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What to watch in the Pac-12

October, 18, 2012
A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12:

1. Judgment night: ASU fans have been clamoring for respect. Thursday night is as good of a chance as any to get some. The Sun Devils have the No. 3 team in the country coming to their backyard for one of the biggest games in the conference this year. On paper, this looks like a vintage Pac-12 matchup of two high-scoring offenses. But wasn't that the case the last time Oregon played a team from the state of Arizona? Time to see if Arizona State is as good as their record suggests. Worth noting, also, that this is likely Oregon's biggest test to date as well. Let's give some credit to the 5-1 team from Tempe.

2. Efficiency experts: The game within the game features the two most efficient quarterbacks in the Pac-12. ASU's Taylor Kelly checks in as the conference's No. 1-rated quarterback in passing efficiency and Oregon's Marcus Mariota isn't too far behind at No. 2. Mariota hasn't been as protective of the ball over the past three games throwing seven touchdowns, but also four interceptions. Conversely, Kelly has 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions during that span. You have to think ball security was a huge point of emphasis for Oregon during improvement week.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireArizona State's Taylor Kelly is the most efficient quarterback in the Pac-12 with a rating of 175.98.
3. Big Game for Cal: With a victory over their most bitter rival, the Bears can get back to .500 and have a shot at the postseason. Their remaining four games are at Utah, home to Washington, home to Oregon and at Oregon State to close out the season. The odds of them winning three of those four are awfully tiny. But a win over the Cardinal gives them a fighting chance. Which Zach Maynard is going to show up? Seems to be the Cal question of the week, every week.

4. Big Game for Stanford: Make no mistake about it -- this is a road game for Stanford even though it's just a hop and a skip over the Bay Bridge (actually, probably easier to take the Dumbarton Bridge to the 880). Either way, it's less than 50 miles, but it's a road game. And we all know Stanford has been a different team on the road. No need to rehash all of the ugly offensive stats. The only one that matters is the Cardinal are 0-2 away from home. That has to change considering four of their final six games are on the road.

5. The Vaz effect: Cody Vaz wasn't just a pleasant surprise -- he was sensational making his first start on the road for the injured Sean Mannion. It helps when you have a pair of outstanding receivers to throw to, and Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks certainly didn't let him down. With the way the defense is playing, there is little reason to expect a drop off.

6. More White: Utah ranks 116th in the nation in rushing yards, averaging exactly 100 per game. Not what you'd expect with a back like John White IV -- once touted as a possible preseason Heisman contender. Head coach Kyle Whittingham went out of his way to state this week that they need to get White the ball more often. He had 14 carries against ASU, 13 against USC and a season-low 11 at UCLA.

7. Back to basics: Will be interesting to see if Matt Barkley gets USC's passing game back on track this week. Nothing wrong with winning via defense and the running game, but the inconsistencies from Barkley and his receivers has been one of the biggest surprises in the season to date.

8. Swing game: Don't underestimate how important of a game Washington at Arizona is. The Wildcats should be daisy fresh after the bye week. You have to wonder if the Huskies (1) have enough defense to prevent it from becoming a shootout-- as Arizona games tend to become -- and (2) if Washington can keep up if it does turn into a high-scoring affair. This is a crucial game for Arizona, which would have to win two more games to be bowl eligible. And the schedule looks like USC, UCLA, Colorado and Utah the rest of the way. A loss means the Wildcats have to win three of those four.

Instant Analysis: USC 38, Utah 28

October, 5, 2012

Instant analysis from USC's 38-28 win over the Utes in Salt Lake City, Utah:

Player of the game: Matt Barkley
This was the best overall performance of the year for the Trojans quarterback. It started with a rough beginning -- he got stripped of the ball on first series which Utah returned for a touchdown -- but he regrouped and was very consistent the rest of the way. Barkley completed 23 of 30 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns, but more importantly to USC fans, he looked like the old Barkley again.

Game ball: USC defense
It was still very much a ballgame at halftime, with USC only up 24-21, but the Trojans defense did a terrific job of shutting down the Utes’ offense in the second half. The Utes did not have a second-half score until a meaningless late touchdown and only gained 111 yards in the final two quarters. The win was sealed for the Trojans when Nickell Robey intercepted a pass and returned it for a 38-yard score in the fourth quarter.

Star in the making: Star Lotulelei
Lotulelei is considered as one of the elite defensive players in the country and tonight was the biggest stage for him to live up to that ranking. Well, consider it mission accomplished. He made several big plays early against a pretty good center in Khaled Holmes and showed an impressive combination of size and agility. The Trojans eventually made some adjustments which slowed his impact, but there’s no doubt that Lotulelei is a big-time guy.

Turning point: Third-down conversion for Trojans from Barkley to Marqise Lee
USC was down 14-0 early in the game thanks to a pair of turnovers that were turned into points by Utah. USC got stopped on two early plays and was facing a third-and-7 when Barkley hit Lee for 18 yards. The drive continued and eventually ended up with a Silas Redd touchdown run to make it 14-7. If the Trojans hadn’t converted on third down, Utah likely would have had good field position after a punt and all of the momentum.

What it means for USC: The Trojans showed resiliency
The signs were all there for potential trouble, as Thursday night conference road games had been trouble for highly-ranked USC teams in the past and the Utah crowd was fired up to see it happen again. The Trojans had some hiccups -- two early turnovers and 14 penalties -- but they righted the ship and outscored the Utes 38-14 after spotting the Utes two early touchdowns.

What it means for Utah: John White IV is back
It wasn’t the result the Utes were hoping for, especially after getting spotted 14 points at the beginning of the game, but the good news was the solid running from White (13 carries for 68 yards). The star running back has been limited lately due to injury, but he ran hard in this game and was productive when the game was still in doubt in the first half. USC made some adjustments in the second half that slowed him down, but the Utes will need White for the remainder of the season, as he is the prime contributor for their offense.

ASU blasts Utah in rebound win

September, 23, 2012
If Saturday’s Arizona State-Utah matchup was supposed to be a “separation” game in the Pac-12 South, then you have to consider the Sun Devils and Utes miles apart after what happened in Tempe.

The Sun Devils unloaded on the Utes early and often, scoring on their first five possessions (four touchdowns, one field goal) to take a 31-7 lead into the locker room at halftime before closing out a 37-7 victory.

ASU (3-1, 1-0) jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter behind a pair of touchdown passes from Taylor Kelly and a 1-yard rushing touchdown from Cameron Marshall.

The shell-shocked Utes had few answers -- especially in the first half -- for ASU’s offense, which totaled 512 yards for the game and converted 7 of 16 third-down attempts.

It was the ninth consecutive win for ASU over Utah and the kind of bounce back performance head coach Todd Graham was hoping for following ASU’s first loss of the season last week at Missouri.

“They did a good job responding after a tough setback last week,” Graham told the Pac-12 Network after the game.

Kelly finished the game 19 of 26 for a career-high 326 yards with touchdown passes to Rashad Ross, Marshall and Marion Grice.

Defensively, the Sun Devils stifled the Utes (2-2, 0-1), who managed just 209 total yards -- 92 of them coming on the ground. Running back John White fumbled twice and had just 18 yards on 14 carries. Kelvin York led the Utes on the ground with 86 yards on 13 carries. Utah’s lone score came early in the second quarter -- a 2-yard pass from Jon Hays to Karl Williams.

“We want to be known for defense and our guys have taken on that challenge and I thought we dominated tonight so I was proud of them,” Graham said.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 3

September, 13, 2012
Welcome to Week 3. Ted and Kevin both went 7-5 in Week 2. Double yuck. The problem was all picks were identical, and neither picked an upset. Silly Pac-12 bloggers.

For the season, Ted is 16-7 and Kevin is 15-8.


Kevin: Washington State 35, UNLV 17: Time for the Cougars to get a win over an FBS team. Should happen this week against a UNLV squad that is 0-2 and fell to FCS school Northern Arizona. (Remember them, Arizona State?) If all goes according to plan, the starting offensive linemen should be crushing the buffet at the Rio by the third quarter.

Ted: Washington State 40, UNLV 20: While quarterback Jeff Tuel is decidedly questionable; backup Connor Halliday is experienced and capable. The guess here is things go a little more smoothly on both sides of the ball as new systems start to sink in.


Kevin: Ohio State 28, Cal 10: The defense, which was supposed to be the strength of this team, hasn't shown up yet. Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo rushed for 97 yards -- most of it on zone reads the Bears couldn't stop. What's Braxton Miller going to do?

Ted: Ohio State 30, California 17: During the summer, I believed this was prime upset material. Then Cal played twice.

Kevin: Oregon 49, Tennessee Tech 14: It was De'Anthony Thomas in Week 1 and Kenjon Barner in Week 2. Who is the Duck du jour in what should be the latest Oregon pasting? Fortunately, Oregon's schedule allows for growth with younger players, and it needs that because of all the injuries of late.

Ted: Oregon 50, Tennessee Tech 10: Yawn. The good news is Oregon might have an interesting game the next week when Arizona comes to town. I bet Ducks fans are hungry for a game that at least raises an eyebrow.

Kevin: Washington 31, Portland State 7: Not a lot of time for the Huskies to get right after their ill-fated journey to Baton Rouge, La., with Stanford, USC and Oregon looming in the next three weeks. This might be their last opportunity for a win until late October/early November. They'd better take advantage of it.

Ted: Washington 30, Portland State 20: Will the Huskies be flat after falling flat at LSU? I suspect so. Not flat enough to lose but perhaps flat enough to further frustrate Huskies fans.

Kevin: USC 38, Stanford 24: David Shaw knows how to plan a scheme against USC's defense, so I'd expect the Cardinal to put up some points. But when push comes to shove, Stanford's defense won't get the number of stops needed to slow down the Trojans' passing attack.

Ted: USC 35, Stanford 20: I think it will be close at halftime, but the Trojans will pull away early in the fourth quarter. Eventually, Matt Barkley & Co. will gash the Cardinal secondary, and then Stanford won't be able to answer.

Kevin: Fresno State 31, Colorado 17: The Bulldogs showed a little bite against the Ducks -- enough to suggest they can certainly hang with, and beat, a lower-tier Pac-12 team.

Ted: Colorado 28, Fresno State 27: Why? Because I suspect we're going to see some pride from the Buffs.

Kevin: BYU 35, Utah 27: I think Utah will play inspired football given this week's turn of events. But last week we saw that the offensive line concerns are graver than we all initially thought. Bronco Mendenhall saw it too.

Ted: BYU 28, Utah 24: There's a lot going on at Utah, most notably injury issues. And it's not just quarterback Jordan Wynn. Running back John White and safety Eric Rowe are questionable. But the biggest issue, as Kevin noted, is the disappointing play of the offensive line.

Kevin: Arizona 49, South Carolina State 10: The offense has come together quickly. I'd expect Arizona to use this game to clean some things up before heading to Autzen for a game that suddenly looks very interesting.

Ted: Arizona 42, South Carolina State 20: I suspect that some fumes from the post-Oklahoma State victory celebration will cause the Wildcats to be a bit flat. They are fortunate the opponent will be forgiving.

Kevin: UCLA 48, Houston 21: Houston can't stop the run. UCLA isn't going to abandon the run. Another huge game for Johnathan Franklin and another win for the Bruins.

Ted: UCLA 44, Houston 24: Another possible flat performance, but the Bruins should recall the loss at Houston from 2011 to provide some motivation. Agree with Kevin: Franklin gets another 200, and his Heisman candidacy inches up another notch.

Kevin: Arizona State 38, Missouri 31: OK, ASU. I'll bite. The Sun Devils are second in the nation with six interceptions, and Missouri likes to throw a lot. Vegas likes the Tigers by a touchdown, but I'll throw my confidence behind Todd Graham & Co.

Ted: Missouri 35, Arizona State 27: The Sun Devils have whipped two inferior foes at home. The Tigers are pretty good and are playing at home. The Sun Devils have been impressive, but they are still young. And Missouri quarterback James Franklin is a load.
The career of Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn, which started off so brilliantly but fizzled after a string of shoulder injuries, has come to an abrupt and disappointing end.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham announced Monday that Wynn will retire from football following another significant shoulder injury suffered Friday night in the Utes' loss to Utah State.

The specifics of the injury to Wynn's left shoulder were not revealed, though Whittingham said he thought it would require surgery. That would be the fourth operation on Wynn's shoulders since arriving from Oceanside, Calif., in 2009. He's already had two surgeries on his left shoulder and one on his right.

Wynn's career started off with a bang. He capped his true freshman campaign by earning MVP of the Poinsettia Bowl, throwing for 338 yards and three touchdowns on 26-of-36 passing in a win over Cal. Earlier in 2009, he had the best debut for a starting Utah quarterback ever when he threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns in a win over New Mexico. In five starts and six appearances his freshman year, he threw for 1,329 yards and eight touchdowns with four interceptions.

But then the injuries started to pile up. He started 10 games in 2010 and was 8-2 as a starter, but missed three games with a thumb injury. He started the first four games of 2011, but suffered a season-ending injury to his left (non-throwing) shoulder. The previous surgeries took place in 2010 (right shoulder, Dec. 2010; left shoulder, spring 2010).

Wynn's retirement leaves either senior Jon Hays -- who went 6-3 as a starter last year filling in for Wynn -- or freshman Travis Wilson as Utah's starter. Whittingham said they will determine a starter in practice this week.

Hays was adequate in his replacement role last year, throwing for 1,459 yards on 120-of-214 passing (56.1 percent) with 12 touchdowns to eight interceptions. But the Utes got by mostly on the running of John White IV, who rushed for a school-record 1,519 yards on 316 carries with 15 touchdowns.

The Utes (1-1) play rival No. 25 BYU (2-0) this week in the Holy War.

In the overtime loss to Utah State, Hays was 12-of-26 for 154 yards with a touchdown. Wilson, a highly-touted, 6-foot-6, 220-pounder from San Clemente, Calif., has appeared in both of Utah's games this season and has completed 3-of-3 passes for 49 yards and a touchdown. He's also rushed 10 times for 18 yards and two touchdowns.

Utes stumble in OT to Utah State

September, 8, 2012

As far as losses go, this one is going to sting Utah for a while.

In an electric atmosphere in Logan, Utah, the visiting Utes fell 27-20 to Utah State when they failed to score a touchdown in the first overtime session.

After Kerwynn Williams' 1-yard touchdown run put the Aggies ahead 27-20 in the extra period, it appeared the Utes had knotted the score on a touchdown pass to tight end Jake Murphy. But he was called for offensive pass interference after pushing off his defender, negating the score. The penalty backed Utah up 15 yards on third down, and the Utes failed to reach the end zone in the next two plays.

Adding salt to the wound, Utah lost quarterback Jordan Wynn to a shoulder injury toward the end of the first half. He spent the second half on the sidelines with his left arm in a sling. ESPN’s Jemele Hill, who was working on the sidelines for the ESPN2 telecast, reported late in the third quarter that X-rays on Wynn had come back negative.

[+] EnlargeJordan Wynn
AP Photo/Rick BowmerUtah quarterback Jordan Wynn left Friday's game in the first half with a shoulder injury and spent the second half with his left arm in a sling.
Wynn’s injury history is well-known to Utah fans. He’s had three shoulder surgeries since he started his Utah career -- two on his right shoulder (December 2010 and October 2011) and one on his left shoulder following the 2010 spring game. Although he is in his fourth year, he’s started only 21 games (including Friday). Prior to the injury, Wynn was 6-of-11 for 47 yards. Utah's pass protection was extremely shaky throughout the game, but especially in the first half. Wynn was sacked three times and hit eight times before being knocked out of the game.

He was replaced by Jon Hays, who finished 12-of-26 for 154 yards and a touchdown. Travis Wilson also saw some spot duty, throwing one pass, a 28-yard touchdown.

What this means for Utah moving forward is unclear. The Utes host BYU next week in the Holy War before opening Pac-12 South Division play with a trip to Arizona State. They then have a bye before the much-anticipated showdown with USC on Thursday, Oct. 4.

Friday's victory was Utah State’s first over Utah since 1997.

Utah fell behind 7-0 when Utah State blocked Sean Sellwood’s punt and Clayton Christensen recovered in the end zone. At the end of the first quarter, USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton connected with Joe Hill on a 15-yard touchdown pass. Keeton finished 22-of-32 for 216 yards and two touchdowns.

Coleman Petersen got the Utes on the board with a 42-yard field goal at the end of the first half, sending Utah into the locker room trailing 13-3.

Utah tied the game at 13 in the third on another Petersen field goal and Wilson’s touchdown pass -- a flea-flicker to Kenneth Scott. Scott also caught a fourth-quarter touchdown that tied the game at 20, this one a 24-yard jump ball from Hays. Scott was the standout offensive player for Utah, catching three balls for 82 yards and two scores. Running back John White IV was mostly ineffective, carrying 27 times for 96 yards (3.6 yards per carry).

Neither team was particularly efficient on third downs. Utah converted just two of 17, and Utah State converted two of 13 -- although Utah State outgained the Utes 371-325 in total yards.

Petersen had an opportunity to win the game at the end of regulation but failed to connect on a 52-yard field goal.

More Pac-12 Heisman speculation

March, 28, 2012
We've given you our thoughts recently on which Pac-12 player has the best shot at winning the Heisman. You've given your thoughts (an extremely tight poll) and now the folks at have offered up their darkhorse candidates for 2012.

They looked at 12 not-as-mainstream candidates who could contend for the Heisman Trophy, and four of them are from the Pac-12.

First, the list:
Their thoughts on each of the Pac-12 players:
On McNeal: A total of 150 carries have departed the program and there is little depth behind the senior, who will benefit from defenses focusing on USC’s strong passing attack. Give McNeal at least half of those departed carries and you are looking at a possible 1,500 yard season, if not more.

On Barner: There were times the rest of the year when he looked as good as, if not better than, James. This year, the Ducks lose not only James’ 247 carries, but also the 45 of freshman Tra Carson and the 56 of quarterback Darron Thomas, for a total of 347 carries to be redistributed.

On Callier: I actually think there is a good chance that Washington experiences no dropoff at this position and that Callier establishes himself as one of the top backs in the Pac-12 with a season exceeding 1,300 yards on the ground.

On Thomas: Thomas is obviously an interesting case since he is such an all-around dynamo. Last year, he had just 140 touches, with 39 of them coming in the return game. This was a wise move by Oregon, as keeping the rather slight Thomas fresh and healthy is the key to his effectiveness. It worked, as he had 18 touchdowns and 2,235 total yards. In that vein, Oregon might be tempted to put a huge workload on him in 2012, but I don’t foresee it unless there is a desperate need.

Fun list. With frontrunner Matt Barkley out there, along with Washington quarterback Keith Price, a couple of USC wide receivers and A-list running backs like John White IV and Stepfan Taylor, there is certainly no wanting for offensive talent in the conference. Per usual.

Which players emerge will definitely be one of the more fascinating stories to follow in 2012.

Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

February, 23, 2012
Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

Spring practice is almost here. Here's a snapshot at what to expect from the Pac-12 South in the coming weeks.


Spring practice starts: March 4

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Hello, my name is ... Like the other two teams in the South Division with new head coaches (Arizona State and UCLA) much of Arizona's first few weeks will be Rich Rodriguez evaluating his personnel and getting to know what he has to work with. Likewise, the players are going to have to figure out what this new coaching staff is about. Everything from how they do pre-practice stretches to how they call the cadence is going to change.
  • New scheme and a new scheme: A spread option on offense and a 3-3-5 on defense. That's a lot of new material to digest on both sides of the ball. Until Rodriguez can recruit the players he likes into his scheme, he's going to have to make it work with the players he has. Fortunately on the defensive side of the ball, Arizona has good depth in the secondary with Cortez Johnson, Marquis Flowers, Shaquille Richardson, Jourdon Grandon and Tra'Mayne Bondurant. The Wildcats should also get a boost with the return of injured players Jake Fischer (LB), Jonathan McKnight (CB) and Adam Hall (S).
  • Perfect fit? Former starter Matt Scott, who was beaten out by Nick Folesin 2009, is expected to reprise his starting role under Rodriguez. He redshirted the 2011 season and -- magically -- Foles never got hurt last year despite taking 23 sacks and countless hits. Scott is considered the more versatile quarterback and should fit nicely into the new run-based spread attack.

Spring practice starts: March 13

Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • QB competition: We know what kind of offense new coach Todd Graham is going to run; now it's a matter of figuring out who is going to run it. Graham has his choice of three players -- Mike Bercovici, Taylor Kelly or Michael Eubank -- to replace NFL-bound Brock Osweiler. Graham said earlier this month that there are no favorites heading into the competition and each one brings his own skill set to the table. Eubank has the size (6-foot-5, 235 pounds), Bercovici (6-1, 205) is a mechanic and Kelly (6-1, 202) is a little bit of everything.
  • Get the locker room: By the end of the 2011 season, ASU's locker room wasn't just divided, it was completely splintered. Graham's task -- and that of his new coaching staff -- is to pick up the pieces, mend internal fences and find some chemistry on both sides of the ball. Linebacker Brandon Magee, long considered a great locker room leader, should help get the Sun Devils back on track as he returns from a season-ending Achilles injury.
  • Hands competition: The Sun Devils lose three of their top four wide receivers from last season -- Gerell Robinson, Aaron Pflugrad and Mike Willie. Jamal Miles returns after finishing second on the team last season with 60 catches and six touchdowns. Rashad Ross figures to be the No. 2 guy, but establishing depth in that corps -- especially if Graham wants to be up-tempo -- is key.

Spring practice starts: March 10

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Momentum, maybe? For as rough as 2011 was for the Buffs, they ended the year on a high note, winning two-of-three down the stretch -- including a 17-14 win over Utah in the season finale. But there is also the possibility that things might get worse before they get better. With just four returning starters on offense, spring in Boulder will likely be more about teaching and less about refining.
  • Where to start (offense)? Well, quarterback might be a good place. In the court of public opinion, Connor Wood, a transfer from Texas, seems to be the favorite. Nick Hirschman appeared in five games last season, mostly in mop-up time when the game was already out of hand. It's also possible a starter could be named by the end of spring ball. Finding offensive weapons to surround the new quarterback will also be a challenge. Wide receiver Paul Richardson caught 39 balls last season, and running back Tony Jones showed a flare for catching the ball out of the backfield. He'll likely step in as the new workhorse back for the departed Rodney Stewart.
  • Where to start (defense)? Last in this. Last in that. Last in almost every team statistic the Pac-12 has to offer. But there are some intriguing youngsters on the roster. Cornerback Greg Henderson was all-conference honorable mention as a freshman with a team-high nine passes broken up. Jered Bell also returns from injury after blowing out a knee last preseason. If healthy, he's expected to be a big contributor in the secondary. Linebacker Jon Majorreturns as the team's leading tackler, and if Doug Rippy is fully recovered from his knee injury, he'll look to build on what was a pretty good season last year before getting hurt.

Spring practice starts: April 3

Spring game: May 5

What to watch:
  • QB up for grabs: Like the majority of the conference, UCLA enters spring with a quarterback competition. New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said he doesn't care how much experience (or lack thereof) a player has -- if he can play, he wins the job. So don't be surprised if Brett Hundley passes Kevin Prince and Richard Brehautas the new man leading the Bruins. Fans have been clamoring for a change. Hundley might be it.
  • Attitude adjustment: One of the first things new head coach Jim Mora did was slam the team for its tradition of going "over the wall," a time-honored senior ditch day, saying if they want to jump the wall, they should just keep on going. How's that for sending a message? UCLA has earned a reputation for being soft and underachieving despite good talent. Attitude and toughness is needed -- and so far, Mora appears to be hammering that point home.
  • Speaking of toughness ... The defense has to get tougher. No two ways about it. It was weak against the run last season, allowing more than 190 yards per game on the ground; couldn't get to the quarterback; and couldn't get off the field almost 50 percent of the time on third down. It's time for potential all-conference players such as defensive end Datone Jones to start living up to the hype and the defense as a whole to stop getting pushed up and down the field. At 6-5, 275 pounds, Jones has the physical makeup to be a major force in the conference and catapult himself into the elite class of collegiate defensive players.

Spring practice starts: March 6

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Ignore the hype: Few teams ended last season hotter than USC and returning quarterback Matt Barkley. The Heisman talk has already started, the way-too-early rankings already have the Trojans as national championship contenders, and the public perception is that the offense is unstoppable. Nice to hear, but hype is a double-edged sword. Head coach Lane Kiffin has a knack for deflecting hype. This season will be his toughest test to date.
  • Insurance? The Trojans are loaded on both sides of the ball with returning players. But after the starting 22, things start to get dicey. Developing depth and keeping the starters healthy is a top priority -- particularly on the offensive and defensive lines and at running back, where experience is thin outside of the starters. The entire back seven returns on defense -- headlined by hard-hitting safety T.J. McDonald. Stopping the pass has been a major priority for Kiffin, and if this group stays healthy it should see the pass-efficiency numbers improve even more.
  • Other options: Along those same lines, wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee make up the most feared receiving duo in the conference -- maybe the country. But who are the Nos. 3 and 4 receivers behind them? George Farmer? Victor Blackwell? De'Von Flournoy? Don't overlook the tight end duo of Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, which should rival Stanford's Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo as the best tight end tandem in the conference.

Spring practice starts: March 20

Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Youthful approach: Head coach Kyle Whittingham turned some heads by naming former Utah quarterback Brian Johnson as his offensive coordinator. Johnson, who recently turned 25, said he's not looking to make wholesale changes to the offense, though he wants to put his stamp on it and continue to build around running back John White IV, who had a breakout season in his first year of major college football. Having quarterback Jordan Wynn back healthy should also help as the team transitions to Johnson running the offense.
  • Fixing the line: Who is going to protect Wynn (if he does indeed win back the starting job) and make holes for White? That's a major concern heading into spring as the Utes have to replace a pair of all-conference linemen in Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. The Utes should be set at the interior but have to adjust to a new position coach, with Tim Davis leaving for Florida after just one season and Dan Finn -- a former Utah graduate assistant who was brought on to help Davis -- taking over the whole line following a one-year stint at San Diego State.
  • Work the experience: The defensive line should be one of the best in the conference, especially with the return of Star Lotulelei, who won the Morris Trophy last season as the conference's best defensive lineman. With the Kruger brothers returning to the line -- Joe at defensive end and Dave at tackle -- Derrick Shelby is the lone starter who has to be replaced. There's also some pretty good depth in the secondary that was tops in the conference last season in pass-efficiency defense.

Q&A: Utah OC Brian Johnson

February, 8, 2012
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham put a lot of faith in his former quarterback-turned-quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson by naming the 24-year-old Utah's next offensive coordinator last week. One conversation with Johnson and it's clear he's energized and excited about the opportunity that many assistants wait decades for.

You're now the youngest coordinator in major college football. Is there some pressure that goes with that?

Brian Johnson: I think with any job there is pressure with how competitive everything is. But I think we're just more excited to put together an offense that can help win a conference championship.

[+] EnlargeBrian Johnson
Boyd Ivey/Icon SMIFormer Utah quarterback Brian Johnson now takes over as the Utes' offensive coordinator.
Being so close in age to many of the players, is it tough sometimes to make the distinction between buddy and coach?

BJ: Absolutely not. There are about four or five guys on the team I played with who are still here. I think, for the most part, this is my third year and I haven't had to deal with it my first two years. That distinction is there. We have a great group of kids so that hasn't been an issue.

On the flip side, you're going to be overseeing coaches 10, 15, 20 years your senior who have been at it a lot longer than you. Is that going to be awkward?

BJ: Not at all. In this building, we have consummate professionals. Guys understand the task at hand and we understand what it takes to be successful offensively. We will work together and get this thing going in the right direction.

Any wholesale changes to the offensive philosophy or approach?

BJ: Not wholesale. I think the baseline of what we've done here the last seven years, that's remained intact. We'll continue to tweak stuff here and there. Dan Finn is on board to coach the offensive line along with Tim Davis. Those guys have coached a lot of ball. I'm excited to be getting their ideas on paper and getting their input on the scheme.

What are the immediate holes, fixes that need to be addressed on the offensive side of the ball?

BJ: I think the biggest concern is losing two all-conference tackles in Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. Those guys have played a lot of football and were really good leaders for us. But that's the nature of the business in college football. There is a lot of turnover and you have to be able to replace those guys. Finding two tackles who can come in and provide immediate help for us will be important.

If Jordan Wynn is healthy, is he your quarterback? Or is there an open competition?

BJ: I think the experience that Jordan provides will help us tremendously in our offensive production. Everything we do here, it's always competition. That will never change as long as Coach Whittingham is the coach here.

So ... is Jordan your quarterback?

BJ: I think he goes in taking the reps with the ones and he's started a lot of football games and won a lot of football games. So yeah, he is.

How is his health?

BJ: He's back to throwing. He'll be full-go for spring ball. He's had some bad luck with injuries, but hopefully we won't ever have to go through that again.

A nice breakout season for John White IV. What are you expecting from him next season?

BJ: We expect him to continue what he started this season. He's obviously very explosive and dynamic with the ball in his hands. I think we have to build the offense around him. He's extremely talented. We have to find ways to get him the ball in space and get the ball in his hands as much as possible.

So you're approach is run first?

BJ: I think in football you have to be. You have to establish the run in order to be balanced. From there, you build it all. We have to establish that physical presence at the line of scrimmage and you have to be creative and find ways to get our playmakers the ball and let them give us the best chance to win.

At this pace, you'll probably be up for an NFL head-coaching job in the next two years. Any aspirations of being a coach in the pro game?

BJ: I think that's why you get in this profession. I've learned from some great coaches. I've been fortunate to be in this program for eight years and I've seen some great coaches come through here. Coach Whittingham has been almost a father-like figure to me for the last eight years and I strive to be like him as a coach. That's my ultimate goal. If I can do that, that would be OK with me.

Finish this sentence. If I can accomplish -- blank -- I will be happy with Utah's offense.

BJ: A conference championship. That's why we play this game, to win the Pac-12 South and get a chance to play in the championship game and play for the Rose Bowl. That's the starting point. That's why we're all in this profession. That's why we're all in this business is to be the best at it. That's what we're working towards.

Final: Utah 31, UCLA 6

November, 12, 2011
UCLA is no longer in control of its Pac-12 South Division fate. And Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel's fate again is in question.

The Bruins got pushed around 31-6 at Utah. The Utes didn't need to pass to win. UCLA did, and it did so badly.

John White rushed 33 times for 167 yards with two touchdowns, while UCLA only rushed for 149 yards total. Bruins quarterback Kevin Prince threw two interceptions -- one of which was returned by Conroy Black for a touchdown that pretty much ended the intrigue in the fourth quarter.

Utah QB Jon Hays was just 5-of-13 for 67 yards with a TD, but he didn't make any major mistakes.

Utah won its third consecutive Pac-12 game -- after an 0-4 start -- and improved to 6-4 overall and 3-4 in conference play. The Utes are bowl-eligible.

UCLA fell to 5-5 and 4-3. If Arizona State beats Washington State tonight, the Sun Devils will then control their fate in the South Division.