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Breaking down Pac-12 South with Yogi Roth

FALL CAMP AT Washington State won’t begin until August. But with the Cougs’ goals focused on the Rose Bowl, we wanted to find out how the conference race as a whole might shape up in 2016 by getting the thoughts and impressions from someone who should know.

Yogi Roth is a Pac-12 Network analyst and more. He’s a filmmaker, scholar, New York Times best-selling author and former coach. Roth studies both the game itself and every football program in the Pac-12. CF.C caught up with Roth this week to elicit his insights for a series of stories, beginning with how Roth sees both divisions of the conference shaping up.

First up, the Pac-12 South.

When media, polls and preseason magazines preview the coming Pac-12 season, perhaps the one consensus pick will be for Colorado to likely at the bottom of the South.

“Honestly, your heart breaks for them,” Roth said with an empathetic tone.

Having covered so many Buffalo games last season, he believed there were five or six losses that easily could gone the other way.

“They are a playmaker on the outside away (on defense), which they might have gotten with a couple of JC guys. They’re a healthy linebacking corps away which never happened last year. They have the most underrated player in the country in (DB) Chidobe Awuzie playing the nickel, WILL, safety, corner and does everything for them on defense,” said Roth.

Because there is such a huge upside for Mike Macintyre’s program, Roth was excited to see what they can accomplish in 2016. Needless to say the bar won't be set too high for the Buffs to exceed expectations.

It will be crucial for Colorado to pick up wins in their first two games against rival Colorado State and Idaho State before getting into a tough part of their schedule when they travel to Ann Arbor to play Michigan and Eugene to take on Oregon, Roth said.

Moving on to Arizona. Despite covering their spring game, Roth didn’t have much of a feel for what their defense is going to be like. In January, head coach Rich Rodriguez brought in Marcel Yates as defensive coordinator. Yates is expected to bring the attack-style schemes he employed at Boise State which will take time to implement. 

“The energy (from the defense) is what I felt when I was around there,” said Roth, who speaks highly of Rodriguez. “He gets his guys to play so hard.”

Rich Rod does so without a roster filled with elite athletes as witnessed by the fact they didn’t have guys going in the early rounds of the NFL draft.

“They are so competitive year in, year out and week in, week out,” said Roth.

The concern for Arizona State: the offense. They have a new offensive coordinator, Chip Lindsey who most recently was the OC at Southern Mississippi, and no clear cut leader for the starting job at quarterback coming out of spring ball. 

“Their defense last year, the only thing they didn’t do is create turnovers,” said Roth, something that should sound familiar to WSU fans prior to the arrival of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.

Roth expects to see the Sun Devils continue to “blitz 60-70 percent of the time.” As for the potential of ASU, “They’ll win a lot of the coming-off-the-bus awards. They look the part on the defensive side.”

With those three schools being Roth’s “question marks” in the Pac-12 South, he felt there was a clear leader from the remaining teams. You might be taken aback by who he really likes.

His top pick wasn’t UCLA despite having “(Josh Rosen) who might be the best quarterback, you could argue, in the country coming back.”

Jim Mora, saying he wanted to take better advantage of Rosen’s talent, has a new offensive coordinator in promoting running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu.  Mora wants to put in a pro-style offense believing it better suits his roster. Along with changing offensive schemes, the Bruins will only be in their second year running the defense of Tom Bradley who is “one of the most respected coaches in the country,” said Roth.

“I’m just jacked to see what they look like. I’m excited to see Josh with the keys to the car at the line of scrimmage. He’s a special player,” said Roth.

Roth cited Rosen as giving him one of his favorite quotes in 15-years of covering college football: “Playing the quarterback position is like chess on steroids.”

That resonated because of the way good quarterbacks approach their preparation.

“He’s a football junkie,” Roth said. “This year he has to be. With their system, what they’re running, with the ability of what he can do at the line of scrimmage, it’s similar to what they do at Stanford. He needs to use his mind as a weapon. His weapons of his arm, his eyes and his legs are already in sync.”

One question for UCLA will be their linebacker play.

“They’re going to be very young (but) Mora gets a lot out his guys,” said Roth.

Roth said USC, where he served as an assistant coach from 2005-2007, will be a team to reckon with this fall. And if he were to pick one guy from the conference to be his starting quarterback it might be untested Trojan Max Browne.

“Here’s a guy who is already on his way to get his MBA,” said Roth. “He understands what it means to be a student-athlete. He was a No. 1 prospect in the country and Gatorade National Player of the Year back-to-back years.”

Those are impressive accolades, Roth notes, considering that class included Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel and Jared Goff.

“When you ask the strength trainer who’s the strongest player on the team, it’s Max Browne. I had a chance to work out with Max last week and I think he could have a heckuva season. I really do,” said Roth.

But Roth wasn’t as enthusiastic about the USC roster from top to bottom.

“I’m concerned about their defensive front. They don’t have a lot of depth. SC has to develop the resiliency necessary to be the top dog. You look at the last 30-years at SC, the only time they were really, really good was when Pete (Carroll) was there. There’s this expectation because of what he did when he was there. I’m excited to see what (head coach) Clay Helton will do. I think he’ll do a nice job,” said Roth.

That leaves only one team in the South left to talk about.

“My favorite in the South, with what I know today, which could change in training camp so give me an asterisk there, is Utah,” said Roth.

Why Utah?

“If you go back over the past 10 years, the Pac-12 champion has done three things: They have stopped the run. They have created turnovers. And they have the ability to run the football. This is what (Utah does). They have the best front seven in the Pac-12. You could argue the most consistent defense in the county - at least the top 5. They create takeaways. They are going to run the ball. And they’re going to be improved at wideout and quarterback,” said Roth.

Another key component to a successful season is scheduling.

“You look at their schedule and it’s set up pretty good,” said Roth. “BYU (in) Week Two, that’ll be interesting. They’ll be favored. They have USC at home on a Friday and that’s after 'SC goes to Stanford. That’s pretty much a perfect situation. I’ve got them going 7-0 coming down to the Rose Bowl to play UCLA. You can argue that might be for the South championship.”

Another component which separates Utah from the rest?

“I think they’re the toughest team mentally in the conference,” said Roth.

Roth also points to the caliber of its head coach, Kyle Whittingham, whose name has been bantered about whenever there’s a noteworthy job opening.

“How can’t you put him as one of top three or four coaches in the Pac-12, let alone the country? To have him there again is a gift for the Utes,” said Roth.

Coming soon on CF.C: The next installment from our interview with Roth. He’ll breakdown the Pac-12 North and predict a winner that may surprise.

About Yogi Roth - Roth directed “Life In A Walk,” a film about his realization he had not dealt with the emotions surrounding his father's battle with prostate cancer and he invites his father to take a walk, which changes their lives forever. Roth also produces a podcast, “Life Without Limits” which can be heard at: or downloaded from iTunes. 

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