2014 Pac-12 Preview
July 27, 2014
By Marc Lawrence
2014 PAC 12 Conference Football Preview
Behind talent level arguably at its best since expanding from eight teams to 12, a total of nine Pac-12 teams went bowling last season, up one from the 2012 season.
In the end, 34 players were selected in this year’s NFL draft, the 3rd most of all college football conferences. It brings the two-year tally to 62 players, also 3rd best of all conferences.
UCLA led the way this season with five players having their named called in New York City in April.
Count On Me
While returning starters is generally a good gauge for measuring a team’s potential each new season, an arguably more precise indicator is the condition of its offensive line.
Digging deeper, the amount of returning starts by the OL is perhaps the best barometer. Here is a look into the offensive line returning starts by each team in the PAC-12 this season…
California – 51
Oregon – 107
Oregon State – 42
Stanford – 15
Washington – 124
Washington State - 33
Arizona – 104
Arizona State – 60
Colorado – 59
UCLA – 88
USC – 53
Utah - 43
$ummer Recruiting Camp
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez calls them a shuttle service for recruits.
According to a report by CBSSports.com, virtually every major program hosts a summer camps as they are loophole for bringing in and impressing recruits while also a way for a program’s assistant coaches to earn a little extra money.
And because there is no NCAA limit on what a football program can pay an on-field guest coach at a summer camp it’s open to plenty of eyebrow raising. “Essentially what (schools) are doing is paying to bring prospects to their camps,” says Rodriguez.
Washington, under Steve Sarkisian, paid a total of $32,588.60 to its 29-person coaching staff for its Rising Stars camp in 2013, an average of $1,123.74 per coach.
Meanwhile Florida State paid 141 camp coaches nearly $71,000; Ohio State paid 147 coaches more than $50,000 combined; Oregon paid $3,000 for 20 coaches, an average of $150 per coach.
It’s been reported that Pac-12 coaches grumbled about Washington’s aggressive approach to summer recruiting in 2013.
Just wait until they get a whiff of what Sarkisian and Pat Haden will pay to bring recruits to Southern Cal next summer. It’ll likely be "Katie Bar The Door."
Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
CALIFORNIA (Offense - *9/4 Defense - 6/1)
TEAM THEME: LOADED FOR BEAR
On the heels of a 1-11 effort last season, Air Raid gunny sergeant Sonny Dykes is counting the days toward the 2014 campaign. On the offensive front, the Bears return a wealth of talent, including QB Jared Goff – who broke four Cal passing and offense records in his 12 starts as a freshman last year. The offensive line is loaded with eight players who shared starts last season. WR’s Chris Harper and Kenny Lawler, along with RB Khalfani Muhammad (led the team in rushing as a freshman), lead the attack. Dykes needs to pay closer attention to the defensive side of the ball, though, as his stop troops – that’s an exaggeration – surrendered 45.9 PPG, 2nd worst only to Idaho.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Bears feature 33 experienced players totaling 193 starts.
OREGON (Offense - *9/5 Defense - 5/1)
TEAM THEME: CATCH US IF YOU CAN
Life isn't fair. Consider the crestfallen faces of the Pac-12 coaches outside of Eugene when they realized Oregon is bringing back nine starters from last year’s high-powered offense. Among those departed will be speedster De'Anthony Thomas and WR Josh Huff, both off to the NFL. QB Marcus Mariotta and his 4,380 total yards of offense will be back, along with 1,000-yard rusher Byron Marshall and 900-yard WR Bralon Addison – plus five starters on the O-line. Yikes. The defense, which has gotten little ink, limited opponents to 16 points or less in seven of Oregon’s 13 games, which was usually enough for the Ducks to win by 4 TD’s or more. Here we go again!
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Ducks ranked 2nd-to-last in the nation in Time Of Possession last season.
OREGON STATE (Offense - *7/2 Defense - 7/1)
TEAM THEME: GNAWING BACK
After being stunned in last year's season opener, and then winning six games in a row, OSU HC Mike Riley was left with a gnawing feeling in his gut when his Beavers proceeded to drop five straight games to conclude the season. The up-and-down year culminated in a win over Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl. The longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12 will look to senior signal-caller Sean Mannion, who should become the all-time passing yardage leader in conference history by mid-season. The loss of Biletnikoff Award-winning WR Brandin Cooks, who left early for the NFL draft, leaves a large hole, but Riley’s eight bowl appearances with OSU since 2003 can’t be understated.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Beavers have returned a total of 53, 60, 54, 51, 58 and 55 lettermen in each of the last six years.
STANFORD (Offense - *5/1 Defense - 7/2)
TEAM THEME: SHAW SHANK EXEMPTION
After replacing Jim Harbaugh, HC David Shaw has gone 34-7 (25-4 in the Pac-12) since being promoted from OC, gone to the Rose Bowl twice and finished in the AP Coaches Poll’s Top 10 at the conclusion of all three of his seasons. While the offensive line returns just one starter, Keith Hogan is back for his third season as starting QB, along with most of the receiving corps. RB Barry Sanders, Jr. – the son of the former Lions great – looks to replace Tyler Gaffney. On the other side of the ball, 5th-year senior LB A.J. Tarpley, who has played in all 41 games under Shaw, will be back to lead a defense that returns seven starters. And when it comes to winning big games Shaw takes a back seat to no coach in this loop with the Cardinal 5-0 in games against Oregon and UCLA the past two seasons.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cardinal defense held seven foes to season low – or 2nd low – yardage in 2013.
WASHINGTON (Offense - 7/5 Defense - 7/4)
TEAM THEME: BUILDING A FOUNDATION
The Chris Petersen era begins at UW after the former Boise State HC landed the job he's always coveted. His 8-year career at Boise concluded with a 92-12 record and his teams never finished worst than 2nd in the WAC and Mountain West conferences. There are lots of question marks regarding this year’s Husky squad – the primary ones being who will replace Keith Price at QB, Bishop Sankey at RB and Austin Seferian-Jenkins at TE? Is he worried? Maybe Petersen himself said it best: “Talent can even sometimes be overrated. But unity and chemistry… never. We can’t take anything for granted. We’ve got to re-coach every, single thing.” And coach he will.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Huskies offensive line is the most experienced in the PAC 12, while the defense held six foes to season low – or 2nd low – yardage in 2013.
WASHINGTON STATE (Offense - *8/2 Defense - 6/1)
TEAM THEME: WELL-HEELED CATS
While owning the No. 4 passing offense (368.0) in the land last season, the Cougars were also the 2nd worst team in the country in turnovers lost (35). As a result, despite going bowling, Wazzu has now gone 10 straight years without a winning season. They will look to turn the corner this campaign, though, as Mike Leach is loaded, folks… and we don’t mean spiked alcohol-levels. Senior QB Connor Halliday, who lit up the stat sheet with 4,597 yards passing and 34 TD’s, welcomes back his top EIGHT receivers while a Cougars’ stop unit that forced 30 turnovers, the most for the program since 2006, is largely back on the prowl.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Leach is 22-4 SU and 21-3-2 ATS at home in lined games when his team owns a .600 or less win percentage.
ARIZONA (Offense - 7/4 Defense - 6/1)
TEAM THEME: KA’ BOOM!
After consecutive 8-5 seasons in his first two years at Arizona, Rich Rodriguez was hoping to get one more season out of his star RB Ka’Deem Carey. It wasn’t to be, however, as the junior declared for the NFL Draft after ending his Wildcat career with 16 straight games rushing for over 100 yards. Rich Rod must also deal with the graduation of QB B.J. Denker. The latter will be the more difficult chore, with both of Denker’s backups having departed as well. Most of the offensive line returns intact, but much of the defense will need to be re-tooled. And boom, just like that, Rich Rod is once again behind the 8-ball.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Wildcats are 1-16 ATS as favorites during the regular season from Game Ten out.
ARIZONA STATE (Offense - *6/3 Defense - 2/1)
TEAM THEME: #UNFINISHED BUSINESS
Last season was outstanding for the Sun Devils… until December. After getting slapped around by Stanford in the Pac-12 Title game, Todd Graham’s team settled for an appearance in the Holiday Bowl, where they lost 37-23 to Texas Tech – as 17-point favorites! Obviously, Graham will focus on the 10-2 start rather than the latter pair of defeats. QB Taylor Kelly will be back to run Graham’s high-octane attack after consecutive 3,000-yards passing seasons. His favorite target, WR Jaelen Strong, returns after a debut season that earned him All-Pac-12 Second Team honors. Along with dual threat RB D.J. Foster, the offense appears potent. The defense? Now that’s another story.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Sun Devils ranked No. 123 (worst) in the nation in net punting (32.25) last season.
COLORADO (Offense - *7/3 Defense - 8/3)
TEAM THEME: FLOOD PANTS
Mike MacIntyre got off to a great start in his first season with the Buffs, winning his first two games, including the opener against in-state rival Colorado State. After flooding caused massive devastation to the community, Colorado incurred three idle weeks in between contests. Suddenly, football didn’t seem quite as important and the Buffaloes won just two games the rest of the way. In 2014, former Air Force starting QB Jaleel Awini transferred to Colorado and will battle incumbent Sefo Liufau and JUCO transfer Jordan Gehrke for the starting spot. Until they improve a defense that allowed 53 scores (3rd worst) in the red zone last season, little else matters.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Buffaloes have not been ranked in the Top 25 since November of 2005.
UCLA (Offense - *8/3 Defense - 8/2)
TEAM THEME: JACK UP THE ATTACK
After starting six freshmen in a road win at Arizona late last year, the Bruins are loaded for bear – pun intended – in 2014. JR QB Brett Hundley threw for 24 TD’s last year and rushed for 11 more. The top two RB’s also return, along with two of the top three receivers. On defense, LB Myles Jack impressed football fans around the country last year as he played both ways in several games and ran for 4 TD’s against Washington. In addition, LB Eric Kendricks is also back after leading the Bruins in tackles the last two seasons – plus four starters in the secondary who combined for 51 starts in 2013. Yes, this is one well-heeled group.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: QB Hundley has accounted for at least one TD in all 27 games of his UCLA career.
USC (Offense - *8/3 Defense - 7/3)
TEAM THEME: CHINESE WATER TORTURE
To infer the Trojans endured a turbulent season in 2013 would be like saying the U.S. owes China a few bucks. The Lane Kiffin to Ed Orgeron shift looked masterful until it was decided the program would be in better hands with former assistant Steve Sarkisian, who had previously bolted from USC for Washington in 2009. The decision did not sit well with Orgeron who stormed-out an angry man. If all this sounds like a So Cal reality show, it is. All will likely be forgotten, though, should Sarkisian’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense mirror a Trojan defense that last year was ranked in the Top 25 across the nation in eight defensive categories – including the No. 1 red zone defense.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Sarkisian was 22-3 as an offensive coordinator with the Trojans.
UTAH (Offense - *6/3 Defense - 5/2)
TEAM THEME: AT WHITT’S END
HC Kyle Whittingham, the 2008 National Coach of the Year, has participated in more Utah victories than any football coach in school history. But after joining the Pac-12 in 2011 and notching an 8-5 season, the Utes have suffered through consecutive 5-win campaigns. In 2014, they must play all seven Pac-12 squads that defeated them last year, plus road tilts against the two opponents they vanquished. Meanwhile, QB Travis Wilson, who started the first nine games last season before being lost for the year with a concussion, will try to return to renew his prolific connections with senior WR Dres Anderson (son of Flipper Anderson).
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Two former head coaches, Dennis Erickson and Dave Christensen, are members of the Utes’ offensive staff.
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