The Pac-12 South, specifically, should be a league full of intrigue. Half of its teams are under new coaching staffs and while there is a clear-cut favorite to win the South, the other five spots are extremely hard to predict.
As everyone has learned over many years of watching college football, anything can happen and each team is looking to battle for a chance to play for the conference crown.
Forecasting the division can be tough considering the questions surrounding each squad, but here is how the conference appears to break down as of now.
The Favorite: USC
The Trojans are the obvious choice to win the Pac-12 South and, quite frankly, it would be shocking if that didn’t happen. USC is led by arguably the best quarterback in the country in Matt Barkley and he has arguably the best wide receiver in the country to throw to in Robert Woods.
Add a rushing attack that possesses multiple running backs that can carry the load and a stout offensive line and the Trojans are going to be tough to stop.
If the USC has any concern, it’s with its pass defense, which finished 102nd nationally a season ago. The Trojans’ best pass-rusher, Nick Perry, left for the NFL and the runners-up in sacks in 2011 were Hayes Pullard and Wes Horton; each collecting four. USC’s defensive line is the real concern here as it seems to be short on depth and average in talent.
Looking to make noise: Utah, UCLA, Arizona
In its inaugural season in the Pac-12, Utah got off to a rough start, but the Utes ended the campaign by winning five of its final six games, including a Sun Bowl victory over Georgia Tech. Now with most of their impact players returning and quarterback Jordan Wynn leading the way, Utah is looking to make a leap and challenge USC.
The Utes offense was very suspect a season ago, but with the return of Wynn and a ground attack led by 1,500-yard rusher John White IV, Utah looks to make a complete turnaround on the offensive side of the ball.
UCLA should be a team to keep an eye on under first year coach Jim Mora. The change in staff has inspired some enthusiasm around the Bruins’ football program and quarterback Brett Hundley has the type of play making ability UCLA has lacked at the position for a very long time.
There are a couple of intriguing weapons as well in running back Jonathan Franklin and wide receiver Shaq Evans, so if Hundley can live up to the hype, the Bruins’ offense could be a big surprise in 2012.
Arizona is another team to watch under new head coach Rich Rodriguez. The offense he takes over has plenty to work with and has players that are solid fits for what Rodrigues traditionally tries to do on offense.
With a mobile quarterback who also possesses a big arm in Matt Scott and a running back with the talent of Ka’Deem Carey, the Wildcats have a scary combination when you factor in Rodriguez’s tutelage.
The real concern for the Wildcats is their defense. It was poor a season ago and while Jeff Casteel made a big name for himself for his success as West Virginia defensive coordinator, he’s had a difficult time getting his defense to play well consistently in both spring and fall camps.
It’s also worth noting that the Wildcats play eight of their 12 games in 2012 at Arizona Stadium. Only traveling for four games could be a factor many are overlooking currently, but could serve as a big boost to UA’s chances at a successful season.
Bringing up the Rear: Colorado, Arizona State
Colorado only returns three starters on the offensive side of the ball, which may not necessarily be a bad thing considering how the Buffaloes played a season ago.
However, the recent history of the Colorado program combined with the uncertainty of having eight new offensive starters makes it difficult to predict a positive outcome to its season.
CU returns three top tacklers on defense, which is good, but the Buffaloes finished 102nd nationally in total defense in 2011. There should be an improvement there, but still not enough to make the Buffaloes a threat.
Arizona State loses a lot from last season including its starting quarterback and best defensive player.
On the offensive side of the ball there are some really good playmakers in Cameron Marshall and Jamal Miles, but with uncertainty at quarterback surrounding an untested Taylor Kelly, who has only thrown four passes in college, and a defense that has a big hill to climb, the Sun Devils appear to be at least a season or two from contending in the Pac-12 South.