2014 Pac-12 Football Simulated Preview From WhatIfSports.com image

2014 Pac-12 Football Simulated Preview

We simulate the Pac-12 football season

WhatIfSports.com
August 21, 2014

Using our college football simulation engine, WhatIfSports.com simulated thousands of college football games to create the 2014 Pac-12 Preview. Team ratings, player ratings and depth charts are accurate as of August 20th. What you see in the Conference Standings table is the most likely outcome based on the computer simulations. The team-by-team schedules use Absolute Records, which you can learn more about below. Those same game-by-game simulations also generate average points per game for both teams.

All team previews are provided by CollegeFootballNews.com.

2014 Pac-12 Predicted Conference Standings
NorthWLOverall Record
Oregon639-3
Stanford638-4
Washington547-5
Oregon State456-6
Washington State456-6
California364-8
SouthWLOverall Record
USC638-4
UCLA548-4
Arizona State547-5
Arizona456-6
Utah455-7
Colorado274-8

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For this analysis, thousands of college football games are simulated, with the sum of the winning percentages of those games being our final predicted record. As can be noted, sometimes a team is "favored" (wins more than 50% of the time) in a different number of our games than the expected record shows. We list this record as the Absolute Record. The assumption of the Absolute Record is that the more likely scenario always happens. Since we know that it does not, our expected record (in the table above) is far more accurate. Also, especially since we are rounding, it is possible for a team to win a game more often, yet score the same or fewer points on average. In those cases, for Absolute Records, we always take higher winning percentage and are not predicting a tie or a win by an underdog. This is another reason why the expected records are more accurate, as the teams are so evenly matched, the game could easily go either way.


Oregon

Marcus Mariota

After failing to appear in a BCS bowl game for the first time since 2008, the Ducks are out to restore the order in 2014 by returning to the top of the Pac-12.

Oregon didn't like the way last year felt, squandering a late-season lead in the North Division and playing a meaningless bowl game on Dec. 30. From the top of the program down, the Ducks are committed to not only capturing the division and the conference, but also appearing in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Oregon football is built on the motto of winning the day. In 2014, it must seize the day. The reality around Eugene is that the rest of the league has narrowed the divide on the Ducks. Stanford has had their number the past two years. USC is moving further away from the depths of NCAA sanctions. And UCLA, Arizona State and Washington are steadily climbing up the pecking order. Oregon, now more than ever, needs to take advantage of the decisions of QB Marcus Mariota and CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to return to school for another year.

The Ducks aren't going anywhere. They remain one of the nation's top programs, with the facilities and the reputation to continue reeling in top-flight talent. But the roads to Pasadena and the College Football Playoff are becoming increasingly congested as the Pac-12 improves. And second-year head coach Mark Helfrich knows it. He also knows that Alamo Bowl invitations won't cut it. Such is life as Chip Kelly's successor.

The return of Mariota means Oregon has a good shot of averaging at least 45 points a game for a fifth year in a row. He's one of the more dynamic weapons under center in college football, and he'll be joined in the huddle by four veteran linemen and the one-two running punch of Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall. The unit's lone concern is at wide receiver. Last year's top four receivers, including injured star Bralon Addison, are no longer available, heaping pressure on senior Keanon Lowe, sophomore Dwayne Stanford and redshirt freshman Devon Allen to pick up the slack.

The Ducks are about to find out what the defense will look like without Nick Aliotti calling the shots. The popular - and successful - assistant was on staff for more than a quarter-century, the last 15 as the coordinator. Taking Aliotti's place will be Don Pellum, another longtime Oregon coach. Pellum takes the reins of a D that's strong at linebacker, the position he played in Eugene, but retooling up front and in the back end. The Ducks return one full-timer on the D-line, DeForest Buckner, and one from the secondary, Ekpre-Olomu. Pellum will be mining for new stars, like DE Arik Armstead, CB Dior Mathis and precocious rookie S Tyree Robinson.

Oregon will start this season much the way it began the last five - favored to win the Pac-12 and contend for national honors. Anything less goes down as a stumble, especially since Mariota's return was an unexpected gift. It'll be a particularly big year for Helfrich, who missed the target in his debut, and will be judged even harsher in his encore.

- Rich Cirminiello

View also:

  • Full Oregon Preview
  • What You Need to Know and Top 10 Players

    Absolute Schedule/Records

    2014 Oregon Ducks
    WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
    1South Dakota Coyotes9551-8
    2Michigan State Spartans5622-21
    3Wyoming Cowboys8633-19
    4@Washington State Cougars7434-23
    6Arizona Wildcats7530-21
    7@UCLA Bruins5826-24
    8Washington Huskies6025-22
    9@California Golden Bears8634-20
    10Stanford Cardinal5426-23
    11@Utah Utes7227-19
    13Colorado Buffaloes8532-18
    14@Oregon State Beavers7432-23

    Stanford

    David Shaw

    The Cardinal is entering their most challenging season since before Jim Harbaugh arrived at the Farm in 2007.

    Stanford has won at least 11 games, and appeared in a major bowl game, in each of the last four seasons. Maintaining that torrid trend, though, will require head coach David Shaw and a new-look staff to seamlessly insert first-time starters into the lineup. This program is either going to take a step in reverse or it'll showcase just how skilled it is at signing and developing blue-chip high school athletes.

    The Cardinal has faced hurdles during their current run. Yet, they've always found a way to overcome the departures of cornerstone figures, like Harbaugh, Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart. This season's challenge? Retool a roster that lost ten All-Pac-12 performers to the NFL, five on offense and five on defense.

    The encouraging news around campus is that the coach and the quarterback - junior Kevin Hogan - remain the same, which will serve as a stable foundation entering 2014. Shaw has been magnificent in three seasons since replacing Harbaugh, going 34-7, with back-to-back Pac-12 titles. Plus, he and his assistants continue to reel in top-tier talent from around the country, which will greatly aid in the rebuilding effort.

    Just because Hogan doesn't figure to be challenged this summer doesn't mean he's been tearing it up. In fact, the Cardinal needs their third-year starter to raise the level of his game to help offset the losses of 1,700-yard rusher Tyler Gaffney and four-fifths of the starting O-line. That running game, a staple in these parts, could be tested, as little-used backs Kelsey Young, Barry Sanders and others prepare to run behind a heralded, yet largely unproven front wall.

    The D, another cornerstone to the program's recent success, is undergoing its own facelift. Not only have a slew of all-stars departed, but so has coordinator Derek Mason, the architect of those physical, well-coached units. Still, Stanford won't dip as far as many assume. The mix of veterans, like DE Henry Anderson, LB A.J. Tarpley, CB Alex Carter and SS Jordan Richards, and up-and-comers is enough to ensure that the Cardinal will be one of the Pac-12's saltiest defenses for a fifth year in a row.

    Stanford has been a resilient squad in recent years, thriving in the face of those doubters and skeptics patiently waiting for the program to slide back into mediocrity. Academic institutions of this caliber can't possibly maintain on Saturdays as well, right? The Cardinal aren't going away anytime soon, or at least as long as Shaw is in charge, but they'll face more than the usual number of hurdles in 2014 as they try to remain among the Pac-12 - and national - elite.

    - Rich Cirminiello

    View also:

  • Full Stanford Preview
  • What You Need to Know and Top 10 Players

    Absolute Schedule/Records

    2014 Stanford Cardinal
    WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
    1UC Davis Aggies9548-7
    2USC Trojans5923-21
    3Army Black Knights8732-16
    5@Washington Huskies5324-22
    6@Notre Dame Fighting Irish4924-25
    7Washington State Cougars7631-23
    8@Arizona State Sun Devils5726-25
    9Oregon State Beavers6831-24
    10@Oregon Ducks4623-26
    12Utah Utes7728-19
    13@California Golden Bears8030-20
    14@UCLA Bruins5725-23

    Washington

    Chris Peterson

    Chris Petersen is out to prove he's not the next Dan Hawkins or Dirk Koetter. Doing so will require him to elevate his new program to a higher level.

    Ballyhooed former Bronco coaches have not typically fared well outside of the cozy confines of Boise State. Hawkins flopped at Colorado, and Koetter flirted with mediocrity for six seasons at Arizona State. Petersen, though, plans to become a trendsetter. He's fully committed to picking up where Steve Sarkisian left off by taking the Huskies from a good team that can bank on a bowl game to one that competes for Pac-12 titles.

    Sark did not leave the cupboard bare on his way out to USC, especially on defense. Years of sound recruiting and employing younger players have positioned U-Dub to build on last season's first nine-win campaign since 2000.

    In that regard, Sark's efforts, both as a coach and a recruiter, will be felt on Montlake for the next couple of seasons. But now it's up to a new regime to take what the old guard manufactured and perfect it, because the Huskies have gone 2-17 versus Oregon and Stanford over the past decade.

    Petersen is widely considered one of the dozen or so best head coaches in college football. He reached iconic status while at Boise State, going 92-12, with five league titles and two Fiesta Bowl wins, over an eight-year span. His Bronco teams were always inventive on offense and well-coached on both sides of the ball. And for a time, he appeared content to be the big fish in a small pond, until Washington finally pried him away.

    Petersen and his new staff have a lot on their plates in 2014. From a schematic perspective, they're installing new systems on both sides of the ball, led by offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith and defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski. In terms of personnel, Coach Pete's top priority will be to locate playmakers on offense.

    Kwiatkowski's defense will have a chance to rank among the best in the Pac-12. And the O-line boasts the reinforcements to finally be considered an asset. But who's going to move the ball for Petersen's first offense in Seattle now that QB Keith Price, RB Bishop Sankey and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins are gone?

    An already muddled quarterback situation was further clouded when a suspension cost frontrunner Cyler Miles the spring, when the new offense was being installed. Stay tuned, because the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers will resume jockeying for position in August.

    Only time will tell if the Huskies traded up when Sarkisian's departure created an opening for Petersen to finally accept a Pac-12 offer. Two things, though, are certain at this point: Sark's stabilizing work over the course of five years made it possible for Washington to be an enticing destination for a coach of Petersen's caliber. And if the new boss is going to compete right away with Oregon and Stanford out of the North Division, he'll need to whip the offense into shape this summer.

    - Rich Cirminiello

    View also:

  • Full Washington Preview
  • What You Need to Know and Top 10 Players

    Absolute Schedule/Records

    2014 Washington Huskies
    WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
    1@Hawaii Rainbow Warriors8629-17
    2Eastern Washington Eagles9546-8
    3Illinois Fighting Illini6728-20
    4Georgia State Panthers8431-17
    5Stanford Cardinal4722-24
    7@California Golden Bears8131-19
    8@Oregon Ducks4022-25
    9Arizona State Sun Devils4722-23
    10@Colorado Buffaloes6625-19
    11UCLA Bruins4723-25
    12@Arizona Wildcats5824-21
    13Oregon State Beavers6727-22
    14@Washington State Cougars6027-23

    Oregon State

    Sean Mannion

    Oregon State - long on consistency, yet short on respect.

    The Beavers are perennially a break or two away from winning nine games in a season. However, living in the shadow of Oregon - and Stanford - in the Pac-12 North can be a daunting challenge for a program. Yeah, Oregon State has become accustomed to the postseason, bowling 11 times since 1999, but mid-tier bowl games are as good as it gets in Corvallis. The Beavers haven't won an outright league title or appeared in the Rose Bowl in a half-century. Or beaten the rival Ducks in the last six tries, capped by last November's excruciating 36-35 loss in Eugene.

    Mike Riley and his staff have had a knack for doing more with less, routinely turning marginal high school recruits into NFL-caliber players. But the Beavers want to be more than overachievers. Winning the North every four or five years and snapping the Civil War losing streak would be undeniable progress at Oregon State. The team caught a break when next-level QB Sean Mannion decided to return for his senior year. The prototypical pocket passer threw 37 touchdown passes in 2013, but he wasn't the same in the second-half of the year. Not coincidentally, neither were the Beavs.

    Last season was a topsy-turvy one in Corvallis. Oregon State opened with an inexcusable loss to Eastern Washington, reeled off six straight wins to crack the Top 25 and then dropped the final five regular season games. By the time the Beavers defeated Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl, Riley needed a dose of maximum strength Dramamine. This year, the team is striving for more stability, at quarterback and on a macro team level.

    The Beavers will seek out higher ground in 2014 without their best players, WR Brandin Cooks and DE Scott Crichton, who left school following their junior seasons. While Mannion is the face of the squad, the staff wants to give him more help, especially from a running game that was non-existent last fall. OSU will also need to protect the franchise with a line that's breaking in three new starters. The D will be sound in the back seven, but who replaces Crichton's pass rush production? And how does a team that was gashed for more than five yards a carry survive the loss of three starting linemen and both tackles?

    Oregon State wants more this fall; more than a pat on the head for an Alamo Bowl berth. And more than attaboys for close calls with the Pac-12 elite. Achieving loftier goals will mandate a higher level of consistency from a program with a growing reputation for starting fast before petering out once the schedule toughens.

    - Rich Cirminiello

    View also:

  • Full Oregon State Preview
  • What You Need to Know and Top 10 Players

    Absolute Schedule/Records

    2014 Oregon State Beavers
    WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
    1Portland State Vikings9549-7
    2@Hawaii Rainbow Warriors8131-22
    4San Diego State Aztecs6130-26
    5@USC Trojans4023-28
    6@Colorado Buffaloes6330-24
    8Utah Utes5627-25
    9@Stanford Cardinal3224-31
    10California Golden Bears5931-25
    11Washington State Cougars5030-29
    12Arizona State Sun Devils3425-29
    13@Washington Huskies3322-27
    14Oregon Ducks2623-32

    Washington State

    Connor Halliday

    At long last, there's optimism in Pullman at the beginning of a season.

    In just his campaign season at Wazzu, head coach Mike Leach led the program to six regular season wins and its first bowl appearance in a full decade. It's a promising start for a team that endured so much adversity in recent years. Leach has the Cougars well ahead of schedule and eager to become even more competitive in the league in 2014. The toughest part of the reclamation project is almost done, getting a beleaguered bunch of kids to believe they can compete in the Pac-12.

    The 2013 season served as the ground floor on which Leach can build bigger and better things on the Palouse. The Cougars weren't merely bowl-eligible a year ago. They were genuinely competitive on a Pac-12 level, which hasn't happened in a very long time. From perennial doormats not long ago, Wazzu stunned USC at the Coliseum, routed Cal and added November victories over Arizona and Utah. Yeah, blowing a seemingly insurmountable lead to Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl stung. But it couldn't erase the progress the team made during the regular season.

    This year, Leach is welcoming back QB Connor Halliday and just about every back and wide receiver who touched the ball in the passing game a season ago. And since success on this campus is tied so tightly to the performance of the Air Raid passing attack, there's a strong sense that the Cougars will be every bit as dangerous as they were in 2013.

    Washington State will fill the air with spirals, breaking school records in the process. Leach wouldn't have it any other way. The development of the rest of the team, though, will dictate the Cougars' fate in 2014. On offense, the line is getting a major facelift. The defense is essentially starting over in the secondary, the biggest worry for a D that's already compromised. Coordinator Mike Breske will continue attacking the ball, even if it exposes the unit to big plays on the ground and over the top.

    With Leach calling the shots, Washington State has come a long way in a very short period of time. The players have changed, from the way they practice to the way they perform on Saturdays. The coach and his Cougars now plan to forge ahead by making Pac-12 competitiveness and a December bonus game into perennial expectations in Pullman.

    - Rich Cirminiello

    View also:

  • Full Washington State Preview
  • What You Need to Know and Top 10 Players

    Absolute Schedule/Records

    2014 Washington State Cougars
    WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
    1Rutgers Scarlet Knights6128-23
    2@Nevada Wolf Pack6429-25
    3Portland State Vikings9548-7
    4Oregon Ducks2623-34
    5@Utah Utes5027-26
    6California Golden Bears5932-27
    7@Stanford Cardinal2423-31
    9Arizona Wildcats4325-28
    10USC Trojans2423-31
    11@Oregon State Beavers5029-30
    13@Arizona State Sun Devils4726-28
    14Washington Huskies4023-27

    California

    Jared Goff

    Hey, at least it can't get any worse in Berkeley, right?

    The Bears hit rock bottom in Sonny Dykes' debut at the helm, delivering arguably the worst season in the program's long history. They went 1-11, averting a winless campaign with a 37-30 Week 2 escape of FCS Portland State. Cal has essentially regressed to where it was more than a decade ago, just before Jeff Tedford was hired to replace Tom Holmoe. That sort of collapse is bound to happen when a school loses 20 of its last 22 games with FBS opponents.

    While there's undeniable hope on offense, with young QB Jared Goff and all of his receivers all back, the defense being inherited by new coordinator Art Kaufman is in dire shape. The Bears will look to take small steps this fall, gradually moving beyond the catastrophe that was 2013.

    Cal was a defensive horror show last fall, ranking next-to-last nationally in points allowed. Sure, the personnel was average by the Pac-12 measuring stick, but the Bears also got whacked with an unthinkable number of season-ending injuries. Depth was exhausted.

    Underclassmen were forced on the field before they were ready. And the team got obliterated on a weekly basis. The well-traveled Kaufman must first repair the kids' psyches, an achievable task if last year's infirmed Bears are ready to play.

    That Goff-led offense will have to spearhead the charge this season. As a rookie, the quarterback smashed a number of single-season school records. As a sophomore, and an emerging veteran of Dykes' teachings, he's being counted on to bring even more pop to the attack.

    Goff will be flanked by three of last season's top four pass-catchers, Bryce Treggs, Chris Harper and Kenny Lawler. The Bears plan to be shootout-capable after the 2013 D yielded more points than at any time in school history.

    The storm has passed. The dark clouds have slowly lifted. Cal will continue rebuilding in 2014, with a valuable season of experience for both the young players and the second-year staff now in the bank. It's been a very busy offseason for Dykes & Co., who've been busy sifting through a jumbled roster that's getting an infusion of veterans who missed considerable time in 2013. If the Bears remain healthy, they can't help but be more competitive this season.

    - Rich Cirminiello

    View also:

  • Full California Preview
  • What You Need to Know and Top 10 Players

    Absolute Schedule/Records

    2014 California Golden Bears
    WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
    1@Northwestern Wildcats3422-26
    2Sacramento State Hornets9543-7
    4@Arizona Wildcats4124-28
    5Colorado Buffaloes5827-23
    6@Washington State Cougars4127-32
    7Washington Huskies1919-31
    8UCLA Bruins2820-29
    9Oregon Ducks1420-34
    10@Oregon State Beavers4025-31
    12@USC Trojans1918-31
    13Stanford Cardinal2020-30
    14BYU Cougars1919-31

    USC

    Nelson Agholor

    It's been a very busy offseason as a new regime takes over at Troy.

    The task of finishing what Lane Kiffin started amidst NCAA sanctions now belongs to Steve Sarkisian, who was hired away from Washington last December. The Trojans have lost a lot of traction - and scholarships - since 2010, but Sark and his staff are confident that the worst of the storm has passed. And they're confident that Pac-12 contention isn't far off.

    The coaches have been eagerly installing new systems on both sides of the ball, including a far more up-tempo offensive attack. The spring was spent evaluating the holdovers, contemplating position changes and overseeing the quarterback battle won by incumbent Cody Kessler over redshirt freshman Max Browne. The summer will be spent fine-tuning what was started in April, and assimilating a dynamite recruiting class headed by JuJu Smith and Adoree' Jackson.

    Barring a summer surprise, Kessler will again be leading the Trojan offense in 2014. He was on the rise late last year, a trend the program needs to continue this fall.

    Sarkisian, though, must flesh out who'll be teaming up with Kessler, besides budding WR Nelson Agholor. The backfield is loaded with options, like Tre Madden, Javorius Allen and Justin Davis, but the receiving corps is littered with question marks. While Agholor is a given, it's incumbent upon Darreus Rogers, Victor Blackwell and George Farmer to begin playing to their potential and physical ability. Of equal importance, how will a line that allowed 34 sacks fare now that all-star C Marcus Martin and steady RT Kevin Graf have graduated?

    Defense will again be the cornerstone at USC. In fact, coordinator Justin Wilcox's first Trojan unit could be as stout as Clancy Pendergast's final one, which led the Pac-12 in total D. For Troy, it all begins up front with All-American DE Leonard Williams and the rest of a D-line that's going to be very big and very physical. And it ends with a safety trio of Su'a Cravens, Josh Shaw and Leon McQuay that'll be among the best in America. Otherwise, Wilcox will be looking for his cornerbacks and outside linebackers to be the linchpins that will determine whether the D is very good or great this season.

    USC is trending up, long before a game will be played this season. The Kiffin era is mercifully over, replaced by Sarkisian, who by most accounts ought to be a good fit for AD Pat Haden. The program scored big on Signing Day, and it's just a year away from being able to fill a full roster of 85 players. The Trojans are nearly out of the woods, and they're excited to resume competing for Pac-12 titles as soon as possible.

    - Rich Cirminiello

    View also:

  • Full USC Preview
  • What You Need to Know and Top 10 Players

    Absolute Schedule/Records

    2014 USC Trojans
    WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
    1Fresno State Bulldogs6526-22
    2@Stanford Cardinal4121-23
    3@Boston College Eagles7127-18
    5Oregon State Beavers6028-23
    6Arizona State Sun Devils5425-24
    7@Arizona Wildcats5924-20
    8Colorado Buffaloes7228-19
    9@Utah Utes7025-18
    10@Washington State Cougars7631-23
    12California Golden Bears8131-18
    13@UCLA Bruins4822-24
    14Notre Dame Fighting Irish5423-22

    UCLA

    Jim Mora

    With Brett Hundley back for another season, the Bruins are eyeing a Pac-12 title...at a minimum.

    The quarterback and his coach, Jim Mora, are back for a third season together, which has the program believing it might be ready to take the next major step in its evolution. Mora has recruited extremely well since coming over from the NFL ranks, erasing whatever edge crosstown rival USC had when Pete Carroll and Lane Kiffin were in charge. UCLA has the wind at its back after winning 10 games for the first time in eight years, capped by season-ending blowouts of the Trojans and Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl. It's going to be very interesting to see where those gusts carry the Bruins in 2014.

    Mora has been an unmitigated godsend for UCLA. Under his meticulous guidance, the Bruins have been a vastly different team than the ones that were shepherded to mediocrity by the inept trio of Rick Neuheisel, Karl Dorrell and Bob Toledo. Everything that UCLA does in preparation for Saturdays is tighter and smarter. And it's showing up in the results.

    Hundley's decision to hold off on the NFL for another year was a game-changer in Westwood. He's one of the top young quarterbacks in America. The Bruins are thrilled to have him around as the offensive ringleader, especially since the surrounding talent is longer on potential than production. UCLA doesn't technically harbor a No. 1 at running back or wide receiver, and the youthful O-line is being asked to grow up after allowing the second-most sacks in the Pac-12 in 2013.

    The defense is on an upswing, even after losing OLB Anthony Barr and a chunk of the D-line to graduation. The recruiting of Mora and his staff has positioned the program to move forward without skipping a beat. There are budding stars everywhere, such as linemen Eddie Vanderdoes and Ellis McCarthy and linebackers Myles Jack and Kenny Orjioke. And the secondary, which was a question mark a year ago, is poised to rank among the best in the Pac-12. The safeties are rock-solid, and corners Fabian Moreau and Ishmael Adams won't be unheralded for much longer.

    Mora and his staff have a very good thing going at UCLA, and they caught a huge break when Hundley decided to return for his junior season. Provided the Bruins can handle the increased hype and expectations, this could be the shoot-for-the-stars kind of year they've have been seeking for more than a decade.

    - Rich Cirminiello

    View also:

  • Full UCLA Preview
  • What You Need to Know and Top 10 Players

    Absolute Schedule/Records

    2014 UCLA Bruins
    WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
    1@Virginia Cavaliers8027-16
    2Memphis Tigers8528-15
    3Texas Longhorns5025-24
    5@Arizona State Sun Devils5024-23
    6Utah Utes6926-20
    7Oregon Ducks4124-26
    8@California Golden Bears7229-20
    9@Colorado Buffaloes7630-19
    10Arizona Wildcats7327-20
    11@Washington Huskies5225-23
    13USC Trojans5124-22
    14Stanford Cardinal4323-25

    Arizona State

    Jaelen Strong

    For the first time since becoming the head coach, Todd Graham needs to do a little rebuilding in Tempe.

    Arizona State is coming off a breakthrough season in which it won 10 games, finished ranked No. 20 and represented the South Division in the Pac-12 title game. Staying hot, though, won't be so easy for the Sun Devils, which are parting with a handful of their top players, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

    Under Graham, ASU has attacked on defense, creating a constant flow of sacks, turnovers and big plays. The approach will be the same, especially after Graham hired longtime friend Keith Patterson to coordinate the D. The players carrying out the blueprint for mayhem, though, will be very different. Eight Sun Devils earned some level of All-Pac-12 honors in 2013. All eight are gone, including Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton, which will force the staff to develop a whole new set of regulars between now and opening day.

    ASU has excelled at signing and quickly implementing JUCO transfers into the system. It's a good thing, too, because the Sun Devils will need immediate reinforcements to complement returning veterans, such as DE Marcus Hardison, DT Jaxon Hood, LB Salamo Fiso and FS Damarious Randall. With so many newcomers set to descend upon campus, it's going to be a crucial summer for the defensive staff and the defensive personnel.

    As the defense is busy finding its rhythm, the offense will be fine-tuning one of the Pac-12's elite attacks. No drop-off is expected from a Mike Norvell-coordinated attack that averaged almost 40 points a game last season. Dual-threat QB Taylor Kelly is back to commandeer the offense, with ample support from top receiver Jaelen Strong and versatile RB D.J. Foster. Plus, the O-line has a higher than usual ceiling now that Auburn transfer Christian Westerman has joined all-star Jamil Douglas on the left side.

    The Sun Devils have momentum; first 10-win season in six years. First Pac-12 title game appearance. Back-to-back wins over rival Arizona, including last November's 58-21 rout. Keeping the momentum going in 2014, though, will require some heavy lifting on the defensive side of the ball. The D is essentially starting over, a year after allowing at least 30 points to seven different opponents. As Patterson's unit goes, so goes ASU's chances of repeating as the South Division champ in 2014.

    - Rich Cirminiello

    View also:

  • Full Arizona State Preview
  • What You Need to Know and Top 10 Players

    Absolute Schedule/Records

    2014 Arizona State Sun Devils
    WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
    1Weber State Wildcats9549-8
    2@New Mexico Lobos7731-22
    3@Colorado Buffaloes7729-20
    5UCLA Bruins5023-24
    6@USC Trojans4624-25
    8Stanford Cardinal4325-26
    9@Washington Huskies5323-22
    10Utah Utes6427-22
    11Notre Dame Fighting Irish4822-24
    12@Oregon State Beavers6629-25
    13Washington State Cougars5328-26
    14@Arizona Wildcats6225-21

    Arizona

    Austin Hill

    The foundation has been poured for the Wildcats after back-to-back 8-5 seasons. Now, Arizona wants to build toward a Pac-12 South crown.

    Rich Rodriguez has done an overall solid job in his first two years in Tucson, highlighted by a signature upset of Oregon last Nov. 23 and a bowl blowout of Boston College. The coach's read-option - along with coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 stack - are now fully functional, and three recruiting classes have allowed the staff to get their kinds of kids on campus. What's next for the only original Pac-10 program to have never played in the Rose Bowl Game?

    RichRod has succeeded so far in changing the culture of a program that was steeped in mediocrity before he arrived. Still, eight-win seasons will only get a coach so far, especially when the in-state rival is winning 10 games and a division crown. And all of the coaches know it. Their biggest challenge this offseason has been retooling a backfield that'll be without veteran QB B.J. Denker and RB Ka'Deem Carey, the nation's second-leading rusher a year ago.

    The Wildcats have averaged at least 30 points in each of the last three seasons. Continuing that trend, though, mandates that a quarterback and a running back emerge from the crowd of contenders. Both positions remained inconclusive at the end of spring.

    For the third straight year, Arizona will be breaking in a new starting quarterback. The challengers include strong-armed USC transfer Jesse Scroggins, redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, LSU transfer Jerrard Randall and Texas transfer Connor Brewer. Whoever gets the nod will be throwing to one of the country's best wide receiver corps, a deep unit getting a major boost from the healthy return of senior star Austin Hill.

    Casteel has made strides with the defense, reducing its points per game allowed from 35 in 2012 to 24 in 2013. The coach, though, is far from done making gains with his kids. Casteel needs his D to be tougher, at the point of attack, against the run and in the red zone. Arizona could struggle versus north-south running teams in 2014 now that four starting members of the front six have graduated.

    In stark contrast to his disastrous tenure in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez is ahead of schedule in Tucson. He's capped eight-win seasons with bowl victories to create an air of optimism in the desert. If the Wildcats are to remain on the current track, they'll have to get the backfield figured out before UNLV visits on Aug. 29.

    - Rich Cirminiello

    View also:

  • Full Arizona Preview
  • What You Need to Know and Top 10 Players

    Absolute Schedule/Records

    2014 Arizona Wildcats
    WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
    1UNLV Rebels7328-20
    2@UTSA Roadrunners6627-22
    3Nevada Wolf Pack5025-24
    4California Golden Bears5928-24
    6@Oregon Ducks2421-30
    7USC Trojans4020-24
    9@Washington State Cougars5728-25
    10@UCLA Bruins2720-27
    11Colorado Buffaloes6825-20
    12Washington Huskies4221-24
    13@Utah Utes4723-24
    14Arizona State Sun Devils3821-25

    Utah

    Kyle Whittingham

    Maybe life in the Mountain West wasn't so bad after all.

    Yeah, Utah is richer and better publicized as a member of the Pac-12, but the program is certainly not as competitive as it was back in the day when the likes of Wyoming and New Mexico were perennial foes. Over the past two seasons, the program that had gained national notoriety as a small-conference BCS buster has only won eight times against FBS teams.

    Kyle Whittingham can certainly coach at a high level, something he's proven over the long haul. But, consistently winning in one of college football's deepest leagues has turned out to be even more challenging than he expected when the step up in weight class occurred in 2011.

    The Utes don't have a defensive problem. Rarely can their problems be traced to the D. Whittingham and coordinator Kalani Sitake have had a knack for attracting immovable objects on the interior of the line and overachieving playmakers in the back seven. And this season ought to be no different, thanks to a swath of productive veterans, such as DE Nate Orchard, safeties Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen and linebackers Jason Whittingham, Jared Norris and Jacoby Hale, who's a question mark after tearing his ACL in the spring. Oh, but that skittish offense has been a nagging problem in Salt Lake City for years.

    As hard as it is to compute, Utah is up to its seventh offensive coordinator in the last seven years. Former assistant Brian Johnson is with Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, and Dennis Erickson has been reassigned as the running backs coach. You're in the on-deck circle, Dave Christensen. Christensen, prior to a failed five-year stint as the Wyoming head coach, was considered a top offensive mind. He was also a pioneer of the spread, gaining national recognition while orchestrating Gary Pinkel's high-powered Mizzou offenses. He inherits a unit that ranked No. 11 in the Pac-12, and still isn't certain that QB Travis Wilson will be medically cleared in July to continue his career.

    Utah is entering its fourth year as a member of the Pac-12, still saddled with doubt and uncertainty regarding its place in a much tougher conference. The Utes have finished 5-7 in back-to-back years. A third losing season in a row is going to push the once-untouchable Whittingham to the unfamiliar position of fighting for his job in 2015.

    - Rich Cirminiello

    View also:

  • Full Utah Preview
  • What You Need to Know and Top 10 Players

    Absolute Schedule/Records

    2014 Utah Utes
    WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
    1Idaho State Bengals9544-9
    2Fresno State Bulldogs4524-26
    4@Michigan Wolverines3619-24
    5Washington State Cougars5026-27
    6@UCLA Bruins3020-26
    8@Oregon State Beavers4425-27
    9USC Trojans3018-25
    10@Arizona State Sun Devils3622-27
    11Oregon Ducks2819-27
    12@Stanford Cardinal2319-28
    13Arizona Wildcats5224-23
    14@Colorado Buffaloes6225-22

    Colorado

    Sefo Liufau

    It's a slow process, but the Buffs are finally moving in the right direction.

    Second-year head coach Mike MacIntyre is a fixer, and he's fixing to get Colorado a little closer to its first bowl game since 2007 and its first winning season since 2005.

    The Buffaloes improved by three wins a year ago, while breaking in a new coach and a true freshman quarterback, Sefo Liufau. Beyond the simplicity of the record, this team executed a little tighter and played with more confidence, trends that figure to continue again this fall.

    In 2013, the Buffaloes scored 7.6 more points than in 2012 and allowed 7.8 fewer points per game. It's not only a start, but also evidence of the impact of MacIntyre, the guy who led San Jose State to 10 wins and a No. 21 ranking in the final 2012 AP poll. San Jose State.

    MacIntyre is off to a nice start in Boulder, where the challenges of competing in the Pac-12 are numerous. And he and his staff have done it by using a slew of underclassmen.

    Going young last fall means Colorado returns a whopping 53 letterwinners and 15 players who started at least six games on offense or defense in 2013. The Buffs are banking on being more mature and less uncertain, especially behind center.

    In Liufau, the program feels it finally has a young quarterback it can build around for the foreseeable future. And if Liufau suffers through a sophomore slump, former JUCO transfer Jordan Gehrke has looked tailor-made this offseason for the Pistol attack.

    Coordinator Kent Baer's defense may have taken a statistical step in the right direction in 2013, but there's a ton of work still left to be done. Topping Colorado's priority list is to toughen up in the trenches. The Buffs' inability to hold up at the point of attack dramatically impacts their ability to move a pile or effectively get after the quarterback. If Colorado gets even a little more physical, behind the likes of rising DT Josh Tupou, it'll have a direct and immediate impact on the numbers and the outcomes of games.

    Last year's four wins were Colorado's most in three years, and it was done with a lot of pups in the lineup. With MacIntyre meticulously nurturing the development of his young kids, Colorado is poised to inch a little closer to respectability this fall.

    - Rich Cirminiello

    View also:

  • Full Colorado Preview
  • What You Need to Know and Top 10 Players

    Absolute Schedule/Records

    2014 Colorado Buffaloes
    WeekOpponentWin%Avg Score
    1Colorado State Rams4425-27
    2@Massachusetts Minutemen6625-18
    3Arizona State Sun Devils2320-29
    4Hawaii Rainbow Warriors5927-22
    5@California Golden Bears4223-27
    6Oregon State Beavers3724-30
    8@USC Trojans2819-28
    9UCLA Bruins2419-30
    10Washington Huskies3419-25
    11@Arizona Wildcats3220-25
    13@Oregon Ducks1518-32
    14Utah Utes3822-25

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    Jake Westrich is the Digital Content Coordinator for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at jwestrich@whatifsports.com.

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