By Marc Lawrence with his 2016 Pac-12 Conference Football Betting Preview
Like most football conferences, the Pac-12 is a quarterback driven league. And 2016 will be no different, with UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Washington State’s Luke Falk leading the charge.
In their first years as starters at the FBS level, Rosen tossed for 3,669 yards and 23 TDs as a true freshman, while Falk annihilated opposing defenses when he threw for 4,561 yards as 38 TDs, completing over 69% of his passes.
And speaking of first year performers, Washington’s Jake Browning started 12 games as a freshman last season when he aired it out for 2,955 yards and 16 TDs.
Returning 1uarterbacks looking to replicate stirring numbers they put up in 2014 include Arizona’s Anu Soloman (3,793 yards and 28 TDs in ’14) and Colorado’s Sefo Liufau (3,200 yards and 28 TD’s in ’14).
Keep a vigilant eye on newcomers Davis Webb of California, a graduate transfer from Texas Tech where he tossed for 5,557 yards and 46 strikes, and Dakota Prukop of Oregon, an FCS transfer who accounted for nearly 4,000 yards and 39 overall scores at Montana State.
By the time the final dust settles backers of these teams will have air miles aplenty.
Thirty-two Pac-12 players were selected in this year’s NFL draft, bring the total to 133 alums being selected in the draft over the past four years – 4th best of all Power 5 conferences.
However, the he 32 Pac-12 selections pales in comparison with the SEC as the king of all conferences had 51 players selected this year and now stands at 217 total players taken since 2013.
The ACC comes in at No.2 overall since 2013 with 176, followed by the Big Ten at 134 and the Big 12 bring up the rear with 96.
Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2016 PLAYBOOK College and Pro Football Preview Guide magazine, on sale now at newsstands nationally. Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
CALIFORNIA Off – 5/4 Def – 5/3 65 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: NEW-FANGLED BEARS
An 8-win season, led by new Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff, brought Sonny Dykes his first winning season in Berkeley last year. While great on paper, Cal actually underachieved as they were expected to challenge for the Pac-12 North championship. Instead they finished 4th at 4-5. With Goff and OC Tony Franklin gone, Jake Spavital takes over the keys to the offense. Spavital produced stellar quarterback recruits at Texas A&M as the Aggies’ OC. A mind-boggling 18 receivers were on the roster for the spring game, with Melquise Stovall leading the way with 128 yards and two touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, Cal improved 58 YPG defensively last season, but were ranked No. 109 overall. The Bears had better not go into early hibernation as they close out the campaign against six straight bowl teams.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Under Dykes, the Bears are 0-12 SU and 2-10 ATS versus Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and USC, losing by an average of nearly 21 PPG.
OREGON Off – 6/2 Def – 4/1 49 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: NOT SO DUCKY
It’s hard to fathom but last year’s 9-4 season tied for the program’s poorest showing since 2007. Making matters worse? Try a collapse of monumental proportions in January’s Alamo Bowl. The 47-41 loss in triple overtime came after blowing a 31-0 halftime lead to TCU, and leaves them scratching their noggins heading into the 2016 campaign. For the 2nd year in a row, the Ducks will start a new quarterback – another FCS transfer – in Montana State import Dakota Prukop, who flourished operating the same Chip Kelly system that Oregon runs. Meanwhile, new DC Brady Hoke will look to plug a defense that allowed 37.5 PPG in 2015. On the slippery slope they now ride, the Quack Attack looks to be on thin ice.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Ducks owned the 4th worst overall defense (485.3 YPG) of all Power 5 teams last season.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Stanford (11/12)
OREGON ST Off – *8/3 Def – 6/1 49 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: GNAWED OFF
When Gary Andersen shocked the world and opted to leave Wisconsin, little did he realize the cupboard in Corvallis had been cleared out. After a 2-1 opening, the Beavers were chewed up and spit out like a tin of Skoal Bandits as they dropped 9 straight games to conclude the season. Through it all, the Beavers were beaten to a pulp: outscored and outyarded by conference foes by 24.6 PPG and 208 YPG, worst in the Pac-12 last season. Making matters even grimmer, two QBs and the team’s top LB have transferred out. Thus, Oregon State will lean heavily on former Utah State QB Darell Garretson, who was recruited by Andersen when he was the head coach of the Aggies.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Beavers will face 10 opponents that played in bowl games last season, including each of their final 8 games.
PLAY ON: at Colorado (10/1)
STANFORD Off – 6/2 Def – 6/1 71 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: SENIOR MOMENT
Coming off their third Pac-12 title in 4 years – where they bested conference foes by 16.8 PPG and 69 YPG – the Cardinal is indeed the loop’s current kingpin. The return of Heisman Trophy runner-up RB Christian McCaffrey
will help to maintain the status quo. But he’ll need to acquaint himself with a new cast of playmates as a bevy of seniors have departed, including 4-year starting QB Kevin Hogan and a trio of offensive linemen. The good news for McCaffrey is FB Daniel Marx is a short yardage specialist in the Cardinal’s “ogre” package. “This is a guy who will be playing on Sundays,” insists HC David Shaw. And then there’s the defense, one that has racked up a whopping 124 sacks the past 3 seasons. The problem is a majority of those came from players now playing on Sundays. With their first 6 games coming against bowlers, Shaw will have to earn his stripes in 2016.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Cardinal seniors made a total of 188 starts last season, tied for the most in the nation with Akron.
PLAY AGAINST: at UCLA (9/24)
WASHINGTON Off – *9/4 Def – 7/3 51 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: YOUNG AS HELL AND BACK FOR MORE
The Huskies went with a youth movement on offense last season and as a result, head coach Chris Petersen should enjoy plenty of dividends in 2016. Freshman QB Jake Browning started 12 of 13 games last year, finishing with 2,955 yards and 16 TDs. Freshman RB Myles Gaskin rushed for 1,302 yards while finding the end zone 14 times – despite starting only six games. In addition, 4 starting O-linemen return. On the other side of the ball, the secondary had more interceptions than TD passes allowed in 2015. It doesn’t hurt that Petersen has averaged 10.7 wins per season as a head coach, 3rd highest of all active coaches. With 5 of the Huskies’ first 7 games at home this season, the Iditarod is on as U-Dub is poised for a breakout season in 2016.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Huskies’ underclassmen made a total of 156 starts last season, the most of any team in the nation.
PLAY ON: at Utah (10/29)
WASHINGTON ST Off – *8/3 Def – 6/1 47 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: AIRBORNE AGAIN
After garnering 10 bowl bids in 10 seasons at Texas Tech, Mike Leach brought his air-raid attack to Pullman where after 3 wobbly years the Cougars finally clawed their way to an 8-win bowl season last year. As an assistant under Hal Mumme, the tandem set 196 school records in 7 years. He also directed an Oklahoma offense that went from 101st in the nation to 11th in just one year under Bob Stoops. Yes, the man can coach. And this year’s Cougars squad is hands-down his best at WSU. The top passing team in the land last year returns QB Luke Falk (38 TDs and 8 INTs) and just about the entire wide receiving corps, including Gabe Marks who had 104 receptions for 1,192 yards and 15 TD’s. Yikes.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cougars were the No. 3 ranked team in the nation in red-zone offense (.925) last season.
PLAY ON: at Stanford (10/8) – *KEY
ARIZONA Off – *7/3 Def – 7/2 47 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: ANU YEAR
After winning 10 games in 2014 for the first time since 1998, the injury bug bit the Wildcats hard in 2015. Because of a plethora of injuries, 22 different players started on defense last year. However, in spite of playing musical chairs, the Wildcats managed to beat a Top 10 team for the 4th year in a row under HC Rich Rodriguez. And in the process they also managed a 4th consecutive winning season for the first time since 1992-95. Promising QB Anu Solomon, who was whispered in Heisman talk during his freshman year in 2014 before an injury-plagued campaign flared up last season, joins explosive RB Nick Wilson – one of 4 running backs what went down in 2015 – to form a lethal 1-2 punch. If LB DeAndre’ Miller is healed up, the defense can take a major forward step.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Wildcats are 2-17 ATS as favorites during the regular season from Game Ten out.
PLAY ON: at Washington State (11/5)
ARIZONA STATE Off – 4/1 Def – 6/3 63 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: HURRY UP ALREADY
After 2014’s team featured 25 freshmen and sophomores on the final two-deep roster, with 23 players having made their first Division-1 career starts (2nd most in the nation), a lot was expected – but not delivered – from the Sun Devils last season. A bitter 0-3 record in one-possession games contributed greatly. But as we’ve come to learn, experienced pimply-faces make strong cases for turning losers into winners. New OC Chip Lindsey inherits one of the best running back tandems in the Pac-12 with Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, but must replace star QB Mike Berkovici. Lots of potential here provided the top priority becomes mending a defense that has slipped dramatically each of the last 3 years.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Sun Devils allowed 4,392 passing yards, the worst of all FBS teams last season.
PLAY ON: vs. California (9/24)
COLORADO Off – *9/4 Def – 9/3 62 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: BUFFALO BASHING
Poor Mike MacIntyre. As if going 2-25 in Pac-12 play during his first three seasons with the Buffaloes isn’t bad enough, his herd must roam to Michigan and Oregon in the last two weeks of September to open the 2016 season. In addition, they will also take on no less than 10 bowl teams from last season, including 7 in a row to end the campaign, making the task challenging as well. All of which means MacIntyre – like his team’s namesake – could be extinct by season’s end. To his credit, though, Colorado’s defense has improved each and every year under MacIntyre despite owning the weakest recruiting classes in the conference the last two years.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Buffaloes are 1-19 of late in Pac-12 play, including a winless conference record two years ago for the first time since 1898.
PLAY ON: vs. UCLA (11/3)
UCLA Off – *5/2 Def – 9/2 44 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: PUSHING THE RE-START BUTTON
After winning 9 games three straight years for the first time in school history, head coach Jim Mora’s troops ran out of gas in 2015, losing 3 of their final four games to finish the season with 8 wins. Nonetheless, 8 players were taken in this year’s NFL Draft, the third most behind Ohio State (12) and Clemson (9). FR RB Soso Jamabo, the No. 1 running back in last season’s recruiting class, played second fiddle and backed up Paul Perkins (NYG) last year. Jamabo excelled in his supporting role to Perkins, averaging 6.1 yards per carry on 66 attempts. He forms a super sophomore duo with young phenom quarterback Josh “Chosen” Rosen
… and that’s a good start. Meanwhile, FR LB Mique Juarez has the potential to make everyone quickly forget about Myles Jack
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Bruins have not won a Pac-12 championship since 1998.
PLAY ON: at Washington State (10/15) – *KEY as a dog
USC Off – *7/5 Def – 7/2 49 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: OMG
Talk about murderous schedules! Not only do the Trojans open with defending national champion Alabama and end with rival Notre Dame, they will take on a total of 11 opponents that played in a bowl game last season. And both of their most challenging Pac-12 North division battles will be on the road at Stanford and Washington. A 2-man battle to replace QB Cody Kessler remains between strong-armed Max Browne and 6’ 4 play-making Sam Darnold. The good news is USC’s entire starting offensive line (2 seniors and 3 juniors) returns with a wealth of experience behind it. SO RB Dominic “The Flash” Davis runs a 4.3 in the 40 and is said to be a defensive lineman’s last glimpse. Defensively, a young and inexperienced front 7, decimated by injuries this spring, likely holds the key to their success in 2016.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Trojans have played for five different head coaches over the last 37 games.
PLAY ON: vs. Notre Dame (11/26) – *KEY as a dog
UTAH Off – 6/4 Def – 8/4 60 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: HOLLOWED OUT
The loss of star RB Devontae Booker and QB Travis Wilson could equal a descent into a bottomless cavern for the Utes. The last time Utah opened a season without Travis Wilson behind center was 2013. Wilson, who played in 46 games (starting 39 times), finished his career with 8,627 total yards and 75 total TDs (54 passing and 21 rushing) for the Utes. JUCO QB Troy Williams looks to replace Wilson. Williams, formerly with the Washington Huskies, threw for 2,750 yards and 31 TDs in only one season at junior college level. In addition, the offensive line returns well stocked with plenty of experience. Kyle Whittingham returns as the longest tenured coach in the Pac-12. With a 32-16 SU mark at Utah in one-possession games, we understand why.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Whittingham owns the best bowl winning percentage (.900) of any coach in NCAA history.
PLAY AGAINST: at California (10/1)
Be sure to check back here next week for Marc’s 2016 SEC Football Preview!