Picking the Pac-12 South is like throwing darts


Before we left for Pac-12 media days all of the Pac-12 Bloggers sent in our projected Pac-12 rankings for both the South and the North. There was an agreed upon frustration between the five of us in placing teams in the South so Chantel and Kevin decided to talk about the team that was most difficult to place in the South.

Jennings: I'm not sure anyone feels confident (even moderately so) about projecting how teams will finish in the South. The main theme among the South teams (minus Colorado) is that they all have pretty high ceilings and really low basements which leaves a pretty big range.

Let's start with this: I don't feel great about putting USC as the top team just because I'm not sold on Cody Kessler or the Trojans. USC has a brutal schedule (ASU, Notre Dame and Oregon on the road; Stanford, Utah, UCLA and Arizona at home) and Kessler has yet to play his best against great teams. But considering Kessler's experience and the amount of weapons the Trojans have, I still put them at No. 1. I believe they have the highest ceiling in the South and a decent chance of maintaining that level on a consistent basis.

That could also be completely wrong. Maybe USC totally misses the mark, pulls a bunch of Boston College's this season and finishes fifth in the South, WHICH IS COMPLETELY POSSIBLE.

That's what made this so hard, Kevin. For each reason I come up with for why USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State or Utah could win the Pac-12 South, there's an equally viable reason for why they'll punt it away. Which is why I think I had a hard time with every team I put at No. 4 and No. 5 in my rankings. Because no matter how many times I ordered the teams, whichever team I put in those two spots had a compelling reason to not be there.

Utah at No. 4 felt weird but I kind of looked at them as a Washington of 2014 -- great defensive pressure with a questionable offense. In 2014, Washington finished third in a division that held far less depth than the South this season. So four seemed right. But again, if some wide receivers step up and Kyle Whittingham isn't square dancing with an uncertain quarterback situation until Week 10, then the Utes could find themselves higher up at season's end.

And I really didn't like Arizona at No. 5. There are plenty of reasons to like Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson and Cayleb Jones and Scooby Wright. But moving the Wildcats up meant moving another team down and then I had compelling reasons not to put that team in the fifth spot. When I finally settled on my top three, I thought about moving Arizona up to four and moving the Utes down to five but then I was reminded of Hunter Dimick and the rest of the Utes' front seven and decided not to. If you're going to bet on these moving targets, then I'll be slightly more confident in the team that has the nastiest defense. After I labored over the fifth- and fourth-place spots for quite a while, I finally decided I wasn't going to be happy with it and just sent it in, hoping to not think about it again until Kevin and I decided to write this ...

Gemmell: I feel your pain, Chantel. When I had Hermes deliver my ballot upon wing-ed foot and handcuffed briefcase to the Pac-12 offices, I included a little note to Dave Hirsch -- the league's VP of communication -- that read “throwing darts in the South.”

Now, I didn't include this addendum to brag about my pinpoint accuracy (I can only trade off of my perfect 2013 ballot for so long). I meant it -- as in, the South could go any number of ways. That's why Utah was the hardest team for me to place.

You're right. The Utes feel weird at four. Even weirder since they beat both of the L.A. teams last year and lost by a field goal in overtime to Arizona State. Actually, the one team that absolutely whopped them last season -- Arizona -- I have a notch below the Utes. It makes zero sense. But then again, neither does the South.

Utah can win the division. I have zero doubt of that possibility. But so could UCLA, USC, ASU and Arizona. In the age of #Pac12AfterDark where Marys are hailed and last-second field goals go wide left or right -- or sometimes down the middle -- and kickers recover their own onside kicks and backwards passes are returned for scoop-and-score touchdowns and players drop the ball at the 1-yard line instead of in the end zone and double overtimes are determined by goal-line stands (huff, huff) and did I mention the Hail Marys already?

The South is ridiculously competitive. But on a couple of levels, Utah scares me. It's schedule scares me. That the Utes replaced both coordinator spots scares me. That a huge portion of their pass rush is gone scares me.

Here's what doesn't scare me: Devontae Booker. He scares defensive coordinators. And Utah's special teams, the best in the nation, doesn't scare me.

So I was torn. And rightfully so. The Utes could clearly finish anywhere from 1-5. Then again, so could the other four teams we're talking about in the South.

So, like I said ... throwing darts.