The Pac-12 Blog offers 10 predictions for this spring season.

1. D.J. Foster's move to slot receiver will prove to be an excellent idea.

Foster was brilliantly versatile last season for Arizona State, tacking 62 catches and nearly 700 receiving yards on top of his 1,100-yard rushing campaign. Simply put, he's a premier athlete, and that gives coach Todd Graham a multitude of options on offense. Foster's move to the slot, then, only makes logical sense given the circumstances in Tempe: Jaelen Strong is gone from the outside, and Demario Richard is ready to pick up Foster's slack in the backfield. This shift doesn't handcuff ASU, either -- Foster can continue being his versatile self in 2015 and contribute to the ground attack. In fact, the slot may actually further highlight his adaptability.

2. At least 27 instances of "Berco-ing" will happen around the state of Arizona as QB Mike Bercovici officially takes the reins.

There have already been a few identified -- official or unofficial -- Berco-ing activities that have happened so far this offseason (see below). But now, with Bercovici officially taking the reins of this team and declaring its goal a national title, there will be a few fans around the state and country who find themselves celebrating in a much different way. Hint: This is much more difficult without a helmet -- don't break your nose.

3. Stanford coach David Shaw will be asked to talk about how no one is talking about his team, leaving him with a "that's so meta" reaction.

For the first time in several years, no one is really talking about the Cardinal going into spring football. The usual powerhouse had a slow start to last season, which left its final stretch -- impressive as it might have been -- relatively unnoticed, which in turn left its team this offseason relatively unnoticed. Enter: the most meta interview in which Shaw is asked to talk about talking, or rather, talk about how no one is talking about his team.


Q: David, can you discuss how different it is for you to be at this point in the season with little to no one really talking about your team?

A: [Hint: It doesn't matter what he says here because he spurns the question by actually talking about his team.]

4. Oregon State RB Storm Woods will take a huge leap forward as Gary Andersen actually makes running an emphasis in Corvallis.

Andersen has made it very clear he intends to run the ball. Mike Riley used to say this a lot, but given Andersen's ability to turn out some top-notch running backs, we're getting the idea he's very, very serious about it. The front-runner right now is Storm Woods, who showed flashes last season, specifically against Arizona State and Oregon. In preparation for said leap, the Pac-12 Blog is now taking advanced nicknames for Storm Woods in Cor-Vegas. Tweet them to @ESPN_Pac12blog.

5. Mike Leach gon' Mike Leach at some point and say something non-football related that makes headlines.

Now's a good time to review just a smidgen of what makes Washington State's Mike Leach a fascinating treasure. Many details can be found in this piece, which chronicles his long walks through the countryside to work, among other nuggets. But Leach's sound bites may be the most entertaining gifts of all. Remember that not too long ago, he predicted human extinction. What will be next? Better question: Can anything top that? We'll just have to wait and see.

6. Quarterbacks will be the most talked about subject in Eugene, Oregon, even though the competition won't really begin until this summer.

Yes, there'll be intense focus on Jeff Lockie, Morgan Mahalak and the others taking snaps this spring in an effort to become Marcus Mariota's successor. But while that group is doing its thing on Oregon's practice field, the potential front-runner for the job will be working out at Eastern Washington's rec center, of all places. Transfer Vernon Adams won't be around for spring ball, but his arrival in Eugene later this summer will add true sizzle to the battle.

7. Tre Madden and Justin Davis will both settle in primary running back roles at USC.

Javorius Allen is gone, so the Trojans have room opening up in the backfield. Davis is USC's leading returning rusher and Madden is returning following a turf toe injury that derailed his entire 2014 campaign. Built in the 225-pound power back mold, Madden brings a significantly different style to the table than the 195-pound Davis, and this will allow the Trojans to work on developing a complementary mix-and-match between the two players.

8. Chris Petersen will practice his fall avoidance of answering Boise State questions by avoiding answering Boise State questions.

Washington at Boise State is one of the most anticipated season openers for 2015. By nature, most college football coaches don't talk about the ensuing regular season too much during the spring because they don't want it to be too much of a distraction or show any kind of non-spring ball focus. That said, the matchup with the Broncos will probably be brought up a few times. This will give Petersen ample opportunity to practice whatever tactic he intends to apply next fall when folks ask him similar questions but expect a much better answer.

9. Cal will continue to show significant strides offensively.

During their miserable 1-11 campaign two seasons ago, the Bears planted some seeds offensively. Coach Sonny Dykes debuted Jared Goff as a true freshman, and the new coach introduced his aggressive aerial attack. There were growing pains aplenty, but 2014 saw marked improvement for the Bears. They developed an effective rushing attack, and Goff morphed into an upper-tier conference quarterback (5:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio). This 2015 spring will see a continuation of Cal's offensive blossoming.

10. There will be a spring football rivalry between UCLA and USC.

Bruins, watch your bear. Trojans, watch out for Tommy Trojan.

OK, so maybe this is a more far-fetched prediction, but we can dream. Spring football needs some excitement.
Four prospects received immediate invitations to The Opening following last year’s Los Angeles Nike Football Training Camp, though several more from the event eventually found their way to the preeminent summer showcase. This year, The Opening Los Angeles Regional will again feature many of the top prospects in the West region, as several position groups will be loaded and several states will showcase their top recruits, who are looking forward to going toe-to-toe with California’s best. Here are five things to watch heading into Sunday’s event.

During a Colorado spring practice last week, head coach Mike MacIntyre approached his program's sports performance director, Dave Forman. He noted that the Buffs, fresh off their first session of winter conditioning, looked more physical and powerful than before.

In many other contexts, such a note from the boss would be music to a strength coach's ears.

But the time for smiles and pats on the back in Boulder isn't yet here. Forman knows the program is still in dire need of visible results: Colorado is 4-32 in Pac-12 play since joining the conference in 2011.

[+] EnlargeDave Forman
Courtesy of ColoradoDave Forman worked to tailor Colorado's offseason strength program to address the team's weaknesses.
From his own recent experience at Stanford and San Jose State, Forman is familiar with what the resurrection of a football program looks like. So despite the Buffs' 0-9 league finish in 2014, he's confident Colorado is churning toward the demanded breakthrough in his third year on campus -- and now is no time to rest.

"First, you have learn to compete," Forman says. "Then, you have to learn how to win."

Colorado has accomplished the first half of that. The Buffaloes were more competitive in 2014, ultimately to no avail in the win column.

"You put your heart and soul into something and it's a heartbreaking loss, those kids finally felt that last year," Forman says. "I think they finally understand what needs to be done. There are little, tiny details they may have overlooked last year, and they now realize how important they are."

In one-on-one meetings to begin this offseason, Forman listened as Colorado players recounted their particular frustrations from the difficult season that had just passed, and he worked to tailor the Buffs' offseason program to address the team's weaknesses. Colorado's rush defense, by far the worst in the Pac-12, gave up 30 runs of 20 yards or more in 2014, ranking the team No. 122 nationally in that category. Blown defensive assignments, often caused by a lack of communication in crunch time, proved devastating.

As a result, Forman has placed an emphasis on fusing communication with greater physical strength. He based many of the Buffs' winter conditioning workouts on cadence -- "down-up-one, down-up-two" -- to encourage a synchronous atmosphere. In this environment, no player could "hide" from any part of the workload.

"At the end of the day, everyone was doing the same amount of work," Forman says. "Nobody skimped out on anything. We're fostering trust and building camaraderie. There's no more pointing fingers. You have to trust that the guy next to you is going to do his job on the field, and this is aimed at developing that trust."

[+] EnlargeDave Forman
Courtesy of ColoradoForman came to Colorado after stints at Stanford and San Jose State.
With Forman's group-oriented focus providing the backbone, Colorado's players saw significant strength gains across the board this winter. Receiver Nelson Spruce said he's already squatting and bench pressing as much as he ever has.

If it's easier for Forman to stay positive and focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, it's because he's seen the results of his regimen pay off twice before.

He served three years as sports performance guru Shannon Turley's assistant at Stanford. He arrived there in 2008, a year after Jim Harbaugh inherited a 1-11 squad, and saw the Cardinal bleed yardage and blow two leads in the final minute of games on their way to a 5-7 season. That team finished an agonizing one win short of bowl eligibility, but it went on to post an 8-5 record in 2009 and a 12-1 Orange Bowl championship season in 2010, Forman's third year.

Forman then took over the head strength and conditioning role at San Jose State following the program's 1-12 campaign in 2010. This resuscitation followed a similar trajectory. The Spartans finished 2011 a painful 5-7, victims of defensive hemorrhaging and several blown fourth-quarter leads. But they turned the anguish into an 11-2 campaign the following season.

Forman came to Boulder with MacIntyre in 2013, and he can draw firm parallels to his previous two jobs. The staff's first season saw Colorado blown out of virtually every conference game except for a win against 1-11 California. Despite finishing 0-9 in Pac-12 play in 2014, the Buffs' average margin of defeat tightened by a full 10 points, including two double-overtime losses.

That hurt has become Colorado's offseason fuel, and it's caused Forman to sense something familiar to him -- a warmth brought on by progress.

"There's a nice feeling in the air," he says. "It feels different. You're walking down to practice, there's construction going on [Colorado's major facilities upgrades], and you can really point to an upward trajectory happening on a daily basis. It's a good vibe."
USC's defense was a mixed bag in 2014.

It ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense and tied for third in yards per play. It was good against the run -- 3.8 yards per rush -- and ranked second in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense. It led the conference in interceptions and third-down conversions.

So, the numbers were solid.

But there also was Boston College rushing for 452 yards in an upset win, Arizona State scoring 20 fourth-quarter points and winning on a Hail Mary pass, and there was UCLA gaining 461 yards in a win and Nebraska piling up 525 yards in a loss.

So, mixed bag.

Justin Wilcox, who has built quality defenses at Boise State, Tennessee and Washington before following Steve Sarkisian to USC, has long been a respected coordinator and is widely viewed as becoming a head-coaching candidate sooner rather than later. His defense welcomes back eight starters, but it also loses some star power, as the Trojans head into a season of high expectations.

With USC starting spring practices this week, it seemed like a good time to check in.

What were some of the things you were happy about with your defense last year?

[+] EnlargeJustin Wilcox
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsDefensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has eight starters coming back, but he also needs some new leaders to emerge.
Justin Wilcox: This will probably answer both sides of your question. At times, we played really efficiently, good football. I think the biggest thing for us is finding consistency in performance. That to me is the big thing going forward. We had a couple of games and parts of games we played really well. It was just consistency. You’ve got to do it all the time in order to play well, whether it’s the fourth quarter, which was an issue for us in a couple of games. We can do better preparing ourselves. The kids having a better understanding, it being a year in, are going to be more comfortable not only with the schematics and the teaching but also the situational awareness. Big picture-wise, we just need to do a better job performing consistently. I think we’ve got a good bunch of guys and we are excited about the ones who are joining us. We’ll have a shot to do some good things.

How much was depth an issue?

Wilcox: We don’t really talk about that. I don’t know if I’ve ever been anywhere with a college football coach where he’s like, ‘We’ve got too much depth.’ Obviously we need to continue to develop our depth. I think where it shows is we need to substitute guys earlier in games, especially against the tempo teams. When the numbers get up high, you’d like to see the big guys, even some of the skill guys, you want to roll them a little bit so at the end of the game you’ve got more juice. But that’s always a fine line. We’re not the only school thinking that way.

I was thinking in terms of you guys still being yoked with NCAA sanctions last year. You guys weren’t going very deep with substitutions on your defense and you seemed to tire out late.

Wilcox: Yeah, it’s not really something, the sanctions and all that, we just don’t talk about it. We are excited about the guys who are here. We’ll continue to develop depth on defense at every position through recruiting. And we’ll continue to look at the best ways to substitute and roll guys. That’s critical. You want your best players out there on critical third downs.

How do you replace Leonard Williams?

Wilcox: A guy like that is pretty unique and rare, not only for the physical tools he has but also because he just loves to play the game. A guy with unique physical tools -- 6-5, 300-plus pounds, who runs and is smart and plays with good leverage and is athletic -- and you see he loves playing. Whether it was practice or a game, he was going. He had games when he played over 90 plays. To answer your question, it’s not going to be one person. It’s going to be a collection of people. It will be guys who are returning and some added bodies, freshmen who get here in the summer.

Su'a Cravens is a guy with a ton of talent. How does his role advance this year? He kind of has that hybrid thing going for you.

Wilcox: Sure. I think just adding to his toolbox. We played him as you said in kind of a hybrid outside linebacker/strong safety type role and he was very effective. He affected the game as a blitzer and as a low zone player defending balls. Getting picks, getting sacks, tackle for losses, he was impacting the game, which was awesome. The more he can develop at that spot, playing off blocks, understanding route combinations that the offense is going to use to manipulate the zones. Just playing more and getting more experience. He’s an intelligent guy. He’s got really good instincts. Just adding a few more tools to that toolbox, whether it’s coverage techniques he can expand on, maybe some run stunts we can use him. I think he’ll continue to be a guy who affects a game in different ways.

You lose the veteran leaders of your 2014 defense, Williams and LB Hayes Pullard. Who are going to be the vocal leaders next year?

Wilcox: That’s a great question. We’ve got some veteran guys coming back. The names that jump out, Anthony Sarao has played quite a bit at linebacker. Up front, nose tackle Antwaun Woods is a guy who’s played a lot. In the back end? We’ll see. A lot of young guys played a lot last year, Adoree' Jackson, John Plattenburg, those guys were playing significant roles for us, starting. I think Kevon Seymour at the other corner did some good things. But the two guys who have played the most are Anthony and Antwaun. We’ll look to them first for leadership, not only on the field but also at meetings, workouts. Between now and the start of the season, that stuff is as important as anything, just building the chemistry of the team and the accountability to one another.

Who are some young players you expect to compete for starting jobs?

Wilcox: Obviously the ones I already mentioned. John Plattenburg did a really good job at safety. Got better every game as the season went on. I thought we saw him really grow up. He got dinged late in the bowl game but in the Notre Dame game he really played well. Adoree' obviously came in as a young guy, playing corner and playing offense. I think this is a big spring for [safety] Leon McQuay. He played as a true freshman and quite a bit last year. We get [MLB] Lamar Dawson back who’s played a lot of football here but was out last season. He’s kind of a guy we’re looking for. Up front, guys like Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons, we need them really to continue to take the next step. Backup nose guard Cody Temple. Outside linebacker Scott Felix. Those are guys who are really important for us to be good. They’ve got to continue to develop. Jabari Ruffin, we are going to get him back from injury last year, as we are with nose tackle Kenny Bigelow. Those are two guys we were looking forward to helping us last year but unfortunately got injured before the season.

With the freshman class, you signed a lot of guys who seem like they might be ready to play. How many do you anticipate playing?

Wilcox: The feeling is when they get here we will give them every opportunity to compete to get on the field. We need them. We were talking earlier about developing our depth. Whether that means they play every special team and are situational players or they become starters, we recruited those guys because we believed they had the ability and physical tools to play. Now there are so many variables when you’re talking about football, on and off the field. We really like the class and all of those guys are going to be pressed early in their careers. In fall camp, it’s going to be a race to get them prepared to play. We’re looking for all those guys to help us.

Spring questions: USC Trojans

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
Spring practices end the retrospective glances of last season and begin the forward-looking process toward the next fall. Departed players need to be replaced, and returning starters need to get better, and youngsters need to step up.

While some teams have more issues than others, every team has specific issues that will be front and center. So we're looking at the main questions each Pac-12 team will address this spring.

Up next: USC.

1. How do you replace DE Leonard Williams? You don't replace Williams, a likely top-five pick in the NFL draft this spring. There is no one on the USC roster with the physical dimensions and skills to do so. Williams ranked second on the Trojans with 80 tackles, with 9.5 tackles for a loss and a co-team-high seven sacks, but he also caused problems for offensive simply by being there. He demanded attention in a game plan. Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons, a pair of 295 pounders, saw extensive action last year and began spring practices this week with the first unit as DE/DT. Another candidate, Greg Townsend, sat out with an injury. Redshirt freshman Malik Dorton and junior Jeff Miller offer smaller, quicker options. It's also possible that linebacker Jabari Ruffin could get at look at defensive end when he's healthy, and it's likely one or two of the touted incoming freshmen will be the rotation. Williams rarely left the field. The good news is USC figures to have a deeper and therefore fresher rotation this fall.

2. Who will be QB Cody Kessler's top targets? Three of USC's top four receivers from 2014 are gone, including top target Nelson Agholor, who caught nearly twice as many passes as any other Trojan. He also led the offense with 12 TDs. No one else had more than five. No. 2 receiver JuJu Smith had a strong showing as a true freshman and he has plenty of upside. He's likely the new No. 1. Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell are second and third options, while Adoree' Jackson, a starting cornerback, will see action on both sides of the ball. No doubt there will be opportunities for incoming players to push into the rotation. Further, with the departure of tight end Randall Telfer and uncertain status of suspended sophomore Bryce Dixon, things are pretty fluid at tight end behind Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick.

3. What's the pecking order at running back? Justin Davis was Javorius Allen's backup last year and he rushed for 595 yards, but it will be interesting to see how Tre Madden looks when he returns -- finally? -- from a toe injury. A healthy Madden is a true threat to start. Touted incoming freshmen Ronald Jones and Aca'Cedric Ware seem unlikely to redshirt, particularly Jones who was ranked the No. 1 running back in the nation by many recruiting services, including Sophomore James Toland is another option. This competition won't truly heat up until preseason camp, but Davis has the most to gain -- or lose -- this spring.

Spring questions: Utah

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
Spring practices end the retrospective glances of last season, and begin the forward-looking process toward the next fall. Departed players need to be replaced, returning starters need to get better, and youngsters need to step up.

Though some teams have more issues than others, every team has specific issues that will be front and center. So we're looking at the main questions each Pac-12 team must address this spring.

Up next: Utah

1. Which wide receivers will step up? The question of a starting quarterback is one that existed through most of last season and will probably reach into next fall with Kendal Thompson out this spring. So, it’s not going to be a true battle for the quarterback spot until all competing members are available. But one question that can be answered without a quarterback is ... to whom exactly will the quarterback be throwing the ball? With Kaelin Clay, Dres Anderson, and Westlee Tonga departed, there is a lot of production that needs to be replaced. Kenneth Scott is back and will probably take a larger role within the offense, but it can’t just be Scott. Some names to consider: Kenric Young, Delshawn McClellon, and junior college transfer Deniko Carter.

2. How much more of a beast will Devontae Booker be? At this time last year, no one was talking about Booker, the juco transfer from American River College. But after finishing his 2014 campaign as the Pac-12’s second-leading rusher, there is plenty of talk -- as there should be. People saw how one spring and fall camp turned a little-known transfer into a star. So with another spring camp, a greater understanding of the offense, and more confidence in himself as Utah’s go-to back, how much better is he going to look come summer?

3. Who is going to support Hunter Dimick in rushing the passer? The Utes will undoubtedly miss Nate Orchard. But this is the exact discussion we were having a year ago. The talk then was: With defensive linemen Trevor Reilly and Tenny Palepoi gone, who is going to get after opposing quarterbacks with Jacoby Hale? And guess what -- Orchard stepped up big time. Now with Orchard gone, who is going to get after opposing quarterbacks with Dimick? Last season, he finished second on the team in sacks and tackles for a loss. Dimick has shown he can get into the backfield, but now he will have to do more. Jared Norris will be able to provide plenty of assistance -- in 2014 he led the team in tackles and finished with 13 tackles for a loss, including four sacks. But outside of those two, who will step up -- Jason Fanaika? Pita Taumoepenu? Lowell Lotulelei?
Last season, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich held himself to a personal mantra: Year 2 would be an improvement from Year 1.

“If you do something a second time,” he said in August, “you should be better, you should be more efficient, and there’s no exception with me.”

Now defensive coordinator Don Pellum has a similar task.

On the one hand, when looking at a defense that was one of the most inconsistent groups in the conference, it doesn’t seem as though it would be too hard to take a step forward, especially because most of the players will be in their second year in the program.

[+] EnlargeDon Pellum
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesOregon loses quite a bit from its defense, but coordinator Don Pellum sees ways in which his group will be improved and more efficient.
On the other hand, when looking at the players that Pellum loses -- his top two tacklers, an All-American cornerback, his most athletic pass-rusher -- it’s hard to know how the Ducks will be able to take a step forward when they are replacing so many players.

But for Pellum, the answer is simple.

“We have a bunch of weapons,” he said. “This year we won’t carry as many, but we’ll be more specific. So if all of a sudden we’re playing a certain team and they’re running a certain play, last year we might’ve had two or three or four different things we could do. [This year] we’re going to dial it down to one or two and be really, really good at them.”

The process of becoming really, really good at those plans begins at the end of the month, when Oregon begins spring practice. As it gets closer, Pellum is getting more excited.

For him, he sees a lot of veterans in his meeting room, even though most of the public might not.

“I’m excited about where we are,” Pellum said. “We lost some terrific players, but I think overall in terms of depth and experience, we’re far ahead of where we were a year ago right now.”

He said in his first year he hadn’t realized how few senior starters were on the defensive side of the ball until he walked into a meeting as the defensive coordinator and began to actually count: zero on the line, two in the linebackers group (Tony Washington, Derrick Malone) and just one proven, battle-tested senior defensive back (Ifo Ekpre-Olomu).

In Year 2, Pellum rattles off a group of players at each position group that he views as veteran because they know his system and how he works.

The Ducks return defensive lineman Alex Balducci and a few experienced linebackers in Joe Walker, Rodney Hardrick and Tyson Coleman. In the secondary, cornerback Chris Seisay got some playing time near the end of the season after Ekpre-Olomu’s injury and safety Reggie Daniels finished third on the team in tackles. So there’s certainly talent there, but the depth remains to be seen.

But with those players and a coach willing to scale back to better fit his team, could Oregon take a big step forward in 2015?


“[Last year] we had a big toolbox,” Pellum said. “Our toolbox will be a little smaller this year. And now, after going through the season, we know how the opposition is going to really attack or try to counter, so now it’s going to be more specific to what these defenses are for.”

Pellum will attack Year 2 with the same expectation his head coach had last year: If you do something a second time, you should be better.

“I feel real comfortable about what this group can do,” Pellum said. “I think we can carry a little less, but I think we can be a lot more efficient.”
In this week's poll,'s Pac-12 blog asked readers about Mark Schlabach's Way Too Early Top 25. Or rather, about the teams that weren't mentioned on that list but have a good chance to be on the final top 25 of the 2015-16 season.

Of the responses, Stanford and Utah got the most votes, which worked out well because David Lombardi felt pretty strongly that Stanford would make the final top 25 next season while Chantel Jennings believed that the Utes would do the same.

They debate ...

Lombardi: Immediately following Utah's double overtime win at Stanford on November 15, my answer would have been different. But it's tough to bet against Stanford after seeing the way the Cardinal rampaged through the end of the season. Prior to 2014, Stanford had posted four consecutive campaigns filled with elite-level, BCS bowl success, and that's earned them the benefit of the doubt coming off a Jekyll-and-Hyde season: History tells us to trust the good Stanford team we saw over the season's final three games more than the wildly inconsistent one that played the front nine.

Of course, the reloading challenges currently facing the Cardinal are unique to the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era. For the first time, the program must replace the entirety of its starting defensive line -- long considered the bedrock of what has become a top-shelf 3-4 unit. The injury-plagued situation at Stanford practice is currently very frightening, as three relatively inexperienced defensive linemen are being forced to stick through entire sessions without any substitutes at the position.

But the Cardinal still have six months to find their footing, and that allows time for two important developments to take root: Injured defensive linemen can heal and the team's respected defensive coaching staff can develop a slew of talented players to pick up the slack on that side of the ball. Stanford has recruited defensive backs very well the past two years, and the bet here is that Duane Akina can make that talented unit shine by fall. Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Lance Anderson earned credibility in 2014, and recent results suggest he can ensure that Stanford's defense doesn't fall off a cliff.

That much should be adequate for the Cardinal, who return almost all of an offense that surged to finish 2014. Kevin Hogan is an experienced quarterback who overcame the passing of his father last season. He has the tools at his disposal to make Stanford's attack consistently productive, and that'll be enough to stabilize this team into Top 25 territory -- even if it does ultimately field a weaker defense.

Jennings: The Utes certainly have their work cut out for them, don't get me wrong. I don't think this is going to be a cakewalk for Kyle Whittingham & Co., but like last season I think the Utes will grind their way into the Top 25 come season's end.

Last season, six four-loss teams (including Utah) made it into the final AP poll of the season. Even one five-loss team (Auburn) made it in. What those seven teams all had in common were two things: 1. Most -- if not all -- of their losses either came on the road or were against a ranked opponent. 2. With the exception of Louisville, every team had at least one win (in some cases as many as three wins) versus ranked opponents.

Utah's doesn't exactly have the kindest schedule for an FBS team this year but they'll just look at that as opportunities to pick up signature wins. If the Utes can pick up some big W's against a few of their many top opponents, then maybe even a four- or five-loss Utah can make it into the final AP poll.

Heck, the Utes have three opportunities before October to pick up big wins in games versus Michigan, Utah State and Oregon.

Now, I don't think the Utes are just going to demolish several teams. But, I think they have a grinding work ethic that's going to help them in close games. The Utes' average margin of victory in conference games last season was 3.6 -- they know how to play (and how to win) in close games.

With running back Devontae Booker taking on an even bigger role, Kenneth Scott becoming a better receiving threat (with the help of players like Kenric Young and Deniko Carter) and Travis Wilson manning the operation (yep, I've called it) I think the offense will be in good hands … or at least more consistent hands than it was last season.

Defensively, I think Hunter Dimick is going to take on a much bigger role without Nate Orchard. With an intact linebacker corps the pass rush has a potential to be just as potent as last season. The secondary needs to shore itself up a bit, but I think they're in pretty good shape, too.

Plus, they've got Andy Phillips and Tom Hackett -- field goals and field position will be no worry for Whittingham.

Do I think Utah will be perfect? No. But, I do think a four-loss Utah team that picked up a few ranked wins along the way could sneak into the Top 25.
Kevin HoganStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesKevin Hogan wants to carry the momentum of Stanford's strong finish last season into 2015.
In the summer of 2011, current Stanford center Graham Shuler, then a senior in high school, visited campus. He played some pick-up basketball with future football teammates.

The Cardinal's new crop of freshmen had just moved into their dorms, and Shuler remembers one of the newcomers -- still relatively anonymous at that point -- soar high off the court.

"He grabbed a rebound, and he just took off," the lineman said. "It seemed like it took him only two strides to cross the court, and he took off again from the free throw line to put in a finger roll over everybody. It was like -- 'Yo! Who in the world was that?'"

It was Kevin Hogan, Stanford's future starting quarterback.

At the time, Andrew Luck's senior 2011 flurry was just preparing for takeoff, so it would be over a year before the outside football world discovered Hogan. But Shuler's introduction came early, and he remembers it vividly to this day as a precursor to the wild ride that has followed.

A chance to establish consistency
Hogan, entering his fifth season on the Farm, is one of Stanford's elder statesmen now. The instinctual, gritty athleticism that Shuler first saw several years ago on the basketball court has served the quarterback well throughout his college football career. But Hogan has also struggled at times, and it's this inconsistency that has made him somewhat of an enigma.

Moving forward, Stanford wants to enjoy a full year of the excellent play that Hogan delivered over the final three games of 2014. During that stretch, the Cardinal offense found its groove. Hogan posted a 222.4 quarterback rating in Stanford's 31-10 road manhandling of UCLA.

"We found a good rhythm and I want to carry that forward," Hogan says. "We saw how good we could be."

If the good times do indeed roll on, Hogan's athleticism may prove to be the key to unlocking his comfort zone. That approach was effective when the quarterback did considerable damage with his legs over the final three games of the season en route to efficient passing performances. (Hogan averaged over 6.5 yards per rush in all three of those contests after surpassing 5 yards per rush only once in Stanford's first 10 games.)

"It's just like anyone: A receiver would like to catch a hitch before a 50-yard go route," Hogan explained in December. "You want to get into a rhythm with your bread and butter plays.... I'm the same way. If I can roll out or do a QB run, I'd like to get that first hit and first play out of the way. You feel like you're in the game. I appreciate those plays when they're called early, and I try to lobby for them."

One can almost sense an affinity for contact in Hogan's words, and recognizing his nose for the gritty side of the game may be the ticket to consistently unleashing his strengths. It's no coincidence that a smile creeps across receiver Devon Cajuste's face when he's asked about Hogan's demeanor in the huddle.

"Even though I can't see what's happening when I'm running a route, I always know when something happened in the backfield," Cajuste says. "Because Hogan's super excited in the huddle after he gets hit."

Cajuste points to another aspect of Hogan's skill set that differentiates him from many quarterbacks, one that led directly to a touchdown run against Oregon State in 2014.

"He actually reads blocks [when he's scrambling], and we appreciate that as wide receivers, " Cajuste grins. "Because he never goes left when the block is set up for the right."

Highs, lows, and the future

Hogan's mercurial Stanford career has taken him through both tragedy and triumph. The high came early on: After replacing Josh Nunes as the Cardinal's starting quarterback in 2012, Hogan was the quarterback of Stanford's first Rose Bowl championship team since 1972.

But if the 2012 rip through Autzen Stadium and Pasadena represented Hogan's peak, 2014 marked the valley. This was the aforementioned 2014 season of erratic play, the one during which his father, Jerry, succumbed to cancer.

"I can't imagine going through something like that," Shuler says. "But Kevin's a rock, and one thing that amazes is how well he carries the legacy of his dad."

Just three weeks after Jerry's passing, Hogan earned MVP honors in Stanford's 45-21 victory over Maryland in the Foster Farms Bowl. He acknowledged his father after that performance. The success provided the Cardinal staff with firm reassurance that Hogan would be able maintain a consistently high level of play moving forward into 2015.

"Those last three games [of 2014], that's probably the best football that he's ever played," Stanford coach David Shaw says. "Kevin's in a good place now. He's smooth, confident, relaxed, and accurate."

When he reflects on the progress he's made as a quarterback since his freshman year, Hogan feels that he's on solid ground, too.

"My decision-making is a lot sharper and quicker," he says. "I can get through my reads more quickly. I understand defensive structure and scheme, which allows me to play faster while staying comfortable at the same time."

Quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard says that Hogan "has used [his late 2014 success] as some ground to stand on when he's talking to the offense," and Shuler senses this, too.

"Kevin will be one of the first people to tell you that he is more reserved, but this year, when practice is having trouble getting going, the voice you hear is his," Shuler says. "And that's really cool, because in years past, Kevin would say a couple things, but not this much. I think he feels a sense of ownership for this group of guys, more so than in the past."

As a starting quarterback during a golden era in Stanford football history, Hogan's name won't soon be forgotten around the program. But his final 2015 hurrah represents an opportunity to tack on an exclamation point of great significance -- one that can boost NFL dreams and an already-storied college legacy.

"Our goal is to pick up the script where we left off last year," Hogan says.

And to finish the larger script, the one that started on that basketball court back in 2011, in fitting style.
Junior days are underway, and the spring evaluation period is quickly approaching. While a number of programs are off to a fast start and in need of keeping impressive commitments in the fold, there also are programs in need of creating momentum and battling archrivals on the trail this spring and headed into the summer.

Here is a look at 10 programs that need a big spring, for various reasons (listed alphabetically):

The Gators saved the 2015 class in the days leading up to national signing day creating some momentum heading into the spring and summer. The time to capitalize is now for Jim McElwain and staff, and Florida simply must continue to gain steam with archrival Florida State swinging a big recruiting stick in state, and Miami on a run headed into the spring evaluation period. Florida currently has three verbals, all outside the ESPN Junior 300.

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Spring questions: UCLA

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
Spring practices end the retrospective glances at the last season and begin the forward-looking process towards the next fall. Departed players need to be replaced, returning starters need to get better and youngsters need to step up.

While some teams have more issues than others, every team has specific issues that will be front and center. So we begin a look at the main questions each Pac-12 team will address this spring.

Up next: UCLA

1. Who replaces Brett Hundley? Perhaps some folks are disappointed in how Hundley's final season went, but here's a guess that he'll be remembered as a transitional figure in Bruins football history, a three-year starter who returned the program to national relevance. Ergo, he left behind some big shoes to fill. Further, it's an interesting competition. You have redshirt junior Jerry Neuheisel, a guy with a familiar last name who came off the bench last season for an injured Hundley and led the Bruins to a victory over Texas. He's a scrapper with a good football IQ, but he's not going to blow you away with his arm or athleticism. Then you have true freshman Josh Rosen, who was rated among the best prep QBs in the 2015 recruiting class. Rosen has all the physical talent in the world, but you never know how quickly he'll pick things up and become comfortable. The transition from high school to the Pac-12 isn't easy and few true freshmen start at QB, at least for an A-list program like UCLA has become. A third option is sophomore Asiantii Woulard.

2. Who replaces Eric Kendricks? UCLA has become a bit of the Linebacker U of late, so there's some nice symmetry in hiring Tom Bradley, the former longtime Penn State defensive coordinator who was a big part of that program becoming 'Linebacker U', as the new defensive coordinator. But replacing Kendricks, the Butkus Award winner, won't be simply a matter of promoting the No. 2 guy from 2014, and not just because he's the program's all-time leading tackler. Kendrick was the defense's heart-and-soul -- a term used by former coordinator Jeff Ulbrich -- and the unit's unquestioned leader along with providing a great deal of production. Kenny Young, who made six starts and recorded 35 tackles as a freshman, is the heavy favorite to Kendrick's spot on the depth chart. But it will take some other guys stepping up -- paging Myles Jack -- to replace Kendricks' leadership.

3. Will the offensive line take a step forward? The UCLA offensive line will be as experienced as any in the Pac-12 in 2015, with five guys who have started at least 19 games returning. And while the Bruins offensive line was maligned last season, it did lead the Pac-12's No. 2 rushing attack, which averaged 210 yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry. Pass protection was an issue, as the Bruins yielded a league-worst 41 sacks. Only 15 of those sacks came after game five, indicating an improvement. Still, if the goal is to be dominant line that leads a national title contender, the Bruins need more consistency up front. It will be interesting to see how things play out. The Bruins have junior college transfer Zach Bateman already on campus, and he might push a returning starter, particularly with oft-injured Simon Goines' status far from certain. There could be some shuffling as Adrian Klemm looks for the best five guys.
The Pac-12 lost several top players after the 2014 season and with spring practice starting (or, at some places, having already started) the work in replacing some of those guys has already begun.

We took a look at six teams that have the most work to do (because, we couldn’t stick to five for this list. Sorry to our readers who expect series like this to be identical … and also to defensive coordinators across the league: You’ve got your work cut out for you this spring and next fall).


Arizona: At least they’ve still got Scooby Wright, right? That’s probably what a lot of Wildcats fans are going to be saying this offseason as Arizona attempts to replace so many contributors on the defensive side of the ball. The Wildcats will need to replace three of their top five tacklers -- Jared Tevis, Jourdon Grandon and Tra'Mayne Bondurant -- in addition to Dan Pettinato and Jonathan McKnight, who both registered at least 45 tackles last season.

Oregon State: Let’s just say that it’s far easier to note the players who actually return to the Beavers rather than their departures. So, Gary Andersen, in his first season, will welcome back 2014 starters Jaswha James and Larry Scott. That’s it. He has nine other starters to replace, including the top six tacklers from 2014. Of the 12 players to register at least 25 tackles last season, only three weren't seniors. Need we go on? Didn’t think so.

Stanford: The Cardinal are in a similar boat to the Beavers in which they lose way more than they retain while also losing guys at every level of the defense. Up front, coach David Shaw needs to find replacements for Henry Anderson, David Parry and Blake Lueders. In the middle, he’ll need guys to step into the shoes of Kevin Anderson, James Vaughters and A.J. Tarpley. In the secondary, they lose Alex Carter, Jordan Richards and Wayne Lyons. The Cardinal led the conference a year ago in total defense (282.4 yards per game), but with this kind of turnover hitting that mark again seems far off. But really, is anyone wishing they were a defensive coordinator at Oregon State or Stanford right now? Bueller?

Washington: A season ago, the Huskies were second in the league in rushing defense (121.9 yards per game) and now they need to replace six players from their front seven, including the entire defensive line. Can Washington really take a step forward in Year 2 under Chris Petersen without Hau’oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton aggravating every single Pac-12 quarterback and Shaq Thompson and John Timu creating big plays every other play? The good news is that the Huskies retain all four starters from the secondary so the group that was the youngest a year ago will now be the oldest. But, for anyone who watched the third-worst Pac-12 pass defense in 2014, that might not really sound like good new

USC: The Trojans lose four of their six top tacklers. Hayes Pullard, Gerald Bowman and J.R. Tavai all used up their eligibility while Leonard Williams opted to head to the NFL a bit early. Losing half of those guys would be rough for a defense that finished fifth in the league a season ago, but to lose every single one of them (they accounted for 315 tackles including 31 tackles for loss and 15 sacks) is really rough for a team that has such high expectations for the 2015 season. But Trojans fans can take Arizona’s approach: At least you still have Su'a Cravens and Anthony Sarao, right?

UCLA: The Bruins lose three of their top four tacklers from the 2014 season, including Butkus Award winner Eric Kendricks. Between Kendricks, Anthony Jefferson and Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA will need to make up for 282 tackles including 26 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. In a few games this season the Bruins defense made up for its offense when it was slow (or, not scoring at all -- hello, Virginia) and many of the reasons for this defense being so productive are no longer on the roster.

Honorable mention:

Oregon: The Ducks defense was a hard thing to diagnose last season. In certain games, it was opportunistic and aggressive and tackled extremely well. And in others, it was the exact opposite. Oregon will lose several key players off that up-and-down defense from a season ago. Arik Armstead left early for the NFL and linebackers Tony Washington and Derrick Malone are gone. Defensive back coach John Neal has his work cut out for him in a secondary that lost starters Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Troy Hill and Erick Dargan. Due to injuries and rotations, several guys got reps for Oregon and with a core group of linebackers returning, there seems to be a bit less work to do in Eugene than some other Pac-12 cities.

Utah: The Utes will undoubtedly miss Nate Orchard and his ability to get to quarterbacks, as well as starters Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen out of the secondary. But Utah also has three of its top six tacklers returning, including its leading tackler (linebacker Jared Norris). Plus, Hunter Dimick is primed for a big season a year after recording 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss.
The Pac-12 lost several top players after the 2014-15 season, and with spring ball starting (or, at some places, having already started) the work in replacing some of those guys has already begun.

We took a look at five teams that have the most work to do on the offensive side.

Arizona: The defending South Division champion is going to have a lot of turnover in the trenches. Rich Rodriguez needs to replace three starting linemen -- center Steven Gurrola and tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele. Replacing a center is tough, replacing bookends is harder, doing both is something that no coach really wants to do. Especially considering this veteran line gave up 40 sacks last season (second-worst in the Pac-12) and now the group will be even younger. The Wildcats also lose wide receiver Austin Hill and backup running back Terris Jones-Grigsby. Hill was the team’s second-leading receiver, averaging 45.4 yards per game, while Jones-Grigsby averaged 47.2 rushing yards per game and gave Nick Wilson some necessary rest.

Arizona State: Mike Bercovici has already laid some foundation for his role as the starting quarterback next season, but that doesn’t change the fact the Sun Devils lose a veteran player and leader in QB Taylor Kelly. Plus, Bercovici will be missing half of the magic that was the Jael Mary with the departure of wide receiver Jaelen Strong, who led the Sun Devils with 1,165 yards last season. Like Arizona, ASU will need to replace both tackles as it loses fifth-year seniors Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka. So, how much Berco-ing will actually happen as the Sun Devils look to replace so much of their offensive line and one of the conference’s best receivers? We’ll see.

Oregon: Even if the Ducks were losing only Marcus Mariota they would’ve been on this list. But the losses go a bit further than Mariota. On top of the Heisman-winning quarterback, Mark Helfrich must replace three members of his offensive line -- Jake Fisher, Hamani Stevens and Hroniss Grasu. The benefit (if it can be called that) for Oregon is that because of OL injuries last season, several players played several positions along the line. But that doesn’t mean finding a full-time starter at each of those three positions is going to be easy either. The Ducks get Tyler Johnstone back so he’ll likely fill back in to his left tackle role, but what about the other two? Oregon also loses Keanon Lowe, whom Helfrich often described as the most important player who wasn’t seen on the stat sheet.

USC: Cody Kessler decided to return to the Trojans, but he’ll be missing most of his key weapons from the 2014 season. At running back USC loses Buck Allen, who led the team with 114.5 rushing yards per game. At wide receiver, they’ll need to replace leading receiver Nelson Agholor (101 yards per game) as well as George Farmer, who both opted to leave early with Allen. At tight end, the Trojans need to find a replacement for Randall Telfer. With Kessler and all five line starters coming back (though, with a new coach at the helm of that group) the Trojans have a strong foundation, but it needs to find some productive skill position players pronto.

Utah: The Utes, for as much quarterback back-and-forth as they had, were extremely balanced on the receiving end of things as four players tallied 30 or more receiving yards per game. The problem is: three of those players are now gone, so can the lone player who is back in that group -- Kenneth Scott -- become more of a big-time receiver? Or will more players step up to keep things evenly distributed? Kaelin Clay led the team in total receiving yards and Dres Anderson -- who didn’t even finish the season due to injury -- was the team’s fourth-leading receiver at 355 yards. The Utes also need to find a replacement for their fourth-leading receiver -- starting tight end Westlee Tonga, who scored four touchdowns and averaged 30.1 yards per game. On top of those skill position losses, Utah also needs to find a new left tackle. Jeremiah Poutasi opted to leave early after starting for three years at Utah. Worse yet, back up Marc Pouvave’s eligibility has run out so the Utes will be looking for a brand new LT.

Honorable mention:

UCLA: The Bruins lose just one starter, but it hardly seems like you can put the word “just” in front of Brett Hundley’s name. Jim Mora is going to have to do a lot of work to replace Hundley’s production but there are still plenty of playmakers to go around. If it had been Hundley and Paul Perkins or Hundley and Jordan Payton, then UCLA probably would’ve made the list.

Colorado: The Buffs are losing several guys at several positions, which made this a tough call. They’re losing two linemen as well as a wide receiver, tight end and tailback … but it’s the third-leading receiver and second-leading rushing. As of now, it just seems like Sefo Liufau will have a bit more to build on.

Washington State: Connor Halliday’s reign is over but Luke Falk, like Bercovici, laid some major foundation for the Cougars. Falk will be without Pac-12 leading receiver Vince Mayle and second-leading receiver Isiah Myers. But Mike Leach produces 700-yard receivers like he produces quotable material (meaning, often). The Pac-12 Blog has faith that these large shoes will be filled with ease.
Spring practice has begun its roll around the Pac-12, so the table is set for a bevy of position battles that should last the course of the entire offseason. That means it's time to highlight the key fights around the conference.

The quarterback cases

A year after the Pac-12's "year of the quarterback," the conference sees its marquee position enter a state of transition this spring. Plenty of top-flight talent has departed, but an influx of emerging signal-callers has the potential to take at least some sting out of the exodus.

Oregon's saga will generate the most headlines. Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota is gone, while electrifying dual-threat talent Vernon Adams has transferred to Eugene, Oregon, from Eastern Washington. Coach Mark Helfrich's succession plan isn't determined yet, though: Jeff Lockie was last season's second-stringer, and he'll have a chance to get a jump on Adams -- who can't enroll until fall -- during spring practice.

Less than an hour up the road, Oregon State is tasked with replacing all-time Pac-12 passing leader Sean Mannion. The Beavers are confronted with a traffic jam of their own at the position, as seven quarterbacks currently pack the roster. Luke Del Rio was Mannion's backup last year, so he's a popular name right about now. Expect plenty of maneuvering as the entire stable adapts to Gary Andersen's new offensive system.

[+] EnlargeJerry Neuheisel
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezCan UCLA's Jerry Neuheisel earn the starting quarterback job over highly touted true freshman Josh Rosen?
Jerry Neuheisel made a memorable start in Brett Hundley's stead against Texas in 2014, but that might have been just a prelude to what's expected to be a fierce offseason quarterback battle at UCLA. Josh Rosen, one of the most highly touted prospects in the nation, has also entered the Westwood fray.

Intrigue extends further into the conference. Luke Falk will likely be Connor Halliday's successor at Washington State, but the fates of incumbents Cyler Miles (Washington) and Travis Wilson (Utah) are far from settled. K.J. Carta-Samuels looks to steal the reins in Seattle. At Utah, Kendal Thompson's challenge of Wilson for the starting job, which raged throughout most of last season, will continue following Thompson's recovery from injury.

The defensive battles up front

Stanford, the Pac-12's best defense three years running, is currently competing to reload a unit that lost eight starters following 2014. The most painful attrition for the Cardinal has happened along the defensive line, where all three of last year's starters are graduating. Coach David Shaw actually wishes he had more competition there, since injuries have reduced Stanford to only three healthy players at the position. But Aziz Shittu and Solomon Thomas will be back, and the fight to replace Henry Anderson and David Parry will rage on in due time.

Washington, meanwhile, is tasked with replacing six members of a front seven that was stocked with pro talent in 2014: Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha, Shaq Thompson, John Timu, Andrew Hudson, and Evan Hudson. Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, and ouch -- all of those guys are leaving. That's a tough rash of losses. Brace for a free-for-all of competition in Chris Petersen's second year. Meanwhile, a few hours to the east, two spots are open on Washington State's defensive line.

The offensive trenches

Most of Cal's rising offense returns in 2015, but there's a big battle for Chris Adcock's vacated center position between Matt Cochran and Addison Ooms. Both Arizona schools should see spirited competition among the offensive hogs, too. The Wildcats must fill three holes up front, including center. Carter Wood is the front-runner there, and Cal transfer Freddie Tagaloa throws his name into the tackle ring. He is 6-foot-8, 330 pounds -- that sounds fun.

Arizona State tackles Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka are both gone, setting up a critical reloading effort to ensure that Mike Bercovici is well protected next season. Evan Goodman and Billy McGehee seem to be the early leading options, but nothing is a lock at this point.

Colorado has lost both starting offensive guards to graduation, and there are four bodies currently competing for those two spots.

Skill-position central

The running back room always seems to be crowded at USC, and Javorius Allen's departure has set the table for a wide-ranging battle this offseason. Allen was the Trojans' leading rusher, but the next six performers on the ground-yardage list come back in 2015. Justin Davis and Tre Madden are the only two scholarship backs returning, and they'll be joined by a trio of freshmen from Steve Sarkisian's monster 2015 recruiting class -- Ronald Jones II, Dominic Davis and Aca'Cedric Ware.

Of course, the departures of Nelson Agholor and George Farmer have also opened matters up at receiver for USC. Expect plenty of explosive fireworks there: JuJu Smith and Adoree' Jackson are just two of the exciting names on the Trojans roster.
In February, Mark Schlabach released his "Way Too Early Top 25," which was his best guess at what the preseason top 25 will look like when released.

His list was graced by five Pac-12 teams:

Which of these teams has the best shot to finish the 2015-16 season in the top 25?


Discuss (Total votes: 4,448)

But that left us wondering about which team could be a surprise team this year in the Pac-12. Last February there were five teams in his 2014 version of the Way Too Early Top 25. And at the end of this season, in the College Football Playoff Ranking year-end poll there were six, but they didn't completely overlap. On Schlabach's list he had Oregon, UCLA, Stanford, USC, and Washington. At season's end Stanford and Washington were nowhere to be found, but a resurgence in the Pac-12 South led Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah to find a way onto the final top 25 of the season.

These things happen. Players have big seasons, and a team that no one was talking about could be a Cinderella in 2015. So, outside of the five teams Schlabach has listed (next week we'll get to which team on that list won't finish in the top 25), which underdog team has the best shot to finish next season in the top 25?

1. Stanford

This is a new spot for the Cardinal, which isn't accustomed to being unranked. Maybe that will create a chip on the shoulders of its players. Stanford finished last season much better than it started, and though there are some key players who need to be replaced, maybe that momentum will carry over. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. For a team that played in four-consecutive BCS bowls leading up to the first season of the College Football Playoff, there are a lot of maybes.

2. Washington

Could Year 2 be the year Chris Petersen turns his Huskies into the team so many hoped it would be in Year 1? Washington will have its work cut out for it -- replacing six members of the defensive front seven and four offensive linemen. Though turnover in the trenches is rarely a recipe for success, Washington expects to take strides in Petersen's second season. What better stride than a step into the top 25?

3. Utah

No one was talking about Utah a year ago at this time, yet, as the season came to a close the Utes found themselves in a fight for the South championship. Not too shabby, Kyle Whittingham. Can he do it again? Yes, Utah will need to find replacements for Nate Orchard (no small task), and Kaelin Clay and Westlee Tonga (the No. 1 and No. 3 receivers from a last season), but it returns talent in Devontae Booker, Travis Wilson, Kenneth Scott, and Kendal Thompson (who the Utes hope will return from injury this summer).

4. Other

It still seems like a bit of a stretch to think Colorado, Oregon State, Cal, or Wazzu could jump into that group. But, we wanted to give you guys the option of voting for them if you really, truly believe it's a possibility. Because, you know, #Pac12AfterDark.