Yesterday, we took you on a winding excursion covering the value of having a veteran quarterback in the Pac-12. The preamble to today’s Pac-12 South picks will be a lot shorter, as in . . . Matt Barkley.
Barkley gives the Trojans a leg up not only in the division, and in the conference, but against just about anybody in the country.
Herewith, then, my early read on the Pac-12 South:
1. Southern California. It’s not only Barkley, but his remarkable corps of receivers who could make the Trojans’ passing game unstoppable. Are we about to have two All-American receivers (Robert Woods and Marqise Lee) on the same squad? Depth, though, could become an issue as USC deals with the 75-scholarship limit arising from NCAA sanctions.
2. Utah. Having tossed bouquets the Trojans’ way, I have to say I’m sorely tempted to pick the Utes to steal the division. Yes, Utah. The Utes have had a year in the league to size it up. They’ve got 16 starters back, and they’re much better-equipped at quarterback than they were in 2011. They play excellent defense (NT Star Lotolelei changes the game), and they’ve got a 1,500-yard runner in John White. Finally, they have a September date with USC — in Salt Lake City.
3. Arizona. There appears to be a big dropoff from the top two in the division to the lower four, which are marked by new coaches and new quarterbacks. ‘Zona fits the description of a new coach (Rich Rodriguez), but QB Matt Scott can’t be classified as a complete newbie, since he filled in ably in 2010 for injured Nick Foles. And he ought to be a good fit for Rodriguez’ spread system.
4. UCLA. Of the four Pac-12 programs with new coaches, none figures to have more of an attitude adjustment than the Bruins with Jim Mora Jr. (although it sounds like Todd Graham is undergoing something similar at ASU). I think he’ll make strides the first year, but it can’t be done overnight, especially with UCLA’s forever-evolving quarterback situation. Remember, this is an outfit that allowed 45 points or more five times last year.
5. Arizona State. Graham comes to the program with one distinct advantage (I guess). His hire was booed in so many circles, any early progress he can show will be lauded beyond reason. Problem is, he starts with one of the greenest quarterbacks in the conference, no matter whether it’s Mike Bercovici, Taylor Kelly or Michael Eubank. Bercovici and Kelly have combined to throw seven passes at ASU, Eubank none. Expect Eubank to win the job at some point this year — and a lot of growing pains with it.
6. Colorado. From a talent perspective, you could almost call this the first year under Jon Embree. The Buffs have only 10 starters back, and they’re counting heavily on February’s signing class to begin to make advances on a league that was, well, mostly out of the Buffs’ league in 2011. Among other issues, they’re also starting fresh at quarterback.