Wednesday, September 2, 2015

2015 College Football Preview: PAC-12

The 2015 College Football Season is this week and this will be the second year of the College Football Four-Team Playoff format.  This week I will be giving my preview of the major teams and players to watch for in 2015.  One of the elements that makes the College game so exciting is the unpredictability. There’s no preseason, always new players coming in as freshman, and past players leaving via graduation or early exit for the NFL.  Also, I enjoy watching College Football for the many different styles of offenses and defenses run on the field each week.  Unlike the NFL in which only a few different schemes are utilized each week, the College ranks over the last few decades have seen so many variants of styles and we the viewers have seen some of the greatest players succeed with these unique game plans.

Today I will highlight teams from the PAC-12 Football Conference

University of Southern California
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +2/-2
Make or Break Games: 9/19 vs. Stanford; 9/26 @ Arizona State, 10/17 at Notre Dame, 10/31 @ California; 11/21 @ Oregon; 11/28 vs UCLA

Synopsis: USC is coming out from the shadow of NCAA sanctions a couple years ago and has Head Coach Steve Sarkisian entering his second season as leader of the Football Team.  It has taken a few years for USC to recover in recruiting to gain more depth on their team.  As a result, they are considered one of the most talented teams in the PAC-12.  The biggest problem is that there are many talented players on this team that are not as battle tested as their opponents.   Will starting Quarterback Cody Kessler be able to put the team on his shoulders and carry them to a conference title?  Or will the team run head long into the perfect storm and come up short thanks to missed opportunities?  Playing at Oregon and Arizona State will definitively not be easy in-conference matchups.

University of Oregon
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +1/-2
Make or Break Games: 9/12 @ Michigan State; 10/29 @ Arizona State; 11/14 @ Stanford; 11/21 vs USC

Synopsis: Oregon, over the last several years, has raised their national profile with multiple runs at a National Title, but they have not been able to win it all.  Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota is now in the NFL and Head Coach Mark Helfrich is looking for a new starter at Quarterback.  Vernon Adams, who transferred from Eastern Washington, has taken the starting job from long time Mariota backup Jeff Lockie.  Adams, a dynamic athlete with great arm talent, has the potential to put up big numbers in the Oregon Ducks fast paced offensive attack.  But can he be anywhere as efficient as Mariota was last season?  The biggest reason Oregon was able to compete for the PAC-12 Title the last few years was because Marcus minimized mistakes and kept his team in games.  In the past Vernon Adams has been known to be a risk taker and overthink when in the moment.  If Vernon Adams makes too many mistakes, I am not sure the Oregon defense is built to overcome a mistake prone offense.     

Arizona State University
2015 Projected Record: 10-2
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +1/-3
Make or Break Games: 9/5 vs Texas A&M; 9/26 vs USC; 10/3 @ UCLA; 10/29 vs Oregon; 11/21 vs Arizona; 11/28 @ California

Synopsis: 2015 could be a great year or a disappointing season for the Arizona State Sun Devils.  The good news is they play three of their toughest games at home.  The bad news is they play two high powered offenses away from home (Texas A&M and Cal).  Mike Bercovici is entering his first full season as the team’s starting Quarterback, having to lead a high powered offense against a tough schedule of opposition.  The defense may be what makes or breaks this team, with one of the best secondary units in the conference.  They will be starting two Defensive Backs that could finish the season top three at their positions, but will that be enough to slow down high powered offenses like Oregon, Cal, Texas A&M, USC, and Arizona?  

University of Arizona
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +3/-1
Make or Break Games: 9/26 vs UCLA; 10/3 @ Stanford; 11/7 @ USC; 11/21 @ Arizona State

Synopsis: Arizona may have the best defensive player, Linebacker Scooby Wright, and the most underrated player, Quarterback Anu Solomon, in the PAC-12 coming into 2015.  But can these transcendent talents really carry Arizona to a conference title?  Maybe, although their underwhelming out of conference schedule may help inflate their record and team statistics.  It is much easier to be a dominant team against average competition than against teams with comparable or better talent on the field.  Arizona has pulled off some big wins the last three seasons under the guidance of Head Coach Rich Rodriguez, but I am not sure they have enough talent around their superstars to take that next step to be a contender for the College Football Final Four Playoff. 

University of Stanford
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +2/-1
Make or Break Games: 9/19 @ USC; 10/3 vs Arizona; 10/15 vs UCLA; 11/14 vs Oregon

Synopsis: Stanford has had one of the top ten defenses in the country the last few years.  But this year, they go into the season with only two starters in place from last season.  This major turnover on defense puts Stanford in the difficult position of going head to head with high powered offenses without the experience on defense to fully handle what is coming at them.  Also, can their offense really put up enough points to keep up with offenses like Oregon, USC, Cal, and Arizona?

University of California-Los Angeles
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +2/-3
Make or Break Games: 9/26 @ Arizona; 10/3 vs Arizona State; 10/15 @ Stanford; 11/21 @ Utah; 11/28 @ USC

Synopsis: UCLA returns 18 starters from last year’s squad, so they are one of the top teams in the conference in terms of upperclassmen on the roster.  On top of that, their starting Quarterback Josh Rosen is one of the most talked about QB prospects entering college football in over fifteen years.  If UCLA plays up to their potential and Rosen is half as good as predicted, this team could be the PAC-12 champions.  That is a lot of ifs though; UCLA has one of the toughest inter-conference schedules in the country.  Of their away games, three of them are versus nationally ranked opponents (Stanford, Arizona, and USC) while home games versus Arizona State and California will be no easy task.  If UCLA can weather the storms of their tough schedule, they may land themselves in among the Final Four teams of this season’s College Football Playoffs.

University of California- Berkeley
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Win/Loss Plus-Minus Variable: +3/-1
Make or Break Games: 9/19 @ Texas; 10/10 @ Utah; 10/22 @ UCLA; 10/31 vs USC; 11/7 @ Oregon; 11/21 @ Stanford; 11/28 vs Arizona State

Synopsis: I purposely listed California at the end of my highlighted team list for the PAC-12 because this team holds the destiny of the 2015 PAC-12 Conference champion with the result of their play this season.  The Cal Golden Bears will have as their starting Quarterback potentially the top QB in the conference this season, Jared Goff, who will be orchestrating one of the most high-powered offenses in the country.  Yes, that right, not just one of the best in the PAC-12 but the nation overall!  The problem for Cal this season will be how their defense improves from the last couple years of below average play.  With a difficult schedule to navigate, the Bears offense could be responsible for the downfall of many hopes and dreams of opposing PAC-12 school fans and alumni as they will most likely average around 40 points per game this season.  If their defense can play at least on par with the rest of the conference, Cal could be running to a Bowl game while the rest of the conference is licking their wounds.

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