NCF Nation: 2013 pac12 spring preview capsules

Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

February, 22, 2013
2/22/13
9:00
AM ET
Here are some keys and storylines to watch this spring in the South Division. Yesterday Ted looked at the North Division.

ARIZONA WILDCATS

Start date: March 3

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. New battery: The Wildcats are looking to replace a top-notch quarterback-center combo in Matt Scott and Kyle Quinn. The rock-solid duo helped produce one of the top offenses in the league. Jesse Scroggins and B.J. Denker are among those in the mix to run the offense and several returning offensive linemen are versatile enough to move around. Chris Putton and redshirt freshman Beau Boyster could be in the mix at center.
  2. Many happy return(er)s: Arizona returns a big chunk of its offensive production -- including running back Ka'Deem Carey and receiver Austin Hill. Both should be on all sorts of preseason teams and awards watch lists. But behind the big names, there's also David Richards, Johnny Jackson, Tyler Slavin and Garic Wharton back in the mix.
  3. No learning curve: Last spring, the talk was about Rich Rodriguez calling out his team for its lack of physical conditioning. The fact that the majority of the team understands what is expected -- and they don't need to spend the whole spring learning new systems, should be a huge help. Consider that the Wildcats return their entire defense from a group that was, at times, shaky, but will certainly benefit from another full season of playing in the 3-3-5 scheme.
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS

Start date: March 19

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Plugging the middle: One of the few losses to ASU's roster is middle linebacker Brandon Magee -- a leader on and off the field and an all-around heck of a player. Carlos Mendoza looks to be a good fit -- though he's likely to miss spring while continuing to recover from a shoulder injury suffered against Illinois. Folks might remember his two interceptions before going down for the year.
  2. Catching on: Unlike last spring, the Sun Devils have their quarterback. And he's a good one. Now, they need to find folks he can throw to. JC transfers De'Marieya Nelson (H-back, 6-3, 230) and Jaelen Strong (WR, 6-4, 205) are both big bodies who could step in and contribute immediately.
  3. Wait and see: The kicker here is a lot of these players who are expected to compete won't arrive until the fall. So in the meantime, a lot of the younger players and redshirts will get a ton of reps in the system. And speaking of kicker, don't underestimate how much of an impact Josh Hubner made at punter. Iowan Matt Haack, who arrives in the fall, is a rugby-style kicker who can kick with either foot. That's just cool.
COLORADO BUFFALOES

Start date: March 7

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Meet your QB: Whomever it will be. There are five on the roster and a sixth coming in. Safe to say, quarterback play was extremely inconsistent last season for the Buffs. With an entirely new coaching staff coming in and installing the pistol, this could be one of the more interesting and wide-open position battles in the league.
  2. Curious defense: One needs only to review Colorado's national rankings last year to realize they struggled. As one Buffs insider mentioned to me, they were ranked No. 1 in a lot of categories. Unfortunately, that "1" was followed by two more numbers. Only three defensive ends have playing experience. However a secondary that lacked experience in 2012 has a lot more looking into 2013.
  3. Receiver options: The Buffs welcome back Paul Richardson, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Colorado's premier offensive playmaker will be a nice veteran presence to whomever wins the quarterback job. Grayshirt Jeff Thomas also is back. An improved passing attack should help give the quarterback some confidence and open up the running game.
UCLA BRUINS

Start date: April 2

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:
  1. Life after Franklin: The Bruins say goodbye to the best statistical back in school history -- leaving a huge void in the backfield. Johnathan Franklin was a great presence for young quarterback Brett Hundley, but now someone has to step up to fill that role, either solo or along with a committee. Look for Jordon James, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen to all get looks.
  2. New No. 1: The Y-receiver, aka hybrid tight end, was filled wonderfully by Joseph Fauria -- Hundley's favorite red zone target. Darius Bell and Ian Taubler both had looks last year, but Fauria too will be tough to replace. Shaq Evans, Devin Fuller, Jordan Payton and Devin Lucien round out a pretty good receiving corps.
  3. Secondary solutions: The Bruins must replace two corners and a safety -- Sheldon Price, Aaron Hester, Andrew Abbott -- and there isn't a ton of starting experience. Randall Goforth has five starts, but veterans such as Brandon Sermons and Anthony Jefferson have more special-teams experience than actual secondary play. Keep an eye on the secondary too when the Bruins start fall camp to see if any freshmen jump into the mix immediately.
USC TROJANS

Start date: TBD

Spring game: April 13
  1. New defensive scheme: The Trojans will move to a 5-2 defensive scheme under Clancy Pendergast, and the spring drills will be the first opportunity to see the defense in action. The Trojans will have an experienced front seven, but four new starters are expected in the secondary.
  2. Replacing Barkley: Max Wittek got the first extended audition in the battle to take over for Matt Barkley, but he didn’t do enough in two late-season starts to claim the job. Cody Kessler and freshman spring enrollee Max Browne also will be looking to take the reins at one of the glamour positions in college football.
  3. Lane Kiffin on the hot seat: The Trojans are coming off a disappointing season, and the fans are howling in protest, but so far his boss Pat Haden has maintained full support for his coach. Now is the time for Kiffin to show why that support is warranted. -- Garry Paskwietz, WeAreSC
UTAH UTES

Start date: March 19

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Erickson impact: The biggest question was what sort of role Dennis Erickson would play in the offense once he arrived. We'll know sooner than later. He already has talked about putting an identity on the Utah offense. That starts in spring when routines are established and expectations are set. And with Erickson on board to give the offense a push, the expectations will be much higher.
  2. Wilson maturing: That leads us to the presumptive starting quarterback -- Travis Wilson -- who jumped in midseason after Jordan Wynn got hurt and Jon Hays struggled to produce. Wilson went from OK to pretty good in just a few weeks. A nice jump considering his experience level. With an entire offseason knowing he'll be the starter -- and with Erickson and Brian Johnson molding him -- it will be interesting to see what progress he makes this spring.
  3. D-line makeover: The Utes lose some talent on the defensive line -- specifically All-American defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. Look for DE/LB Trevor Reilly to spend more time with his hand down. Tenny Palepoi, LT Tuipulotu and JC transfer Sese Ianu could all see time in the mix at defensive tackle.

Pac-12 spring preview: North Division

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
10:00
AM ET
We're taking a look at the key issues Pac-12 North Division teams face this spring.

Kevin will take a look at the South Division on Friday.

CALIFORNIA BEARS

Spring start: Feb. 25

Spring game: March 23

What to watch:
1. Who's the QB? One of the big reasons that Jeff Tedford's star fell in Berkeley was because he was unable to maintain his early success developing quarterbacks over the past five or so seasons. New coach Sonny Dykes is an offensive-minded guy who built high-powered offenses at Arizona and then as Louisiana Tech's head coach. He'll be choosing between touted redshirt freshman Zach Kline, longtime backup Allan Bridgford and several others.

2. New defense: Under new defensive coordinator Andy Buh, the Bears will be switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base front. That means guys who were outside linebackers will be putting their hands on the ground and some defensive ends will be moving inside to tackle spots. Buh needs to win over a crew that had a pretty solid degree of success with a 3-4, excluding, of course, the 2012 season.

3. Skill questions: There are questions all over the offense, and leaving off an offensive line that gave up 41 sacks last year might be a mistake. But the Bears have real issues with the guys who will be touching the ball in 2013. Cal must replace its top two rushers from 2012, and the top two candidates to step up will sit out with injuries this spring: Brendan Bigelow and Daniel Lasco. Further, receiver Chris Harper and tight end Richard Rodgers are out.
OREGON DUCKS

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:
1. Players reacting to new coaches: Mark Helfrich and Scott Frost step in as head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively. Ron Aiken and Matt Lubick join the staff at defensive line coach and wide receivers coach, respectively. How much will things change after Chip Kelly's departure?

2. Next man up: Which young players will take the next step? Defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, running back Byron Marshall, receivers Chance Allen and B.J. Kelley and safety Reggie Daniels have the ability and will have the opportunity in 2013.
3. Replacing departing linebackers: Linebacker is the position with the most questions heading into the spring. Who will replace Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso? Tyson Coleman, Derrick Malone, Rodney Hardrick and Joe Walker will battle for the spots vacated by the All-Pac-12 performers.

-- Brandon P. Oliver, DuckNation

OREGON STATE BEAVERS

Spring start: April 1

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
1. Cody Vaz or Sean Mannion? Or is that Mannion or Vaz? The Beavers have a nice core of talent coming back on offense, but much depends on -- finally -- figuring out the true No. 1 triggerman. Mannion was the starter at the beginning of 2012 but fell out of favor. Vaz did himself no favors by the way he played in the Alamo Bowl against Texas. Vaz might be the front-runner, but Mannion has more overall talent.

2. Defensive tackle: The Beavers must replace both starting defensive tackles, and Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo were underrated players who were very valuable to a very good run defense. The top four backups in 2012 had 12 tackles combined. Further, the recently reinstated Mana Rosa will miss spring with a foot injury. Youngsters and JC transfers are going to need to step up.

3. Receiver depth: Leading receiver Markus Wheaton is gone, but Brandin Cooks is back. That's a good start at receiver, but things are a little sketchy after that. Kevin Cummings was the third leading pass-catcher among the receivers last year, but he caught just 18 balls. Is the intriguing but unproductive Obum Gwacham ready to step up? The high jumper dropped track this spring in order to focus on football. We'll see if it pays off.
STANFORD CARDINAL

Spring start: Feb. 25 and April 1

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
1. Tight end: The tight end obsessed Cardinal lost Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, perhaps the best tandem at the position in the nation in 2012. The general feeling was coach David Shaw therefore would move 2012 fullback Ryan Hewitt back to his former position, but Shaw is hoping a youngster or two, starting with sophomore Luke Kaumatule, will step up. Shaw also moved senior Eddie Plantaric and junior Charlie Hopkins, former defensive linemen, to tight end.

2. Center and left tackle: Shaw wants to move All-American left tackle David Yankey inside to left guard. That would set up a big battle between touted sophomores Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy for the left tackle spot. The loser might still end up starting, perhaps pushing Cameron Fleming at right tackle. Further, center Sam Schwartzstein needs to be replaced. Top candidates are seniors Conor McFadden and Khalil Wilkes, as well as junior Kevin Reihner and sophomore Graham Shuler.

3. Replacing Thomas: The loss of running back Stepfan Taylor became less of an issue when Tyler Gaffney opted to drop baseball for football. The Cardinal seems fairly deep at running back, with Gaffney looking like the lead dog. But what about replacing outside linebacker Chase Thomas? Thomas' 2012 backup, Alex Debniak, also graduated. The most obvious answer would be sophomore Kevin Anderson, who had seven tackles and two sacks as Trent Murphy's backup last fall.
WASHINGTON HUSKIES

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
1. Quarterbacks: As he prepares for his senior season, Keith Price is the incumbent at quarterback. However, he is coming off an up-and-down campaign as a junior and some wonder if one of the younger quarterbacks in the program -- Cyler Miles, Jeff Lindquist or early enrollee Troy Williams -- could push Price for the starting job.

2. Offensive line: Injuries vaulted young players into starting roles in 2012. While the group struggled at times, the experience should lead to improvement, and it will be interesting to see how this group develops throughout the spring.

3. Early enrollees: Williams and safety Trevor Walker are getting early starts on their college careers. The incoming freshmen want to make an impact right away. Kicker Cameron Van Winkle also plans to enroll before the end of spring practice and should push for a starting job as a true freshman.

-- Mason Kelley, HuskyNation

WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS

Spring start: March 21

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
1. Is Halliday Leach's guy? Quarterback Connor Halliday has plenty of starting experience and he's played well at times. He seems like the front-runner to start in 2013. But he's also been inconsistent, and that clearly frustrated coach Mike Leach last year. Halliday needs to end all doubt this spring, or he could get challenged by redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca, incoming freshman Tyler Bruggman or perhaps someone else this fall.

2. The O (No!) line: A team cannot give up 57 sacks in 12 games and expect to have a good season. While Leach isn't a big fan of running the ball, 29 yards rushing per game -- a 1.4 yards per carry average, no less -- isn't going to cut it, either. Four starters return from the 2012 O-line. That may or may not be a good thing. To have any legitimate chance at a bowl game in 2013, the Cougs must get better on the offensive line.

3. Going Long on the pass rush: Travis Long was a four-year starter, a guy who was underappreciated because he played on lousy defenses. He's been the Cougs' best defender probably all four years and now he's gone. He led the defense with 9.5 sacks last year, even though everyone knew he was the only true pass-rushing threat. No other Coug had more than three sacks. His backup, junior Logan Mayes, had 2.5 sacks last year. But it's not just about replacing Long, it's about the pass rush in general, which relied heavily on blitzes to create pressure, a big reason the Cougars were 11th in pass efficiency defense in 2012.

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