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Pac-12 Football: Ranking the South Division

6 Colorado

2015 Record: 4-9 (1-8 Pac-12)

Returning Starters

Offense: 8

Defense: 9

Points Per Game: 24.6

Opponents Points Per Game: 27.5

 

The Buffaloes took a step back on offense last season and quarterback uncertainty leaves this team at a crossroads. With quarterback Sefo Liufau still recovering from a Lisfranc foot fracture suffered at the end of last season, the keys will be given to Steven Montez to run the offense. The defense continues to develop under defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who is in his second season. The secondary and defensive line should be major strengths.

 

Key Game: @Arizona, November 12

 

The Buffaloes lost five games by eight points or less last season. Arizona was one of those teams. If the Buffaloes want a shot at snapping the drought of nine straight seasons without a bowl, the Wildcats are a team they have to beat. They close their Pac-12 schedule with two home games that could potentially go in their favor as well. Experience is on their side.

5 Arizona

2015 Record: 7-6 (3-6 Pac-12)

Returning Starters

Offense: 7

Defense: 9

Points Per Game: 37.4

Opponents Points Per Game: 35.8

 

Injuries have left a cloud over this team’s future on the offensive side of the ball and with a new defensive staff, the defense is expected to be a bit inexperienced despite nine starters returning. Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats have a lot of lingering questions entering 2016 which makes a silver lining hard to find. 2016 could be an interesting for the Wildcats, making a bowl game could prove difficult.

 

Key Game: Washington, September 24

 

The Wildcats could open the season 3-0 and start the Pac-12 schedule against a tough defensive Huskies opponent. If the Wildcats want the season to be a success, a victory against the Huskies would be a great start. The Pac-12 schedule is a tough one for the Wildcats after that with a meeting with the Trojans on the road as well. This is a must win.

 

4 Arizona State

2015 Record: 6-7 (4-5 Pac-12)

Returning Starters

Offense: 4

Defense: 6

Points Per Game: 34.6

Opponents Points Per Game: 33.5

 

The 2015 season was head coach Todd Graham’s worst season as their head coach. He hopes to get that out of his system as the team reloads on offense with Brady White and Manny Wilkins competing for the starting quarterback job. The defense allowed a Pac-12 worst 337.8 passing yards per game, that must change for the Sun Devils in 2016. Returning to 10 wins may be a difficult task, however.

 

Key Game: California, September 24

 

The Sun Devils open against three winnable opponents before starting their Pac-12 schedule. Their meeting with California is a turning point. After them, it’s tougher Pac-12 opponents, most coming on the road. If the Sun Devils at least want to stay in bowl contention, this game is a must win.

 

 

 

 

3 Utah

2015 Record: 10-3 (6-3 Pac-12)

Returning Starters

Offense: 7

Defense: 7

Points Per Game: 30.6

Opponents Points Per Game: 22.3

 

The Utes shared the Pac-12 South division title last season with USC but that won’t be enough in 2016. Defensive end Star Lotulelei is primed to lead what could be a good defensive Utes team. The Utes were first in the Pac-12 in rushing yards allowed last season with 108.6 yards a game. The offense needs to keep pace with the highly touted defense to claim an outright Pac-12 South title. The offensive line is prepared, finding a quarterback is key.

 

Key Game: USC, September 23

 

The Utes need a marquee victory if they want to win an outright Pac-12 South title and play for a Pac-12 title. It’s possible but defeating the Trojans is key. The Trojans will be prepared but so will the Utes. If the offense can stay consistent and healthy, a Trojan victory is possible.

 

 

2 USC

2015 Record: 8-6 (6-4 Pac-12)

Returning Starters

Offense: 9

Defense: 6

Points Per Game: 33.9

Opponents Points Per Game: 25.7

 

The Trojans enter 2016 with a tough schedule and high expectations. USC quarterback Max Browne will need to be broken in quickly under Clay Helton’s first full time season as head coach. Browne has a sure target in receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and an entire offensive line returning as a head start. The defense returns Defensive Freshman of the Year Cameron Smith and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and has to retool in order to return to success.

 

Key Game: Alabama, September 3

 

The Trojans open the 2016 season against the defending National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide. It should be an epic game packed with college football’s best athletes and if the Trojans can pull off an upset, the Pac-12 will be theirs to grab. It may not end in victory, but if it ends in close defeat, the Trojans could challenge UCLA for the Pac-12 South title.

 

1 UCLA

2015 Record: 8-5 (5-4 Pac-12)

Returning Starters

Offense: 4

Defense: 8

Points Per Game: 32.2

Opponents Points Per Game: 26.0

 

The Bruins return only four starters on offense but one of those include Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year quarterback Josh Rosen, who threw for 3,669 passing yards and 23 touchdowns in his first season as a college quarterback. The offense lost its four top receivers and three offensive linemen, but despite that, there’s hope Rosen can take on the added pressure and lead the Bruins to the Pac-12 South title. There are fixes to make on the defensive side of the ball but the return of defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes should patch up some of that. The secondary returns as well which only gave up 203.2 passing yards per game last season, which led the Pac-12.

 

Key Game: USC, November 19

 

The Bruins had won three straight before losing last season to the Trojans 40-21 in their annual meeting. In order to win the Pac-12 South, defeating the Trojans is on the top of the list. The Bruins will have their hands full by the end of the season with the Trojans and winning this game will be a must. Josh Rosen should be ready for the Trojans this go round, he threw two interceptions and was sac