Pac-12 tipping point classes 

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
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It's a fairly unusual year for recruiting when it comes to the two Los Angeles programs. While this is usually a zero sum war with a clear winner and loser -- as was the case with the 2014 class, when the Trojans finished 3-for-3 on the final three huge uncommitted prospects in Southern California -- this signing day provides the opportunity for both programs to either finish strong or fizzle out, without one much affecting the other.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
9:00
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And in the morning, I'm making' waffles.

Leading off:

The 2015 Senior Bowl has come and gone, and there were plenty of great showings from Pac-12 players. Here's a brief compilation of some of the content you can find regarding the event:
  • CBSSports' Senior Bowl stock report of 10 players who looked good -- one Beaver shows up on this list and it's not the one you're thinking of ...
  • FOX Sports made a list of guys who helped their NFL draft stock the most. On this listing you've got a Husky and a Ute (these are probably the ones you're thinking of).
  • Sports Illustrated had some similar praise to that of FOX Sports. SI's Chris Burke writes that "[Danny] Shelton's showing for the North team solidified his status as a likely first-round pick."
  • The Atlanta Journal Constitution put together a photo gallery of the weekend.
  • Former Wazzu receiver Vince Mayle does a video interview for the Senior Bowl.
  • Former UCLA defensive lineman Owamagbe Odighizuwa also did a video interview at the Senior Bowl.
  • Catching up with Sean Mannion following the Senior Bowl.
  • Henry Anderson wrote six "diary" entries from AL.com during Senior Bowl week. You can check all of them out right here.
  • Nate Orchard picked up some MOP honors at the Senior Bowl.
News/notes/team reports:
Just for fun:

There was some #Pac12Trolling happening Sunday as former Arizona State defensive lineman Will Sutton decided to comment on Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong's autograph session. Always nice to see a few (fun) shots taken between teammates when it comes to this kind of stuff.

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Also, if anyone has a chance, check out Sutton's photo at the top of his Twitter page. It's pretty fantastic. Especially if you're a fan of The Lion King ...
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes!

Andrew from Phoenix writes: Can this post-season please put to bed this obsession with "ranking" conferences? Here we are, a week after the season is ended, and we're debating whether the Pac-12 or SEC is the best conference in college football. For what it's worth they are 1 and 2, yet, the representatives of those conferences went 1-5 in the big games. So, then what is it really worth? The Big XII took an absolute nosedive as a whole, yet TCU had the second best postseason of all teams, and will be ranked in the Top 5 to start the season. Florida St got ragged all season for being in the "weak" ACC, whose #2 and #3 teams put an absolute shellacking on comparable teams from "stronger" conferences. The Big 10 is allegedly "back" after going 5-5 in the bowl season, but they only have 3 teams in the whole conference (Ohio St, Michigan St, and Wisconsin) with a prayer of finishing above 5th in the Pac South. Didn't seem to hurt Ohio St much against Oregon, did it? So, please try to convince me why it matters that Wisconsin beat Auburn, Stanford smoked Maryland, and Clemson crushed Oklahoma.

Ted Miller: To your first question, the answer is no. No, we can not put to bed this "obsession with 'ranking" conferences."

For one, it's necessary in college football, because we have to make subjective distinctions between teams that don't play each other. Whether it's the traditional national polls, the BCS system, or our new College Football Playoff, we have to rank teams, and how the conferences perform is one of the best ways -- the best way? -- we can do that.

Is it an exact science? No. Is it a way of conducting business that is laden with potential for bias and agenda? Absolutely.

Some, by the way, might argue that very subjectivity, an inescapable historical fact of college football, is one of the reasons the sport is so popular with its fans. Without an objective system -- such as large-scale playoffs used in pro sports -- a cherished U.S. institution therefore flourishes in college football: Endless, blathering debate, fueled by paranoia and manufactured offenses and cherry-picked "facts!"

It's a beautiful thing.

Another cherished institution is part of this: Regionalism. Due to the serendipity of a fan's or, often, a media member's birth location, that region becomes the source of all that is good and accomplished, and every other region is inferior, no matter how informed said fan or media member is on said other region. We all know from our present political reality that actually knowing stuff no longer matters and, in fact, can be a burden when debating with a louder and more pithy interlocutor.

But, hey, I'm not a scientist!

So the SEC fan thinks the Pac-12 is soft, and the Pac-12 fan thinks the Big Ten is slow, and the Big Ten fan things the Big 12 is finesse, and the Big 12 fan thinks the ACC is a basketball league, and the ACC fan thinks the SEC is overrated, etc., etc.

It. Will. Never. End.

And for that I am thankful.


Robert from New York writes: I've seen a lot of hype around USC for next season, and I'm not really sold on why. USC had a losing record against the Pac-12 South in 2014, including a blowout loss to UCLA. They're losing key players on both sides of the ball, and have a coach who has never won more than eight regular season games. Are sportswriters getting excited because they want a brand-name school to be elite, or am I missing something?

Ted Miller: Robert, you sound like some of my Pac-12 blogmates, so you are not alone in voicing some skepticism with the Trojans.

My case leads with this: Among its 16 returning position-player starters, USC welcomes back the most experienced, accomplished quarterback in the conference, Cody Kessler, and he will be playing behind an offensive line that will be the best in the Pac-12 (And USC fans should take heart for that 2016 opener against Alabama, because that should be an epic battle at the line of scrimmage between the Trojans and Crimson Tide). That offensive line welcomes back all five starters, led by senior, first-team-All-Pac-12 center Max Tuerk, as well has a good crew of backups.

Sure, there are some big hits, particularly with early departures, such as defensive end Leonard Williams, receiver Nelson Agholor, and runing back Javorius Allen. USC is going to need some young guys to step up. But finding ready-to-play youngsters is rarely a problem for USC, and, oh by the way, Steve Sarkisian is well on his way to signing what could end up a top-five class.

It will also help that Trojans should be well into the 70s in terms of scholarship players next fall. Though they won't get close to the maximum 85 scholarship players permitted by NCAA rules in their first post-sanctions season, they will be far above the 60 or so they played with in 2014. This will be a much deeper team in Sarkisian's second season.

As for doubting Sark, that's not unreasonable. No, he hasn't won a national title or a conference title, or even 10 games in a season. Yes, there were some times during his first season in which the Trojans seemed poorly prepared, poorly motivated, and poorly coached. You, by the way, could also say the same about Oregon. And Ohio State and Alabama, which went 7-6 and lost to UL Monroe in Nick Saban's first year in Tuscaloosa.

But, from today's vantage point, USC looks like the team with the fewest big questions in the Pac-12, though UCLA and Oregon could quickly counter with impressive clarity at quarterback.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Trojans are in the CFP discussion late into the 2015 season.

Does the USC "brand" play a role in that perception? Probably. But brand names have been pretty good bets over the long haul in college football.


Michael from Corvallis, Ore., writes: With Gary Andersen's staff poaching several assistants and recruits from Utah, not to mention two consecutive games going into OT, is there a chance Utah-Oregon State becomes an actual rivalry?

Ted Miller: Maybe, but it won't be because of any ill-will between the coaching staffs. Andersen and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham are extremely close -- both have said that to me within the past calendar year, Whittingham just a few weeks ago.

Whittingham also doesn't begrudge defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake jumping to Oregon State, because he knows it was a wise move professionally in the short and long term, particularly if Sitaki wants to be a head coach, which he does. Sitake needs to spread his wings outside of what had become a comfort zone in Salt Lake.

Further, being in different divisions, the Utes and Beavers will have a two-year hiatus coming up as the schedule rotates in 2017-2018.

Utah's chief rival remains BYU. Hard to believe that will change anytime soon, and it will be good to see the renewal of the Holy War in 2016. The Utes will develop Pac-12 rivalries, particularly in the South Division. But it will take time for ill-will and turf-wars to develop.

But Michael, if Utah/Oregon State is particularly annoying you, have at those dastardly Utes/Beavers (don't want to assume your preference just because you live in Corvallis).


Wayne from Mesa, Ariz., writes: With the 2014-15 Bowl Season all wrapped up, I was wondering what your thoughts were and what feedback you may have heard with regard to the new bowl lineup for the PAC-12. Granted, it was more of a tweak over the previous 4 years, but still featured new venues (Santa Clara and Tempe), new opponents (2 Big Ten teams), a slight change in the pecking order (Sun Bowl moved down, Foster Farms up), and of course, altered timing to allow for the New Year's Six. I attended the Sun Bowl, cheering on the Sun Devils. The local fan turnout and community support for that game in El Paso was very impressive! I am a bit concerned about the on-going PAC-12 fan support and enthusiasm for the Cactus Bowl. One wonders if this looks like just a late season PAC-12 road game. Local Phoenix news featured mostly Oklahoma State stories, and thank goodness the Big 12 team once again brought a big group of fans and much excitement to Tempe.

Ted Miller: The Pac-12 bowl lineup is about as good as it can be. Pretty nice mix of games against the ACC, Big Ten, and Big 12. Certainly the Pac-12 bowls have upgraded under commissioner Larry Scott.

I know some grumble about the bowl lineup. They want a matchup with an SEC team or a bowl game in Florida, but the SEC has a great bowl lineup, and Florida doesn't have much interest in bringing a Pac-12 team across the country. It's a choice of the marketplace, not due to managerial incompetence with the Pac-12 or some conspiracy of forces to keep the Pac-12 down.

Of course, if there's a business person on the West Coast who wants to offer up a $5 million per-team payout to lure a top SEC team across the country for a new bowl game against a Pac-12 team, I'm sure the SEC and Pac-12 would listen.

Scout's Take: OLB Osa Masina to USC 

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
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Osa Masina has become USC's top-rated defensive pledge. Continue reading to see what this means for the Trojans:


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video
The Trojans added another big piece to their 2015 recruiting class on Friday with the news that ESPN 300 linebacker Osa Masina committed to USC.


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Today is the day we finish our countdown of the top 25 players in the Pac-12 from 2014. Obviously, this list is subjective, and though we spent a lot of time putting it together, there was a fair amount of debate in its creation.

To check out the rest of the list, click here.

No. 1: Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
Statistics: 304-445, 4,454 passing yards, 42 passing touchdowns, 4 interceptions

It should come as no surprise that the Heisman Trophy winner (Maxwell Award winner, Davey O'Brien Award winner, Walter Camp Award winner, etc.) is the No. 1 player in the Pac-12 this season. He led the nation with an adjusted QBR of 90.8 (and was the only signal-caller to have better than an 86). His TD:INT ratio of 21:2 also was an FBS-best this season, as was his passer efficiency rating of 181.7. Behind a depleted and constantly adjusting offensive line, he was cool and collected and made use of a group of playmakers that really didn't have a ton of experience. On the ground, he added 135 carries for 770 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns.

No. 2: Arizona LB Scooby Wright
Statistics: 163 total tackles, 29 TFL, 14 sacks, 6 forced fumbles

Wright -- the Bronko Nagurski Award winner and the Lombardi Award winner -- led the conference with 163 total tackles (99 solo, 64 assisted) while averaging a sack per game. He also forced a Pac-12-best six fumbles. Wright is the only member of this season's top five who will return in 2015, making him the early front-runner for the No. 1 spot after the 2015 season.

No. 3: Utah DE Nate Orchard
Statistics: 84 tackles, 21 TFL, 18.5 sacks, 2 QBH

There might not be another player in the Pac-12 who made as big of a jump on defense as Orchard did. As a junior he registered 50 total tackles, including nine tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks. His tackles for loss and sack numbers more than doubled over the past season as he faced even stiffer competition. The Utah defense became one of the biggest storylines of the season, thanks in large part to Orchard and his pass-rushing ability. With the Utes offense struggling and becoming more one-dimensional (due to injury) as the season went on, the defense became even more important and Orchard continued to step up. His presence will be sorely missed by Kyle Whittingham, but his mark on the Utah program is one that will last a very long time.

No. 4: USC DE Leonard Williams
Statistics: 80 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 7 sacks, 1 interception, 1 QBH

Williams, one of the nation's top NFL draft prospects, had a terrific junior season at USC. He missed some time due to injury but was still one of the most feared defensive players in a league stocked full of quarterback talent. He has the talent to play anywhere on the defensive line, which will make his pro career an interesting one, but his college career was one that won't be forgotten soon. Williams tallied 218 tackles, including 36.5 for loss, with 21 sacks.

No. 5: Washington LB Shaq Thompson
Statistics: 61 carries, 456 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns | 81 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 interception

This winter, Thompson won the Paul Hornung Award, given to the nation's most versatile player, and rightfully so. He was a playmaker on both the offensive and the defensive side of the ball for the Huskies. He scored six touchdowns -- two rushing, one interception return and three fumble returns. Thompson finished the year as a first-team All-American, as well as becoming the first player to become a double honoree as a first-team All-Pac-12 player on both defense and special teams. Filling Thompson's shoes is going to be one tough task for Chris Petersen. It's pretty rare that one player can fill so many needs, but Petersen will now have to look for someone (or, to be realistic, two to three someones) to do the work that Thompson did alone.

Daily Social Roundup: CeCe Jefferson stays busy 

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
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Thursday saw activity on social media throughout the country, with coaches on the road, schools collecting commitments and No. 9 overall prospect CeCe Jefferson receiving a visit from one of his finalists.


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Pac-12 morning links

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
9:00
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You've gotta ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?

Call it, Friendo.

Two quotes today... because Happy Friday.

Leading off

In case you suffer from football withdrawals at any point this weekend, take solace in the fact that plenty of elite college talent will be suiting up for the Reese's Senior Bowl this Saturday. The Pac-12 is sending an entire gaggle of representatives to this game. Most will be representing the North team, but UCLA's Anthony Jefferson and Owamagbe Odighizuwa will play for the South.

There'll be a nasty collection of defensive line talent on the North team: Think Danny Shelton, Henry Anderson, Hau'oli Kikaha, and Nate Orchard -- all on the same unit. Seeing that group play together should create a fun dynamic for avid Pac-12 fans who have watched those players terrorize quarterbacks over the past few seasons.

On the other side of the ball, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion may have a chance to throw to receivers from Stanford (Ty Montgomery) and Washington State (Vince Mayle).

Other Pac-12 representatives: Hayes Pullard and Josh Shaw (USC), Eric Rowe (Utah), Damarious Randle and Jamil Douglas (ASU)

This one will feature plenty of hustle, as it's the final live game opportunity for these seniors to raise their NFL Draft stock.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun
Did you know Ronnie Lott played basketball at USC? That guy needs to be on the football team. Sign him up!

The shockwaves from Texas A&M quarterback commitment Kyler Murray’s unofficial visit to Texas on Wednesday were still being felt Thursday because he's such an important target for both schools.


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video

At the Under Armour All-American Game, some of the nation's top recruits discuss how much a school's facilities mattered in making a college decision.
Earlier today, we took an early peek at the 2015 Pac-12 North nonconference slate. There's some intrigue in the agenda for the Pac-12 South, too. Here's the breakdown:

September 3-5
UTSA at Arizona
Michigan at Utah
Arizona State vs. Texas A&M (NRG Stadium, Houston)
Arkansas State at USC
Virginia at UCLA
Colorado at Hawaii

Weekend take: There's some early action to salivate over here. Jim Harbaugh will make his Michigan coaching debut on a Thursday night at Utah. It's hard not to love that: The Utes have developed into the same type of physical team that Harbaugh molded at Stanford and likely intends to create in Ann Arbor. Plus, that Rice-Eccles Stadium atmosphere is electric. Now just imagine it at night in front of a football-starved crowd against a traditional college football power. Yum.

With a maturing defense and plenty of experienced, explosive pieces returning on the offensive end, there's a feeling that ASU can do some more damage in 2015. They'll have an early chance to prove that on the massive stage that is Houston's Reliant Stadium against Texas A&M. A Pac-12-SEC matchup is a relative rarity. Think of the last one we had at a gigantic "neutral" site: Oregon-LSU in 2011. This game won't generate the same massive level of hype as that one did, but it's sure to drum up its share of buzz.

The UTSA-Arizona and Virginia-UCLA matchups have a key connecting thread: Those two opponents made the Wildcats and the Bruins sweat last year. There's not a single gimme on this opening weekend slate for the Pac-12 South.

September 12
Arizona at Nevada
Cal Poly at Arizona State
Idaho at USC
UCLA at UNLV
UMass at Colorado
Utah State at Utah

Weekend take: Nevada pushed Arizona deep into their meeting this past season, and that was in Tucson. The Wildcats must be wary entering Reno -- elevation can make for an unpleasant playing experience. Otherwise, the most notable Week 2 nonconference game for the Pac-12 South is the battle of the Beehive State: Utah State has seen plenty of success over the past few seasons, and they'll take their shot at the Utes very seriously. In-state rivalries are fun.

Outside of that, there's not much intrigue here. UCLA fans will get to make the weekend trip up I-15 through the desert to Las Vegas, though. There's some fun in the schedule for the Bruins there.

September 19
Northern Arizona at Arizona
New Mexico at Arizona State
BYU at UCLA
Colorado vs. Colorado State (Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, Denver)
Utah at Fresno State

Weekend take: They might have tried to purge this from their memory, but there are certainly some UCLA fans who remember the last time the Bruins played BYU. The year was 2008, and the Cougars walloped UCLA 59-0. Any player connections from that shellacking are long gone by now, but BYU's visit to the Rose Bowl will be a key early-season game for both programs. Taysom Hill should be back under center for the Cougars while the Bruins will be adapting to life after Brett Hundley.

Following a winless Pac-12 campaign, Mike MacIntyre faces a massive season in Boulder, and it would behoove the Buffs to win the Rocky Mountain Showdown this time around. The game against Colorado State is played at a neutral site in Denver and promises to be an important early tone-setter for both programs.

Meanwhile, Utah has assembled quite the satisfying nonconference slate. The Utes follow those aforementioned exciting match-ups against Michigan and Utah State with a road trip to Fresno State that shouldn't be taken likely. The Bulldogs are known to circle the wagons and put up vicious fights against Power 5 opponents in their home fortress, so Kyle Whittingham's team will be tested.

September 26
Nicholls State at Colorado

Weekend take: It would be disingenuous to pretend that this game is intriguing. Colorado finished winless in Pac-12 play last season while Nicholls State ended 0-12.

October 17
USC at Notre Dame

Weekend take: Now we're talking. The Trojans embarrassed Notre Dame 49-14 to close the 2014 regular season. That sets up a revenge factor here -- though motivation should never be an issue in this storied rivalry. Both teams harbor high hopes for 2015, so this mid-October tilt is showing plenty of promise.
LOS ANGELES -- Although Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott may not want to hear it or agree with it publicly, history suggests that the next Pac-12 football national champion will likely come from the University of Southern California Trojans.

The Pac-12 prides itself on being the “Conference of Champions,” and there’s no question that football, which has never been stronger from top to bottom, is the conference’s flagship sport. The Pac-12 Network has helped enhance the Pac-12 image nationally.

The reality, however, is that the last time the Pac-12 won a football national championship was the 2004 USC Trojans under Pete Carroll, and the time before that it was the 2003 USC Trojans. None of the other Pac-12 teams come remotely close to equaling the Trojans' 11 football national championships.

Just check the long history of the Pac-12 and one glaring fact catches the eye. The closest conference team to the Trojans' 11 football national championships is the University of California Golden Bears with five football national titles. However, the Bears recorded their last national championship in 1937.

As for the rest of the other Pac-12 football teams that can claim a football national championship, Stanford (1926), UCLA (1954) and Washington (1991) have but one each. Not to cause undue conference embarrassment, but Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah have yet to attain one.

Colorado, which is relatively new to the Pac-12, has one national title (1990), but that was as a member of the old Big Eight Conference.

Whine all you want, non-Trojans fans, but chances are that the next national championship coming from the Pac-12 will emerge from that private university that resides across the street from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

This isn’t to pronounce that some other Pac-12 team couldn’t win a national championship along the way, but it’s been the USC Trojans that have not only led the way but traditionally have shaped the overall national perception of West Coast football. Oregon and Stanford have done a good job of altering the landscape of that perception the past decade, but it’s still like the nation awaits the Trojans' return to the top.

The is no arguing that Oregon has been a respectable power under a number of successive standout head coaches and the Ducks deserve every accolade they get, but until they win a national championship, they haven’t made that leap into the rare air of college football royalty.

The truth is that nobody in the conference other than USC has the overall necessities on and off the field to win it all. If it were just about money and facilities, Oregon and Nike chairman Phil Knight would be in the national championship game on a regular basis. Getting to the championship game is one thing; winning the grand prize is quite another.

There are others in the Pac-12 that can make waves as national championship contenders, especially under the new College Football Playoff system. Let’s face it, if the CFP was in effect some seasons earlier, the Stanford Cardinal with quarterback Andrew Luck might have had a great shot. The Cardinal, however, will always have academic restrictions and just don’t have all the necessities.

As for UCLA and Arizona State, they’re always a threat at some level, but they, too, don’t have the necessities to make a serious run. If UCLA couldn’t do it this past season with quarterback Brett Hundley, then when? Arizona State has some very good football players, but the state of Arizona isn’t exactly in the center of a major population conclave, and the Sun Devils must dip into California and Texas successfully to stay in contention.

Perhaps the University of Washington in the Great Northwest has the best chance of reaching for a future national championship. The Huskies have population and talent, but even in their glory days under the legendary Don James, they needed a select group of elite Southern California talent to grasp for a national championship ring.

Most of the Pac-12 schools are capable of winning the conference and bowl games, but when it comes to national championships they fall short. The humbling loss by Oregon to Ohio State was an embarrassment. The final score made the Pac-12 look once again like nothing more than a finesse operation, which it isn’t. The Pac-12 and specifically the Pac-12 South Division was as good as there was in the nation, but it’s the bottom line of winning it all.

Only when USC has hired poorly or has been on NCAA sanctions do the other Pac-12 schools make significant progress. If you’re a UCLA fan, you can point to the fact that the Bruins have beaten the Trojans soundly the past three seasons. However, the Bruins have repeatedly fallen short of national championship hopes and goals and while the wins over their L.A. archrivals are meaningful and satisfying, they don’t erase their national championship failings.

The bottom line is that only USC can combine all the elements needed for national championships: Southern California’s fertile recruiting treasure trove, elite facilities, big money boosters and demanding fan support, academic prestige, and, of course, the unmatched tradition of Trojans football.

When the Trojans have the right head coach in place combined with the never-ending supply of talent, the results are normally national championship victories and rare near misses.

Recruit breakdown: OLB Roquan Smith 

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
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What he brings: Roquan Smith is lean linebacker prospect who can run and brings great range and athleticism to the position. He is an upside guy that is better in space at this stage than defending at the point of attack. Smith really excels in this facet with his length and athleticism. He can turn and get depth in coverage, and closes fast underneath giving up little yardage after the catch. He puts himself in position to make plays, and has very good ball skills.


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Earlier today, we offered up our thoughts on who truly had a chance to grab that Pac-12 North crown in 2015. Now, we're moving on to the South.

David Lombardi (@LombardiESPN): I'm changing gears here. My take on 2015 Pac-12 South is similar to the one you had on the North, Chantel: I think this division will again feature a wide-open race. It was a minefield in 2014, and nothing suggests that'll change next season. Arizona, the defending champion, was young, and they retain integral pieces on both sides of the ball. USC is the early Vegas favorite -- it's impossible to discount that stockpile of talent. We can expect more of the same rugged play from Utah, and Devontae Booker's return makes them truly dangerous again. Meanwhile, Todd Graham's young defense will have matured at ASU, and UCLA has recruited well enough to ensure they won't be an easy out in the post-Brett Hundley era. The only true outsider in the South is Colorado, and even they're supposed to be better. Let the reign of chaos continue.

[+] EnlargeDevontae Booker
George Frey/Getty ImagesUtah's Devontae Booker should keep the Pac-12 South from turning into a two-horse race.
Chantel Jennings (@ChantelJennings): I think it's a two-dog race between Arizona and USC. Both return a lot of talent, but if I must choose between the two I think I'm going to go with USC because you've got a more experienced quarterback running the show. I think Anu Solomon is going to make big strides between Year 1 and Year 2, but I think Cody Kessler is going to have a fire lit under him by all the young QB talent and show up. Plus, I think running back Justin Davis and wide receiver JuJu Smith will have breakout years. Defensively, there's a lot to replace as well, but I think it'll be more reloading than rebuilding and in Steve Sarkisian's second year, I think big things will happen.

Lombardi: No argument on the Arizona and USC fronts here, but I don't see the Pac-12 South turning into a simple two-team race. ASU, in particular, has developed a track record of consistent success, and I think there's every reason to believe that Todd Graham will again have them in the thick of the action. The boom-or-bust cycle of the Sun Devils' defense added up to an unremarkable 2014 on that side of the ball, but I think Graham will develop that aggressive defense into a much more stable unit next season. Plus, ASU isn't sinking at quarterback post-Taylor Kelly: Mike Bercovici is more than capable, and he'll have firepower named DJ Foster and Demario Richard at his side. The Devils aren't dead.

It doesn't end there, either: It may turn out that Utah and UCLA are both a quarterback short of being championship material, but as long as Booker and Paul Perkins (the Pac-12's two leading running backs in 2014) are along to complement talented defenses in Salt Lake City and Westwood, those two teams can do plenty of damage in the South. That'll leave us with another mess on our hands.

Jennings: I agree, ASU is going to be a player. But you've got to look at these schedules, specifically the road schedules, of the first two teams I mentioned ... USC has a relatively soft road schedule which would certainly aid them in getting to the Pac-12 title game. They have ASU early on the road. And I agree with you on the Graham front that he'll be able to develop that defense into something more consistent, but developing takes time. Could they be consistent by Sept. 26? Eh. I'll hedge my bets the other way. Their other road trips are at Notre Dame, at Cal, at Colorado and at Oregon. Playing at Autzen will probably be the toughest one of that group but again, I'll take a Cody Kessler on the road over whatever first-year starter the Ducks have. Arizona's road schedule is far tougher -- at Nevada, at Stanford, at Washington, at USC, at Arizona State. USC definitely has the easier path.

Lombardi: As the nuttiness of 2014 showed us, home-field advantage may no longer pack the punch it once did in the Pac-12. Visiting teams actually finished the season with a 33-21 record in league games, and I think that jarring stat just adds another reason to expect anything but smooth sailing in the Pac-12 South. Yes, some teams may be slightly better equipped than others to navigate the treacherous landscape and some teams may have easier roads through the maze. But at the end of the day, it looks like an overwhelming amount of thorns and land mines remain on the path to glory in that division. I certainly wouldn't bet on a winner based on what we know now in terms of talent or schedule.

Recruit breakdown: DT Rasheem Green 

January, 21, 2015
Jan 21
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video What he brings: ESPN 300 No. 41 overall Rasheem Green is a physical, athletic defensive tackle prospect with the tools to be a well-rounded and disruptive player in the trenches at the college level. He possesses very good size, with a frame that can continue to be developed and support more good mass. An explosive player, he can use his size and strength to take on and at times overpower blockers. The four-star prospect also moves well for his size and can be effective on the move when utilized on slants and twists, and with his agility and motor he can be a factor along the line of scrimmage. Green suffered a knee injury late in his senior season that could hinder his initial impact in college, but in the big picture and with a healthy return, this is a versatile, tough and talented D-line prospect.


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