The Pac-12 conference possesses a wide variety of teams from national championship contenders to others simply trying to find an identity. But whether you're number one in the nation or struggling to win one game, every roster comes with plusses and minuses.
The following are the strengths and weaknesses of the Pac-12 South schools listed in alphabetical order.
University of Arizona
Strengths: Running back and offensive scheme
Recruits love the Rich Rodriguez Hard Edge video series, but the notoriety may never have taken place without running back Ka'Deem Carey. During the 2012 campaign, Carey lead the nation in rushing yards with 1,929 and scored 24 total touchdowns. Now, the Tucson native is expected to take on more responsibility with the departure of quarterback Matt Scott. Arizona's highly explosive offense scored 38.2 points per game last season, ranking 15th in the country. The combination of coach Rodriguez's innovative offensive mind and Carey's elite level of play put the Wildcats in position to score early and often.
Quote: "There is no doubt that Rich Rodriguez's offense helps running backs, but the elusiveness Carey has - the starts and stops - he is fun to watch." NFL Scout Rob Rang told Anthony Gimino of the TusconCitizen.com.
Marking the defense down as a weakness could be considered vague, yet appropriate after allowing 35.3 points per game in 2012. The unit lacked experience and it showed. The same core returns and expectations are higher with one season's worth of film to learn from. In addition, the quarterback situation doesn't look clear. Scott, the previous signal caller, was the perfect two-dimensional fit for coach Rodriguez. B.J. Denker and Jesse Scroggins head into fall training battling for the starting duties.
Quote: "We have some talented guys," Rodriguez on the QB situation at Pac-12 Media Day. "B.J. Denker got some great experience last year, Jesse Scroggins was hurt all spring, so we have some unknowns there."
Arizona State University
Strengths: Defensive line, running back and quarterback
The Tempe heat won't be the only challenge for opposing foes; they will also have to handle the heat of the pass rush. All-American Will Sutton headlines the group, accompanied by Junior Onyeali, Jaxon Hood, Marcus Hardison and more. ASU's 53 sacks put the team at second best in the country. At the running back position, Marion Grice could be among the most underrated prospects in college football. Grice features great size, strength and speed, and his numbers should rise with the departure of Cameron Marshall. D.J. Foster provides another lethal threat out of the backfield, offering a little bit of everything. Most importantly, quarterback Taylor Kelly went from the team's weakness to its strength. In Kelly's first year on the job, he threw for 3,039 yards, 29 touchdowns and a mere nine interceptions.
Quote: "[Will Sutton is] stronger, bigger, faster, so he's put himself in a position to have a better year then he had last year," Todd Graham said.
Weakness: Wide receiver
Kelly can't continue to be as efficient without improved help from the wide receivers. In spite of the Sun Devils averaging 38.4 points per game, the outside weapons didn't pack enough ammunition. Tight end Chris Coyle deserves major kudos for evolving into a go-to threat. Beyond Coyle, the list of potential targets seems bleak. Rashad Ross led a pedestrian unit in receiving yards and he graduated in May. The running backs tallied the majority of ASU's receptions, which exemplifies the glaring hole. Kevin Ozier broke out in the back half of the season and hopes to carry it over to 2013. Coach Graham and his staff successfully brought in numerous highly touted wideouts, like Jaelen Strong and Joe Morris. Because of the high upside new recruits, ASU doesn't sound too worried about their wide receivers. In all seriousness, the production can only get better. There aren't too many other question marks, but the tough schedule could present a daunting challenge.
Quote: "We have upgraded personnel," Graham on the wide receivers. "We've got a chance to be more explosive outside."
University of Colorado
Strengths: Wide receiver, defensive end and running back
Quite fittingly, Colorado was represented by wide receiver Paul Richardson and defensive end Chiderza Uzo-Diribe at Pac-12 Media Day. Richardson missed the 2012 season because of a torn ACL, but he expects to return at full strength by opening kick off. The 6'1" 170 pound redshirt senior hauled in 39 receptions, 555 yards and five touchdowns in 2011. Richardson also earned freshman All-American honors and holds the single-game school record for receiving yards at 284 yards against Cal. Uzo-Diribe's 6'3 245 pound is the prototypical size for defensive ends at the professional level. Last year, Uzo-Diribe led the team in sacks with seven and logged 43 tackles. Running back Christian Powell didn't attend the Pac-12 Media Day, although his numbers were deserving. Powell, the sophomore from Upland, California, strung together 691 yards and seven touchdowns on 158 attempts.
Quote: "Paul was relentless in getting well, in pushing to get back," Coach Mike MacIntyre said. "I think his effort and determination, the players on the team saw. They know how good of a player he is."
Weaknesses: The 1-11 record tells the story
Analyzing the Buffaloes flaws exhaustively would take too long, and I don't get paid overtime. The first glaring problem is at quarterback, because Jordan Webb suffered a torn ACL and faces assault charges. The competition won't get finalized any time soon, but MacIntyre told the Ralhpie Report that Connor Wood is the clear leader. Wood transferred from the University of Texas to Boulder, and saw sparing duties in 2012. In limited action, Wood struggled, throwing for 264 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. Within the FBS rankings, Colorado's 17.8 points per game came in at 120th, which is near the very bottom. The defense couldn't stop any bleeding, allowing 46 points per game. There are countless areas Colorado needs to progress at.
Quote: "When you go into a program that has been losing you have to have some culture change and change is tough sometimes," McIntyre said. "It wasn't too long ago Colorado was one of the top-15 programs in the country year in, year out. We need to get back there."
Strengths: Quarterback and linebacker
Brett Hundley is not only one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12, but also one of the best quarterbacks in college football. Quarterback may be the most important position in all of sports, and Hundley's ability means the Bruins could be in prime position to sniff roses. Head coach Jim Mora Jr. said Hundley is a dark horse Heisman candidate and I completely agree. Hundley racked up 3,729 yards in the air, 355 yards on the ground, 38 total touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The key for Hundley will be improving his decision making. Regarding the defense, the linebackers can wreak havoc. Anthony Barr is projected to be a top-5 overall pick in the next NFL draft, and rightfully so. The 6'4, 215-pound physical specimen sacked the quarterback 13.5 times last year. Meanwhile, fellow linebackers Erick Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt are key pieces to the defense in their own right. Both Kendricks and Zumwalt joined Barr on the Butkus Award watch list.
Quote: "Brett has all the tools to be a great player," Jim Mora Jr. said. "He has physical stature, he's big, he's fast and he's strong. Brett is extremely bright, he's motivated, he's a great leader, he has a tremendous work ethic and he has everything you need to be a great player at this level and the next."
Weaknesses: Running back and secondary
Replacing Johnathan Franklin will essentially be impossible, at least in the short term. Franklin, the all-time UCLA leader in rushing yards, moved on to the NFL and plays for the Green Bay Packers. The Bruins have quality options remaining in Westwood, but none of them can compare to Franklin. Therefore, numerous bodies will attempt to replicate Franklin's numbers. Heading into the season, Craig Lee and Jordan James sit atop the depth chart. Lee is four-star true freshman and the key to his success will be bulking up from 190 pounds to over 200 pounds. James had 61 attempts and turned them into 215 yards and two touchdowns. In the secondary, there are capable players, but no elite options. Randall Goforth, Brandon Sermons and Anthony Jefferson are the expected starters in that unit. Most of the secondary options are young and need game action before their talent can be evaluated further. Jim Mora Jr's secondary lost all four starters from 2012.
Quote: "First and foremost in those challenges is we have a very depleted secondary," Jim Mora Jr. said. "We're going to be playing four players back there, or five or six."
Strengths: Wide receiver, running back and defensive line
Marqise Lee could be the next wide receiver to win the Heisman trophy and it wouldn't surprise anybody. The Inglewood, California native dominated in 2012, with 118 receptions, 1,721 yards and 14 trips to pay dirt. Some people forget Marqise isn't spelled with the letter U, but that's the only forgettable thing about Lee. The All-American product is on pace to set records at USC, which is very tough to do at the wide receiver position. Beyond Lee, Nelson Agholor and Xavier Grimble can keep defenses honest because of their own underrated assets. At running back, Silas Redd's down year was still impressive. Redd got 167 attempts and accumulated 905 yards along with nine touchdowns. On the defensive line, Leonard Williams is the main name to know. Williams, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, is 6'5 and 275 pounds and still runs very well. Accompanying Williams will be Kenny Bigelow, Devon Kennard, Cody Temple, Junior Tavaii and more.
Quote: "We feel like the entire running back group is healthy," Coach Lane Kiffin said. "We have that position back to where it was in that 2004, 2005 range."
Weaknesses: Quarterback and kicking
Moving on past the Matt Barkley era won't be easy, but it needs to get done successfully for USC to return to the promise land. Barkley, who underachieved last season, still boasts numerous record for the Trojans. Max Wittek and Cody Kessler will each get looks at first team repetitions. At 6'4 and 235 pounds, Wittek, displays a cannon arm but must improve his accuracy. After Barkley got sidelined with a shoulder injury, Wittek came in for relief duty. Wittek attempted 69 passes which resulted in 388 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions. Kessler is another strong throwing sophomore quarterback option, and went 2-for-2 last season. If either of the quarterbacks come up short in the red zone, they will turn to an unreliable kicking game. Andre Heidari is arguably the best kicker in college football, but his playing status remains undetermined due to injury. Walk-on kicker Alex Wood appears to be Heidari's replacement.
Quote: "We're no different than we were in spring with our quarterback race," Kiffin said. "I think all three guys are going to be really good quarterbacks at USC at some point in their career."
University of Utah
Strengths: Tight end and defensive end
Jake Murphy earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention, and he has plenty of room to improve. The 6'4' 252 pound redshirt junior averaged 10.6 yards per reception, tallied four touchdowns, and had 349 yards. Because of the solid performances, Murphy got recognized on the Mackey Watch List. New offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson doesn't historically use tight ends, but that would be a mistake to shun Murphy. Defensive coordinator Kalani Fifita Sitake is excited about the defensive end position, starting with Trevor Reilly. The former walk-on ranks third in program history with seven forced fumbles. Reilly joined Murphy on the Pac-12 Honorable-Mention team by providing a team high 69 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
Quote: We're excited to get the season started after a disappointing season last year," Coach Kyle Whittingham said. "Brought on Dennis Erickson to help us jump-start the offense."
Weaknesses: Linebacker and secondary
The linebackers and secondary each had mediocre outputs which let Utah's opponents average about 363 yards per game. Stopping the run wasn't the problem, as the Utes limited the damage to approximately 157 yards per game. However, defining the pass was a nightmare, as the Utes let up 235 yards per game. Cornerback Eric Rowe doesn't get enough help, leading to quarterbacks challenging the opposite side. No member of the linebackers or secondary had 40 plus tackles, which needs to change.
Quote: "We are rebuilding the cornerback position," Whittingham said. "We have a lot of talented players in the program at that position but very few have played any snaps in the Division 1 game."
Check back later this week for Ben's take on the North Division teams.