Pac-12 spring preview: Star power at QB defines league in transition

While the conference focuses on the upcoming search for a new media deal and potential expansion following the 2024 departure of USC and UCLA into the Big Ten, this spring we will see some of the new Pac-12 features for the first time. additions as well as returning stars as he solidifies himself as a quarterbacks conference.

USC’s Caleb Williams leads the way after winning last season’s Heisman competition as a sophomore, while Oregon’s Beau Nicks, Utah’s Cam Rising, and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. have decided to return to school for another year. All four of these teams must enter and exit the Spring Ball as favorites.

But don’t forget teams like Oregon State and Washington State. The former added Clemson’s quarterback DJ Uiagalelei to the transfer portal, while the latter Cameron Ward returned for another season. Rounding out the roster are UCLA State transfer Kent Collin Schley (who will have to keep an eye on freshman Dante Moore), Notre Dame transfer Drew Pine (who moved to Arizona State under new coach Kenny Dillingham), and a return to the starting lineup. Jayden de Laura (Arizona) and, of course, Deion Sanders’ son Scheder Sanders, who will usher in a new era of football in Colorado.

In what is already a transitional year for the Pac-12, he may have the best chance of getting the team back in the college football playoffs after Washington’s only appearance in 2016.


Top plot: Can Arizona’s defense improve? It’s hard to overstate how bad the Wildcats’ defense was last season. They were one of the 25 worst teams in the country in both passing defense and rushing defense, while having one of the top 20 offenses in the country. The disparity between the two devices is stark, but that also means there’s a lot of room for improvement. Defense will certainly be the talk of the spring camp, especially after the team lost the likes of defenseman Kion Barrs and cornerman Christian Roland-Wallace to USC via the transfer portal.

Newbie to watch: Linebacker Bill Norton and linebacker Daniel Heimuli are two transfer additions that could help a lackluster team move in the right direction, while California’s new four-star rookie linebacker Levitikus Sua proves that head coach Jedd Fish can recruit potentially elite guards and not only those who are offended, too. All three will be players to watch in the spring as Arizona continues to break away from the bottom of the conference. — Objects


Storyline: The hiring of Kenny Dillingham to lead the Sunny Devils couldn’t be more opposite than that of his predecessor, Herm Edwards. By all accounts, Dillingham seems like the right person for the job, given his devotion to the school, his offensive shrewdness, and recruiting prowess. In the spring, we will see Dillingham for the first time as head coach of a team in dire need of leadership and a brand new start. And, as Dillingham no doubt saw, in Oregon, when he was offensive coordinator there last year, Dan Lanning’s first year, the job was not easy.

Newbie to watch: Drew Pine. The effect of Dillingham’s hiring was immediately felt not only in the hiring of five-star quarterback Jayden Rashada (who has now moved to the Sunny Devils), but also in the addition of Notre Dame’s Pine via portal. Pine threw for over 2,000 yards, 22 touchdowns and only six interceptions last year at South Bend, which is a more than reliable option for ASU in a position that has seen better days at Tempe. Pine would be the perfect fit to bridge the gap between last season and Rashada’s possible start. — Objects


Top plot: The Justin Wilcox era has officially entered win-or-else territory. After five full seasons – plus a limited 2020 season – the Bears have yet to register a conference winning record under Wilcox, and more worryingly, they are regressing from 8-5 every year in 2019. This is enough time to understand what to expect from Wilcox at Berkeley, and if there is no significant improvement this season, it is fair to expect change. The timing here is interesting because if the fork had been cut last season (as the Bears went 4-8, 2-7), the logical replacement would have been former California quarterback Troy Taylor, who instead took a job at Stanford after David Shaw left. down.

Newbie to watch: Jake Spavital returned to the Berkeley as offensive coordinator after spending the past four seasons as head coach at Texas State. His return to California, where he served as Sonny Dykes’ offensive coordinator in 2016 — and, briefly, as interim head coach during the offseason — represents a blow-and-start approach to offense. was a clear weakness during Wilcox’s tenure. — Bonagura


Top plot: Unlike previous seasons, there are many storylines and questions in and around Boulder this spring, but they all more or less revert to the same overarching storyline: how will Deion Sanders start reshaping the Division I program? who needs not just help, but a major overhaul? This overhaul has already begun in many ways, but spring camp should be the first look at what Sanders (as well as the seven Jackson State players who followed him to Colorado) will bring to the table.

Newbie to watch: Travis Hunter. After Sanders shocked the sport by getting Hunter (#1 overall last season) to pick Jackson State over Florida State, Sanders’ move west meant the Buffs would also get Hunter. Colorado is not in a place where one elite player can fully raise their defense, but Hunter’s talent will inevitably raise their level. — Objects


Top plot: Now it’s Dan Lanning’s team. What does it mean? Even in an era of college football, when changing squads has been made easier by the evolution of transfer rules, freshman coaches find it difficult to play exactly the way they want. The style of the game is still to some extent determined by the composition of the squad. So while Lanning had an impressive rookie season in Eugene — 10-3, 7-2 in the conference — it was always part of a larger process. This is certainly not unique, but it is this dynamic that makes this spring so interesting for the Ducks. There are still legacy players on the roster, but it’s now more or less a team built around Lanning’s vision. It will be especially interesting to see how this plays out defensively given Lanning’s history on this side of the ball.

Newbie to watch: Striker Adjani Cornelius is one of the most interesting transitions of the off-season. An unexpected rookie who graduated from high school in New York, he has grown into one of the most in-demand players on the portal in his last two seasons at FCS Rhode Island. — Bonagura


Top plot: Determining the success of Corvallis this year will be difficult. Further improvement? Maintain the level that the Beavers showed in 2022? Only a small regression (considering losses in defense)? It’s a framing issue. Since being replaced by Jonathan Smith before the 2018 season, the Beavers have made incremental progress each year, going 10-3 last year with a Las Vegas Bowl win. It was only the third time in school history that the Beavers had won at least 10 games, so this season should be remembered as a great season of all time. Except that at the same time, the Beaves only finished in fifth place, and despite the historical context, this is hardly a satisfying place in the standings.

Newbie to watch: The arrival of QB DJ Uiagalelei is one of the biggest transfers in college football. He went from the next big case to being fired from his job at Clemson due to inconsistent play. Either way, he represents a significant improvement in Oregon’s position, which has been held back by QB play in recent years. — Bonagura


Top plot: New era, new vision. After watching the most successful period in school history, David Shaw eventually fell apart. A fresh set of ideas was needed, and that’s what new coach Troy Taylor needs to provide. At Sacramento State, he led a team that went 2-8 overall and 0-7 in the Big Sky Conference in 2018 and only lost one game in the conference over the next three seasons (they didn’t play in 2020). Replicating such an immediate turn in this situation will be significantly more difficult, but it does give some optimism that Stanford can be competitive again.

Newbie to watch: Taylor. Some more Sac State facts about Taylor: The Hornets finished 3rd on total offense (499.8 yards per game) using a two-quarterback system in which QB Asher O’Hara was second on the team in passing yards ( 883) and jerks. yards (938). — Bonagura

University of California at Los Angeles

Top plot: Who will replace Dorian Thompson-Robinson at center? Saying goodbye to his longtime NFL quarterback, Chip Kelly may be in for a good old quarterback battle. The Bruins pulled Kent State’s Collin Schley out of the transfer portal and Schley is well set to take over as the Bruins’ quarterback. Last season. Schley threw for over 2,000 yards and 13 touchdowns (and ran for almost 500 yards and four touchdowns) and has the potential to continue to excel on offense like Kelly. However, recruit Dante Moore gives UCLA a five-star prodigy who looks the part and could give Schley a shot at the position. Speaking of…

Newbie to watch: Last year, the 17-year-old Michigan quarterback shocked the college football world by moving from Oregon to UCLA. Then, at this year’s 2023 All-American Cup, Moore continued to show how good he already is. In a limited number of snaps at the bowl, Moore hit four touchdowns and won the MVP of the game award. — Objects


Top plot: USC will have a hard time convincing the college football world that it has done enough to improve its defense before games kick off in the fall. However, after leaving last season for…


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