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5 May 2022

  • Bonagura, Kyle

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    Former-USC-football-assistant-Todd-McNair-NCAA-settle-defamation-lawsuitESPN Contributor

    • The Pac-12 is covered.
    • In 2014, he joined ESPN.
    • Washington State University was her alma mater.
  • Uggetti, Paolo

Let’s take a look at what we’ve learned and what we still need to learn for each Pac-12 club now that spring football is over and another season is only four months away.

What is the status of the USC offense under Lincoln Riley? In the autumn, how will Oregon’s defense come together? Who will start as quarterback for Washington? We dissect everything.

Division North

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What we learned this spring: Since December, when Jack Plummer announced his transfer from Purdue to Cal, he has been considered the likely successor for Chase Garbers (who signed with the Las Vegas Raiders as an undrafted free agent). Plummer’s accuracy and mastery of the offense impressed Cal’s coaching staff during spring, mainly confirming that theory. He hasn’t been designated the starter yet, but it looks like he will be soon.

What we need to know before Week 1: This won’t be addressed in Week 1, but Cal’s success will be determined in large part by how effectively it plays on offense. The defense is expected to be among the best in the Pac-12, so even if the offense is just average, Cal will have a successful season. Since 2009, the Bears have not had a winning conference record.

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What we learned this spring: Coach Dan Lanning’s hiring signaled a desire to dominate on defense and continue recruiting at a high level, but the Ducks’ evolution under offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham is probably more intriguing. For reasons obvious to anyone who has followed college football for more than 10 minutes, it’s foolish to put much stock in a spring game, but the Ducks offense — led by new quarterback Bo Nix and likely backup Jay Butterfield — provided plenty of reasons to be excited about what’s to come on that side.

What we need to know before Week 1: On defense, injury difficulties hindered a number of important players from receiving the necessary repetitions, particularly given the coaching change. That would have been a problem regardless of the schedule, but with the Ducks facing Lanning’s previous club, reigning national champion Georgia, it becomes much more so. It’s not exactly a game with a lot of room for mistake when it comes to ironing out the wrinkles.

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What we learnt this spring: During the 2021 season, Trent Bray’s extraordinary climb from position coach to interim DC to regular DC in little over a month made this a crucial spring for him. It’s difficult to make major adjustments in the middle of the season, so this was Bray’s opportunity to chart his own path. Early results are encouraging. There may not be a significant change in terms of structure, but Bray claims he will be more aggressive.

What we need to know before Week 1: Until proved otherwise, the receiving corps’ lack of experience will be a concern, but Silas Bolden, the brother of Oregon State legend Victor Bolden, gave cause for hope in the Beavers’ spring scrimmage. He pulled in a couple of touchdown passes after collecting only three catches for 25 yards previous season, and his continued progress seems promising.

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What we learned this spring: Because QB Tanner McKee didn’t inherit a strong circumstance last season (4-8), his lack of team success overshadows the reality that he showed indications of becoming a highly efficient player. McKee was in perfect command of the spring game, and if Stanford has cause to anticipate an improvement next season, it begins with him.

What we need to know before Week 1: Stanford’s absence of a genuine offseason program in 2020 and 2021 might be a contributing factor in the team’s on-field struggles. It also makes the team’s next several months crucial as it attempts to regain some kind of identity. It’s difficult to see the Cardinal being the bruising force they were not long ago, but there must be something on which they can rely.

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What we learned this spring: The Huskies may be the most difficult Pac-12 team to forecast. Last year’s 4-8 record was a complete catastrophe, but since the season began with such high hopes, it’s easier to foresee a turnaround under new coach Kalen DeBoer this year. During the spring, there were no noteworthy events from the Huskies that altered anything about what to anticipate in 2022. His capacity to reestablish a positive culture is his top priority, and he has made significant progress in this area.

What we need to know before Week 1: The quarterback position for the Huskies is still up in the air, and the “spring preview” didn’t instill much confidence in any of the candidates (Dylan Morris, Michael Penix Jr. and Sam Huard). Morris, as the starting quarterback at Washington, and Penix Jr., at Indiana, both have experience, and Huard has a blue-chip recruiting reputation, but none of them have really distinguished themselves. Overall, DeBoer expressed satisfaction with the group’s growth.

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What we learned in spring: The offense is going to be entertaining to watch. The transfer of quarterback Cam Ward from Incarnate Word might turn out to be one of the most significant offseason decisions in college football. That’s not even taking into account the fact that he’ll continue to run Eric Morris’ scheme after the former UIW head coach went to become the Cougars’ offensive coordinator under new coach Jake Dickert.

What we need to know before Week 1: In the autumn, an explosive attack combined with an inexperienced secondary might result in several shootouts. It would alleviate some worries if Dickert could add an experienced body, or two, to the secondary once the next round of transfers occurs.

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What we learned this spring: Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley are on the same page no matter what shade of red they’re wearing. Riley has expressed satisfaction with the USC offensive’s growth this spring, while Williams seems to be game-ready in a familiar scheme. Everyone else (save maybe fellow Oklahoma transfer Mario Williams) has been folded into the scheme by the two. So far, the results have been good, and considering the rumors surrounding USC and Biletnikoff champion Jordan Addison, more firepower might be on the way.

What we need to know by Week 1: Can USC quickly repair its trenches? There is no quick fix for how far behind the Trojans’ line play has fallen, but with an entirely new staff that includes offensive coordinator Josh Henson as the new offensive line coach and defensive line coach Shaun Nua (formerly of Michigan) (as well as a slew of transfers that will keep coming), USC is poised to improve. It remains to be seen how much.

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Justyn Martin is up next, according to what we discovered this spring. Although we’re looking forward, the highly touted freshman quarterback from Inglewood showed some big sparks during spring practice. Though he’s far behind Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Ethan Garbers on the depth chart, it’s exciting to imagine what a UCLA attack headed by him may look like in the near future. Garbers’ success during fall camp might influence whether he stays in 2023 or not.

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What we need to know before Week 1: Will UCLA be able to establish a pass rush? Last season, the Bruins had one of the worst pass defenses in the country, and Kelly has continued to worsen in that area each year. New defensive coordinator Bill McGovern brings some promise (as well as accountability, given that he has already spoken to the media, whereas his predecessor had not done so in four years), and players like linebacker Bo Calvert and twin (!) edge rushers Grayson and Gabriel Murphy could give the program a much-needed boost on that side of the ball.

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Something is wrong in Tempe, we discovered this spring. 18 players have departed the school since last season, with a few of them, like linebacker Eric Gentry (who has already committed to USC), leaving after spring camp finished. The upcoming NCAA probe is the elephant in the room, but beyond the uncertainty it may bring, the program seems to be flailing without a clear direction, and whatever vitality Herm Edwards brought with him appears to have vanished.

What we need to know by Week 1: Who will be the focal point? One of the greatest losses in the nation during the transfer craze may have been Jayden Daniels’ decision to return to college only to transfer to LSU. It’s uncertain who will start as quarterback for the Sun Devils without Daniels. So far, Trenton Bourguet looks to have a little advantage against Alabama transfer Paul Tyson, but their combined lack of experience (28 pass attempts) isn’t promising.

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What we learned this spring: The Buffs might be developing a pass rush. Colorado finished last in the league (126th nationally) in sacks and 10th in tackles for loss last season. There has been great progress on that front this spring, with head coach Karl Dorrell applauding the defense for its improvements in getting to quarterbacks and forcing turnovers. It remains to be seen if that will transfer in Week 1, but considering where the Buffs defense is coming from, any improvement will be notable.

What we need to know by Week 1: Who will be the winning quarterback? In Boulder, incumbent Brendon Lewis is the favorite, but Tennessee transfer J.T. Shrout has all the makings of a viable rival. Shrout is coming off knee surgery that took him out of the 2021 season, so he wasn’t fully recovered for the whole spring. Shrout, on the other hand, was able to take part in some 7-on-7 drills, and he should be ready for a true quarterback duel with Lewis this fall.

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What we learned in spring: This season, Arizona is unlikely to finish bottom in the country in turnover margin. Last season, the Wildcats only had two fumbles and four interceptions despite handing the ball away 23 times. This year, Arizona’s defense recorded a total of 25 takeaways at the spring showcase. That is a precise figure. It’s unclear if the Wildcats’ improvement will come from a more aggressive defense or merely trending toward the mean.

What we need to know by Week 1: Will any of the newcomers make an impression? Jedd Fisch and his staff made national news earlier this year when they assembled a top-25 recruiting class. While Jayden de Laura’s transfer from Washington State to Tucson could provide Fisch’s offense with a dynamic quarterback, the future will look brighter if some of the highly touted freshmen (like four-star wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan and four-star running back Rayshon Luke) get off to a fast start.

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What we discovered this spring: Cameron Rising is the most at ease quarterback in the Pac-12. Rising didn’t even break a sweat on his route to a 6-for-6 touchdown drive in Utah’s spring game. It was all Rising needed to prove after leading the Utes to the Rose Bowl last year with a 2,500-yard, 20-touchdown season. While the rest of the league revolves around them, Utah’s best strength and one of the major reasons they enter into 2022 as Pac-12 favorites is stability, particularly with Kyle Whittingham. Another is Rising, who has a track record of consistency and minimal turnover.

By Week 1, we’ll see whether rookie linebackers can fill the vacuum left by Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell. The Utes have routinely had one of the strongest defenses in the league since 2017, and they will want to build on that this season with the aid of a few of rookies. Lander Barton and Carson Tabaracci, two early entrants, have already begun to demonstrate how they’ll affect this year’s defense by swapping high school grad nights for tackling exercises.

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