Yesterday we kicked off our Pac-12 roundtable series by talking about the players that are poised to be breakout stars. Today we will take a look at which teams intrigue us the most. Joining us once again is our in-house crew of Pete and Ross. We are also joined by Dale Newton from the Oregon blog The Duck Stops Here, Tim Tolman of The Saturday Edge and Kyle Kensing from Saturday Blitz and Arizona Desert Swarm. Let’s get to the good stuff…
Can this guy make the transition from pro to college?
QUESTION: The Pac-12 is set up to be one of the most intriguing conferences this year with all of the coaching changes. What team will you be keeping an eye on?
Dale: It’s going to be an exciting conference race with a host of compelling story lines, utterly impossible to choose just one. Jim Mora’s changing the culture at UCLA, and the talent there will now be welded to discipline. Expect an immediate boost in results, particularly if he’s able to sort out the quarterback position.
Mike Leach is bringing swagger and innovation to the Palouse this year, and Washington State will again become the road trip no one wants to make. Marquess Wilson might break the 120-catch, 1500-yard barrier in that offense, and quarterbacks Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday are tailor made for Leach’s swing-from-the-mizzen-mast style of offense.
Kyle: Utah is a dangerous team. John White is a name to remember. He’s the best running back in the West, and potentially the nation. A healthy Jordan Wynn should help White’s production, and vice versa. UU also has one of the better defenders in the conference, Star Lotulelei. Last season was a bit of an acclimation process, but I think by season’s end, Utah was more used to the size and speed of the Pac. Hosting USC in a classic trap game, I think the Utes steal a W and possibly the division.
Tim: I think I’ll be keeping an eye on Stanford this season. I believe the perception from a lot of non-PAC 12 fans and pundits is that the Cardinal, having lost four players selected in the first 42 picks of the draft, will take a step back. The loss of Luck will certainly be difficult to replace, but this team is loaded at just about every other position. They have one of the better defenses in the PAC 12, led by All-American candidates Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov at linebacker. They have some good RBs and TEs, and if you have noticed, they continue to recruit top level OL and DL talent. They will stick to their formula and continue to play physical, smash mouth football.
Pete: I’m a Rich Rodriquez fan so my attention will be on the Arizona Wildcats. Like he did at West Virginia and Michigan, RichRod will implement the spread option offense. Matt Scott appears suited to quarterback the new offense, though it will take time.
Rodriquez is reunited with longtime defense coordinator Jeff Casteel. The two worked together successfully in West Virginia, but Casteel did not follow Rodriquez to Ann Arbor. He’ll use the 3-3-5 in Tucson. Like the offense though, it’ll take time to learn and recruit the personnel for it to be at optimum success. In the meantime, it’ll be fun to watch the transition.
I’ll be paying attention to the developments in Pullman, Wash. too.
Ross: I’m curious to see how Stanford moves forward in the post-Luck era, I’m curious to see how USC lives up to the hype, and I’m curious to see how RichRod does at Arizona… but I’m really fascinated to see Mike Leach’s return at Washington State. I loved watching his Texas Tech teams, so I’m certainly excited to see what he can do with the Cougars. They had a pretty strong passing attack last year and that should only get better with Leach’s arrival. I don’t know how many games they’ll win, but Washington State just became must-see viewing on late night Saturdays this fall.
Kevin: The answer to this question has to be Washington State for me. Mike Leach’s predecessor, Paul Wiuff, went just 9-40 in his run at Wazzu and after his first season (10-3) Bill Doba never won more than six games in his five year run. It’s been four years of mediocrity followed by four years of misery. While Wazzu was not good last year, they were making strides and were starting to gain some steam. It will be very interesting to see what Mike Leach can do with this team.
Another team I am very interested in watching is Steve Sarkisian’s Washington Huskies. In his first three years Sark has gone 19-19 but the Huskies feel like they are just about ready to breakout. The problem for the Huskies is that their division is inhabited by Oregon and Stanford. Quarterback Keith Price looks like he’s on the verge of stardom but Sark has to fix the defense. This year Sark has brought in Justin Wilcox and Tosh Lapoi to fix the defense. I think the Huskies are one year away but it will be interesting to see what kind of steps they can take this year.
Come back tomorrow on Monday as we will conclude our Pac-12 roundtable series with our final question.