2018 Pac-12 South Preview

1. USC Trojans– It will be a much different looking team in Southern California in the fall. As expected, Sam Darnold decided to go pro after a year and a half as the quarterback of the Trojans. His departure has definitely narrowed the gap in the South division. Many key pieces of the offense outside of Darnold. Ronald Jones and Deontay Burnett are both gone and those will be tough positions to fill. After being decimated with the injury bug, the offensive line should return to full strength in 2018 with four starters back from last season. With the Trojans offense expected to take a step back without Sam Darnold, the defense will be counted on to carry the team in 2018 and coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s unit will be one of the best in the Pac-12 once again especially with defensive lineman Christian Rector, linebacker Cameron Smith and cornerbacks Jack Jones and Iman Marshall all returning.

2. Utah Utes– This could be a fun team to watch in 2018 and I can see them pushing USC for the division crown, but making the jump from second place to the top of the division will be determined on how the defensive line will be without three starters from 2017. The offense will also lose star wide receiver Darren Carrington, but this side of the ball is still in good shape with quarterback Tyler Huntley returning and he will continue to progress as a starter with a full off-season under his belt. The backfield will also remain in good shape with the return of Zack Moss and four offensive linemen returning. The secondary will be depended on to control things defensively after some personnel losses up front. Their schedule features some crossover games against Washington, Stanford and Oregon and USC will pay Utah a visit on October 20th.

3. Arizona Wildcats– The Rich Rodriguez era has come to an end and the university is putting its faith in Kevin Sumlin, the former coach of Texas A&M to turn things around. It’s a strong possibility that Arizona can make some noise and surprise some people in 2018. Sumlin will inherit a team that went 7-6 in 2017 and a majority of its core returning in 2018 which includes quarterback Khalil Tate, one of the most dynamic players in the nation. Last year, he accounted for 26 touchdowns and averaged 273 yards per game. The biggest challenge for Sumlin’s Wildcats will be the offensive line that will be without three starters and the defense that struggled to get off the field and allowed 34 points per game in 2017.

4. UCLA Bruins– After many years of rumors and

speculation, UCLA decided to fire Jim Mora. Chip Kelly is back coaching after his dismissal from the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015. With Chip controlling things, it won’t be long before we see these Bruins back at the top of the division. Kelly’s debut year will be a transition one in 2018 as the team will look to replace quarterback Josh Rosen and a handful of players on defense. In addition to the question marks surrounding the quarterback position, the Bruins need to get their running game jumpstarted and find replacements for receivers Jordan Lasley and Darren Andrews. The offensive line also loses Kolton Miller and some other starters. On defense, new coordinator Jerry Azzinaro will inherit a defense that allowed close to 37 points per game and ranked last in the Pac-12 when it came to stopping the run.

5. Colorado Buffaloes– They were a disappointment after we saw them shock the world, win this division and get to the conference title game in 2016. They finished the 2017 campaign with a 5-7 record and in 2018, a bowl game is definitely within reach. For them to be successful, they need some more consistency from their quarterback, Steven Montez. Their offensive line will also have to be retooled after losing three starters from last year’s unit. I was really impressed with their defense last season despite returning only three starters and they still had one of the best scoring defenses in the conference. There’s one positive and negative for their defense in 2018. The positive? The team’s three leading tacklers from last season will be back. The negative? Their top corner, Isaiah Oliver is gone along with some other players in the secondary.

6. Arizona State Sun Devils– “You play to win the game!”. Those are the famous words of Herm Edwards. He’s finally back after years away from coaching and I’ve often said he’d be a great college coach because of his approach with his players and he can keep young men walking in the right direction. He comes in and takes over a team that went 7-6 in 2017. Their offensive line needs to improve greatly after giving up 41 sacks last season. Coach Herm’s background in defense should help a defense that was one of the worst in the conference. This is the right guy for the job and it’ll be good to see him back on the sidelines.

Prediction: The Utah Utes will win the Pac-12 South. With USC losing as much as they did, this will be the year for Kyle Whittingham’s Utes. I look for Huntley to improve this year and make some nice strides as a quarterback. It will take a while for their defense to get adjusted with their new pieces, but I see them settling in in no time.