A post-spring look around the Pac-12 North

A SUCCESSFUL RUN in Washington State's 2015 non-conference slate against Portland State, Rutgers and Wyoming is crucial, yes, but so too are the Cougars' first three league games -- all against Pac-12 North foes. Here's a quick look at the competition in the Pac-12 North coming out of spring ball.

Cal, Oct. 3 at Berkeley
Many are picking Cal to have a breakout season, with Cal junior quarterback Jared Goff coming off a season where he set school records in passing yards (3,973) and touchdowns (35). The Golden Bears look to have a solid receiving corps and the coaches seemed pleased with running backs Daniel Lasco and Lonny Powell this spring. On the downside, Cal fired assistant Pierre Ingram, the team’s receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, after his recent arrest on solicitation charges and have yet to hire his replacement. Cal returns most of its two-deeps defensively but they were downright awful on that side of the ball last season. The weakest spot in Cal's defense might be at safety based on the spring returns.

Oregon, Oct. 10 in Eugene
Oregon, according to the punditry, is projected to mostly reload in replacing nine collective starters. But QB Marcus Mariota was a rare commodity and all by himself turned some Duck losses into wins last year. It's assumed Vernon Adams will be the starting QB once he arrives, with Jeff Lockie backing him up, but the Ducks' running backs are going to need to be better this year to take some heat off whoever starts. Charles Nelson adding defensive back to his wide receiver duties was the big story of the spring. But the fact remains the Ducks are replacing DBs Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Troy Hill and Erick Dargan -- all first- or second-team All-Pac-12 team last year. Oregon will also need to replace a good deal of its star power in its front seven on defense.

Oregon State, Oct. 17 in Pullman
Gone is Mike Riley, in his place is the well-respected Gary Andersen. But it might take a few recruiting classes for OSU to get rolling with the Beavs moving to a spread offense and a 3-4 base defense. Oregon State will start a QB who has never taken a college snap in 2015, with Seth Collins the front runner. He's an exciting playmaker and a dual-threat type, but his accuracy and decision-making this spring reminded everyone he is still a freshman. If OSU can get star OL Isaac Seumalo back after he missed all of last season, they can surprise some teams this year. But they also lose nine starters on a defense that underwhelmed and oh by the way, did we mention they will start a freshman quarterback in either Collins or Nick Mitchell.

Stanford, Oct. 31 in Pullman
Stanford, along with senior QB Kevin Hogan, took a step back last year. The word out of Stanford this spring is that the o-line will be much improved and Hogan will rise to new heights. Time will tell. The Cardinal appear to be grooming running back Christian McCaffrey in an effort to get back to the days when Stanford wore down and ran over people before last year's 8-5 let down of a season. The defense will need to replace six players who are now in the NFL. The d-line in particular is replacing three starters but Solomon Thomas and Harrison Phillips both reportedly had good springs.

Washington, Nov. 27
The Huskies have to replace four defenders taken in the top 50 picks of the NFL draft. The most surprising thing there is with all that star power, UW's 2014 defense somehow ranked in the bottom half of total defense (78th nationally) last year. There are questions at quarterback, with Cyler Miles' future up in the air after a mediocre season. Junior Jeff Lindquist emerged from spring as the likely starter but he didn't exactly set the place on fire or prove himself leaps and bounds above freshmen K.J. Carta-Samuels and Jake Browning. One of the Huskies' most dynamic players, receiver/kick returner John Ross, will miss 2015 with an ACL tear. The Husky coaches were pleased with the secondary play this spring and say it is now a strength after being a liability in 2014, with CB Sidney Jones and CB Darren Gardenhire leading the way. But there are questions just about everywhere else, with just one starting o-lineman returns and six of the front seven on defense gone.

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