The season is over and now the changes to coaching staffs and player personnel happen that can alter the fortunes of many programs for the upcoming season. There has been plenty of turnover for many schools in the Pac-12 Conference. Which ones will pay immediate dividends? Which ones will take time? All great questions, but one of the things that the Pac-12 has going for it is that many coaches and players want to be part of the conference because of its competitive nature and its exciting brand of football. Let’s look at these changes.
The coaching changes almost happened at the top of the coaching staff with Sonny Dykes. It seemed like Dykes was interviewing for any open job in college football and had no interest in returning to Berkley. In the end, he returned, with a new contract, more money, and gives the football team stability with his return. The big personnel change will be with Jared Goff leaving for the NFL. Goff arguably the best quarterback in the conference in 2015 will be a very tough player to replace because of his mental and physical abilities that he brought to the table for California, but that responsibility looks like it will be thrown upon freshman Chase Forrest. The Bears made a bowl for the first time in years and to maintain this positive roll for the program Sonny Dykes needs make sure Chase Forrest is the quarterback for the program moving forward. The quarterback position will be the biggest question for the Golden Bears going into 2016.
Finishing third in the final poll of the season was a great accomplishment for David Shaw, his staff, and players. What David Shaw has done since he took over is amazing. He is getting great talent combined with having a “Stanford intelligence” to come to Palo Alto to play football. Going into next year there isn’t a lot of turnover with the coaching staff at all. Why leave a good thing, right? However, on the player personnel side, they will be missing Barry Sanders Jr and Kevin Hogan. They will also be missing some possible linemen as well. Michael Rector, Cardinal receiver will be coming back for his fifth and final year of eligibility. Replacing Hogan will be a big task for Head Coach David Shaw, but let’s remember, he still has Christian McCaffrey. When you have him, it’ll make the job of the quarterback a little more bearable, but much like California, the quarterback question will be a big one for the Cardinal.
Questions abound in Eugene. After the debacle of the Alamo Bowl in which the Ducks lost a 31-0 lead and lost in overtime people are wondering if the Duck run of success is over. Other people are wondering if they can develop a quarterback in the post-Mariota era at Oregon. Vernon Adams comes in, does a decent job, but gets injured and his back up, Jeff Lockie stinks up the stadium with his play. Lockie, a career back up at Oregon, looked like he hadn’t been taught the game at all. Once again, the Ducks have a fifth year transfer player in Dakota Prukop this year and he’s already on campus taking classes, so there will be no Vernon Adams issues in terms of classes. Enter new quarterbacks coach David Yost, who comes over from Washington State to help develop Duck quarterbacks. Other changes also are former Michigan Coach Brady Hoke who will be the new defensive coordinator replacing Don Pellum who was moved to linebackers coach. All in all, a season of change is upon the Oregon Ducks. How will it go? Only time will tell.
The Beavers will be looking to improve upon their disaster of a season in 2015 where they only had two wins under first year coach Gary Andersen. The coaching change at defensive coordinator will be the one area that could garner most of the discussion going into 2016. Kalani Sitake left Corvallis for the head coaching position at BYU, so Coach Andersen went and got Kevin Clune to take over at defensive coordinator. New schemes, new way of thinking for a defense that ranked near the bottom in defense in the country. The Beavers will also have co-offensive coordinators in T.J. Woods and Kevin McGiven. Once again, new schemes and new ways of thinking on the offensive side of the ball. The Beavers need to continuity and stability on both sides of the ball and hopefully after all this change it happens for them. Coach Anderson will have to give the fans something more than two wins to get excited about. It’ll be tough, but Coach Andersen is committed to bringing a winner to Oregon State and I, for one, believe he can do it.
For all the talk about the demise of Mike Leach, it may have been greatly exaggerated. Washington State was the surprise team in the Pac-12 by a wide margin and ended the year with a great win over Miami in the Sun Bowl. Changes are occurring in the Palouse for Leach and his staff though. David Yost, left to coach the quarterbacks at Oregon, JaMarcus Shepard comes from Western Kentucky to coach receivers, Dave Nichol is added to the receiver coaching staff as well, and they will get a graduate transfer from Michigan in Logan Tuley-Tillman who will provide immediate help to the offensive line. Mike Leach has to keep the positive vibe going with the program because the hot seat he may have been on can be repeated with a disappointing season in 2016. The Cougars will be one of the few teams in the Pac-12 to have a returning quarterback in Luke Falk, so that will not be the question. The question is can the coaching staff build upon 2015 with creating more depth and getting more talent to come out to Wazzu.
Washington also showed that they could be on the way up as well. Head Coach Chris Peterson was starting to hear the complaints and he actually turned in a season that Husky fans were fairly happy with. Peterson came from Boise State with that reputation as an offensive guru and really has yet to deliver on that. Like his rival at Washington State, Peterson will have a returning quarterback in Jake Browning. The Huskies will also have a returning running back in Myles Gaskin that has the speed of Reggie Bush and a returning offensive line that showed promise in 2015. The Huskies will not experience major changes in their coaching staff or their player personnel for 2016 and that has created a sense of optimism around the program. The defense was pretty good despite losing some major talent to the NFL and they will continue to get better and the offense showed by the end of the year that they would be considered more of strength than a liability going into next season.
A season of disappointment happened for the Arizona Wildcats in 2015 and headed into next season there are plenty of questions. Will Rich Rodriguez be the head coach long term for Arizona? He had discussions with South Carolina about their opening and it certainly caused nervous moments in Tucson for a few days. Is Anu Solomon going to be their quarterback? He suffered through injuries and just a bad season when he was playing. Who will replace future NFL draft pick Scooby Wright on the defensive side of the ball? Wright created some much mayhem on opposing offenses, it’s going to be tough finding a guy that has a motor like Wright. Coaching changes abound for the Cats. Rich Rod has let defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel go, defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich go, and cornerbacks coach David Lockwood go. By doing this he has to replace three fourths of his defensive staff. The Wildcat defense has become worse of the last three seasons and a change was needed in Tucson. Who will Rich Rodriguez get to come in? Good question, but they have to do something to return to the “Desert Swarm” days.
Where do I begin with the Sun Devils? A season of huge expectations came crashing down quickly and they were regulated to a very second/third tier bowl game in the Cactus Bowl against West Virginia. A game that they lost, which just put a disappointing stamp on the season. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell left to be the head coach at Memphis and he took a few coaches with him. Chip Lindsey was hired as the new offensive coordinator for the Devils and he brings the same type of offense that Todd Graham likes to run which is that zone-read/spread offense. Kodi Burns was brought in to coach the running backs and he brings a wealth of knowledge from Auburn. The Sun Devils will also have to replace Mike Bercovici at quarterback and D.J. Foster at running back/wide receiver. Replacing that experience and talent will be a question facing the Arizona State going into 2016 as well as the coaching additions that the Devils will have.
Utah was the team I was pushing for winning the conference this past season. It was going well until a day against USC pretty much ruined everything and they ended up in the Las Vegas Bowl playing BYU. This may be a season of transition for the Utes, they will have questions at quarterback, punter, and running back because Travis Wilson, Tom Hackett and Devontae Booker are gone. What will Kyle Whittingham do? Oh, just reload with a bunch of players that have chips on their shoulders because bigger programs were not interested. That is what Whittingham has built his program on and he is getting a nice little pipeline of players coming from the island of Samoa too. As far as coaching changes, he recently named Justin Ena and Sharrieff Shah as special teams co-coordinators, which seems a little odd to have dual coordinators for special teams, but it’s what Utah does. Most of the coaching changes for the Utes have stayed within the program, only one of the changes comes from outside the program and that is Guy Holliday who comes from BYU to coach the receivers. The main questions will be who will be the quarterback and running back for the Utes? We shall see, but one thing is for certain, the Utes will be a tough out for any team.
Colorado could be the Washington State of 2016 for the Pac-12, but then again, it’s Colorado. A lot of young talent that made life interesting for a lot of conference teams this past year, but could not quite get over the hump in terms of wins. Head Coach Mike MacIntyre has had a bit of a fixer-up project since he arrived in Boulder three seasons ago. Coaching changes have been minimal, but the one hire that stands out is Jim Leavitt who will be the defensive coordinator for the Buffaloes. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from both the college and professional level. That is nice upgrade for the coaching staff. What do they have to do for 2016? Is the head coach on the hot seat? The answer to those questions is win and no, for right now. The Buffs just can’t get the talent to come to Colorado and when they do it’s because of a connection through family or others that gets the talent to Boulder. When you don’t win, talent does not come to you. They will have junior quarterback Sefo Liufau who has got better every year he’s been there, but the talent around him has not been the best for him. Right now if you can stop Sefo, you stop Colorado. If Colorado can’t get better and win, they will not have any success in the very tough Pac-12.
The Trojans are the Pac-12’s version of a soap opera in recent years. With removing the interim tag from Clay Helton and making him the head coach, that removed some of the doubt from the program with coaching. Helton wasted no time in making sweeping changes to the Trojan staff. Helton has promoted Tee Martin to offensive coordinator, brought on Clancy Pendergast as the new defensive coordinator, and recently brought on Tommie Robinson as running backs coach. It’s not all the change, but these were the major ones for the Trojans. It’ll be Martin’s first chance to run an offense and he’ll have plenty of weapons to use. Adoree’ Jackson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, a young offensive line, and a good running game. The question Tee Martin will have is at quarterback. Cody Kessler is gone, so this will be a major question for the Trojans for 2016. Helton will also be a question mark as well because he wasn’t the big name, big splash hire that many alumni wanted. Helton also didn’t endear himself to the faithful by losing to a Nebraska team that had a losing record. The talent is there, but can the new coaching staff put USC back on the map and at the top of the college football world?
The Bruins were a trendy pick to win the Pac-12 Conference and to make it to the college football playoff. That didn’t happen. Bruins on losing talent on both sides of the ball. From running back Paul Perkins, defensive lineman Kenny Clark, Myles Jack, to wide receiver Thomas Duarte there is plenty of talent that Head Coach Jim Mora is going to have to replace with another stellar recruiting class. Josh Rosen is back for his sophomore season and he has all the skills to be a great quarterback, even a Heisman Trophy candidate at some point in his career at UCLA. Coaching changes are certainly happening for the Bruins. Mora promoted Kennedy Polamalu to offensive coordinator, brought Marques Tuiasosopo from USC to coach quarterbacks, and Rip Scherer will coach tight ends. People feared that the “Bruin Revolution” may be over, but with these hires fans are backing off of that thought. The big question for me will be the offensive line. Josh Rosen can’t perform any magic if he is getting hit all day, so the offensive line play is going to have to improve for the Bruins to do any damage next season.
All in all, there are plenty of questions for the Pac-12 heading into 2016 with coaches and players. What will we see? Hard to say in January, but as a fan of the conference let’s hope that coaches and players get things figured out, so the conference can return to the college football playoff and remind people that some of the best football is played out here in the West.