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Pac-12 South: Did They Stay or Did They Go?

Closing out our look at who’s returning and who’s not within the Pac-12

UCLA v California Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

This is our second part looking at which teams in the Pac-12 are returning the most production from last season. If you missed part one which examined the old Pac-12 North schools you can find it right here. The intro to that article also explains how I calculated the production scores mentioned throughout this piece as well. So if you’re confused, check that out and come back.

Arizona Wildcats

Total 2022 Production Score: 1,803.9 (8th in Pac-12)

2023 Production Distribution: Early Entry- 0.0%, Graduated- 16.4%, Returning- 60.6%, Transfer- 23.1%

Biggest Losses: WR Dorian Singer- 100.0 (Transfer), DL Kyon Barrs- 77.5 (Transfer), CB Christian Roland-Wallce- 74.3 (Transfer), Edge Hunter Echols- 71.0 (Grad), S Christian Young- 68.8 (Grad)

Best Returners: WR Jacob Cowing- 98.5, WR Tetairoa McMillan- 82.1, S Jaxen Turner- 75.5, RB Michael Wiley- 73.3, QB Jayden de Laura- 68.5

I’m sure that Jedd Fisch is not thrilled with USC right about now considering their 3 biggest losses in terms of productivity from last year’s team all transferred to the Trojans. That’s part of why the only team that lost more of their productivity to transfer this offseason was Stanford which underwent a coaching change.

The cupboard isn’t completely bare for Arizona though. They return just over 60% of their production from last year which is good for 7th in the conference. Most of that comes at the offensive skill position spots. Having 1st team all-Pac-12 WR Dorian Singer leave is unfortunate but the duo of Cowing and McMillan will be right up there for one of the handful of best receiver combos in the conference next year. Quarterback Jayden de Laura is the ultimate roller coaster ride but when at his best he can be electric. Throw in a really great season from RB Michael Wiley (6.9 ypc) and the talent is there for a dynamic offense.

Of course you also need to field a defense. The Wildcats weren’t good on that side of the ball last year and now lose 6 of their 7 most productive players. Only safety Jaxen Turner is back as someone who could be called an above average starter. It’s going to take some new faces instantly producing or some unexpected leaps in order to even get this unit up to average next season.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Total 2022 Production Score: 1,781.6 (9th in Pac-12)

2023 Production Distribution: Early Entry- 0.0%, Graduated- 41.8%, Returning- 41.8%, Transfer- 16.4%

Biggest Losses: RB Xazavian Valladay- 100.0 (Grad), DL Nesta Jade Silvera- 98.2 (Grad), DL Tautala Pesefea Jr- 87.0 (Grad), S Khoury Bethley- 67.0 (Grad), LB Kyle Soelle- 64.7 (Grad)

Best Returners: WR Elijah Badger- 82.4, S Chris Edmonds- 69.9, WR Giovanni Sanders- 56.4, OL Emmit Bohle- 50.3, Edge Anthonie Cooper- 48.9

Based on class distribution Arizona State should have expected to be a contender in 2022 but of course instead they fired their coach a few games into the year. The Sun Devils lost the most production in the conference to graduation and it really wasn’t close. 7 of their 9 most productive players last season ended up graduating including 4 starters on the defensive front seven which now has to retool.

Losing the most productivity to graduation and the 4th most to transfer of course leads to the outcome of Arizona State returning a lower percentage of their productivity than any other team in the Pac-12. It looks like WR Elijah Badger can be a legitimate #1 receiver. That’s good. Safety Chris Edmonds was clearly above average. Cool. But only 4 of their top-15 in productivity are coming back for ASU.

New head coach Kenny Dillingham has restocked the cupboard through the transfer portal and that approach may pay off. But it was fully necessary because just about all that was left in the cupboard when he got there were some mouse droppings and a can of baked beans from the Nixon administration.

Colorado Buffaloes

Total 2022 Production Score: 1,507.8 (12th in Pac-12)

2023 Production Distribution: Early Entry- 0.0%, Graduated- 33.0%, Returning- 55.2%, Transfer- 11.8%

Biggest Losses: OL Casey Roddick- 59.3 (Transfer), OL Tommy Brown- 53.3 (Grad), LB Josh Chandler-Semedo- 51.2 (Grad), CB Kaylin Moore (Transfer)- 48.2

Best Returners: DL Jalen Sami- 68.9, DL Na’im Rodman- 56.5, CB Nikko Reed- 53.3, WR Montana Lemonious-Craig- 52.3, S Trevor Woods- 51.8

It should be no surprise to anyone that by this measure Colorado finished last in the Pac-12 in total production in 2022. That led to them having one of the worst P5 seasons in recent memory and bringing in Deion Sanders as the new head coach. He has revamped the roster in short order through the transfer portal but that’s possible in part because somehow this was actually a veteran Colorado roster.

The Buffaloes graduated 1/3rd of their production from last year which was 2nd highest in the conference. That includes 15 seniors who saw playing time last year and 13 that were a major part of the rotation. The chances are that most if not all of those players will be replaced by someone of equal or greater talent from the portal.

There is some talent returning particularly along the defensive line where 2 of Colorado’s 3 highest production players were last year. That’s a good spot to have relatively high-end veteran talent. Of course they lost their 2nd and 4th most productive players along the offensive line where there will be a void of returning talent.

UCLA Bruins

Total 2022 Production Score: 2,244.8 (2nd in Pac-12)

2023 Production Distribution: Early Entry- 13.9%, Graduated- 30.2%, Returning- 54.8%, Transfer- 1.2%

Biggest Losses: WR Jake Bobo- 99.3 (Grad), RB Zach Charbonnet- 92.0 (Draft), OL Atonio Mafi- 92.0 (Grad), S Stephan Blaylock- 90.4 (Grad), OL Jon Gaines II- 88.1 (Draft)

Best Returners: LB Darius Muasau- 80.2, OL Duke Clemens- 76.0, Edge Laiatu Latu- 72.3, Edge Gabriel Murphy- 64.7, OL Garrett Digiorgio- 62.4

Even though UCLA is returning a higher percentage of their production than Colorado or Stanford, you could argue given how bad those teams were that no team loses more top end talent than the Bruins. UCLA’s 7 most productive players from 2022 are all moving on either due to graduation or early entry to the NFL. That doesn’t even include QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson whose PFF grades weren’t amazing despite some nice stats.

There’s still good news for the Bruins. They had several players that considered the NFL but chose to come back including their edge rush trio of Laiatu Latu and the Murphy twins (Gabriel and Grayson). That group should be the best in the conference in 2023. UCLA also was a clear winner in the portal as they just about tied Washington for the lowest percentage of their production to leave via transfer.

Still, losing your QB, RB, best WR, and 3 starting offensive linemen will be a challenge for Chip Kelly and the Bruins to replace on offense despite several incoming key pieces through the portal. Things are a little better on defense where the starting safety tandem is gone but 18 of their 23 top contributors return on that side.

USC Trojans

Total 2022 Production Score: 2,321.1 (1st in Pac-12)

2023 Production Distribution: Early Entry- 11.8%, Graduated- 20.2%, Returning- 64.5%, Transfer- 3.5%

Biggest Losses: CB Mekhi Blackmon- 100.0 (Draft), Edge Tuli Tuipulotu- 100.0 (Draft), OL Brett Neilon- 98.7 (Grad), DL Brandon Pili- 75.7 (Grad), WR Jordan Addison- 73.0 (Draft)

Best Returners: QB Caleb Williams- 100.0, S Calen Bullock- 100.0, OL Jonah Monheim- 100.0, DL Tyrone Taleni- 93.1, OL Justin Dedich- 89.4

No other team loses multiple guys who were the most productive in the conference at their position but then again no other team returns multiple such players. If you want to look on the bright side as a Trojan fan you could say that USC returns 6 of their 9 most productive players from a team that was one game away from the CFP. If you wanted to be more negative you could say that USC returns just 6 of their 13 most productive players from a team that lost to Tulane to end the season.

Coming into last year the offensive line was viewed as USC’s weakness but they held up fairly well and now lose 3 starters. That may be the toughest position to replace but USC has already imported instant plug and play starters through the transfer portal there as well as other key spots. But gone as well are star pass rusher Tuli Tuipulotu and skill position standouts WR Jordan Addison and RB Travis Dye.

It will be impossible for USC to have a bad offense with reigning Heisman winner Caleb Williams at the helm. And while Addison is gone he gets back his 2 through 4 receivers with Brenden Rice, Tahj Washington, and Mario Williams. RBs Austin Jones and Raleek Brown are back. The offense will still be good. The defense has a few very good pieces but it had a few very good pieces (and are losing several) last year and were still bad overall. I’m sure Alex Grinch will figure it out though...

Utah Utes

Total 2022 Production Score: 2,092.0 (4th in Pac-12)

2023 Production Distribution: Early Entry- 18.8%, Graduated- 6.2%, Returning- 67.8%, Transfer- 7.2%

Biggest Losses: TE Dalton Kincaid- 100.0 (Draft), OL Braeden Daniels- 84.0 (Draft), RB Micah Bernard- 66.0 (Transfer), CB Clark Phillips III- 64.3 (Draft), OL Paul Maile- 60.5 (Transfer), LB Gabe Reid- 58.6 (Draft)

Best Returners: WR Devaughn Vele- 96.7, DL Junior Tafuna- 86.8, OL Keaton Bills- 82.6, S Cole Bishop- 81.1, LB Karene Reid- 74.1

Under Kyle Whittingham the Utes have become the model of consistency and that shouldn’t change going into 2023. Utah finished behind the Huskies and Cal for 3rd in the conference in percentage of their productivity that’s returning. That comes despite Utah actually losing multiple key pieces on offense to the transfer portal with RB Micah Bernard and C Paul Maile leaving. The Utes also lost Dalton Kincaid, Braeden Daniels Clark Phillips as clear 1st team all-conference guys to the draft.

The big key for Utah is they have the lowest percentage of their team having graduated of any in the conference. Utah was built for a potential big run in 2023 and they will have the chance to make it. Outside of Kincaid the next 8 most productive Utes from 2022 are coming back including starting QB Cam Rising. That doesn’t include preseason all-Pac-12 TE Brant Kuithe whose injury near the start of the year opened the door for Kincaid to break out and declare for the draft.


Final Totals

Lowest % of Production Early Entry to Draft: 1. Arizona, ASU, Cal, Colorado, Washington, WSU- 0.0%, 7. OSU- 5.9%, 8. Oregon- 6.4%, 9. Stanford- 10.3%, 10. USC- 11.8%, 11. UCLA- 13.9%, 12. Utah- 18.8%

Lowest % of Production Graduated: 1. Utah- 6.2%, 2. Cal- 7.2%, 3. Stanford- 12.5%, 4. Arizona- 16.4%, 5. USC- 20.2%, 6. Oregon- 22.4%, 7. OSU- 23.6%, 8. Washington- 26%, 9. WSU- 29.8%, 10. UCLA- 30.2%, 11. Colorado- 33%, 12. ASU- 41.8%

Lowest % of Production Transferred: 1. Washington- 1.2%, 2. UCLA- 1.2%, 3. USC- 3.5%, 4. OSU- 5.4%, 5. Utah- 7.2%, 6. Oregon- 9.4%, 7. Colorado- 11.8%, 8. WSU- 14%, 9. ASU- 16.4%, 10. Cal- 22%, 11. Arizona- 23.1%, 12. Stanford- 28.3%

Highest % of Production Returning: 1. Washington- 72.8%, 2. Cal- 70.8%, 3. Utah- 67.8%, 4. Oregon State- 65.2%, 5. USC- 64.5%, 6. Oregon- 61.9%, 7. Arizona- 60.6%, 8. WSU- 56.2%, 9. Colorado- 55.2%, 10. UCLA- 54.8%, 11. Stanford- 48.8%, 12. ASU- 41.8%