Five biggest Pac-12 spring questions

March, 1, 2011
3/01/11
1:00
PM ET
Every Pac-12 team has issues, even the ones that played in BCS bowl games last January.

We touched on a number of these in our spring preview as well as our team-by-team breakdowns of the North and South divisions.

But what are the five biggest issues in the conference this spring?

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIUSC boasts one of the top returning quarterback in the nation in Matt Barkley.
Hey, thanks for asking!

1. Quarterback competitions: No other conference even compares to the Pac-12 in terms of top-to-bottom quality of quarterbacks. Seven teams welcome back their 2010 starter and four are All-American candidates: Stanford's Andrew Luck, Oregon's Darron Thomas, USC's Matt Barkley and Arizona's Nick Foles. Arizona State and Colorado, with Brock Osweiler and Tyler Hansen, respectively, have QBs with starting experience who are favorites to win the starting job. But three teams are wide open at the most important position: California, UCLA and Washington. For the Huskies, it's fairly simple: Keith Price or Nick Montana will replace Jake Locker. For Cal, it's wildly complicated, with five in the mix: senior Brock Mansion, sophomore Allan Bridgford, redshirt freshman Austin Hinder, junior Zach Maynard and junior Beau Sweeney. For UCLA, it's critical and uncertain, with coach Rick Neuheisel's job security likely hanging on getting at least adequate play at the position from Kevin Prince, Richard Brehaut or true freshman Brett Hundley.

2. Where's the beef? No team in the conference appears set on both lines. Arizona State's offensive line welcomes back all five starters, but it's got two voids at DT. The Washington D-line in 2011 figures to look a lot like the unit that played in 2010 due to injuries, but the O-line must replace two starters. Oregon State and Colorado are only replacing one offensive lineman, and the Buffaloes' depth chart on defense returns mostly intact. But how well did those lines play in 2010? Arizona has the most questions: All five spots are open on the O-line and three on the D-line. Oregon must replace three starters on both lines. Stanford, UCLA and USC must replace three starters on offense, while Cal, Oregon State, Stanford, Utah and Washington State have at least two vacancies on defense. If, as coaches say," it all starts up front," then there will be a lot of fronting this spring.

3. Secondary issues at Utah, Colorado: The Utes and Buffaloes will be facing all those new, NFL-ready QBs with big questions in their secondaries. Utah must replace all four starters, while the Buffaloes lose a pair of cornerbacks, Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown, who are top NFL prospects, from a secondary that wasn't very good in 2010. Injuries were an issue in Boulder last year, particularly at safety, but with a new coaching staff in town this will be an area of hot competition.

4. Getting coordinated: There will be a fair amount of "getting to know you" -- and your schemes -- this spring in the conference. Colorado and Stanford have new head coaches, though Stanford promoted David Shaw from within, so change won't be terribly dramatic in terms of scheme from Jim Harbaugh. UCLA has two new coordinators. California shook up its offensive staff. Utah brought in Norm Chow after he was pushed out at UCLA. Arizona had significant staff changes, though one-half of 2010's co-coordinators stayed in Tucson. New coaches bring in new ideas and new terms. And they may promote different players past incumbent starters.

5. Details, details in Eugene and Palo Alto: Oregon and Stanford are both sure preseason top-10 teams, in large part because they welcome back elite skill position players, such as Luck, Thomas and Ducks running back LaMichael James. But both teams have issues. Both have vacancies on both lines. Both are replacing their top receivers. Both have voids at linebacker. Both have an open spot at cornerback. Stanford needs a kicker. While a quick look at the depth chart suggests the reinforcements will be solid, spring ball is about walking the walk.

Ted Miller | email

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