Pac-12 South Football Preview – Will USC Win The Division?

Vaccinations, scandals, and maybe a little football? Pac-12 media day certainly was interesting earlier this week. This article is the second of a two-part series, in which we take a look at each respective division in the conference. We will conclude this series by previewing where teams will land in the South. 

6. Arizona

Strengths

Arizona’s biggest strength is that new Head Coach Jedd Fisch is bringing attention to the program. For example, a few months ago, Rob Gronkowski returned to the campus where he set a Guinness World Record with a 600-foot catch from a football thrown from a helicopter. In terms of current players, wideout Stanley Berryhill III could prove a breakout player along with cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace.

Weaknesses

This team is probably the worst in the Pac-12 point-blank. They only have one first or second-team preseason selection by Athlon, and that is the aforementioned Roland-Wallace. Last year they had one of the worst offenses in the nation, only scoring 17.4 PPG and their defense was equally abysmal, allowing 39.8. They need improvement everywhere. 

 Outlook

This team will likely prove the bottom feeder in the South this year. Even though Fisch is creating a buzz around the program, this should still prove an arduous rebuild. The Wildcats enter the season on a 12-game losing streak, so finding any sort of stability should be considered a success. Expect two to four wins. 

5. Colorado

Strengths

The Buffs are quietly loaded with talent at the skill positions. Sophomore running back Jarek Broussard leads the group and is arguably the best returning halfback in the conference. On defense, senior linebacker Nate Landman is likely the most underrated player in the country. He is a straight baller. 

Weaknesses

The main concern for Colorado should be their offensive line. If they can’t block upfront their skill positions, players probably won’t do much. On defense, their focus should be on the health of Landman. He is returning from a ruptured Achilles tendon, and it felt like he did everything for a CU defensive unit that allowed 31.7 PPG last season. Without him, it could prove rough.

Outlook

The Buffs could sneakily prove one of the best teams in the division. With players like wideouts Brenden Rice (Jerry Rice’s Son), La’Vontae Shenault (Lil Bro of Laviska, current NFL wideout), and the aforementioned Broussard, they don three explosive playmakers. However, the question marks on the O-line and defensive could hurt them in a seemingly improved South. They should finish around .500. 

4. UCLA

Strengths

The Bruins rushing attack is likely their biggest strength heading into the upcoming season. They return two proven rushers in quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (DTR) and running back Brittain Brown, who combined for over 800 yards and seven touchdowns last year. They should also have a decent offensive line, led behind Sean Rhyan, who Athlon has listed as a Preseason Second Team selection. 

Weaknesses

UCLA may not have a clear weakness per se, but they don’t have many clear strengths. Last year their defense allowed 30.7 PPG, which was good for 78th in the nation. This likely won’t be enough to win consistently in conference matchups hence their 3-4 record last season against Pac-12 opponents. They also don’t have a proven deep threat at the wideout position.  

Outlook

The Bruins are a unique team with a lot of talent, but they still haven’t put it all together. Thompson-Robinson is a veteran quarterback who has solid options to throw the ball to in receiver Kyle Philips and tight end Greg Dulcich. The defense has a few notable names, such as linebacker Caleb Johnson and defensive lineman Mitchell Agude. The bottom line, this team goes as far as DTR takes them. Expect about six wins.   

3. Arizona State

Strengths

ASU is arguably the most talented team in the division led by junior signal-caller Jayden Daniels. In two seasons, Daniels has thrown for over 3000 yards, 22 touchdowns, and three interceptions. He’s also joined by halfback Rachaad White, who could prove the most explosive player in the conference this year. Flipping the field, cornerback Chase Lucas is an absolute stud and a Preseason First Team selection by Athlon. 

Weaknesses

The Sun Devils’ biggest weakness is their off-the-field protocol. They allowed recruits to visit during a “dead period,’ which essentially means that they cannot host an athlete on campus. The timing of this probably couldn’t be any worse because ASU was a hot pick to win the South. In terms of on the field, they lack proven playmakers at the wide receiver position.   

Outlook

This season depends on how the team responds to the off-the-field allegations. This situation is tricky and likely cuts deeper than most because the illegal activity occurred during the height of the Covid era. The talent is there; they arguably have the best quarterback, running back, and defense in the conference. But with everything looming over their heads, they’ll only win seven or eight games. 

2. Utah

Strengths

The Utes biggest strength is their Head Coach Kyle Whittingham. In a season where four teams could realistically win the division, his presence lifts Utah toward the top. On offense, the Utes got a huge transfer in quarterback Charlie Brewer from Baylor. Brewer proved one of the best signal-callers in Bears history before landing in Salt Lake City. Utah also features wideout Britain Covey and tight end Brant Kuithe. 

Weaknesses

The Utes do not have any proven deep threats at the wide receiver position. Bryan Thompson, who was probably their best big-play option, transferred to ASU before the season beginning. Utah also needs to replace running back Ty Jordan (R.I.P.), and no other back rushed for more than 100 yards last season. With no explosive playmakers, the offensive may struggle. 

Outlook

Any team led by Whittingham usually boasts a solid defensive, offensive line, and rushing attack. This trio, combined with the transfer of Brewer, could mean big things for the Utes. Their schedule also lines up nicely in which they’ll likely be favored in their first four contests. They should win about eight games. 

1. USC

Strengths

The Trojans’ offensive should prove the best in the conference this year. They are led by quarterback Kedon Slovis who Athlon has listed as a Preseason First Team selection. Complementing Slovis is wide receiver Drake London who is an absolute beast. On defense, linebacker Drake Jackson is the name to remember, but they have playmakers at every level. 

Weaknesses

USC’s biggest weakness is probably their inability to run the ball. Last year, they only averaged three yards per attempt which tied Cal for worst in the Pac-12. With the transfer of running back Keaontay Ingram from Texas, this situation could improve. Nevertheless, the coaching staff may be unwilling to adjust some of their short downplay calling, which could really hurt the Trojans. 

Outlook

USC is widely projected to win the South this year. The duo of Slovis and London should prove absolutely nasty. On defense, SC will likely continue to improve under second-year Defensive Coordinator Todd Orlando. The one big question surrounding the program, Head Coach Clay Helton. How will he perform with arguably his most talented team in L.A.? Expect a South title and ten or more wins.  

About Nick Bartlett 120 Articles
Hello there ya wild rabbits. My name is Nick Bartlett and I’m a sportswriter, broadcast manager, and youth basketball coach. I’m from the Greater Seattle Area and a graduate of the Edward R. Murrow school at Washington State University. I’ve had over 50 articles and 10 podcasts published in Seattle PI, and my work featured on OregonLive, SportsPac12, and South Florida Tribune. You can contact me at NB206wsu@gmail.com or on twitter @WordsByBartlett. Cheetos and Tuna.

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