What they lose - Marcus Mariota is the obvious irreplaceable loss, but don't forget about tackle Jake Fisher and center Hroniss Grasu who have been stalwarts for the Ducks up front for years now. The defense also loses some mainstays with first team All-Pac-12ers in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Erick Dargan in the back along with excellent starter Troy Hill. Versatile 6'8 defensive end Armstead will be a tough anchor to replace up front along with edge pass rusher Tony Washington.
What's coming back - A frighteningly big and face backfield duo of Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner and a fleet of excellent young receivers like Bralon Addison (depending on recovery), Devon Allen (depending on recovery), Darren Carrington (depending on suspension), Dwayne Stanford and Charles Nelson along with converted All-Pac-12 running back Byron Marshall. The defense got a big boost with massive defensive end DeForest Buckner returning along with a nice collection of good senior linebackers in Joe Walker, Rodney Hardrick, Tyson Coleman and Christian French.
Why #1? The Ducks lose a ton of talent and experience, highlighted by Mariota, but the Ducks reload and execute better than anyone in the country and I don't expect that to change with the talent that they have waiting in the wings. Barring a disaster at quarterback or a major improvement from Stanford, I don't see anyone knocking the Ducks off the top of the North. They might lose a game or two and be challenged more than usual, but I don't expect them to fall much further than that.
What they lose - Their best and only truly Stanford-like lineman in Andrus Peat and their only proven offensive playmaker in Ty Montgomery. They have a mass exodus on defense with their entire starting defensive line in Henry Anderson, Blake Leuders and David Parry and their two best secondary players in Alex Carter and Jordan Richards. Linebacker mainstays A.J. Tarpley and James Vaughters will also be sorely missed.
What's coming back - Kevin Hogan gets one more chance to become the quarterback everyone expected him to be in 2012 along with a cluster of talented running backs who have underwhelmed like Barry Sanders. Falling into the same underwhelming category are four talented offensive line starters. Hogan won't have Montgomery, but he will have a nice collection of massive receivers and tight ends with Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector and Austin Hooper returning. Defense is more of a question mark, but they do have collection of budding young stars at linebacker returning.
Why #2? The Cardinal's hold on the top of the conference really slipped in 2014, but they still have the talent and scheme to hang onto it if all goes right.
What they lose - Outside of a surprising early NFL declaration by stud receiver Chris Harper, not much. A couple solid offensive line starters in Chris Adcock and Alejandro Crosthwaite along with solid safety Michael Lowe, but nothing too big outside of Harper.
What's coming back - Jared Goff, who might be the conference's best returning quarterback and a fleet of talented receivers like Kenny Lawler, Bryce Treggs and Stephen Anderson headline with quiet 1,000-yard rusher Daniel Lasco and home run hitter Khalfani Muhammad. The guys will be protected by a promising group of three returning line starters and helped out on defense by a nice collection of linebackers in Jalen Jefferson, Hardy Nickerson and Michael Barton.
Why #3? I think the Bears turn a corner in 2015 with all of the talent and experience they have build for the Bear Raid coming back and with Washington losing so much.
What they lose - A lot. The Huskies lose all but one starter on their offensive line, but defense is where they are losing the most. The entire starting defensive line is departing, highlighted by All-Americans Danny Shelton and Hau'oli Kikaha. The linebacking core is also losing two starters, including star Shaq Thompson.
What's coming back - Quarterback Cyler Miles (though he is not a slam dunk to start again) and emerging speedy running back Dwayne Washington and a collection of receivers led by Jaydon Mickens. The defensive backfield returns a head of freshmen led by Budda Baker that had a trial by fire in 2014.
Why #4 - The Huskies have been comfortable in the three spot for years now, but I think they will have to take a step back in 2015 with the massive amount of talent and experience they are losing.
5. Washington State
What they lose - Connor Halliday is the big loss, but they lost him in 2014 and former walk-on Luke Falk already looks like he could be a solid replacement. Outside of Halliday, 100-catch, 1,400-yard receiver Vince Mayle along with 900-yard, 12-touchdown receiver Isiah Myers are gone and mainstay defensive tackle Xavier Cooper shockingly declared for the draft early.
What's coming back - The entire offensive line that is starting to get better and a collection of good receivers on offense highlighted by River Cracraft and Dom Williams. Much of the defense is back, but with no particular standouts.
Why #5? The Cougars have enough coming back in their system to continue to get some wins and frustrate defenses, but I don't know if I see anything that should push them up the North.
6. Oregon State
What they lose - Well, Mike Riley. On the field, Sean Mannion will have to be replaced but almost all of the rest of the offense returns other than standout tight end Connor Hamlett and quietly good running back Terron Ward. Defense loses much more though as 9 starters depart including the entire very good starting linebacker crew and three very good starters in the secondary highlighted by corner Steven Nelson.
What's coming back - Almost all of the offense highlighted by a hopefully healthy Isaac Seumalo at center along with a bouncing back Storm Woods at running back. The rest of the line returns as well along with a promising group of receivers and tight ends led by developing standouts Jordan Villamin and Victor Bolden. Defense is kind of a barren land, but senior cornerback Larry Scott could fill Nelson's void.
Why #6 - Other than Gary Andersen coming to town, there simply isn't much to look at the Beavers' depth chart coming back and get excited about. Doesn't mean that this is where they will finish, it is just where they stand going in.
What they lose - Brett Hundley is the big one, but they Bruins also lose some big bullets on defense as well in senior leader linebacker and tackle machine Eric Kendricks and pass rusher Owamagbe Odighizuwa. Standout safety Anthony Jefferson and talent but underachieving defensive lineman, Ellis McCarthy, who bolted to the NFL, will be missed as well.
What's coming back - A talented, but underachieving offensive line anchored by All-Pac-12er Jake Brendel at center, the 1,000-yard-plus rusher Paul Perkins and potential first team All-Pac-12 receiver Jordan Payton along with a group of other talented receivers like Eldridge Massington, Devin Fuller and Thomas Duarte. The defense is equally stacked with star linebacker Myles Jack returning along with run stuffing defensive tackle Kenny Clark and the ultra-talented Eddie Vanderdoes. The back of the defense is in good hands as well with Ishmael Adams, Fabian Moreau and Tahaan Goodman coming back.
Why #1 - The Bruins ended up being the highest-ranked team in the South and as long as they can be steady at quarterback, they have the talent to hold that spot.
What they lose - Some serious stars in Leonard Williams, Nelson Agholor and Javorius Allen, but that is always the case at USC.
What's coming back - Senior quarterback Cody Kessler and an entire offensive line led by senior center Max Tuerk who could be the conference's best. The skill positions lose Agholor and Allen but have a collection of talented young players ready to turn into stars. All-American candidate Su'a Cravens is the big name on dfense, but the will be flanked by a good number of other returning starters.
Why #2 - It is tempting to pick USC over UCLA with a senior quarterback coming back and with UCLA losing Hundley, but I am playing a bit of a waiting game with USC jumping UCLA since they have struggled so mightily in the series the past few years.
3. Arizona State
What they lose - Their star receiver in Jaelen Strong, star quarterback Taylor Kelly (though he was limited in 2014), best offensive linemen in Jamil Douglas and their two best defenders in defensive end Marcus Hardison and safety Damarious Randle.
What's coming back - A ready to go budding star at quarterback in Mike Bercovici completely cushions the blow of losing Kelly. Bercovici will get to work with the conference's best dual-threat back in D.J. Foster and an excellent backup DeMario Richard along with a decent spread of receivers who will try to fill the void left by Strong. The most promising return for the Sun Devils might be three senior offensive line starters led by center Nick Kelly who is a potential first team All-Pac-12er. The defense doesn't return any stars, but does bring back nine starters who gained some great experience in 2014.
Why #3? - The Sun Devils quietly finished just outside of the Top 10 in 2014 and return just about every starter except for a few stars.
What they lose - Their three best offensive linemen will be tough to replace along with standout back Terris-Jones Grigsby and senior leader receiver Austin Hill, but the real losses are on defense. The Wildcats are not known for their defense, but they are losing a cluster of seniors who did a great job of holding up on defense for the Wildcats while their offense got all of the acclaim. Defensive end Reggie Gilbert and tackle Dan Petinato are big losses up front and Jared Tevis, Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Jonathan McKnight and Jourdon Grandon will be tough to replace in the back.
What's coming back - Sophomore Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson are the big pieces in the backfield. They will be aided by the deepest group of talented receivers in the conference led Cayleb Jones and Samajie Grant. The defense gets maybe the nation's best defender back in junior linebacker Scooby Wright, but other standouts will need to emerge around him.
Why #4 - The Wildcats have some major promise with the skill position players they have coming back in the Rich Rodriguez system and Scooby Wright, but their glue spots, particularly their offensive line and poor finish to the season raise some concerns.
What they lose - Stud tackle Jeremiah Poutasi heading to the NFL early was a big loss, as is incredible return man and receiver Kaelin Clay. The defense will have to replace national sack leader in defensive end Nate Orchard and solid tackle Sese Ianu along with solid defensive backs Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen.
What is coming back - The Utes scored big when star running back Devontae Booker decided to return for his senior year and he will run behind a line that returns ever starter other than Poutasi. The defense gets a lot back from an excellent unit, headlined by standout linemen Lowell Lotulelei and Hunter Dimick and linebackers Jared Norris and Jason Whittingham.
Why #5 - Even though the Utes had their best season in years and got back into the Top 25, they still basically finished fifth in the Pac-12 South. They have some good pieces coming back, but not enough to convince me that they will leap out of that fifth spot.
What they lose - A couple mainstays on the offensive line in Daniel Munyer and Kaiwi Crabb might be their biggest loses. Cornerback Greg Henderson will be a tough loss for the Buffs, but other than that, there is not too much to be replaced on defense.
What's coming back - A lot, but nothing that suggests that they should get out of the bottom spot in a very strong South.
Why #6? The Buffs improved greatly in 2014, but still didn't win a single conference game. I think they improve again in 2015, but I don't think it will be enough to get out of the bottom spot in a tough South.