With spring football wrapped up and the start of another season just four months away, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned and what we still need to learn for each Pac-12 team.
How is the USC offense progressing under Lincoln Riley? How will Oregon’s defense come together in the fall? Who will be Washington’s starting QB? We break it all down.
What we learned this spring: Ever since Jack Plummer announced he was transferring from Purdue to Cal in December, he has been the projected replacement for Chase Garbers (who signed with the Las Vegas Raiders as an undrawn free agent). The spring largely solidified that idea, as Plummer pleased Cal’s coaching staff with his accuracy and command of the offense. He wasn’t officially named the starter, but that appears to be a matter of time.
What we need to learn by Week 1: This won’t get answered by Week 1, but the key to Cal having a successful season largely hinges on how well it plays on offense. There is a clear expectation for the defense to be among the best in the Pac-12, so if the offense can just be average, that’s enough of a recipe to have a good season for Cal’s standards. The Bears have not had a winning record in conference play since 2009.
What we learned this spring: Coach Dan Lanning’s arrival spelled out an intention to excel on defense and to continue recruiting at a high level, but perhaps the most interesting thing is how the Ducks evolve under offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham. It’s foolish to put much stock into a spring game for reasons that are obvious to anyone who has followed college football for more than 10 minutes, but the Ducks offense — including new QB Bo Nix and likely backup Jay Butterfield — gave plenty of reasons to be excited about what’s to come on that side.
What we need to learn by Week 1: Injury issues on defense prevented a number of key players from getting the ideal amount of reps, especially considering the coaching change. That would have been a concern regardless of the schedule, but it comes even more into focus considering the Ducks open the season against Lanning’s old team, defending national champion Georgia. It’s not exactly a game with much margin for error to iron out the kinks.
What we learned this spring: Trent Bray’s unusual rise from position coach to interim DC to permanent DC in just over a month during the 2021 season made this an important spring for him. It’s tough to implement any wholesale changes midseason, so this was Bray’s chance to set the course for how he wants to operate. The early returns are promising. Schematically, there might not be a major shift, but Bray contends he’ll be more aggressive.
What we need to learn by Week 1: The lack of experienced options in the receiving corps will be an issue until proven otherwise, but Silas Bolden, the brother of Oregon State great Victor Bolden, generated reason for optimism in his performance in the Beavers’ spring scrimage. After catching just three passes for 25 yards last season, he hauled in a pair of touchdown passes and his further development feels a source of optimism.
What we learned this spring: QB Tanner McKee didn’t walk into a good situation last year, so the lack of team success (4-8) overshadows the fact that he showed signs he can be a very effective player. He was in complete control during the spring game, and if there is reason to expect an uptick next season from Stanford, it starts with McKee.
What we need to learn by Week 1: Stanford’s lack of a true offseason program in 2020 and 2021 is a possible explanation for the team’s on-field decline. It also makes the next few months vital for the team as it tries to reestablish some kind of an identity. After last season, it’s hard to imagine the Cardinal as the bruising force it was not too long ago, but there needs to be something it can hang its hat on.
What we learned this spring: The Huskies might be the toughest team to project in the Pac-12. Last year’s 4-8 record was an abject disaster, but because the season started with high expectations, it’s easier to allow for a bounce-back season under new coach Kalen DeBoer. There weren’t any major developments from the Huskies during the spring that changed much about what to expect in 2022. His ability to restore positive culture is job No. 1 and has made good strides there.
What we need to learn by Week 1: The Huskies’ quarterback situation is up in the air and the “spring preview” didn’t exactly inspire much confidence in any of the guys in the mix (Dylan Morris, Michael Penix Jr. and Sam Howard). Both Morris, as UW’s starter, and Penix Jr., at Indian, have experience and Huard has the blue-chip recruiting profile, but none of them completely separated. Overall, though, DeBoer indicated he was happy with the group’s progress.
What we learned this spring: If nothing else, the offense is going to be fun to watch. The arrival of quarterback Cam Ward from Incarnate Word through the transfer portal could end up as one of the most important offseason moves across college football. And that’s before factoring in that he will remain in Eric Morris’ offense as the former UIW head coach left to become the Cougars’ offensive coordinator under new coach Jake Dickert.
What we need to learn by Week 1: An explosive offense, paired with an inexperienced secondary, could lead to some shootouts in the fall. If Dickert can add an experienced body, or two, to the secondary as the next wave of transfers happens, it would ease some concerns.
What we learned this spring: It doesn’t matter what shade of red they are wearing, Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley are on the same page. Riley has appeared pleased with the progress of the USC offense has made this spring, while Williams already looks game-ready in a familiar offense. The two have begun the process of folding everyone else (except maybe fellow Oklahoma transfer Mario Williams) into the system. So far the results look promising, and given the rumors surrounding USC and Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addisonthere might be more firepower on the way.
What we need to learn by Week 1: Can USC rebuild its trenches on the fly? There’s not a quick-fix solution to how far behind the curve the Trojans’ line play has fallen, but between an entirely new staff that features offensive coordinator Josh Henson as the new offensive line coach and Shaun Nua (formerly of Michigan) handling the defensive line (as well a slew of transfers that will keep coming) USC is primed to improve. Just how much remains to be seen.
What we learned this spring: Justyn Martin has got next. We might be looking way ahead here, but the highly rated freshman quarterback from Inglewood showed serious flashes in spring ball. His arm strength jumps off the page, and though he’s firmly behind both Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Ethan Garbers on the depth chart, it is tantalizing to think about what a UCLA offense led by him could look like in the near future. His fall camp performance could determine whether Garbers sticks around for 2023 or not.
What we need to learn by Week 1: Can UCLA get a pass rush going? The Bruins had one of the worst pass defenses in the nation last season and had seemed to regress in that area every year under Kelly. New defensive coordinator Bill McGovern brings some promise (as well as accountability given he already spoke to the media when his predecessor never did in four years), and players like linebacker Bo Calvert as well as twin (!) edge rushers Grayson and Gabriel Murphy could give the program a much-needed jolt on that side of the ball.
What we learned this spring: Something is not right in Tempe. Since last season, 18 players have transferred from the program — a handful of them, including linebacker Eric Gentry (who already committed to USC), have left since spring camp ended. The elephant in the room is the impending NCAA investigation, but beyond the uncertainty that could bring, the program seems to be reeling without a clear direction, and whatever energy Herm Edwards brought with him feels completely gone.
What we need to learn by Week 1: Who will be under center? In the midst of the transfer madness, one of the biggest losses in the country may have been Jayden Daniels deciding to come back to college only to then bolt to LSU. Without Daniels, it’s unclear who the Sun Devils quarterback will be. Trenton Bourguet appears to have a slight edge so far over Alabama transfer Paul Tysonbut the lack of experience between them (28 total pass attempts combined) isn’t encouraging.
What we learned this spring: The Buffs may have a pass rush brewing. Last season, Colorado was last in the conference (126th in the nation) in sacks and 10th in tackles for loss. This spring, there has been positive momentum on that front, with head coach Karl Dorrell praising the defense for the improvements they have made in getting to the quarterbacks and forcing turnovers. Whether that will translate come Week 1 remains to be seen, but given where the Buffs defense is coming from, any improvement will be more than noticeable.
What we need to learn by Week 1: Who will win the quarterback battle? Brendon Lewis is the incumbent in Boulder, but Tennessee transfer JT Shout has all the makings of a suitable challenger. Shrout is coming off a knee surgery that kept him out of the 2021 season, which means he wasn’t at full strength throughout all of spring. However, Shout was able to participate in some 7-on-7 drills, and he should be ready for a bonafide quarterback battle with Lewis come fall.
What we learned this spring: Arizona probably won’t be last in the nation in turnover margin this season. The Wildcats could only muster two fumbles and four interceptions last season while giving the ball away 23 total times. During the spring showcase this year, Arizona’s defense had — checks notes — 25 total takeaways. That’s a real number, folks. Whether the improvement will come from the Wildcats simply progressing toward the mean or from a more aggressive defense remains to be seen.
What we need to learn by Week 1: Can any of the incoming freshmen make a splash? Jed Fisch and Co. made some headlines earlier this year by putting together a top-25 recruiting class in the nation. And while the transfer of Jayden de Laura from Washington State to Tucson could give Fisch’s offense a much-needed dynamic quarterback, the future will look brighter if some of those touted freshmen (like four-star wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan or four-star running back Rayshon Luke) hit the ground running.
What we learned this spring: No quarterback in the Pac-12 is more comfortable than Cameron Rising. In Utah’s spring game, Rising didn’t even break a sweat on his way to a 6-for-6 touchdown drive. It was all Rising needed to show after a 2,500-yard, 20-touchdown season last year that led the Utes to the Rose Bowl. While the rest of the conference swirls around them, continuity, especially with Kyle Whittingham, is Utah’s biggest strength and one of the main reasons they head into 2022 as the Pac-12 favorites. Rising and his consistent, low-turnover track record, is another.
What we need to learn by Week 1: Can freshmen linebackers help fill the void left by Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell? Since 2017, the Utes have consistently had one of the best defenses in the conference, but this season they will be hoping to extend that with the help of a couple of freshmen. Early enrollees Lander Barton and Carson Tabaracci have swapped out high school grad nights for tackling drills and have already started to show how they’ll impact this year’s defense.