There is no ideal time to preview spring football practice in the Pac-12, not when some workouts begin in February and others in April.
Nor is there a good time for a spring kingview, given that sessions concludes in staggered fashion over four weekends in April.
So consider this not a preview or review but, rather, the Hotline’s general view of spring ball:
Six storylines to track as practices unfold at various times across the conference.
– Quarterback churn
We have been blunt in our assessment of the quarterback play last season: It was below standard – far below standard, in fact.
The degree to which the situation improves depends largely on a bevy of newcomers.
USC transfer Caleb Williams (from Oklahoma) is the headliner, of course. But his familiarity of him with coach Lincoln Riley’s system should greatly ease the transition.
Instead, our focus is on newcomers elsewhere:
Arizona’s Jayden de Laura (from Washington State), Cal’s Jack Plummer (Purdue), Arizona State’s Paul Tyson (Alabama), Oregon’s Bo Nix (Auburn), Washington’s Michael Penix (Indiana) and Washington State’s Cameron Ward (Incarnate Word).
Add the unsettled situation at Colorado and the expected competition at Oregon State, and nine teams have new starters or face a level of uncertainty.
It’s easier to name the teams with established returning starters: Stanford (Tanner McKee), UCLA (Dorian Thompson-Robinson) and Utah (Cam Rising).
– Injury issues
Last April, on the sixth practice of spring, Washington’s All-American edge rusher, Zion Tupuola-Fetui, tore his Achilles tendon and was lost for the majority of the 2021 season.
Tupuola-Fetui was hardly the first impact player to sustain a serious injury in spring practice. The unfortunate trend dates to the first spring after expansion, when Colorado receiver Paul Richardson went down with a torn ACL.
Nor was Tupuola-Fetui the first Husky to suffer that fate: receiver John Ross shredded his knee in the spring of 2015.
Will the conference lose one of its precious stars over the coming weeks?
– Tracking the DC progress
The upheaval at quarterback this winter was exceeded only by turnover at the defensive coordinator spot, where eight teams have new playcallers.
Arizona hired Johnny Nansen off UCLA’s staff to replace Don Brown, who became the head coach at Massachusetts.
Arizona State promoted Donnie Henderson to the role following Antonio Pierce’s departure to the NFL.
UCLA hired Bill McGovern to replace controversial playcaller Jerry Azzinaro.
USC’s new defensive playcaller is Alex Grinch, who held the same position at Oklahoma under Lincoln Riley.
New Washington coach Kalen DeBoer appointed co-coordinators: Eric Morrell and William Inge. (Both served on DeBoer’s staff at Fresno State.)
Washington State coach Jake Dickert, who ran the defense last season while serving as the interim head coach, hired Brian Ward away from Nevada to run the unit.
Oregon State’s defensive boss is somewhat new: Trent Bray was the interim coordinator late last season and promoted to the full-time role before the LA Bowl.
Oregon also has a familiar name in charge of the defense: Tosh Lupoi, who worked for several Pac-12 teams in the 2010s, joined Dan Lanning’s staff after a stint in the NFL.
Again, it’s easier to list the teams that haven’t made changes: Colorado, Utah, Cal and Stanford.
– Tailback turnover
There’s nearly as much change with the players expected to carry the ball as with those expected to throw it.
Oregon lost running backs Travis Dye and CJ Verdell.
Stanford also lost its top two backs, Nathaniel Peat and Austin Jones.
Colorado lost Jarek Broussard, WSU lost Max Borghi, Cal lost Christopher Brooks and ASU lost Rachaad White, perhaps the best all-around back in the conference.
Oregon State will be without BJ Baylor but is one of the few teams with quality options to fill the void.
Washington desperately needs a No. 1 back to emerge. So does Arizona.
Meanwhile, USC completely overhauled its backfield and will have a new quarterback, two new tailbacks and three new receivers.
– Star-power search
Three of the top four Pac-12 prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft are defensive players: Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd and Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie.
That’s significant star power lost. Which players are ready to jump into the spotlight?
We see three names moving to the foreground: Oregon linebacker Noah Sewell, Utah cornerback Clark Phillips III and Washington’s Tupuola-Fetui, who is healthy and expected to play a full season.
The need for elite defensive players might not be as great if the conference were loaded with future first-round picks on offense, particularly at quarterback. But that’s not the case.
– Close watch on Oregon
The Hotline plans to pay particular attention to developments in Eugene, where an unprecedented collision looms.
Oregon and Utah will carry the Pac-12 banner into massive Week One intersectional showdowns against the SEC: The Ducks open against defending national champion Georgia in Atlanta, while Utah visits Florida.
The Utes experienced no coaching staff changes and will return starting quarterback Cam Rising.
The Ducks have a new coaching staff and starting quarterback in either Nix, the Auburn transfer, or freshman Ty Thompson.
Put another way:
– At least seven teams are expected to have new starting quarterbacks.
– Four teams have new coaches.
– Two teams have narrative-shaping season openers.
Only one school appears on all three lists: Oregon.
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