Is Jeff Lockie ready to take over for the Heisman winner, or is Vernon Adams ready to rock after coming over from Eastern Washington? It’ll be interesting to see what Oregon tries to do with Marcus Mariota ready to lead an NFL franchise, but it’ll be easy to keep handing the ball off to the running back tandem of Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner. Star OT Jake Fisher is gone along with C Hroniss Grasu and LG Hamani Stevens, but Cameron Hunt and Tyrell Crosby are good veterans. The receiving corps should shine with Byron Marshall, Devon Allen and Charles Nelson leading the way.
The defense loses freak-of-nature Arik Armstead on the end, but DeForest Buckner is back despite being good enough to leave early for the NFL, too. The linebacking corps will be the strength with Rodney Hardrick and Joe Walker back, and the secondary should be okay despite losing Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB Troy Hill and top-tackler Erick Dargan. Reggie Daniels is a good-looking safety, and Chris Seisay got in some key playing time with Ekpre-Olomu out. The combination of Matt Wogan and Aidan Schneider did a great job for the kicking game, but P Ian Wheeler needs to come up with a bit more blast after averaging under 40 yards per kick.
The Cardinal caught a break with QB Kevin Hogan coming back, but there are skill position losses. Top targets Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste are finished, and three of the top four leading rushers need to be replaced – Barry Sanders and Christian McCaffrey will be called on to do more. The recruiting has been strong, and now it should all pay off with a loaded offensive line full of seniors, even with LT Andrus Peat leaving early for the NFL.
The defensive front has to undergo an overhaul losing Henry Anderson and the entire front three. Leading tackler Blake Martinez is back in the linebacking corps, but the next five leading tacklers are gone. Even with the loss of SS Jordan Richards and CB Wayne Lyons, and the early departure of CB Alex Carter to the NFL, the secondary should be okay. It’s Stanford – it’ll find pass rushers. PK Jordan Williamson and P Ben Rhyme have to be replaced.
The Bears should come back loaded to put up massive offensive numbers with triggerman Jared Goff ready to come up with a huge season helped by a deadly receiving corps. Chris Harper is gone, but this is a deep group with Kenny Lawler, Stephen Anderson, Bryce Treggs, and everyone but Harper who caught two or more passes returning. 1,115-yard, 15 touchdown rusher Daniel Lasco is back to pace a ground attack that gets everyone of note back behind a line that returns three starters including Steven Moore and Chris Borrayo on the left side.
The defense is also loaded for bear with all the top sackers returning – even though it was a mediocre pass rush – and the linebacking corps terrific with Michael Barton, Hardy Nickerson and Jalen Jefferson back. The secondary can’t help but be solid with three starters returning including corners Cedric Dozier and Darius White. DT Austin Clark is done on the line, but that’s about it – the rest of the front four is deep and potentially solid. The punting game needs to be stronger with Cole Leininger averaging under 40 yards per punt, and PK James Langford is done after hitting 11-of-17 field goals.
The Huskies have the pieces in place, but now the offense has to be far more consistent and far better with Cyler Myles under center. The one problem is the big one – the offensive line loses four starters, only getting back guard Dexter Charles. Fortunately, the O is loaded at the skill spots, getting back Jaydon Mickens, big play target John Ross, and TE Joshua Perkins, but gone are DiAndre Campbell and pass catching back Deontae Cooper. Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman form a good 1-2 rushing punch that should thrive behind the potentially excellent O line.
The offense might be fine, but the defense is going to take as massive a hit as any in America losing Danny Shelton off the nose, Haul’oli Kikaha off the edge, and all four starters up front. The secondary is all back full with a group of underclassmen now maturing into veterans, and linebackers Shaq Thompson (early to the NFL) and Travis Feeney are gone, but leading tackler John Timu is also done. Cameron Van Winkle is an all-star kicker who should once again be among the best in America, while Korey Durkee is a good returning punter, hovering around 42 yards per kick.
5. Washington State
The high-octane passing game has to move on, and it starts with hoping for Luke Falk to be the next great Mike Leach passer. The concern is at receiver losing Vince Mayle and Isiah Myers, but River Cracraft and Dom Williams return, and the backs can catch. The running attack might be an afterthought, but last year’s freshmen Jamal Morrow – a terrific pass catcher - and Gerard Wicks come back experienced. The strength should be the line with all five starters returning along with all the backups.
The defensive front has to be stronger despite the early loss for DT Xavier Cooper to the NFL, but top pass rusher Kache Palacio as a hybrid on the outside. Leading tackler Daquawn Brown is back in a veteran secondary that was young last season, but is full of experience now with all four starters returning. Cyrus Coen is gone on the strongside, but the other key linebackers are back. PK Quentin Breshears is back after hitting 9-of-12 field goals, and P Jordan Dascalo returns after averaging 41. 6 yards per pop.
6. Oregon State
New head coach Gary Andersen’s first task is finding a replacement for QB Sean Mannion, looking first at Luke Del Rio after spending last year as the main understudy. Andersen inherits a good-looking line with all five starters back and back Storm Woods returning. Victor Bolden is back after leading the team with 72 catches along with Jordan Villamin and Hunter Jarmon to a good-looking receiving corps.
The O might return plenty of experience, but the D has some massive problems losing the top six tacklers, seven of the top eight, and nine of the top 11. DE Jaswha James is back up front, top pass rusher Lavonte Barnett should play a bigger role, and CB Larry Scott returns – that’s it as far as the main returning veterans. The depth is also missing in key spots. P Keith Kostol is done after averaging 39.6 yards per kick last year, but on the plus side, PK Garrett Owens returns after hitting 11-of-13 field goals.
2015 Pre-Preseason Pac-12 North Rankings
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