensive backs
Much like the defensive line, the secondary was hit hard by departures. Two All-Pac-12 picks in Jordan Richards and Alex Carter are gone as well as Wayne Lyons and Kyle Olugbode. That means Stanford is replacing four of the top five tacklers in the secondary. Zach Hoffpauir is an excellent player to build around but could depart in favor of baseball. David Shaw needs to find capable bodies for the back end of his defense.

3. Get Kevin Hogan to the next level

Losing wide receiver Ty Montgomery and left tackle Andrus Peat is going to hurt, but this offense is in great shape. The O-line could be one of the nation’s best, the backfield and tight end position are stacked (sound familiar?) and Hogan is entering his 112th season as the starter. Hogan has sneaky good athletic ability and generally protects the football. However, he has never taken the final step in his development. If he can do that this spring and become a star under center, Stanford could return to the Rose Bowl.

3. Washington

2014 Record: 8-6 (4-5)
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 4

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Huskies' Spring Priorities


1. Find playmakers in the front seven
This unit was hit as hard as any in the league with the departure of All-Pac-12 picks Danny Shelton, Hau’oli Kikaha, Shaq Thompson and John Timu. Few teams in the nation could sustain losses like those and maintain the same level of production but that is what Chris Petersen needs to do this spring up front on defense. Good luck.

2. Replace the pivot and tackles
The offensive line will lose starters at both right and left tackle as well as two guys who combined for 18 starts at center and guard (Colin Tanigawa, Mike Criste). Needless to say, this group needs some work this spring. Dexter Charles, Siosifa Tufunga and Coleman Shelton combined for 20 starts last season (mostly at guard) and are quality pieces to build around. However, the two tackles and center are more important positions and all three must be replaced.

3. Continue to develop Cyler Miles

Miles entered the starting lineup with lofty expectations last fall. While he didn’t turn the ball over (four INTs) and was fairly efficient (66.6 percent), Miles never seemed to take control of the game. He showed promise with his legs too but for Washington to survive the personnel losses this offseason, Miles must become a bigger star in the offense. If not, keep an eye on K.J. Carta-Samuels or true freshman Jake Browning. 

4. Cal

2014 Record: 5-7 (3-6)
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 7

Key Coaching Changes:
Brandon Jones (OL), Jacob Peeler (WR)

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Golden Bears' Spring Priorities


1. Continue to build defensive depth chart
This sounds overly simple, especially for a team returning the majority of its defensive two-deep, but this unit was so bad — 121st in total defense — that no one area is an overriding concern. It's the whole thing. The entire unit needs an extreme makeover with the capable Art Kaufman overseeing the process.

2. Restock the secondary
Three safeties departed in Michael Lowe, Bryce McGovern and Avery Sebastian. Stefan McClure and Griffin Piatt both return, but in a league known for throwing the football, developing depth at the back end should be a primary area of focus for the Bears.


3. Plug holes up the middle
This offense returns a near-4,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and half-a-dozen talented pass-catchers. It also returns three-fifths of the offensive line too. The only real holes that need plugging are at center and right guard. This offense should only continue to improve once the O-line settles into position. 

5. Oregon State

2014 Record: 5-7 (2-7)
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 2

Key Coaching Changes:
Gary Andersen (HC), Kalani Sitake (DC), Dave Baldwin (OC)


Beavers' Spring Priorities


1. Replace Sean Mannion
The only quarterback on the roster who attempted a pass for the Beavers last year was rising sophomore Luke Del Rio. He will get the first chance to replace the ultra-productive, but sometimes maddening, Sean Mannion. Seven different players are likely to take snaps this spring but the former Alabama walk-on and son of Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio is the odds on front-runner.

2. Organize the defensive front
Three starters and four of the top six defensive linemen have departed, so the first line of defense clearly needs to be rebuilt. Lavonte Barnett and Jaswha James return but totaled just 34 tackles combined in 2014. At linebacker, the three leading tacklers are gone as well. Look for Gary Andersen and company to focus on the front seven on defense this spring. Losing six out of seven starters is extremely difficult to overcome.

3. Get to know your depth chart

This may sound like a cop out but Andersen’s primary order of business this spring is to learn what he has on his roster. Learn the players' strengths and weaknesses and determine how they fit into his system. It’s a simple concept but one that cannot be overlooked for a new head coach.

6. Washington State

2014 Record: 3-9 (2-7)

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Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 2

Key Coaching Changes:

Alex Grinch (Defensive Coordinator)

Cougars’ Spring Priorities


1. Decide if Luke Falk is the answer
Connor Halliday had his weaknesses but he also posted huge numbers and fit the Air Raid attack extremely well. Luke Falk got plenty of reps a year ago when Halliday got hurt (243 att.) and should be the obvious front-runner to take over. However, don’t expect Mike Leach to show his cards until he has to.

2. Find a No. 1
The team’s top two receivers, Vince Mayle and Isiah Myers, are gone. There are plenty of names returning who got plenty of snaps and Leach churns out productive pass-catchers like he does history books. Still, this offense needs to find a No. 1 go-to target on the outside. It could be River Cracraft, Dom Williams, Robert Lewis, Gabe Marks, Tyler Baker or Calvin Green. You get the point.

3. Find playmakers on defense

There is a lot returning on the defensive side of the ball for Wazzu, as Leach played a lot of bodies on this side of the ball last year. That said, the unit wasn’t overly productive — ranking 97th nationally in total defense. Worse is the inability to get the ball back, as WSU forced an NCAA-worst eight total takeaways. Leach needs to find defenders who can make big plays on defense.