NCAA Football 2017-18 Season
Pac-12 South Preview
Defending South Division champion Colorado has several key losses on defense, but coach Mike MacIntyre should keep the Buffaloes in the mix for second behind USC. Utah and UCLA are two other wild cards to watch in the South this fall. The new season of fantasy college football kicks off Saturday August 26 at FanPicks
The resurgence of USC, coming off its best season since the Pete Carroll era, is expected to continue, with the program inching toward its first conference championship in nearly a decade and first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff.
QB Sam Darnold, considered among the early favorites for the Heisman Trophy, adds credence to the hype. But the Trojans remain young. More than 50 of their 85 scholarship players will be underclassmen.
Coach Clay Helton has recruited well thus far, with two straight top-10 classes, so the Trojans are talented and have been free of NCAA sanctions since 2014. If USC is to become the third Pac-12 team in four seasons to make the CFB Playoff, it can thank a regular-season schedule that is more navigable, without Alabama and Washington. It’s likely the Trojans will be a factor in the race.
Colorado had its best season in 15 years and snapped a nine-year bowl drought with an inconsistent offense and a top-notch defense. This year, the Buffs will lean more on an experienced offense. There is a lot of excitement about quarterback Steven Montez’s potential, and with the weapons around him, the expectation is for the offense to improve upon last year’s 31.1 points per game, which ranked seventh in the Pac-12. Given the losses on defense, it’s tough to expect the Buffs to be as good as they were a year ago, but if they can keep opponents under 28 points per game and the offense improves, this team has the ability to challenge for the South title and get back to a bowl game.
Those who swear allegiance to the powder blues have been trying to figure out if the Bruins’ disastrous 2016 season was a blip in the radar or part of a troubling trend under head coach Jim Mora. Injuries to key players like quarterback Josh Rosen were a big factor in the team’s recent backslide, but two straight campaigns of declining win totals have many thinking that 2017 will be a referendum on the head coach’s tenure.
Despite concerns, the return of Rosen to the starting lineup is enough to get people to buy low on a team that should make big gains offensively. That should take some pressure off a re-tooled defense that is stuffed with talented players, and it’s hard to go anywhere but up on special teams. It might be tough to have a breakthrough season given how competitive Pac-12 South has become, but this has the potential to be a top-25 team if the pieces fall into place.
Utah has established itself as one of the Pac-12’s most consistent programs, but there’s more to do. Head coach Kyle Whittingham is driven to make his team the South’s sixth winner in seven seasons. The Utes’ October 14th visit to USC will be pivotal. Utah has beaten the Trojans two of the past three seasons.
Arizona St. Sun Devils
In the talent game, the Sun Devils are headed in the right direction but still are not near their destination. Head coach Todd Graham has quadrupled the number of four- and five-star recruits on his roster over a five-year period, but much of the best talent is still young. If the Sun Devils can stabilize this season, with improvement in the secondary and at quarterback, they’ll likely be over the hump transitioning to 2018, when most of their best players will return. However, Graham may need to reach a bowl game this year to make sure he’s still around.
Arizona allowed 44.8 points per game in its eight Pac-12 losses. Improving the defense is the top priority. Head coach Rich Rodriguez hired two new defensive coaches, but the defensive line remains under-sized, and the linebacking group is freshman-laden. Almost as worrisome, Arizona averaged only 22.6 points in Pac-12 games.
Rodriguez’s contract buyout would be $5.1 million if new athletic director Dave Heeke made a change. This roster is not built to shine in 2017, but, if all goes well, 2018 could be promising. Sweeping the three non-conference games against NAU, Houston and UTEP seems imperative for Arizona to have a winning season.