The Bruins have talent, but they have a ton of work to do trying to replace QB Brett Hundley, even though Jerry Neuheisel has enough experience to push for the gig. All that matters is the quarterback, because everything else is in place. Paul Perkins spent the year as one of the nation’s least-hyped star running back, but that’s not going to happen going forward. The line should get back all five starters led by center Jake Brendel, an all-star candidate and the leader of the young and emerging bunch. Great recruiting classes should make this a strength if everything goes according to plan. The biggest positive, though, could be a receiving corps that gets back everyone. Outside of RB Jordon James, there aren’t any seniors among everyone who caught a pass.
Devastating LB Eric Kendricks is done, but Myles Jack is back with the potential to be the nation’s best defender. The defensive front loses Owamagbe Odighizuwa, but Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark are back, and Deon Hollins returns to give Jack some help in the linebacking corps. Anthony Jefferson is gone, but the secondary should be loaded. The punting game could stand to be a little better with Matt Mengel needing to get the average above 40 yards per pop on a regular basis, while Ka’imi Fairbairn is a good, sound kicker who has been around long enough to be reliable.
The depth is coming back to go along with the outstanding speed and talent across the board. QB Cody Kessler has the potential to be among the best in America, but he loses Nelson Agholor early to the NFL, and George Farmer puzzlingly decided to take off early. Kessler gets everyone else of note back including rising all-around star Adoree Jackson, who’ll need the ball in his hands far, far more on offense. Even with Buck Allen jumping to the big leagues a year early, there are options and possibilities in the running game behind a line that should get all five starters back.
The defense a few key players to the pros – DE Leonard Williams should be a top five overall pick – and will go on without LB Hayes Pullard and FS Gerald Bowman, but Leon McQuay appears ready to become a star, and Su’a Cravens is a special linebacker. Excellent PK Andre Heidari is gone, but P Kris Albarado is solid.
3. Arizona State
The offense should continue to explode despite the loss of QB Taylor Kelly and with star receiver Jaelen Strong going early to the NFL. The interior of the line is back, but tackles Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka are done. D.J. Foster and Damario Richard are explosive backs who should get between the tackles a bit more, but the O will still rely on the passing game – QB Mike Bercovici will have a huge year.
The defense gets just about everyone back. S Damarious Randall – the team’s leading tackler - and DE Marcus Hardison are gone, but that’s about it. Six of the top seven and 16 of the top 18 tacklers return including dangerous linebackers Salamo Fiso and Laiu Moeakiola. The punting game should be outstanding if Matt Haack can build on a good year, and Zane Gonzalez has the potential to be one of the Pac-12’s best placekickers.
The Utes caught a huge break after RB Devontae Booker decided to put off the NFL for one more year - watch out. QB Travis Wilson should get plenty of time to operate behind a line that gets four starters back but loses OT Jeremiah Poutasi early to the NFL. Losing the most dangerous target – Kaelin Clay – will be tough, and three of the top four receivers are gone, but Kenneth Scott led the team in catches and can make big things happen on the outside.
A few defensive replacements need to be made, but for the most part the key pieces are in place starting with the linebacking tandem of Jared Norris and, if he’s back and healthy after getting knocked out for the year with a foot injury, Gionni Paul. Pass rushing terror Nate Orchard is finished, but everyone else who came up with a sack returns except for Sese Ianu – he came up with one. Three starters return to a secondary that should be fantastic with time. The kicking game will be outstanding with P Tom Hackett and PK Andy Phillips both back.
Was this just the start for Arizona under Rich Rodriguez? Starting with Anu Solomon under center gives the team its star to work around – even if he needs to be more consistent - and backs Nick Wilson and Jared Baker should help the ground game rock. The young receiving corps loses Austin Hill, but gets everyone else of note back to make Solomon shine. The concern is the line that loses both tackles and C Steven Gurrola.
DE Reggie Gilbert and DT Dan Pettinato are gone off the defensive line – only NT Parker Zellers returns - but all three starters are back at linebacker including Scooby Wright to do everything in the middle. Three starters are gone from the secondary including Jared Tevis and Jourdon Grandon, but William Parks is back at one safety spot. P Drew Riggleman returns after a huge year after averaging over 46 yards per punt, and PK Casey Skowron returns after a nice season.
The Buffs might have struggled at times offensively, but QB Sefo Liufau is a good-looking playmaker to keep building around, and he should get time with both his starting tackles back and C Alex Kelley anchoring things up front. The ground game has to do far more, needing Christian Powell and several of the key runners back. Nelson Spruce should be one of the Pac-12’s most dangerous receivers, helped by Shay Fields also back and Bryce Bobo a good young options.
Several players made things happen in the backfield, and now the Buffs get the top five sackers back starting with Derek McCartney on the outside. The top four leading tacklers last season were sophomores, and now it’s up to linebackers Kenneth Olugbode and Addison Gillam to be the heart of the D. Safeties Chidobe Awuzie and Tedric Thompson can both pop, and the corner situation is fine starting with Ken Crawley back. PK Will Oliver is gone after hitting 16-of-21 field goals, and P Darragh O’Neill is also finished after bombing away for 44 yards per kick.
2015 Pre-Preseason Pac-12 South Rankings
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