Pac-12 Links: South Division Questions for the Summer

The Pac-12 South division is widely considered one of the toughest in the country. It has had some pretty good teams in the past couple of seasons, but are there any real great teams in this division? Not as far as I can see. The South division does have three returning quarterbacks to help their teams possibly get to the Pac-12 Championship Game, but not the College Football Playoff. Even after spring practice there are lingering questions about teams in the Pac-12 South. Let’s take a look at what some of those questions might be.

Arizona

Down in Tucson, can Rich Rodriguez have an offensive line that will be able to keep Anu Solomon healthy and off of his back? Will Solomon be able to develop into a Marcus Mariota type of quarterback that he was thought to be a couple seasons ago? Right now, Anu Solomon’s only concern should be learning to stay away from the injury bug. Whether it’s been knee/leg injuries or concussions, Solomon has to keep himself in the lineup or the season will be a tough road for the Wildcats.

Defense wins championships, right? Well, for the Wildcats, the defense is getting a major overhaul this upcoming season. New DC Marcel Yates is rearranging the defense for the Wildcats. He ran a 4-2-5 defense at Boise State and has head coach Rich Rodriguez willing to stray from his 3-3-5 defense. What will we see during the season?  The Wildcats only had two practices that were open to media, so for right now you have to think that it’ll be some hybrid between the two defenses.

Arizona has to improve its protection so that Anu Solomon and running back Nick Wilson can stay healthy. In my opinion, Wilson is the player to watch for the Wildcats. Keep your eye on him.

Utah

When you lose Devontae Booker and Travis Wilson in the same year, things may not be looking good for your team. Last year Utah was my sleeper pick to win the division and get to the conference championship game. It was looking good until the injury bug hit the team, especially stud running back Devontae Booker. Once he went down, the season went with him.

Replacing Travis Wilson will be something the Utes have to do. Do the Utes know who the new quarterback will be? That is something that is still up in the air in Salt Lake. Head coach Kyle Whittingham has stated that the quarterback race is still a “dead heat”.

One of the interesting facts about this race is that one of the big contenders for the job, junior transfer Troy Williams, was held out of spring practices and the spring game for an injury. In the meantime, junior Brandon Cox and freshman Tyler Huntley were getting all the reps, but couldn’t separate themselves to take the quarterback job.

Replacing Devontae Booker won’t be as complicated because they already had a player in waiting to be the main back. His name Joe Williams. When Booker went down with a season ending knee injury Williams was there to take over.

“It was sad when Devontae went down. It just made me the next man up and I just did what I had to do.” Williams said during spring practice.

Let’s hope he keeps that next man up mentality because the Utes need him to be the next man for them.

Colorado

What can be said with the Colorado football program? We all know the narrative about how the program has not had any success since joining the Pac-12 Conference. Is this the year they have some sort of breakthrough?

The thought process coming out of Boulder is that this is the year for the Buffaloes. Am I going to drink that Koo-Aid? Not until they show me that they can get it done. For me, getting it done is simply getting to the six-win level, so they can potentially get to a lower-tier bowl.

What will determine the Buffs success in 2016?

One of the items that will is the play of starting quarterback Sefo Liufau and if he can come back from his injury. Liufau has a lisfranc injury which is an injury to his foot, always a difficult thing for any athlete to come back from. As good fortune would have it, he was seen up and throwing on the sidelines during the Colorado spring game.

Not having an experienced quarterback on your team can be a recipe for disaster. Colorado absolutely needs its starter to be ready to go by the season opener.

USC

Clay Helton is looking for his team to be drama-free in 2016. Good luck with that Coach Helton. You are in control of one of the premier college football programs in this country and the program is centered in the entertainment capital of the world. Good luck.

With that said, there will always be some sort of drama surrounding any football program and USC is no different, but there are different types of drama. I’m sure Helton is referring to drama that is on the level of what they have had with Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian. That kind of drama is something I would not wish on any coach.

So far, the only drama that is coming out of USC is who they will have to replace Cody Kessler who has to spend his rookie year in the NFL in Cleveland.

What are the options for Coach Helton and his staff?

For now, the option is Max Browne, who getting the opportunity in his junior year after sitting behind Cody Kessler since he arrived on campus as National Player of the Year in high school. He may have all the talent in the world, but he still has not taken a snap in a meaningful game. His meaningful game is coming soon for him. He will be taking the snaps as the Trojans open up against national champion Alabama.

Nothing like being thrown to the wolves right out of the gate.

Having JuJu Smith-Schuster on the outside will help Browne. JuJu is arguably the best receiver in the country heading into 2016 and if he can produce at the level he has then he will take a bunch of pressure off of his quarterback. The connection between Max Browne and JuJu will be something to watch as the season gets going.

The question on the defensive line will be something that people will be concentrating on as we get closer to the Alabama game. New defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has to figure out how his D-line will get pressure on its opponents. Otherwise, he will find himself in the unemployment line. Doing that will be tough considering what he has to work with at USC.

The defensive line is extremely inexperienced this year with no returning starters and the only player that was penciled in as a starter, Kenny Bigelow, went down with a season-ending knee injury during spring practice, so that further complicates things for Pendergast.

Does USC overcome this youth movement and the toughest schedule in the country to make 2016 a winning season? Time will tell, but my feeling is that if the Trojans get to eight wins that would be considered a victory unto itself.

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