Martin's Musings is back for another season of college football. This week we break down the Pac-12 South heading into the year.
1.) USC - It may seem silly to project a team with a legit QB competition as the conference champion, but with Max Browne named the starter over the weekend, it will likely take a big stumble to unseat him. The Trojans have one of the more talented teams than they've had in recent memory, but it remains to be seen whether Clay Helton can manage expectations and egos in Los Angeles. USC will get an early chance to shine against college football heavyweight Alabama and a win could set the tone for the season.
2.) UCLA - The Bruins are one of only two teams in the South that is heading into the season with a lock at the quarterback position. Despite that, I'm still not sold on UCLA. Josh Rosen is destined to be a superstar, but the uncertainty on both the offensive and defensive lines has to be a concern for Jim Mora. Without a solid offensive line, the advantage of Rosen's arm is almost nullified. The return of Eddie Vanderdoes is going to strengthen the run defense immediately, though his health and the inconsistency of others could be the weak link in an otherwise stifling defense.
3.) Arizona - Even though Rich Rodriguez claims that there is a quarterback battle, it is hard to believe that anyone other than Anu Solomon will be leading the offense onto the field when the Wildcats start the season. Arizona's defense is a complete question mark after the departure of Scooby Wright and Defensive Coordinator Jeff Casteel. However, it is hard to imagine the Wildcats being worse with a scheme change and some new energy being pumped into the team. The Wildcats will likely have a few shootouts this season and if Nick Wilson can stay healthy, the the plethora of receivers at Solomon's disposal should shine.
4.) Utah - This isn't the Utah of old. Devontae Booker and Travis Wilson are gone, leaving an entirely new backfield for the Utes. Troy Williams looks like the front runner for the job under center as he is back on the uptick after a crash-and-burn stint at Washington. Even with experience, Utah struggled to finish strong down the stretch, losing two of the last four games after being ranked in the top-five midway through the season. Couple that with reports that the defense has struggled so far in fall camp and the Utes could be looking at a rocky season.
5.) Arizona State - Breaking in a new quarterback isn't easy. Nevermind starting a guy under center who hasn't thrown a single collegiate pass. Mix that all together with a offensive line that lost four starters from last season and you get the Sun Devils' offense. Whoever wins the job, expect a heavy dose of Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage most of the season if the offensive line can muster any sort of support. Under Todd Graham, Arizona State's defense has slowly gotten worse, giving up 33.5 points per game last season, the highest in Graham's tenure. However, the defense is more experienced this season and could be the deciding factor in a few games.
6.) Colorado - Sadly, Colorado still sits at the bottom of the conference. The Buffs get one last season of Sefo Liufau to see if he can finally get his team around the corner. Colorado's true strength lies within its secondary with plenty of talent and experience to go around. Even with that, the Buffs have a big hill to climb to get out of the cellar in the Pac-12 South.
Offensive MVP - Juju Smith-Schuster (USC): I'm going with a little bit of a dark horse here, but this should finally be the year that Smith-Schuster completely shines. With Helton trying to make a big splash in his first full year, there is little doubt that he is going to go big in as many situations as he can get and that all starts with the electric do-it-all athlete. The Trojans will try to get the ball in his hands as much as possible and let Smith-Schuster work his magic. If he can stay healthy, he'll be a human highlight reel all season long.
Defensive MVP - Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA): This one is probably a little too easy, but he is easily the top playmaker in the south and is a no brainer for this pick. The defensive tackle still has to prove that he is healthy after an early season ACL tear derailed his coming out party last season. Vanderdoes will get his chance in the first game of the season in the highly-anticipated match-up with Texas A&M.
Freshman of the Year - Theo Howard (UCLA): This was supposed to be Mique Juarez, but the stud linebacker was a no show at UCLA's fall camp and doesn't appear to ever plan on showing up in Westwood. Instead, I'll go with another Bruin, but on the opposite side of the ball. It will probably be a few games into the season before Howard is adjusted to college ball, but I would expect the wide receiver to have some big games as the season wears on.
Most Improved - Ronald Jones (USC): The running back caught the conference by surprise late last season, taking a lion's share of the carrier for the Trojans and just missing the 1,000-yard mark. While I think Jones still sits behind Smith-Schuster as the best option with the ball for USC, Jones is in prime position to show off what should be an impressive sophomore jump this season.
Games to Watch - Week 1:
Alabama vs USC: It's no secret that I love watching Lane Kiffin on the sidelines and it may be even sweeter to see him throw up his arms in anguish as he faces his old team on opening weekend. While everyone can appreciate the level of prestige brought by both programs, I can't see any scenario in which a seasoned Nick Saban loses on opening weekend to Clay Helton and the Trojans.
Playing in an NFL venue, you could be easy to mistake both of these teams as professionals with all of the talent that will be lining up. It should be ever bit as wonderful as it is being billed, but Roll Tide is just too much. Alabama 31, USC 24.
UCLA at Texas A&M: The Aggies have been in a downward spiral since Johhny Football decided to wreck Texas A&M football forever, but there is some hope this season and it all starts with a opening weekend showdown with The Rosen One. Texas A&M certainly has the tools to take down the Bruins, but it will all come down to how well it can pressure UCLA's offensive line and make Josh Rosen uncomfortable in the pocket.
The sophomore has already shown that he can win big on the road and UCLA's defense should be able to slow down the Aggies just enough. Bruins live to fight another day. UCLA 27, Texas A&M 21.