Tag Archives: Sefo Liufau

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 15 Through 11

Colorado had a great season in 2016 going 10-4 and played in the Pac-12 Championship. How will they fare in 2017? (Ronald Cortes/Getty Images North America)

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 15 Through 11

The 2017 College Football season is starting later this month and that means it is prediction season. We will do something different than last year. In 2016, we made 5 predictions for each conference for a total of 55 predictions. The final total was 30.5 predictions correct for 55.5% hit rate.

This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week until August 23. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).

This edition is the third and we will start predicting the Power 5 Conferences. Below is the schedule for the 25 predictions.

Predictions 25-21: July 26 (Sun Belt, C-USA, Independents)

Predictions 20-16: August 2 (MAC, MWC, AAC)

Predictions 15-11: August 9 (Big 12, Pac-12)

Predictions 10-6: August 16 (Pac-12, ACC, SEC)

Predictions 5-1: August 23 (SEC, Big 10)

Predictions 15 Through 11

15. (Big 12) Oklahoma State will lead the Big 12 in points scored – The Cowboys have 7 starters back on offense including the key skill positions. Quarterback Mason Rudolph threw for 4,091 yards (63.4%) with 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Three of his top four targets from 2016 return led by James Washington. Washington had 71 catches for 1,380 yards with 10 touchdowns while Jalen McCleskey had 73 receptions for 812 yards and 7 touchdowns. There is also the threat of Justice Hill in the backfield with Rudolph as he had 1,142 yards and 6 touchdowns. With three starters back on the line, this team should eclipse 2016’s numbers of 38.6 points and 495 yards per game.

The Big 12 is full of potent offenses starting with Oklahoma. The Sooners had 43.9 points per game in 2016 and lost four big names: head coach Bob Stoops, receiver Dede Westbrook, and running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. Even with Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield back, the Sooners could see a slight step back on offense.

Another potent team is TCU who returns 10 starters from a group that underachieved in 2016 when only 2 starters returned. Every top skill position player returns for the Horned Frogs and they will easily eclipse the 31 points per game they averaged in 2016.

Both Texas and Baylor welcome new coaches. Texas has Tom Herman and his offense though there will probably be a few hiccups as it is installed. Baylor is typically one of the highest scoring offenses (over 44 points per game from 2011 through 2015) but Matt Rhule has a more pro-style system.

The other big threat to the scoring title is Texas Tech under Kliff Kingsbury’s high flying offense. The Red Raiders lose quarterback Patrick Mahomes and top receiver Jonathan Giles, but most other key pieces return. They will still put up points, but with a new starter might lead to a drop off in points (43.7 per game in 2016).

14. (Big 12) TCU will win the Big 12 Championship – 2017 sees the return of the Big 12 Championship Game ostensibly to help the conference from getting left out of the College Football Playoffs. We will see if the re-introduction has the intended effect. As for the return of the game, we like TCU to win the 2017 edition.

There is no doubt that 2016 was a subpar season for the Horned Frogs when they finished 6-7. The offense had only 2 starters back and averaged just 31 points per game (down 11 points per game from 2015). The biggest disappointment was defense, which actually got worse with 8 starters back. In 2016, they allowed 28 points and 427 yards per game (about 1 point and 30 yards per game worse than 2015).

2017 sees a much more experienced offense with 10 starters back. Kenny Hill had an up and down season with 17 touchdowns and 13 picks, but he returns all of the key position players. After putting up 31 points and 463 yards per game in 2016, they should get close or even go beyond 40 points per contest.

On defense, 7 starters are back including 5 of the top 6 tacklers. Travin Howard (130 tackles) and Ty Summers (121 tackles) will command the secondary and linebackers respectively. Even in a high scoring league like the Big 12, the defense should improve from the 28 points and 427 yards per game they allowed in 2016.

The Horned Frogs have five Big 12 road games including some tough ones at Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and even a potentially tricky game at Iowa State. The Oklahoma State game is in week four and could end up deciding one of the participants for the Big 12 Championship Game. TCU is flying under the radar and this team is in a very good position to win the Big 12.

13. (Big 12) Iowa State will reach a bowl game – The Cyclones have not been to a bowl game since 2012 when they played in the Liberty Bowl, but lost to Tulsa 31-17. Matt Campbell was hired in late 2015, just a day after former coach Paul Rhoads coached his final game. Iowa State went 3-9 in 2016 and the biggest highlight was their dismantling of Texas Tech 66-10 in the penultimate game of the year.

The second year should see improvements on both sides of the ball. The offense had a respectable 27.7 points per game in 2016 with just three starters back, a new coach, and constant quarterback shuffling. Jacob Park is the man now after throwing for 1,791 yards with 12 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. The top two receivers and running backs return including Allen Lazard. Lazard had 69 catches for 1,118 yards with 7 touchdowns and needs 678 yards to become the school’s all-time leading receiver. The offense should top 30 points per game with more quarterback stability and more experience and knowledge of the offense.

The defense did okay in 2016 with a new coach and 7 starters back. They allowed 31.3 points and 453 yards per game, which was actually 1.4 points per game less. Six starters are back and a slight improvement would go along way for this team.

The schedule starts with Northern Iowa and Iowa at home before a road trip to Akron. The Cyclones need a 2-1 at worst to give them any shot of reaching a bowl. They only get four home games in the Big 12 (Texas, Kansas, TCU, and Oklahoma State) and will probably need to win at least two of those. The five road games are at Oklahoma, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Baylor, and Kansas State. There is no margin for error given their schedule, but the Cyclones have the pieces to get 6 wins in Matt Campbell’s second year.

12. (Pac-12) Washington State will reach double digit wins – We are very bullish on the Cougars this year thanks to 16 returning starters (7 on offense and 9 on defense) and schedule(not easy, but manageable).

Mike Leach will be in year 6 at Wazzu with a very experienced Luke Falk. Falk is a senior in 2017 and he loses two of his top three wideouts (Gabe Marks and River Cracraft). Despite those two, Falk distributing the ball will help absorb the losses. Also returning are the top three running backs who averaged 120 yards per game in 2016. That was the highest amount for the offense under Leach at Washington State.

One of the bigger surprises the last two seasons has been the defense. In 2015 they allowed 27.7 points and 417 yards per game while 2016 was small improvements to 26.4 points and 406 yards per game. Those have been the best numbers under Leach and coincides with the hiring of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. With 9 starters back in 2017, there could be even more improvement in the numbers.

The schedule is not easy, but the Cougars do not play a road game until October. They open with five straight at home against Montana State, Boise State, Oregon State, Nevada, and USC. The Broncos and Trojans will be tough contests, but being in Pullman will give them a better chance to win both games.

October is road stretch with Oregon (away), California (away), Colorado (home), and Arizona (away). All four are winnable though a resurgent Oregon team might be the trickiest. The schedule closes with Stanford (home), Utah (away), and Washington (away) after a bye week.

The Pac-12 North looks very competitive, but the Cougars are set up for success on offense and defense. Washington State is a dark horse to win the North so long as they take care of USC and Washington, but those would both be big upsets.

11. (Pac-12) Colorado will reach a second straight bowl game – Colorado surprised many in 2016 when they made the Pac-12 Championship Game as the South division winners. A repeat of that in 2017 would be just as surprising, but they still have a great chance at reaching a second straight bowl.

The offense returns mostly intact with 9 starters back, however, they lose quarterback Sefo Liufau. His replacement is Steven Montez and he did get some playing time in 2016 when Liufau was injured so the drop off may not be as severe. All the top receivers return as does running back Phillip Lindsay (1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns). The offense put up 31.1 points and 437 yards per game in 2016 and should get close or top those numbers again this season.

Defense is a major concern with only three starters back from a group that allowed 21.7 points and 343 yards per game. Three of the top five tacklers are back with two of those in the secondary. There are quite a few upperclassmen as projected starters, but the numbers will still get worse.

The Buffs will start with four games within the state of Colorado: Colorado State (in Denver), Texas State, Northern Colorado, and Washington with the latter three at home. The CSU game may not be the walk in the park as expected because the Rams will have already played one game and look like a contender in the Mountain West.

Three of the next four are away: UCLA, Arizona (home), Oregon State, and Washington State. The season concludes with California (home), Arizona State (away), USC (home), and Utah (away). There are enough wins on the schedule (both home and away) for the Buffs to make back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2004-05.

That concludes the third set of five predictions for the 2017 college football season. Check back next week for predictions 10 through 6, which will be one more prediction for the Pac-12, three for the ACC, and one for the SEC.

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 4

P.J. Fleck and Western Michigan had a great start to the 2016 season. Will it continue in week four against Georgia Southern? ( Michael Hickey/Getty Images North America)
P.J. Fleck and Western Michigan had a great start to the 2016 season. Will it continue in week four against Georgia Southern? ( Michael Hickey/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 4

Week four of the college football season will see some non-conference games drop off and big conference tilts become the focus. The big games this week are #12 Georgia at #23 Ole Miss, #11 Wisconsin at #8 Michigan State, #19 Florida at #14 Tennessee, Oklahoma State at #16 Baylor, and #17 Arkansas at #10 Texas A&M.

We like to focus on the games off the national radar keeping an eye on both this week and possibly down the road with their impact on the season. Let’s take a look at some of the under the radar games for week four. Note, these games are listed in order of when they will be played.

1. Central Michigan at Virginia (9/24 at 12:30 PM EST) – Normally there is not much to a 3-0 versus 0-3 matchup, but this would be another big win for Central Michigan and the MAC if it happens. The MAC already owns wins over two Big 12 opponents (CMU over Oklahoma State and Ohio over Kansas) as well as two wins over Big 10 opponents (Western Michigan over both Northwestern and Illinois). A fifth win over a Power 5 opponent would be great for the MAC. The Chips are 3-0 thanks to wins over Presbyterian, Oklahoma State, and UNLV.

Virginia is 0-3 with losses to Richmond at home along with Oregon and Connecticut on the road. This is their last game before opening ACC play in October and the last eight games do not offer many apparent wins. Can Central Michigan keep their great start going against another power five team?

2. Syracuse at Connecticut (9/24 at 1 PM EST) – Is this game getting confused for the hardwood? Nope, but this matchup would be great to see on an annual basis in basketball. The Orange were on this list last week to see how they would handle South Florida after getting trounced 62-28 against Louisville. The answer: Great for 15 minutes, terrible that last 45. Syracuse led 17-0 after the first quarter and lost 45-20.

Connecticut likes to keep their games close (no game decided by more than 4 points), but are still 2-1 on the year. This test will be interesting because the Syracuse offense has shown explosiveness averaging over 500 yards per game. Unfortunately, the defense has nearly yielded that same amount (481 per contest thus far). The Huskies’ defense gives up 355 yards a game while the offense puts up 310.3 yards per game. Both teams need this win if they want to have a hope of making a bowl game this season.

3. Appalachian State at Akron (9/24 at 3:30 PM EST) – Appalachian State (1-2) started with that great defensive effort against Tennessee in the 20-13 overtime loss, but were blitzed last week in a 45-10 loss at home to Miami (FL). Akron is 2-1, but what really put them on this list was their 65-38 win over Marshall last week. The Zips trailed 21-7 after 15 minutes, but a 34 point outburst by the offense in the second quarter made it 41-21 at half.

Prior to the 2015 season, Akron had not been competitive in the MAC since their 2005 Championship winning year. This game, against what is expected to be a solid defense, is a great test going into conference schedule. For Appalachian State, this game is a chance to get their confidence back and possibly prepare for some of the passing offenses they will see in the Sun Belt.

4. Wake Forest at Indiana (9/24 at 3:30 PM EST) – How many people had these two teams coming into this contest undefeated? Wake Forest is 3-0 and they have played solid defense giving up just 12.7 points per game. Indiana is 2-0 and they too appear to have gotten better on defense (16.5 points per game). Not many will probably think much of this undefeated matchup given the teams, but there are implications.

Let’s look at what a win would mean for each team. Wake Forest would be 4-0 with games left against Army, Virginia, and Boston College all at home. A win for Indiana would make them 3-0 with games against Northwestern (away), Maryland (home), Rutgers (away), and Purdue (home). Will Wake Forest be able to score enough points and hold Indiana’s offense in check?

5. Colorado at Oregon (9/24 at 5:30 PM EST) – Colorado opened the season with two blowout wins against Colorado State and Idaho State. They had an amazing start to their game at Michigan taking a 21-7 lead after the opening quarter. The Buffaloes did take a 28-24 lead very early in the third quarter on Sefo Liufau’s 70 yard pass to Shay Fields, but it was all Michigan after that in the 45-28 loss.

Oregon started with two wins against UC Davis and Virginia at home before a road contest against Nebraska. They lost 35-32 despite playing without Royce Freeman for most of the contest and going 1 of 5 on their two point conversion attempts. The defense has looked suspect in the first three weeks of the season as well.

If Colorado has Sefo Liufau for this game and Oregon is missing Royce Freeman it could be a close game. If the reverse is true, then this may not be a game to keep an eye. As of this writing, Liufau will be a game-time decision while Freeman’s participation is up in the air.

6. Georgia Southern at Western Michigan (9/24 at 7 PM EST) – Two top mid-major teams in 2016 collide here with both teams at 3-0. Georgia Southern has a perfect record on the heels of their defense, which has allowed only 10 points per game this season. They needed a late field goal block to defeat Louisiana-Monroe to get the win.

Western Michigan is undefeated with two victories over Big 10 opponents Northwestern and Illinois on the road. They did not have much trouble with the Illini as they went out to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter and cruised from there.

This will be a fun game to watch two really good mid-major teams. Western Michigan is a longshot to make one of the big bowl games, but they need to win all of their games to even be considered.

Check back next week for the week five edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Five Predictions For The Pac-12 Conference In 2016

Christian McCaffrey had a great 2015 season and is considered one of the favorites or the Heisman in 2016. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America)
Christian McCaffrey had a great 2015 season and is considered one of the favorites or the Heisman in 2016. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America)

Five Predictions For The Pac-12 Conference In 2016

The 2016 College Football season is less than two weeks away as Hawaii and California kick off on August 26th (if you are watching in the US) in Sydney, Australia. Below are five predictions for Pac-12 Conference for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful (or correct) by the end of the season.

There are no changes for the Pac-12 Conference as the twelve teams remain the same and are split into North and South Divisions. The six teams in the North Division are California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington, and Washington State. The six teams in the South Division are Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, UCLA, USC, and Utah.

Here are five predictions for the Pac-12 Conference in 2016:

1. California and Oregon State will both miss a bowl game – California went 8-5 last year with Jared Goff throwing for 4,719 yards with 43 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. There was a lot of talent coming back in 2015 outside of Goff with eight starters on offense (put up 37.9 points and 529 yards per game) and nine on defense (gave up 30.7 points and 454 yards per game). That will change for 2016 as the offense has only four starters back while the defense has five. 2015 showed the best output on offense under Sonny Dykes and the best defense as well in his three years. It is hard to find six wins for Cal when they have to face both San Diego State (away) and Texas (home) in the non-conference schedule to go along with the nine conference games they will play.

For Oregon State, they had a miserable season going 2-10 overall and 0-9 in Pac-12 play in Gary Andersen’s first season. The offense put up only 19 points and 337 yards per game while the defense gave up 37 points and 482 yards per game, the highest total in nearly three decades (1987). Even with seven starters back on offense and six back on defense (had just two in 2015) they have to face Minnesota on the road and Boise State at home out of conference. Oregon State will be better, but it will not be enough to get to a bowl game.

2. Colorado will make a bowl game – This one is going to be close. Colorado will be in the fourth year of Mike MacIntyre and he has struggled to rebuild this team going 10-27 overall with a 2-25 conference record. 2016 will be his most experienced squad with nine starters back on both offense and defense. The offense has stagnated with the highest total coming in 2014 at 28.5 points and 439 yards a game. Sefo Liufau is back for his fourth year at quarterback though he will be missing his top target in Nelson Spruce, who went to the NFL. The rest of the receivers are back including some new enrollees as is running back Phillip Lindsay (653 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2015).

The defense is where the biggest improvements have been made. They went from allowing 39 points and 461 yards per game in 2014 to 27.5 points and 417 yards per game in 2015. There is even more room for improvement as the Buffaloes return those nine starters and will be in their second year under defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. The defense allowed 199 yards rushing per contest, but can improve on that with the return of five starters as well as 2012 through 2014 mainstay Josh Tupou. The entire secondary returns after improving their passing yards allowed per game by 38 yards and could improve again in 2016.

The schedule opens with Colorado State in Denver before a home game against Idaho State. They close their non-conference with a trip to Michigan before going on the road the next week to open Pac-12 play against Oregon. In total, they have four road games in-conference, which will help their chances. It will take wins against teams like Oregon State (home), Arizona State (home), Arizona (away), Washington State (home), and Utah (home) to get to six wins. They will need a few upsets to get to a bowl game, but Colorado can do it.

3. The duo of Christian McCaffrey and Royce Freeman will rush for a combined 4,000 yards – These two players had wonderful 2015 seasons. Christian McCaffrey ran for 2,019 yards and 8 touchdowns while also catching 45 passes for 645 yards and 5 touchdowns. We cannot forget his return abilities when he added in a combined 1,200 yards and two touchdowns. He was electrifying in 2015. Royce Freeman did not get the same hype as McCaffrey, but he too was exciting to watch. He ran for 1,836 yards and 17 touchdowns while adding in another 26 receptions for 348 yards and 2 touchdowns.

What leads to this prediction is both Stanford and Oregon will have new quarterbacks. These two players were already likely to get a majority of the touches, but having new quarterbacks only makes it more likely for them to be relied upon. Even Oregon’s Mark Helfrich has made it known what his offensive game plan is for his quarterbacks. Sure the defenses will key in on these two, but these are guys are not easy to contain.

4. Washington will not win the Pac-12 – There is a lot of hype surrounding the Washington Huskies in 2016. Even ESPN wrote an article on the amount of hype the Huskies have around them this year. There is no doubt the Huskies have potential with 15 starters back (8 on offense and 7 on defense) including super sophomores Jake Browning at quarterback (2,955 yards with 16 touchdowns an 10 interceptions) and running back Myles Gaskin (1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns). The defense will be tough again in 2016 after allowing just 18.8 points and 452 yards per game last year.

The Huskies have five Pac-12 games in 2016 against Arizona, Oregon, Utah, California, and Washington State, which are all teams that made bowl games in 2015. Arizona and Utah will not be easy, but are games that should be won by Washington. Their toughest two will be against Oregon (a team they have not beaten since 2003) and Washington State in the Apple Cup (the Huskies have won three in a row and six of the last seven games). They also face Stanford and USC at home this year, which will not be easy even at Husky Stadium.

It feels like Washington is going to peak in 2017 rather than 2016. Even if the Huskies do win the Pac-12 North, they will have to defeat the South winner, which is likely to be UCLA or USC.

5. The Pac-12 will not make the College Football Playoffs – The Pac-12 conference schedule looks like it might cannibalize the conference and keep it out of the College Football Playoffs for the second straight year. Some teams even play a strong non-conference schedule that could provide more losses (or conversely impressive wins to factor in). Let’s take a look at all the contenders and their toughest games.

Stanford – They face Kansas State at home and Notre Dame on the road in their non-conference schedule. In conference, they play USC and Washington State at home while taking on UCLA, Arizona, and Oregon on the road.

Oregon – They face Nebraska on the road in non-conference while in Pac-12 they play Washington State, USC and Utah on the road. At home, they will play Washington and Stanford.

Washington – Their toughest non-conference game is Rutgers at home the opening week in what should be a comfortable win. They face Stanford and USC at home while playing Arizona, Oregon, Utah, and Washington State on the road.

UCLA – They face Texas A&M and BYU on the road as part of their non-conference schedule. In conference, they face Stanford, Arizona, Utah, and USC at home while taking on Washington State on the road.

USC – They open with Alabama in Arlington, Texas and also face Notre Dame at home to end the season. In conference, they have to face Utah, Arizona, Washington and UCLA on the road and play Oregon at home.

Utah – They face BYU at home as well as USC, Arizona, Washington, and Oregon at home in Pac-12 play. On the road, UCLA is their toughest opponent.

Some teams definitely have a manageable schedule, but the Pac-12 will need a team with one loss (preferably none) and that loss better not come in the Pac-12 Championship Game. If it does, it could mean the Pac-12 is left out of the College Football Playoffs for the second straight year.

The Prediction Schedule

With the Pac-12 predictions above, there are now predictions for nine conferences in the books. Below are the predictions completed and which conference is next.

July 17 – FBS Independents

July 17 – Sun Belt

July 23 – C-USA

July 24 – MAC

July 30 – American Athletic

July 31 – Mountain West

August 7 – Big 12

August 13 – Atlantic Coast

August 14 – Pac-12

August 20 – Big Ten

August 27 – SEC

2015 College Football Preview: Pac-12 South

Todd Graham is back for his fourth year at Arizona State in the deep Pac-12 South Division. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)
Todd Graham is back for his fourth year at Arizona State in the deep Pac-12 South Division. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: Pac-12 South

We have reached part seventeen of Sports Enthusiasts’ 2015 College Football Preview. The Pac-12 South is on tap to be previewed as well as the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Previews will close out next week with the SEC. The entire schedule is below.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

FBS Independents – July 28

Sun Belt – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Let’s delve into the tough Pac-12 South Division.

1. Arizona State Sun Devils

Todd Graham came in for the 2012 season and immediately made the offense better and also improved the defense. They went from 6-7 in 2011 to 8-5 in 2012. 2013 was even better when the Sun Devils went 10-4, but lost the Pac-12 Title Game, as well as Holiday Bowl. 2014 was another double digit win season with ASU going 10-3 thanks to a 36-31 win over Duke in the Sun Bowl. 2015 represents Graham’s most starters returning with 16 (previous high was 15 in 2013).

The offense will have seven starters back from a unit hat produced 36.9 points and 442 yards per game. Taylor Kelly is gone after an injury filled season, which saw Mike Bercovici play at quarterback. Bercovici threw for 1,445 yards with 12 touchdowns and 4 interceptions while returning this year to lead the offense. DJ Foster ran for 1,081 yards and 9 touchdowns, but has been moved to wide receiver while Demario Richard had 478 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns. Jaelen Strong was the top receiver last year with 1,165 yards and 10 touchdowns, but has moved on to the NFL. Foster was the second leading receiver with 62 catches for 688 yards and 3 touchdowns and should be one of the top receivers again in 2015 with the full-time move to the position. Also in the fold are Cameron Smith (41 catches for 596 yards and 6 touchdowns), Gary Chambers (10 catches for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns), Kody Kohl (16 catches for 167 yards and 4 touchdowns), and Ellis Jefferson (11 catches for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns). Three starters are back on the offensive line as well. While the loss of Strong hurts, there is plenty of talent and experience on the team to see the offense have a chance to be even more productive.

The defense has nine starters back, which is a vast improvement over last year. In 2014, the defense had only two starters returning and still gave up 27.9 points and 417 yards per game. Three starters are back on the defensive line led by Edmond Boateng (22 tackles and 2.5 sacks) and Tashon Smallwood (23 tackles and 2 sacks). The linebackers have two starters returning led by Salamo Fiso (83 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss) and Antonio Longino (94 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss). The secondary has three starters back led by Jordan Simone, who had 100 tackles (#2 on team), 1 sack, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions. The defense will probably be the key for ASU in 2015 if they are to contend for the Pac-12 title and they have an excellent chance at being even better than they were in 2014.

Arizona State opens the year in Houston, Texas to face Texas A&M. The final two non-conference games are at home against Cal Poly and New Mexico. In division, they face USC, Colorado, and Arizona at home while playing UCLA and Utah on the road. From the North, ASU has Oregon (home), Washington State (road), Washington (home), and California (road). The offense will be good enough for ASU to probably win most of their conference games and could set up a rematch of the Oregon game in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

2. UCLA Bruins

UCLA will be entering 2015 with Jim Mora in his fourth season. UCLA went 9-5 in year one during 2012 including a three point loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 Title Game. 2013 and 2014 produced identical 10-3 records with bowl victories each year. 2015 sees Mora have his most experienced team with 18 starters, which makes them a very dangerous team this year.

The offense for UCLA has 10 starters returning, but quarterback Brett Hundley (3,155 yards passing with 22 touchdowns and 5 interceptions; 644 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns) departs. The trio of Josh Rosen, Jerry Neuheisel, and Asiantii Woulard will be battling to replace Hundley. The good news is the rest of the offense returns led by Paul Perkins at running back. Perkins ran for 1,575 yards and 9 touchdowns while also grabbing 26 catches for 201 yards and 2 touchdowns. The top five receivers all return led by Jordan Payton (67 catches for 954 yards and 7 touchdowns), Thomas Duarte (28 catches for 540 yards and 4 touchdowns), and Devin Fuller (59 catches for 447 yards and a touchdown). The entire offensive line returns as well. After putting up 33.4 points and 468 yards per game in 2014, the offense could reach those numbers again, but will need the quarterback to play very well right out of the gate.

The defense has eight starters back in 2015, just like they did last year. The 2014 version allowed 28.1 points and 399 yards per game. Two starters are back on the defensive line in Kenny Clark (58 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss) and Eddie Vanderdoes (50 tackles, 2 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss). At linebacker, two starters return including the versatile Myles Jack. Jack was second on the team with 88 tackles, but also had 8 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, and an interception (also had 113 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns). Also returning is Deon Hollins, who had 31 tackles, 9 sacks, and 2 pass breakups. The secondary has all four starters back after allowing 251 yards passing and 61.6% completions. Priest Willis (22 tackles), Fabian Moreau (53 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 8 pass breakups), Jaleel Wadood (59 tackles), and Randall Goforth (2013 starter with 78 tackles and 3 interceptions) will be in the secondary. After performing worse than expected in 2014, the defense should bounce back and could produce the best defense yet under Mora (2013 with 23.2 points and 386 yards per game allowed).

UCLA welcomes Virginia to LA before a road trip to UNLV in week two. Their final non-conference game is at home against BYU. Within the South division, UCLA faces Arizona, Utah, and USC on the road. At home, they will take on Arizona State and Colorado. From the North, UCLA draws Stanford (road), California (home), Oregon State (road), and Washington State (home). The games against Arizona State (10/3) and USC (11/28) are sure to decide if they make the Pac-12 Championship Game, which they definitely can.

3. USC Trojans

USC was crushed by NCAA sanctions in Lane Kiffin’s first two years, but they still managed to go 18-7 those two seasons including a 10-2 record in 2011. In 2012, they slumped to 7-6 after being considered as one of the top teams that year and Kiffin’s time ended in 2013 after the Arizona State game when they were 3-2. They finished the year 10-4 before hiring Steve Sarkisian prior to the 2014 season. Sarkisian went 9-4 in year one and the expectations are high for his second season in charge.

On offense, USC will have seven starters returning from a group that put up 35.8 points and 458 yards per game. Cody Kessler looked comfortable in the system throwing for 3,826 yards with 39 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He loses three of his top five receivers including Nelson Agholor, who had 104 catches for 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns. Juju Smith-Schuster is back to take one of the starting spots again after grabbing 54 passes for 724 yards and 5 touchdowns. Darreus Rogers had 21 catches for 245 yards and 4 touchdowns while Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, Steven Mitchell, and Adoree’ Jackson could make an impact in the passing game. The rushing game took a hit with Javorius “Buck” Allen leaving after rushing for 1,489 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2014. Justin Davis (595 yards and 4 touchdowns), James Toland (102 yards), and Tre Madden (703 yards in 2013) are all expected to see action. The offensive line returns intact as well to help make holes for the rushing game and protect Kessler. The offense loses some big players at running back and wide receiver, but they could match last year’s numbers in year two of Sarkisian’s schemes.

The defense has seven starters back in 2015 after allowing 25.2 points and 408 yards per game. The two linemen returning are Antwaun Woods (37 tackles and 1 sack) and Delvon Simmons (4 tackles and 1 sack). Two linebackers also return in Anthony Sarao (74 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 interceptions) and Su’a Cravens (68 tackles, 5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 9 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions). The secondary has three starters back including two-way play Adoree’ Jackson (49 tackles and 10 pass breakups), Kevon Seymour (49 tackles and 13 pass breakups), and Leon McQuay (36 tackles, 4 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions). The defense should improve in 2015 with the new schemes under their belt and more depth as well.

USC opens with Arkansas State and Idaho at home the first two weeks before completing their non-conference slate on October 17 against Notre Dame on the road. Within their division, USC will face Arizona State and Colorado on the road while taking on Utah, Arizona, and UCLA at home. From the North, USC has to play Stanford (home), Washington (home), California (road), and Oregon (road). The talent is there for USC to win the division, but facing the top three from the North makes it harder for them to do it. However, do not count them out in year two under Steve Sarkisian.

4. Arizona Wildcats

Rich Rodriguez did not have a good time at Michigan going 15-22 with two losing seasons. After a year off in 2011, Rich Rod came back to coaching by taking over at Arizona, which was coming off a 4-8 record. Rich Rod has done well in his three years going 8-5 in both 2012 and 2013 while upping the record to 10-4 in 2014 with a Pac-12 Title Game appearance (lost 51-13 to Oregon).

Offense has not been an issue for Arizona in Rodriguez’s tenure. Last year, the offense put up 34.5 points and 464 yards per game and seven starters return from that group. Quarterback Anu Solomon threw for 3,793 yards with 28 touchdowns and 9 interceptions while also rushing for 291 yards and 2 touchdowns. He will be back along with last year’s top rusher in Nick Wilson, who had 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns. The top receivers are back for Arizona with Cayleb Jones catching 73 passes for 1,019 yards and 9 touchdowns last year. The other is Samajie Grant, who had 45 catches for 718 yards and 6 touchdowns. The offensive line has only two starters back, but does have some transfers coming in. The offense has a great chance to produce higher numbers than the last two years.

The defense has not been bad under Rodriguez the last two years. In 2013, the defense allowed 24.2 points and 401 yards per game, but that was due to all 11 starters returning. Last year, the defense gave up 28.2 points and 451 yards per game with six starters back. That same number returns this year including the electric Scooby Wright at linebacker. He was named 1st Team All-American last year after recording 163 tackles, 14 sacks, and 15 tackles for loss! He will be joined by Derrick Turituri at linebacker after he had 44 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss. On the line, three starters return led by Reggie Gilbert, who had 49 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss. The other two starters will be joined by junior college transfers to give them solid depth on the line. The secondary has two starters back in William Parks (81 tackles, 1 sack, 12 tackles for loss, 8 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions) and Jarvis McCall (49 tackles and 7 pass breakups). The defense will probably have similar numbers to last year.

Arizona’s non-conference schedule consists of Texas-San Antonio (home), Nevada (road), and Northern Arizona (home). From the South, Arizona will have to play UCLA and Utah at home while going on the road to face Colorado, USC, and Arizona State. From the North, Arizona has to play Stanford (road), Oregon State (home), Washington State (home), and Washington (road). Arizona should be back in a bowl game in 2015 and could make some noise with an upset or two in the Pac-12.

5. Utah Utes

Kyle Wittingham has been the head coach at Utah since 2005. In that time, Utah has 85-43 with only two losing seasons and also transitioned from the Mountain West to Pac-12. The Utes went 8-5 in year one of their Pac-12 career in 2011, but dropped to 5-7 the next two seasons. 2014 was a much improved effort with Utah going 5-4 in conference and 9-4 overall. Despite that 5-4 record in conference, Utah still finished fifth in the South Division, but they were very good last season.

There will be seven starters back on offense from a group that put up 31.3 points and 388 yards per game. Travis Wilson threw for 2,170 yards with 18 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, but may find himself in a battle with Kendal Thompson (324 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions). Devontae Booker is returning at running back as well after he ran for 1,512 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. Booker is also the second leading receiver that is coming back after grabbing 43 passes for 306 yards and 2 touchdowns. The top receiver this year will be Kenneth Scott, who had 48 catches for 506 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Utes did lose three of their top four receivers from 2014. The offensive line has four starters back and the offense will probably do well no matter who is at quarterback.

The defense will have seven starters returning after allowing 24.9 points and 393 yards per game in 2014. The line will have three starters back in Hunter Dimick (52 tackles, 10 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss), Lowell Lotulelei (33 tackles and 4 sacks), and Jason Fanaika (55 tackles, 5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss). Also in the mix on the line will be UCLA transfer Kyle Fitts. Two are returning at linebacker led by Jared Norris, who had 116 tackles, 4 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss. The secondary has Dominique Hatfield (38 tackles, 9 pass breakups, and an interception), Marcus Williams (59 tackles), and Gionni Paul (51 tackles and 4 interceptions) back. The defense will be solid again in 2015.

Utah will have an interesting non-conference schedule to set them up for Pac-12 play. They will face both Michigan and Utah State at home before a road game at Fresno State. From their division, Utah will face Arizona State, UCLA, and Colorado at home while playing USC and Arizona on the road. From the North, Utah has to play Oregon (road), California (home), Oregon State (home), and Washington (road). While it is hard to pick Utah fifth with a solid team, someone has to be put here. However, Utah is capable of pulling upsets (see UCLA and USC in 2014 and Stanford in 2013). Utah should not have trouble making a bowl game in 2015 and could make some noise in this tough Pac-12 South.

6. Colorado Buffaloes

It has been a rough decade for Colorado. They have not had a winning season since 2005 and only one bowl appearance in that time (2007 loss to Alabama 30-24). The Buffaloes entered the Pac-12 in 2011 with Jon Embree at the helm, but he struggled mightily with his final record being 4-21 in those two years. Mike MacIntyre was hired for the 2013 season and the Buffaloes won four games in 2013 to go 4-8 before falling to 2-10 last year. There are some positives for Colorado going forward in MacIntyre’s third year.

The offense for Colorado put up only 17.8 points and 303 yards per game in 2012. With the coaching change, those numbers increased to 25.4 points and 370 yards per game in 2013 before going even higher in 2014. There will be seven starters back from last year’s group that put up 28.5 points and 439 yards per game. Quarterback Sefo Liufau threw for 3,200 yards with 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Three of the top four running backs return, but their output was poor last year. Christian Powell (448 yards and 4 touchdowns), Michael Adkins (398 yards and 3 touchdowns), and Phillip Lindsay (391 yards) will all be back as they look to increase production. The top two receivers return in Nelson Spruce (106 catches for 1,198 yards and 12 touchdowns) and Shay Fields (50 catches for 486 yards and 4 touchdowns). The offensive line has four starters back while the offense as a whole should be able to improve on last year’s numbers.

The defense has been the issue the last four seasons. In 2012, they gave up 46 points and 489 yards per game while those numbers went down to 38.3 points and 468 yards per game in 2013. 2014 was about the same with the defense surrendering 39 points and 461 yards per game. There will be nine starters back from that defense, which may or may not be a good thing. The defensive line has three starters back in Derek McCartney (24 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss), Josh Tupou (28 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss), and Jimmie Gilbert (27 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss). The linebackers all return led by Kenneth Olugbode (70 tackles), Addison Gillam (64 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss), and Chidobe Awuzie (62 tackles). The secondary has three starters back led by Tedric Thompson, who had 56 tackles and 3 interceptions last year. The defense should improve in 2015 with depth and experience both going upward.

Colorado begins the year on the road at Hawaii, which will allow them to have four non-conference games. They finish up the non-conference slate within the state of Colorado against Massachusetts (home), Colorado State (in Denver), and Nicholls State (home). In their division, Colorado has to face Arizona State, UCLA, and Utah on the road while playing Arizona and USC at home. From the North, Colorado has the quartet of Oregon (home), Oregon State (road), Stanford (home), and Washington State (road). It will be another rough year for Colorado in terms of their record, but they will be making strides this year to set them up for the next few seasons.

Overview

The Pac-12 South is very deep in terms of talent and experience, which made it hard to predict. Arizona State, UCLA, and USC seem to be the trio that stands out, but counting out Arizona and Utah would be a mistake. Colorado is clearly the worst team in the division and they will more than likely be back in the cellar this year. Below is the predicted order of finish for the Pac-12 South.

1. Arizona State

2. UCLA

3. USC

4. Arizona

5. Utah

6. Colorado

Pac-12 Championship

We predicted that Oregon would win the Pac-12 North and that will set up a Championship Game between them and Arizona State. That would be a wonderful game to see with plenty of offense on the field. We will call Oregon to win by a field goal if they were to meet and have a chance at making the College Football Playoff again.

Next week will wrap up our 2015 College Football Preview with the Southeastern Conference. Be sure to check that out on Tuesday (East) and Friday (West), respectively.