South Division Football Team Previews
See also: North Division Team Previews
Offense: The Wildcats return senior QB Nick Foles who again will lead the high-powered offense, where he threw for 3,191 yards and 20 touchdowns. Senior All-Pac-10 receiver Juron Criner will be the No. 1 target for Foles, as he caught 11 touchdowns and 1,233 yards. Seniors David Douglas and David Roberts provide Foles with another pair of veteran receivers as the two combined for 96 catches for 1,002 yards. The speed of Keola Antolin at the running back position will give Arizona a solid rushing option that will keep opposing defenses from keying on the passing game.
DEFENSE: The defense has holes to fill with the departure of defensive ends, and NFL draft picks, Brooks Reed, Ricky Elmore and D'Aundre Reed. Cornerback Trevin Wade, tackle Justin Washington, and linebackers Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls should step up to make big impacts for the Wildcats. In the spring the young defensive unit seemed to be progressing and coming together, as they picked off UA quarterbacks five times in one spring scrimmage. However, the defense suffered some big injuries at the end of spring workouts, losing safety Adam Hall and linebacker Jake Fischer to knee injuries.
The Schedule: Tough early non-conference game at Oklahoma State in a rematch of the Alamo Bowl before opening the inaugural Pac-12 season. The Wildcats will have a tough stretch of away games in league play, including five of their final seven. They will be home on November 5 to host league newcomer, and South Division rival Utah. But if the Wildcats are to claim the South Division title, it looks like they must do so on the road with the final two conference tilts coming at Colorado and then at Arizona State.
Offense: Arizona State returns the most starters of any Pac-10 team with 19 returnees. The Sun Devil offense looks to be in the hands of junior QB Brock Osweiler. Osweiler came up big in the final two games of the season as he filled in for injured starter Steven Threet, completing 49 passes in 85 attempts (57.6 percent) for 647 yards and five TDs with no interceptions. A veteran offensive line anchored by senior center Garth Gerhart will be key in the success of the offensive unit in proctecting Osweiler and opening up holes for junior TB Cameron Marshall and sophomore TB Deantre Lewis. Both backs rushed for over 500 yards last season, equalled only by Oregon's tandem of LaMichael James and Kenyon Barner among returning Pac-12 backfields.
Defense: The Sun Devil defense lose a key starter in defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, but return a strong group, led by the All-Pac-10 second team performer Vontaze Burfict at linebacker. Cornerback Omar Bolden was expected to anchor the Sun Devil secondary, but a knee injury has put his 2011 season in jeopardy. Linebacker Brandon Magee will solidify things up front, with assistance from Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year in Junior Onyeali at defensive end. This is a defensive unit that allowed a league-best 120 yards rushing per game.
The Schedule: Arizona State's schedule sees a tough non-conference matchup against Missouri at home in the second week of the season, followed by a road tilt at Illinois. It will also host Pac-12 South rival USC to open conference play. In fact, the Sun Devils look to take advantage of having five home conference games, including three in South division play.
Offense: The Buffaloes will look to make an immediate impact in their first season in the Pac-12. They return a slew of starters under first-year Head Coach Jon Embree. Tailback Rodney Stewart rushed for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior in 2010 and will be a major ground threat for opponents. Most of Stewart's support up front, including center Mike Iltis, left guard Ethan Adkins and right guard Ryan Miller return, all with senior experience and leadership. Senior QB Tyler Hansen is slated to be the opening day starter for the second straight year. He connected on 68.3 percent of his passes for 1,102 yards and six TDs before a ruptured spleen in game seven cut short his season.
Defense: While Colorado will need to replace leading tackler Michael Sipili and two cornerbacks in Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith, the Buffaloes will be strong up front with DE Josh Hartigan, DT Curtis Cunningham and NT Will Pericak. In addition, linebackers Jon Major and Douglas Rippy are prepared for breakout seasons. While experienced, the Colorado secondary of S Anthony Perkins, DB Terrel Smith and FS Ray Polk will need to limit the passing yardage as the Buffalos allowed nearly 260 yards per game through the air.
The Schedule: In its first season as a member of the Pac-12, Colorado face a difficult challenge in meeting all five Pac-12 South rivals over the final five weeks of the season, with three of those contests on the road. The Utah contest renews a rivalry that was last played in 1962. Colorado holds a 30-24-3 edge in the series that dates back to 1903. A non-conference game in The Horseshoe at Ohio State on Sept. 24 will certainly be a big test before opening league play.
Offense: The Bruins return a pair of talented running backs in Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman in 2011. The duo combined for 1,614 yards at 5.5 yards per carry. Tackles Sean Sheller and Mike Harris return to open holes for the running game. Quarterback Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut will battle for snaps. Prince was the starter to being the 2010 season, but was shelved midway through the season with a knee injury. Brehaut took over the offense and tossed for 1,296 yards as he started the final six games. Whoever gets the opening day call will have dependable receivers in Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario. Embree, whose father is Colorado Head Coach Jon Embree, hauled in 32 passes for 409 yards, while Rosario grabbed 29 passes for 309 yards.
Defense: The staunch Bruin defense loses star linebacker Akeem Ayers and free safety Rahim Moore, but returns eight starters from 2010. The linebacking corp of Sean Westgate and Patrick Larimore remains intact and those two will provide the pressure on the opposition. Cornerbacks Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester will patrol deep, as Hester led the squad with three interceptions in 2010. Leading tackler Tony Dye (96) is also set to return to his position as strong safety. UCLA's kicking game will continue to excel with punter Jeff Locke, who led the league with 45.8 yards per punt.
The Schedule: The Bruins' non-conference slate is highlighted by a visit from Texas. UCLA finishes off the season with four of its last five at home, including three with South Division rivals Arizona State, Colorado and USC.
Offense: The challenge for the Trojans on all fronts will be depth, but no one can deny the young talent that will surround returning QB Matt Barkley. 2010 Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year, WR Robert Woods will return and the revolving door that has been the tailback position for USC the past few years will look to be filled by Marc Tyler, who hopes to stay healthy. While USC returns juniors Khaled Holmes and Matt Kalil along the offensive line, the Trojans will look to reload in that area as they will lose the services of guards Butch Lewis and Michael Reardon, All-Pac-10 tackle Tyron Smith, and center Kris O'Dowd.
Defense: The Trojan defense loses four starters, including defensive tackle standout Jurrell Casey and linebackers Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith. Seven key players return, however, including linebackers Chris Galippo and Devon Kennard. Safety T.J. McDonald had a stellar sophomore season, leading the team with 89 tackles. Nickell Robey, who started at corner back as a true freshman in 2010, tallied four interceptions and looks to be an impact player in a strong Trojan secondary in 2011.
The Schedule: USC begins the season with three home games - Minnesota, Utah and Syracuse. The Utah game will be the first-ever Pac-12 Conference game. The Trojans face a test at Notre Dame in the middle of October, but return home to finish out league play with three of five at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Offense: In their first season in the Pac-12, the Utes look to come in with a bang, returning seven offensive starters, including QB Jordan Wynn and standout RT Tony Bergstrom. While Wynn threw for 17 touchdowns and 2,334 yards as a sophomore in 2010, he missed spring practice recovering from shoulder surgery, but should be full strength in August. Utah returns top WR DeVonte Christopher, but the team will have to find new options at running back, as they lose both Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide.
Defense: While the Utes allowed just 111.7 rushing yards per game last season, they lose six starters and will need to retool on that side of the ball. 2010 leading tackler Chaz Walker (113) is set to return to his middle linebacker position and will anchor the Ute defense. He will be joined by returning linebackers Matt Martinez and Brian Blechen. Nose tackle Dave Kruger and DE Derrick Shelby will provide experienced play in the trenches for Coach Kyle Whittingham's squad.
The Schedule: Out of the gates, the Utes will be faced with two tests on the road. In the second game of the season, they will travel to USC for the first-ever Pac-12 game, and then will follow up on September 17 at their traditional rival BYU. Another tough non-conference road game awaits October 15 at Pittsburgh.