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Pac-12 Football: North, South and Conference Title Winners

Many people expect USC to rise to the top, do they?

NCAA Football: Southern California Spring Game Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Can college football get here any quicker? Most of us college football fans are trying to get any news of our favorite teams in the Pac-12. Getting news in June can be a tough thing since summer practice hasn’t started and we haven’t made it to the Pac-12 Media Days which really gets football fans out West revved up for the upcoming season.

When you take a look at the landscape of the Pac-12 there are a bunch of questions with each and every team.

Do the Trojans make good with all the talent they have and win the conference? Will Washington keep the winning going? How does Stanford move on from Christian McCaffrey? Does Washington State make a jump this year with Luke Falk? Is this the make or break year for Todd Graham at ASU? Can Willie Taggart bring the Ducks back to prominence? How does Josh Rosen respond from surgery? Does Oregon State take the next step and make a bowl? Can Colorado continue the rise? What happens with Rich Rod at Arizona? How does Justin Wilcox do in his first year at California?

There are many other questions as well, but for the sake the time I’m going to concentrate on the division winners and the conference title game winner.

North: With Washington being the team of the Pac-12 last season, there is no reason to believe that the Huskies won’t rule the North Division again this year. When you have Jake Browning running the show for a third consecutive season the outlook can be positive.

What has Browning done in three short years?

Here is the stat line on Browning:

  • Thrown for 6,385 yards and 59 touchdowns
  • He’s only thrown 19 interceptions
  • Won his last 15 of 17 games
  • Completed 63% of his passes

The other aspect he has done for the Huskies is to lead the resurgence of a proud program. He helped guide the Huskies to a conference title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Browning will have most of weapons back from last season. Myles Gaskin, Husky running back, returns to keep the speed in the offense. Another returnee for the Dawgs will be Lavon Coleman who combined with Gaskin in the Pac-12 Title game for 47 carries and 260 yards. Those two torched the Colorado defense in the conference title game.

NCAA Football: Washington Spring Game Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Those two will make life much easier for Browning. Everybody knows a good running game takes the pressure off of any quarterback and brings balance to the offense.

The key departure for the Huskies, however, is John Ross. Once Ross came back from injury, Ross lit opposing offenses up and the scoreboard. Ross gained 1,252 yards through the air and ground and scored 18 touchdowns. His departure certainly hurts the offense, but with the depth that head coach Chris Peterson has developed during his tenure the offense should be just fine.

Defensively, the front seven of the Dawgs will be as strong as ever. The question will come with the loss of their three top cornerbacks and the loss of all everything safety Budda Baker.

The Huskies return defensive tackles Vita Vea and Gregg Gaines and at least six of their the top linebackers. Running on the Huskies is going to be a difficult thing to do. Where a bit a regressing with the defense may occur is in the defensive backfield. Like I said, the loss of Baker and their three top corners will be something that Washington is going to have to address. It’s going to be an area where teams will look to attack the Dawgs.

Chris Peterson is still developing this monster in Seattle, but the rest of the conference already knows that. He will continue this rise in 2017.

Huskies win the North and may not even be close.

South: The South Division of the Pac-12 could be just like the North Division. One team with all the talent and the rest of the teams in the division just trying to see who comes in second place.

Enter the USC Trojans.

Based on the Trojans performance late in the year and The Rose Bowl Game many people believe that the Trojans will run away with the South Division. While that may be the case once everything is said and done, there are some questions about how USC is going to replace some quality players from last years squad.

The main weapon that is coming back is Sam Darnold, the Trojan quarterback. His late season performance left everybody in awe of what Sam Darnold has in talent. Most people where left wondering why Darnold did not start from the Alabama game.

USC has plenty of talent on their team, but what positions do raise some concern?

Let’s start with the Trojan offensive line.

The Trojans lose three huge linemen. Two of those three were All-Pac-12 performers Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler. With plenty of good talent to fill the gaps in the line it shouldn’t be a big concern, but if the offense struggles early then the offensive line will be the culprit.

With the departures of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers to the NFL, Sam Darnold will have to form some connections with some new talent. However, the Trojans do get back Deontay Burnett and five of their top receiving targets. If Sam Darnold does what many people expect him to do this year, then the new receiving corps will shine like a diamond.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl Game-Penn State vs Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On the defensive side of the ball, the pass rush needs to get better. Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast likes to bring the pressure, but the pressure brought by the Trojans pass rush last year was average for USC. It might be considered good for any other program, but not in the land of the Trojans.

The linebacker core is a strong point with USC. Cameron Smith, the middle linebacker, was the top tackler last season and will be surrounded by outside backers in Porter Gustin and Uchenna Nwosu to form a solid linebacker corps.

The cornerbacks will be good. Losing Adoree Jackson will hurt, but the Trojans will have Iman Marshall who will be the number one guy. The safeties for USC will be solid as well, not spectacular, but nothing to cause major concern.

The defensive line will be the spot where things get a little interesting for the Trojans. Their defensive line needs help on the inside. Remember this name, Marlon Tuipulotu. He is a talent that is to good to keep on the sideline. The defensive line needs to get the push on the inside and a outside rush from the outside to make this season special for USC. The talent is there for the defensive line, the experience is not, so it may take a bit to work all of this out.

At the end of the day, the Trojans win the South Division by a couple of games.

The Pac-12 Conference Title will be won by USC in a close game with Washington by a touchdown or less. Right now, the Pac-12 is Washington, USC, and a bunch of others. Now can somebody step up and surprise us, but based on what we know about last season these are two most talented teams in the Pac-12.