TEMPE, Ariz. — Evan Moore has no idea what’s going to happen in the Pac-12 South Division this season. With Colorado improved and the Los Angeles schools not living up to their preseason hype, a division that has seen five of its six teams win at least a share of the division title since 2011 appears wide open.
“This is probably the murkiest and cloudiest the division has looked since the conference split into north and south,” the Pac-12 Network’s college football analyst said.
That’s probably good news for teams like Arizona State, Arizona and Colorado, for which there were lower expectations this season, but it doesn’t speak well of UCLA and USC, who were expected to vie for the division crown based on preseason media polls, but looked underwhelming in nonconference play.
As Pac-12 play begins in earnest this weekend with USC at Utah (Friday), Colorado at Oregon, Stanford at UCLA, California at Arizona State and Washington at Arizona, Moore offered a key thought on each of the South Division’s six teams.
Arizona: “I think there are way too many question marks about this defense and this undersized defensive line’s ability to hold up and get stops, even with (defensive coordinator) Marcel Yates’ more aggressive approach. I think that will be too much to overcome for them to contend for the division title.”
Arizona State: “They’ve got a chance in the south and it’s really a function of them getting healthy on defense,” said Moore, noting the absence of linebackers Salamo Fiso (suspension), Christian Sam, defensive lineman George Lea and limited linebacker/safety Laiu Moeakiola in nonconference play. “If they can figure out how to get stops and shore it up on the back end, they’re absolutely a dangerous team because of all the playmakers they have on offense.”
Colorado: “(Coach) Mike MacIntyre is the right guy for what they’re doing and it’s great to see (quarterback) Sefo Liufau bouncing back from the Lisfranc injury. What they did at Michigan (45-28 loss) last weekend before Sefo got hurt (ankle); that was an incredible accomplishment on the road in a tough place to play against one of the best teams in the country. I think it’s still too early for them, but I think they’ll get two surprise wins in the South this year.”
UCLA: “Going into the season, the media picked them to win but I had some reservations with this because there has been a little bit of a system shift with Kennedy Polamalu calling plays and (QB) Josh Rosen has not run this system. I wasn’t convinced and I needed to see Josh in a pro style offense taking five-step drops and throwing it. I don’t think he’s proven he’s comfortable, nor do I think this offense is comfortable with this new smash-mouth brand of football. I’m not sure they are able to do it. They got stretched on both sides of ball at (Texas) A&M. Their personnel need to catch up with what they’re trying to do. I think we’ll find out way more about them on Saturday.”
USC: The QB switch (from Max Browne to Sam Darnold) was really interesting because one of my sources at SC told me they felt like Sam was the better QB at the start, but they hesitant on whether they wanted to play him because Max had earned their right and they might have been afraid he’d transfer, so they end up starting him and the going to Sam in Week 3. They’re sprinkled with talent all over as SC always is, but they’re not deep on the D-line and they lack direction and discipline. Against Stanford (a 27-10 loss), it was tough for them to control the line of scrimmage. I think it’s taking a longer for (coach) Clay (Helton)’s teachings to take hold.”
Utah: “Historically, they have always been one of my favorite teams because they control the line of scrimmage, they run the football and they can get to the quarterback. As log as you are doing those things well you have a chance. All the other teams are wild cards, but Utah is the only team of all these that has an identity. They will be competing for the 1 through 3 spots. Kyle Whittingham is a great coach. The one thing they have lacked is developing a reliable passing game. If they can figure that out with Troy Williams they’ve got a really good shot.”
On the overall conference: “This is the way I look at it: The two best teams are Stanford and Washington. Washington 2-8 against top 25 under (coach) Chris Petersen and they have never beaten Stanford and Oregon. Until we see them compete with and beat a top-25 team I don’t think we can crown them. The big game comes Sept. 30 when Stanford goes to Seattle to play the Huskies. I honestly think Stanford will win because they are built for this. It’s their conference to lose.”