Pac-12 South: A closer look

With the Pac-12 now being official, we look at the South Division in order to see why teams could contend and what may be holding them back.

The Pac-12 officially went into effect this week and with it comes two divisions split geographically between northern and southern schools. For Arizona, it means that it will be paired with five other programs in the Pac-12 South, which includes arch-rival Arizona State along with newcomers Utah and Colorado.

It appears that the first year in the south is up for grabs as several teams are looking to compete for the title. Each squad has reasons it can win the division and reasons it can't. With it being a potentially tight race, the slightest difference between two teams can make the world of difference. Here is what could help each squad in it's pursuit of the Pac-12 South title and what could prevent it.

Arizona State

Key to contending - If ASU can get Brock Osweiler to play at a high level consistently, the Sun Devils can be a very dangerous squad. The switch to the spread offense in 2010 did wonders as Arizona State surprised some of its opponents with how well it was able to move the ball and put up points. The year prior, ASU's offense was non-existent and it really hindered its chances at competing. Now with a much improved system, Osweiler holds the key to a big season in Tempe.

Holding them back – This is also Osweiler. While he showed vast improvement by season's end, Osweiler only threw 109 passes and was a backup for the majority of the season (he only started the final two contests). ASU has everything in place at nearly every other position on both sides of the ball, but until Osweiler proves he can produce consistently questions and concerns will remain.


Key to contending – Nick Foles and his deep wide receivers corp must dominate their opponents. UA has some questions around the offensive line and its running game, so the hope is that there are enough productive receivers to allow Foles to make up for the lack of a running game. Quality quarterback play is essential to success in the Pac-12 and Foles is one of the league's top passers. Add in the quality of his targets and UA has elite players at key positions.

Holding them back – The offensive line will feature new starters at all five positions and that could create trouble for Foles and company. But where the real trouble could creep up is on the defensive side of the ball. Arizona has injuries to several key players at linebacker and in the secondary and the manner in which UA responds to those will go a long way in how successful it is. If the Wildcats can't overcome their health issues, they could be in for a long year.


Key to contending – The Utes return quarterback Jordan Wynn, who showed significant improvement in his sophomore campaign. Now, of course, he must increase those numbers against tougher squads in the Pac-12. Wynn showed improved accuracy and much more confidence in his second season under center and if he continues to grow, Utah could be right in the thick of the race.

Holding them back – Outside of Wynn, the offense has been serviceable, but that was in the Mountain West. Now in the Pac-12, the Utes' offense is middle-of-the-pack at best and must improve if it has Rose Bowl aspirations. In 2010, Utah finished 52nd overall in total offense nationally and in a conference known for its offensive firepower, Utah will need to get better when it is in possession of the football.


Key to contending – UCLA must find a way to replace the production of Akeem Ayers and Rahim Moore on the defensive side of the ball. The good news? The Bruins return eight other starters from last year's defense and should be formidable in terms of containing the opposition's offense. Will they be as productive sans Ayers and Moore? Only time will tell.

Holding them back – Offense and coaching. Rick Neuheisel has a reputation of possessing a great offensive mind, but that has yet to really show since arriving at UCLA. Despite bringing in a quality recruiting class seemingly every year, Neuheisel has done little with those classes. The main problem has been at quarterback, where Neuheisel has yet to find anyone serviceable enough to lead his program into contention.


Key to contending – Colorado seems to be as strong as it has been in years entering 2011, but is it enough to challenge for the conference crown? The Buffaloes are going to need production from quarterback Tyler Hansen – who hasn't produced at a high level to date – and Rodney Stewart – potentially one of the top backs in the conference. In the Pac-12, Colorado needs both to produce consistently. If it's one or the other (or neither), CU will struggle to stay in the race.

Holding them back – The Buffaloes lack the level of overall talent the majority of its new conference rivals possess. There are solid contributors at key positions that could make a serious difference, but CU finished 84th nationally in total yards gained and 70th in total yards allowed. If those rankings are similar at the end of 2011, expect Colorado to battle for the basement of the Pac-12 South.

Note: USC was not included due to being ineligible for the conference title game and the postseason.

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