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Duck Dive: Pac-12 South 2021 Updates and Predictions

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Going deep with personnel changes and projecting every Pac-12 game

NCAA FOOTBALL: OCT 08 Washington at Oregon Photo by Steve Conner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The first article in this series was published in early May, and since then each team has had personnel changes and competitions settled in Fall camp. This article will update all the teams in the Pac-12 South, along with predictions for every game and my projected order of finish in the division. Tomorrow’s article will update the North.


NCAA Football: Oregon at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC

July 12th preview

The Trojans are once again facing depth issues at wide receiver, as Texas transfer #82 WR Jac. Smith has been injured and #4 WR McCoy remains suspended after an arrest for domestic violence for Title IX reasons. That leaves them with just nine on scholarship in an Air Raid offense, only two of whom have caught more than one pass for the Trojans before. Alicia’s prediction that freshmen #79 OL Monheim and #74 OL C. Ford are the primary candidates to become the new left tackle appears to be playing out but it doesn’t seem like USC has made a choice yet. Otherwise the offense looks as predicted last month.

The defense doesn’t appear to have any changes since Alicia and I spoke in July, other than the possible medical retirement of #56 LB Iosefa whom I wasn’t expecting to see on the field much. I think that the sheer talent here combined with DC Orlando’s raw aggression in terms of blitzes is going to go a lot farther than many in the media appear to, since the hottest offseason topic seems to be picking a dark horse to win the South. I think that a very good offensive line and smart playcaller will shut down this defense when they play tougher opponents, but USC doesn’t face anyone like that on their Pac-12 regular season schedule and I think they’ll cruise into the title game.

Prediction: 9-3, 7-2. A loss to Notre Dame, and splitting the foursome of ASU, Cal, Colorado, and Utah, while winning the other five conference games. Missing Oregon and Washington from the North and getting Utah at home is a big help for the schedule.


COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 06 Pac-12 Championship Game Photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Utah

May 17th preview

The only thing close to a surprise for the Ute’s offense since May is that 2019’s starting center, Orlando Umana, has transferred out. Though that wasn’t much of a surprise, since he was totally sidelined in last year’s multiple o-line reshuffles. It also wasn’t a surprise that Utah named Baylor transfer #12 QB Brewer the starter, since it was obvious he was the pick going back to the Spring game.

There was a surprise on the defense, senior starer #92 DE Tupai won’t be available for undisclosed reasons. There are a couple of 4-star options to replace him, but they have very different body types and it’ll be interesting to see how that transition goes.

There’s been a lot of transfer activity for the Utes and it remains to be seen how some of them play out. But those aren’t new to Utah and I generally think the stability here is worth more than many in the media are giving credit for. I think they finish higher than anybody but USC (that game is in the Coliseum, where the Utes haven’t won since 1916) and beat trendier picks ASU and UCLA.

Prediction: 9-3, 6-3. USC is a loss as mentioned above, and I think Oregon just out-talents them, plus I think there’s a funny road loss in here somewhere, Stanford or OSU perhaps. But it’s an easy non-con, they miss Washington and Cal, and I think getting ASU, Colorado, and UCLA at home is a lot of help to finish second in the South.


COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 23 Oregon at Arizona State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Arizona State

May 10th preview

While there’s obviously been a lot of drama in ASU’s coaching staff, in terms of player personnel the picture hasn’t changed for ASU’s offense since my original article in May. Quarterback is still perilously thin, and may have gotten worse because #16 QB Bourgeut, the former walk-on whom Hod described as having the best grasp of the offense, has recently been spotted in a walking boot.

The other thin offensive unit, the line, has also had some unavailabilities of potential backups - Cody Shear and Jacob Nunez have both transferred out, and UNC transfer #51 OL Miller hasn’t been practicing recently. That means ASU only has six backup scholarship linemen (seven if you count a two-way player listed as an OL but who’s been practicing with the DL) beyond the big crop of five true freshmen they took in the 2021 cycle, and none of those have played a snap before. I said in May that while the Sun Devils have the starters to make a run at the Pac-12 South I didn’t think ASU’s season could survive a single injury to the QB or any of the starting linemen, and I think that’s even more true now.

The defense is returning practically everybody, and despite making the switch from a 3- to a 4-down front in 2020 I was impressed that their defensive line unit was so full. But that room has taken quite a few hits this offseason: perhaps their best lineman, #90 DL Lole, is hurt and will potentially miss the entire season, 4-star 2019 recruit Stephon Wright has transferred out, #55 DL Norman-Lott hasn’t been practicing lately, and as mentioned above #94 DL Stephens may be pressed into service on the offensive side due to departures to the o-line.

Even with those hits, however, they still have eleven available linemen - seven relatively experienced and four more we haven’t seen play for ASU before. That’s still probably enough depth to finish the season, but it goes from an overabundance to merely adequate, and it remains to be seen how much of a performance impact Lole’s absence will have.

Prediction: 9-3, 6-3. Easy non-con and it helps to miss Oregon and Cal, but I think they fall to USC and Utah per above, and they have to visit UW in Seattle which I think is a loss to a more talented team top-to-bottom (I might flip that pick if the game were in the desert). They have to go to the Rose Bowl for a game that’ll determine standing in the South; I’ll guess that ASU gets it because I think the Sun Devils’ offensive talent overwhelms the Bruins’ defense.


UCLA v Oregon Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

UCLA

July 5th preview

The Bruins released their depth chart for Saturday’s week 0 game against Hawaii, with a few surprises.

By far the most serious is that #29 WR Hurt, last season’s second leading receiver, was suspended last week on sexual assault charges; Texas A&M transfer #0 WR Brown is listed where I expected Hurt to be. News broke over the summer that Villanova transfer #55 LG Grattan is also facing criminal charges from a bar fight prior to his transfer, but HC Kelly says he’s been practicing as usual and is in good standing with the team, and the depth chart lists him as a starter. Otherwise the offensive depth chart is exactly as predicted two months ago.

On the defense they’ve moved #33 LB Calvert from the inside, where he was ineffective, to the outside as the Raider position, listed ahead of last year’s starter there #35 LB C. Jones - I’m not sure that’ll stick, Jones was pretty good and Calvert has never impressed me. Notre Dame transfer #15 LB Genmark Heath has taken his place at MIKE, while Alabama transfer #10 LB Kaho is listed as the second-string WILL. There was also a transfer in at the position since I published, another from Notre Dame in #41 LB Aupiu.

Another surprise came in the cornerback listing, where #1 CB Shaw isn’t listed at all despite being fairly effective last year, meanwhile #22 CB Eboh is listed as a starter despite being ineffective at two different schools. Yet another transfer, UNT’s #3 CB C. Johnson, is listed as starter instead. There’s no explanation given for these moves and UCLA has a history of being coy with this sort of thing, so I don’t know what to read into these surprises.

The Bruins, despite all this transfer activity, still haven’t fixed the main problem their defense faces, which is replacing the massive disruptive force of Osa Odighizuwa in the middle of their d-line, and I think the constant shuffling in the back half of the defense is indicative of grasping at straws as this new defense was increasingly exposed at the end of last season.

Prediction: 6-6, 4-5. I wouldn’t be surprised if UCLA misses a bowl again. They get a pretty unkind draw from the North, missing Wazzu and OSU while having to play Stanford and Washington on the road. There’s only one team on the schedule that they’re straight-up better than, which is Arizona, and I think they’ll have a fight on their hands for the other five games I have them penciled in winning: Hawaii, Fresno St, Stanford, Colorado, and Cal. Anybody who’s picking this team to win the South hasn’t looked at their schedule.


NCAA Football: Colorado at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado

June 7th preview

It might be an odd way of looking at it, but Colorado had perhaps the best offseason in the Pac-12 in the sense that the only unexpected departure through the portal could be a blessing in disguise and they only had a few injuries at other positions.

The departure (the day I published my preview, naturally) was Sam Noyer, who was last year’s starting QB - he’s now with Oregon St. Jack and I talked about how running him frequently into harm’s way was effective in the shortened season but exposed him to too high of an injury risk, and his diminished ability as a passer meant the offense ran out of steam. The quarterback room took another hit when veteran Tennessee transfer #7 QB Shrout was injured. The best option is probably the high 3-star from 2020, #12 QB Lewis, whom we saw in the bowl game show off a live arm and a running ability that would keep him out of trouble instead of running into it. HC Dorrell’s conservatism might have led him to pick the more experienced Noyer or Shrout, but now he’ll be more or less forced into choosing Lewis but keeping him safe, with only one other available QB behind him (#9 QB Carter, a true freshman). It may be perverse to think of it this way, but these unfortunate events have conspired to lock CU into what’s likely their best QB arrangement - Lewis and without undue playcalling risks to him.

The only offensive unavailabilities I believe Colorado encountered were #13 WR Bell, who was their fourth-leading receiver last year among six other returners with receptions, and #76 RT Fillip will miss a few games with a shoulder injury. Offensive tackle is probably the position they’re thinnest at, and Jack tells me that redshirt freshman #60 RT Wiley will fill in. The other options look like Iowa transfer #53 OL Fenske and #69 OL Christian-Lichtenhan - I think it’s not a great sign of depth when two transfers and two freshmen who’ve never played make up the two-deep at OT.

On the defense the only injury looks to be #18 DL Doss, who had the fewest tackles last year of the five experienced returners. I still think the defensive line doesn’t have enough experienced bodies in it to make a smooth transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3, but Doss wasn’t going to make or break this change and they do have 11 available linemen even without him - it’s just a question of how good they are since the majority haven’t played. It also appears that TCU transfer Atanza Vongor won’t make it to Boulder after all, but they have plenty of DBs anyway and it didn’t appear they were really counting on him after Spring ball.

Prediction: 5-7, 4-5. A rough non-con (Texas A&M and Minnesota) keeps this team out of a bowl, but I think they pick up some unexpected wins - Washington and USC should look out during their road trips to Folsom. Look for the UCLA-Colorado game in the Rose Bowl to be a barn burner since that game has always been weird since they joined the conference.


Oregon v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Arizona

May 24th preview

This was one of the first previews I published back in May and I was expecting to make a torrent of updates, but really very little has changed. They’ve named Wazzu transfer #9 QB Cruz as starter with #15 QB Plummer to apparently split time in the opener, which evidently means that USF transfer #4 QB McCloud wasn’t impressive enough when he enrolled in Fall to secure the job as Bryant and I suspected he might. Nick Moore, the Oregon St transfer, isn’t listed on the roster and Fisch has referred to “our three quarterbacks,” though I’m not sure what’s happened there. Cruz’s accuracy problems combined with McCloud and Plummer not being able to hang onto jobs that were apparently theirs tell me not to expect much from the position in 2021.

Other notable offensive tidbits are that last year’s second leading receiver, #18 WR Wright, has been cleared to re-join the team after getting in and out of the portal, and they’ve apparently cleared another true freshman tight end in Carson Cota to join the team though he doesn’t appear on the roster yet. My basic opinion about the offense back in May was that despite a few nice pieces and an intriguing new playcaller, the Wildcats just don’t have the talent at any position to be much of a threat to consistently move the ball, and nothing this offseason has changed that stance.

The defense has a lot more drama. The new scheme completely reconfigures the roster, and as it is they’re somewhat underpopulated at defensive line and vastly overpopulated at linebacker. Several newcomers who weren’t discussed in May’s article appear to have broken into the starting lineup during Fall camp: they’ve added #26 DL Diallo from CMU, #24 LB Hayward from WMU has changed his mind yet again and will be joining the team, and as I predicted one of the true freshmen Fall enrollees at safety looks to be the new “Viper” hybrid LB/DB position, #28 DB Taylor.

Arizona took six linebacker transfers in a structure that only puts a few on the field, leading me to predict that newcomers are going to secure jobs and returners will start hitting the portal. That appears to be the case, with Derick Mourning already transferring out, #48 LB Roberts from Bowling Green looking like the starting MIKE, and #18 LB Hebert from Vanderbilt looking like the starting SAM.

Even as late as it is I think Arizona’s defense is still unsettled given a huge amount of personnel churn and the big schematic change. It’ll be interesting to watch in their first few games but they don’t have much time to figure it out because they open Pac-12 play with Oregon in week 4.

Prediction: 3-9, 1-8. This conference schedule is just brutal, missing Stanford and Oregon St from the North, and most of their possibly winnable games are on the road. There’s an FCS game and probably a split of BYU and San Diego St in the non-con, and I think they’ll pick up a win somewhere in conference (maybe Cal, that game is often a wild one). There’s just way too much building to be done on this team and the offseason, while generating some positive press, hasn’t been great from an immediate personnel standpoint.