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.) Stanford - No surprises here. The Cardinal were one of the best teams in college football a season ago and look to shine again this year. David Shaw has to replace Kevin Hogan under center, but Ryan Burns has been around for the past few years under Hogan's tutelage and is primed to start in the season opener. Stanford also has several other returning pieces and a very strong Heisman candidate in Christian McCaffrey. The North is the Cardinal's to lose at this point.
2.) Washington - The Huskies will go as Jake Browning goes this season. He is the true make or break factor. Without a strong backup option, if Browning struggles, so will the entire offense. Washington's defense should be phenomenal all season long and it wouldnt surprise many people to see a 9-7 win at some point. Look for the Huskies to make a big jump towards the top of the North.
3.) Washington State - One of the biggest surprises of the year should be how well Washington State performs. The Cougars are in a similar position as their state rivals, but on the opposite side of the ball. Mike Leach is always going to have a strong offensive showing and with a returning QB and an improving defense you can expect Washington State to win a few games it isn't supposed to.
4.) Oregon - This may be the biggest shocker here. Oregon has struggled to reload at key positions over the past two recruiting cycles and is quickly trending downward. Mark Helfrich is seeing his seat grow warmer and warmer with each blow to the program. He likely gets one more season, but if the 2016 campaign turns into a train wreck, the Ducks could be looking for a new leader sooner than later.
5.) California - Just as the Golden Bears seemed to be one the upswing, they lost a lot of momentum. Losing Jared Goff to the NFL was more of a formality than anything else, but having to replace him with a graduate transfer for a single season bridge could be problematic for a team that lived through the air last year. Cal's defense is another question mark after losing several key players including 7 along a defensive line that frankly wasn't that great to begin with.
6.) Oregon State - Still in a rebuilding state, look for the Beavers to be improved in year two under Gary Andersen. Former quarterback Seth Collins is an intriguing piece at wide receiver now, but Oregon State lost top linebacker Rommel Mageo among other pieces that were key to the rebuilding process. The Beavers have their work cut out for them and it may be another year or two before they are in a truly competitive form.
Offensive MVP - Christian McCaffrey (Stanford): The do-it-all running back sits at the top of most Heisman boards, which paints a large target on him. The running back is going to be the focus of most defenses all season and McCaffrey will definitely have to work for every yard. He is also going to be the focal point of the Cardinal offense and should see touches in every aspect of the game while trying to replicate his record-breaking 3,864 total All-Purpose yards from a season ago.
Defensive MVP - Budda Baker (Washington): One of the most explosive defensive players in the country, Baker is likely gearing up for his last campaign in Washington as NFL teams foam at the mouth for the all-conference defensive back. He led the Pac-12 with 14 pass breakups a year ago and will likely see offenses try to avoid him if at all possible this season. Baker has a nose for the ball, picking off four passes and forcing three fumbles in 2015. It would be a surprise if those numbers don't improve this year.
Most Improved - Keith Harrington (Washington State): With an offense as pass-heavy as Washington State is, it would seem strange to see a big jump from a running back, but Harrington will likely build on his 550 yards of total offense as he sees more of the field after recovering from an injury throughout the spring. Harrington can be an elusive piece for the Cougars as a check down option for the pass or a change of pace on the ground.
Game to Watch - Week 1:
Rutgers at Washington: Are the Huskies for real? That question probably won't be answered for another few weeks, but the first game is always a good starting point. Rutgers is rebuilding and shouldn't be a problem for the home team. If Washington is as good as advertised, this one should be over pretty quickly. Washington 38, Rutgers 14