There was a significant changing of the guard in the Pac-12 last season with Washington and Colorado rising to the top of their respective divisions while traditional powerhouse programs like Stanford, Oregon and USC struggled to remain relevant throughout the year. While the Huskies and Buffaloes have enough talent to contend once again in 2017, there is a good chance they will have some tough competition at the top with the Trojans and Cardinal in particular set to bounce back. Here is a look at the biggest strengths of the top Pac-12 teams.
USC – Passing Game
The Trojans managed to finish with 10 wins after stumbling out of the gate a year ago and the general consensus is that they deserve to be the favorite in the Pac-12 this season. USC is absolutely loaded across the board but the most intriguing aspect is their potentially dominant passing game, which is led by quarterback Sam Darnold. Darnold threw for 3,086 yards and 31 touchdowns in his freshman season and he should be in line for an even better season with another year of experience and development within a loaded offense. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Darreus Rogers, Deontay Burnett and Steven Mitchell lead a talented and deep wide receiver core with Smith-Schuster in particular in line to produce some monster numbers if he stays healthy in 2017.
Washington – Running Game
Washington has one of the most talented quarterbacks in the Pac-12 in Jake Browning, who completed 62.1-percent of his passes for 3,430 yards and 43 touchdowns compared to just nine interceptions last season. However, even with Browning primed for another big season the Huskies’ biggest strength is a rushing attack that has the potential to dominate in 2017. Myles Gaskin has rushed for 2,675 yards and 24 touchdowns in his first two seasons at Washington while Lavon Coleman ran for 852 yards and seven scores. Gaskin and Coleman will pair up as one of the most dangerous running back tandems in the country and that is why the Huskies rushing attack is their biggest strength.
Stanford – Pass Defense
The Cardinal took a step back last season overall but their recruiting has been strong across the board and their talent in the defensive secondary in particular is outstanding heading in to the 2017 season. Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder give Stanford a pair of potential lockdown cornerbacks while safety Justin Reid is an absolute force at the safety position. Defensive backs coach Duane Akina is one of the best in the country at his job and he will undoubtedly maximize the immense potential at his disposal with the Cardinal.
Colorado – Running Game
Colorado will once again rely on a potentially dominant ground game with a solid offensive line blocking for one of the best running backs in the Pac-12 in Phillip Lindsay. Lindsay averaged 5.1 yards per carry while rushing for 1,252 yards last season and there is absolutely no reason to expect him to slow down in 2017. Kyle Evans and Donovan Lee will provide solid depth as the Buffaloes lean even more on their ground game following Sefo Liufau’s graduation. They’ll need the running game to hold up while they groom a new passer.
Washington State – Quarterback
The Cougars will have to overcome some key offseason departures on both sides of the football but they are still very talented at the most important position of all with quarterback Luke Falk leading the way. Falk is exactly the leader that head coach Mike Leach wants at the position and the senior passer could be poised for another big year. Falk completed 70-percent of his passes for 4,468 yards and 38 touchdowns compared to just 11 interceptions last year. All eyes will be on Falk this year to see what he has in store for his final college season. Of course, head coach Mike Leach is going to be calling passing plays most of the time in the upcoming season, so having a seasoned signal caller like Falk is a big deal. Look for the Cougars to again be a winning team in the Pac-12 and among the second tier of teams with potential to win the conference.
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