Predicting the 2017 Pac-12 South rankings

The Pac-12 football season is about to begin with the upcoming game against the Stanford Cardinal and the University of Southern California Trojans. Half of the teams have been discussed with the North division rankings. Now, it’s time to look at the South.

South Division:

6. Arizona

The Wildcats are nowhere near as hot as the temperature in Tucson. The seat in head coach Rich Rodriguez’s office chair however, definitely is. His record in the last 18 games is 5-13, which is unheard of for a coach of Rodriguez’s caliber. He’ll need a quick turnaround this season if he wants to keep his job. Arizona ranked last in scoring offense among the conference last season, and they rarely pass the ball using their spread option scheme. The Wildcats ranked second-to-last in pass attempts and it’s pretty easy to see why. The only strength they attain is on the ground as junior quarterback Brandon Dawkins had more rushing touchdowns than passing touchdowns last season. The defense possesses inexperience across the field and has trouble stopping the pass. Their recruiting season went better than expected, but Arizona will remain a basketball school for the foreseeable future.

5. Arizona State

Above the Wildcats are their fierce rivals, who are better by only a little bit. Head coach Todd Graham’s seat is arguably as hot as Rodriguez’s, as the Sun Devils are coming off back-to-back losing seasons. ASU suffers from similar offensive problems as their rivals in Tucson, only inverted. Their passing attack is decent at best, led by junior quarterback Manny Wilkins who averaged 232.9 yards per game last season and started off on the right foot by having a good performance against New Mexico State (22-of-27 for 300 passing yards and two touchdowns). But there are issues in the backfield. Senior tailback Kalen Ballage only averaged 4.3 yards per carry and finished with only 536 rushing yards last season. Their pass defense is another story. They ranked last in the conference in that category and it showed in their narrow victory against New Mexico State. The Sun Devils allowed 398 passing yards to the Aggies. College football in the state of Arizona isn’t looking too good at this point in time.

4. Utah

Head Coach Kyle Whittingham and the Utes have come seriously close to winning the South division title the past two seasons. Despite that, they lost some key pieces on offense. Most important of those are quarterback Troy Williams and tailback Joe Williams. Sophomore Tyler Huntley now takes the reigns at quarterback. He’ll have a new weapon in Oregon transfer Darren Carrington, the receiver who dashed Utah’s hopes of a division title last season with a stellar catch. The Utes looked sluggish on both sides of the ball in the first half against North Dakota, but the offense went on to provide some flashes here and there. That’s exactly what I see the offense doing this season. The defense is known for stopping the run and might succeed if Ray Guy award-winning punter Mitch Wishnowsky can continue to deliver adverse field position for opposing offenses. Don’t expect much from the Utes this season, but the future is still bright, as they continue to recruit well.

3. UCLA

The Bruins are coming off one of the most thrilling victories in college football history, coming back from a 44-10 deficit against Texas A&M late in the third quarter. The miracle was thanks in large part to junior quarterback Josh Rosen, who is predicted to end up as a first-round pick in the NFL draft next summer. Rosen went 35-of-59 for 491 yards and four touchdowns, all of which were scored in the second half. Looking past Rosen’s greatness, their ground game is sub-par. UCLA ranked last in rushing offense last season only averaging 84 yards per game. Even though the Bruins allowed 38 points in the first half against the Aggies, the pass defense is something to watch out for this season as well, as they ranked third in the conference last season . The entire secondary returns and the addition of Jaelan Phillips, the top-ranked outside linebacker in the nation, will add depth to a talented defense. Once again, Westwood has become a hot spot for recruits.

2. Colorado

The Pac-12 South champions are in great position after silencing the critics in their exceptional defensive performance against Colorado State. The Buffaloes allowed only 3 points to the Rams despite a new-look secondary. Isaiah Oliver, Afolabi Laguda and Ryan Moeller look to fill the shoes of the excellent secondary from last year that played an integral part in the team’s success. Sophomore quarterback Steven Montez will take over behind center after seeing some playing time last season when Sefo Liufau was injured. His heroic performance against Oregon was one of the highlights for Montez, but it gets better for the El Paso, Texas, native. At his disposal, Colorado possesses arguably one of the best collection of skill players in the nation. Senior wide receiver Shay Fields, Devin Ross and Bryce Bobo averaged 13.2 yards per catch last season and senior tailback Phillip Lindsay is coming off a 1,252-yard season. Lindsay rushed for 140 yards against the Rams with the help of the offensive line that is returning five key players from last season. The outlook is bright in Boulder for AP Coach of the Year Mike MacIntyre and the Buffaloes.

1. USC

The Trojans are the preseason favorites to win the Pac-12 for a reason. Sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold has been predicted by many to have a Heisman winning season in 2017. The Freshman Offensive player of the Year in the Pac-12 threw for 3,086 yards and completed 67 percent of his passes, which helped lead USC to a Rose Bowl birth. Head coach Clay Helton’s men started slowly this year versus Western Michigan, but they eventually got into a groove, mainly with the ground game. Junior tailback Ronald Jones II and freshman tailback Stephen Carr are a dangerous pair of elusive athletes that combined for five touchdowns last Saturday. The Trojans will however, have to endure some key losses, including cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster. Junior wide receiver Deontay Burnett looks to build off a productive season after playing behind Smith-Schuster. The Trojans once again have an elite list of athletes on defense as junior safety Marvell Tell III and junior cornerback Iman Marshall lead the way in the secondary. USC remain the team to beat in the South and the Pac-12 in general. I see them defeating Stanford in Santa Clara and going to the Rose Bowl again this upcoming January.

Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Drew Sharek at andrew.sharek@colorado.edu.

Drew Sharek

Drew is a contributing reporter, covering the Colorado Buffaloes' football and basketball teams. He appears on the Pick 6 podcast every Tuesday and previously covered the Buffs for BSN Denver.

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