The coaching hires are all made. The transfer and early departure decisions are known. The recruiting classes are all signed. Ladies and gentledawgs, our college football offseason is officially in “go mode.”
The good news as we go into our annual football slumber is that we have a pretty good handle on all the variables that will go into the greater recipe of the PAC 12 2018 season. Sure, there are many factors that remains difficult to forecast. But we know enough about the names, faces and circumstances to begin the savory process of making projections about what may happen in the season ahead.
Of course, any forecasting method is a fool’s errand by definition. Especially when such a method is perpetuated by a blogger with no special analytical insight and no unique access to the “insiders” that can help bring to light new information or hot takes not completely transparent to the general public.
No matter, I have something better: the wisdom of the crowd! A few weeks back I asked all of you to help me project the Pac 12 going into the 2018 season. To my surprise the response rate was off the charts good. 760 voters participated in my call to action leaving us with some interesting results to share and discuss.
There is a great deal to unpack with this analysis. As such, I’m going to make this a two-part review with part 1 focused specifically on the PAC 12 South. With that, let’s take a look at how the South projects in 2018.
PAC 12 South - Projected 2018 Standings
(1) USC Trojans
(2017 record: 8-1 / 11-3)
Key Losses: QB Sam Darnold, RB Ronald Jones, OLB Uchenna Nwosu, S Chris Hawkins, DL Josh Fatu
Key Returners: RB Stephen Carr, LB Cameron Smith, WR Tyler Vaughns, OL Chuma Edoga, DB Iman Marshall
Comments: Fresh off a year in which they seemed to back into a PAC 12 championship in an otherwise down year for the conference, the Trojans will go into 2018 among the favorites in the conference if not the College Football Playoff race.
That said, they are hardly a sure thing. They do have some really big shoes to fill on both sides of the ball with guys like Darnold, Jones and Nwosu all heading off to the NFL. QB will be of particular interest given that there are substantial questions about last year’s backup Matt Fink. Two blue-chippers in redshirt Jack Sears and true frosh J.T. Daniels promise to make the USC QB battle one of most intriguing in the nation come this fall.
Regardless, the Trojans return a lot of talent. Their receiving corps, their offensive line, and their defensive back units all look well stocked with talent. Those pieces added to another stellar recruiting class and the stability that comes from the curious decision to extend head coach Clay Helton means that USC has a relatively few number of outstanding questions to contend with this offseason.
(2) UCLA Bruins
(2017 record: 4-5 / 6-7)
Key Losses: QB Josh Rosen, DL Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, OL Scott Quessenberry, WR Darren Andrews, LB Kenny Young
Key Returners: WR Theo Howard, RB Soso Jamabo, RB Bolu Olorunfunmi, DB Adarius Pickett, DL Jaelan Phillips, DL Boss Tagaloa
Comments: Chip Kelly is the headline story for the Bruins as they start the process of repairing what had become an eminently soft program under the direction of UW alum Jim Mora. Kelly will have his hands full putting his offensive line back together. Nevertheless, he has the talents in Jamabo, Olorunfunmi and QB Devon Modster to quickly establish his rushing attack.
It might take a little bit longer to rebuild that Bruins D. There are some talents like Phillips, Tagaloa and LB Keisean Lucier-South to build around. But building defense is not Chip Kelly’s strong suit, especially when the talent available is youthful and not in the mold of how he tended to build Ds in Eugene.
Still, there are a lot of positive signals coming out of Westwood. UCLA fans are certainly excited about the changes, while the prospects of a comeback season for the Bruins do not seem to be lost on UW fans.
(3) Utah Utes
(2017 record: 3-6 / 7-6)
Key Losses: WR Darren Carrington, DL Kylie Fitts, DL Lowell Lotulelei, QB Troy Williams
Key Returners: QB Tyler Huntley, DL Bradlee Anae, DB Chase Hansen, LB Cody Barton, RB Zach Moss, LT Jackson Barton
Comments: Utah had a crazy season in 2017. They pulled off just three wins in conference play. However, four of their six losses were all within a single possession. They are also the only team in the conference to have won a postseason game.
The Utes project as a more balanced team in 2018. They have most of their key offensive pieces coming back including Huntley, Moss and WR Raelon Singleton. The offensive line looks fairly well set. They are, however, going to have to do some defensive rebuilding. Anae, Barton, DB Julian Blackmon and DL Leki Fotu look like the key building blocks.
UW fans are spread all across the board on Utah. While there is a clear convergence around 2nd and 3rd place predictions, nearly 13% of respondents thought that Kyle Whittingham has what it takes to lead the Utes to a division title in 2018. We shall see.
(4) Arizona Wildcats
(2017 record: 5-4 / 7-6)
Key Losses: QB Brandon Dawkins, RB Nick Wilson, DB Dane Cruikshank, LB Deandre’ Miller
Key Returners: QB Khalil Tate, LB Colin Schooler, RB J.J. Taylor, LB Tony Fields, DE Kylan Wilborn, WR Shun Brown, OL Layth Freikh
Comments: The Wildcats are a team in a difficult situation. Before his firing, Rich Rod had done a nice job of restocking the shelves on both sides of the ball. Had he not been fired under controversial circumstances, he’d be bringing just about every key player on his roster back including two players - WR Shawn Poindexter and LT Layth Friekh - who received sixth-year eligibility exemptions.
As it is, the Wildcats are now moving on under former Houston and Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin. Despite the striking similarities in style and roster balance between he and his predecessor, one would expect a bit of a transition period for Sumlin with all of that young talent on board and requiring some development. This despite the fact that Khalil Tate is getting lots of Heisman love already.
Heisman odds via @BovadaLV:— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) January 23, 2018
Bryce Love 7/1
Johnathan Taylor 8/1
Khalil Tate 9/1
Tua Tagovailoa 10/1
J.K. Dobbins, Jake Fromm, Jarrett Stidham & Will Grier 12/1
Justin Herbert & Kelly Bryant 15/1
Trace McSorley & McKenzie Milton 18/1
Cam Akers & Jake Browning 22/1
The difficulty of projecting the Wildcats is not lost on the Dawg Pound voters. There was a wide spread for Arizona ranging from first to last. Keep in mind, however, that this survey was taken before Sumlin was announced.
(2017 record: 2-7 / 5-7)
Key Losses: CB Isaiah Oliver, WR Bryce Bobo, RB, Philip Lindsay, WR Shay Fields, WR Devin Ross, OL Jeromy Irwin, DL Leo Jackson III, TE George Frazier, LB Derrick McCartney
Key Returners: QB Steven Montez, LB Drew Lewis, LB Rick Gamboa, WR Jay MacIntyre, WR Juwann Winfree, OL Isaac Miller
Comments: The Buffaloes suffered the most disappointing season among a bevy of disappointments in the PAC 12 South. To go from a conference championship to not bowl eligible in a season that featured a senior-heavy roster was like a gut punch to coach Mike MacIntyre as well as the entire Colorado fanbase.
2018 is difficult to read. Not only does Colorado have to replace the top of their receiving corps, but they have major rebuilding to do along the offensive line, at running back, across the pass rush and in the defensive secondary.
That’s no small task.
The return of Steven Montez is at least something to work with. That along with a pretty decent core up the middle of the defense is what most fans are going to hang their hat on as they wait for up and coming talents like WR Juwann Winfree, DB Dante Wigley and OL Isaac Miller to show that their time is now.
(2017 record: 6-3 / 7-6)
Key Losses: RB Kalen Ballage, RB Demario Richard, DL Tashon Smallwood, QB Brady White (transfer to Memphis), DL Alani Latu, LB D.J. Calhoun, LB Christian Sam
Key Returners: WR N’Keal Harry, QB Manny Wilkins, WR Jalen Harvey, P Michael Sleep-Dalton, WR Kyle Williams, DB Chase Lucas, DL Rennell Wren
Comments: Herm Edwards might be the most motivating of all speakers among the PAC 12 coaching ranks, but he sure doesn’t seem to be motivating too many people to take on an optimist’s point of view about his Arizona State Sun Devils.
And for good reason. The former NFL coach deftly noted on Signing Day earlier this week that the big challenge with recruiting is that the recruits “get to pick you” instead of the NFL model where “we get to draft them.”
If there is any good news with the ASU situation, it is that there is a whole lot of talent coming back on offense. WR N’Keal Harry, WR Jalen Harvey and QB Manny Wilkins ought to ensure that Sun Devils will bring an effective air attack to the table. In addition, all but one starting offensive lineman comes back. Granted, it wasn’t a great O-line in 2017, but continuity counts for something in the college game.
The Sun Devils don’t look nearly as stable on defense or at the running back position. The lack of known entities in those areas, in addition to the uncertainty around the coaching experiment, has UW Dawg Pound voters very pessimistic about ASU in the season ahead.
Up next, we’ll take a look at the PAC 12 North. Until then, check in down in the comments section and let us know what you think about the South projections. Are you on board? Who do you like as a favorite or as a sleeper?