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NCAA's two Washington schools and the Pac-12 South Division

August 09, 2011 3:05 AM by Ted Sevransky

Last week, I took a first look at the two Oregon schools and the two Bay Area schools in the Pac-12. Now my focus has shifted over to the two Washington schools and the Pac-12 South Division.

As always, we deal with point spread success, not straight up records. Teams are listed in alphabetical order, not predicted order of finish.

ARIZONA

At two different stages last year – following their 4-0 start and later at 7-1 – Mike Stoops guided his squad into the Top 15. Both times, the Wildcats were unable to hang with the big boys. After a blowout loss to Stanford sent them tumbling down in the rankings, Arizona suffered five straight losses (0-4-1 ATS).

Arizona is capable of bouncing back. There are a couple of bright spots – the return of senior QB Nick Foles, a potential first rounder in next year’s NFL draft, and the exceptional skill position talent surrounding him. But Foles could be running for his life on every passing down.

The completely rebuilt offensive line lost all five starters from last year’s squad as well as their positional coach in the offseason. The Wildcats with a brutal slate – road trips to Oklahoma State, USC and Oregon State sandwiched around home games against Stanford and Oregon. It’ll be very tough to survive that stretch with their confidence (and their bowl hopes) still intact.

ARIZONA ST

The Wildcats have the feel of a ‘swagger’ team – the same type that Dennis Erickson’s better squads have enjoyed in years (and decades) past at Miami, FL and Oregon State.

The Sun Devils went 10-2 ATS last year – normally a bad thing when it comes to value moving forward. But their 6-6 SU record from 2010 (no bowl bid), on the heels of 4-8 and 5-7 campaigns ensures that the betting markets may still be behind the curve. And, despite finishing with a -6 turnover margin (they won the turnover battle only three times all season) makes me think that the Sun Devils have legitimate potential in 2011.

ASU was something of a hard luck team – in position to win in the fourth quarter of five of its six defeats. Much like Arizona, even if State loses early tests against Illinois, USC and Oregon, the opposing slate gets much easier down the stretch so a late season run is possible after the bye. Erickson’s teams have been noted for undisciplined, mistake ridden on-field play throughout his tenure in Tempe. Perhaps the recent history of close losses can be attributed to something besides hard luck.

COLORADO

The Buffaloes haven’t enjoyed a winning season since Gary Barnett left town in 2005. The Dan Hawkins era was an abject failure. The Jon Embree era begins with no urgency. Embree’s mandate is to return the program to glory in the new conference, not to get the Buffaloes into a minor bowl this year.

Given Colorado’s schedule, a minor bowl will be extremely tough to accomplish, even with a solid roster loaded with returning upperclassmen talent. The Buffs play 13 consecutive weeks without a bye, including five Pac-12 road tilts along with trips to Hawaii and Ohio State.

Embree knows what he’s up against: "I told our players there will be 11 or 12 games where we’re going to be the underdog. Oh, well. We’re going to train to play it."

UCLA

Rick Neuheisel enters the 2011 season squarely on the hot seat. This program has declined dramatically from where it was in the 90’s under Bob Toledo, who was unceremoniously dumped after accomplishing far more than either Karl Dorrell or Neuheisel did as the "other school" in LA.

The Bruins have suffered three consecutive losing seasons in conference play for the first time since World War II. Their quarterback play has been borderline incompetent. Their offensive line play hasn’t been much better; a huge question mark again in 2011.

Neuheisel saved his job by jettisoning numerous assistants, adding five new coaches including a pair of new coordinators. That new staff has its hands full bringing this program back to respectability.

USC

Throughout the Pete Carroll era, Southern Cal ranked in the Top 5 programs in national recruiting on an annual basis. The Trojans were 82-9 SU from 2002 through 2008, finishing in the Top 5 every year; the preeminent program in college football for the first decade of the 21st century.

With NCAA sanctions, liberal transferring rules and a new coaching staff led by Lane Kiffin, this Trojans program just doesn’t have the same feel. After suffering scholarship restrictions as part of their probation (USC won’t go bowling again this year or be eligible for the Pac-12 title), the 2011 Trojans have depth concerns all over the place – offensive line, wide receiver, linebacking and in the secondary.

That’s very bad news for a team that has been a true money burner over the past two seasons. USC enters the current campaign in on a 9-17 ATS run since the start of 2009, including a truly woeful 7-16 ATS mark as favorites.

UTAH

The Utes enjoyed a 12-0 season including a Fiesta Bowl blowout over Pitt in 2004 and finished 2008 at 13-0, including a two touchdown win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Utah has certainly enjoyed more post-New Year’s Day bowl glory than most non-BCS schools, but was never in contention for a national title in either of those seasons despite the undefeated record.

That won’t be the case anymore, now that the Utes have joined the Pac-12. Unfortunately their inaugural Pac-12 campaign features a brutal schedule, despite avoiding both Oregon and Stanford from the North Division. Road trips to BYU and Pittsburgh aren’t the cupcakes elite level schools like to schedule when hoping for another run at BCS glory.

After suffering massive graduation losses on both sides of the football while learning a new Norm Chow led offense, don’t be shocked if Utah takes a significant step back from the 33-6 SU mark over the last three years.

WASHINGTON

No player in the conference meant more to his team than QB Jake Locker. His emotion and leadership virtually willed the Huskies to three straight late season victories, ending an eight year bowl drought for this once proud program.

And Locker was certainly a difference maker in Washington’s upset win in their rematch against Nebraska at the Holiday Bowl, despite a box score that doesn’t show his impact on the sidelines of that game. This program has made a nice progression under Steve Sarkisian, now in his third season on the job.

If Washington can find a QB and some leadership – two big ifs – last year’s seven win total can be matched along with covering point spreads galore in the process.

Washington St

Paul Wulff could get fired if the Cougars don’t show significant improvement in 2011 – like Neuheisel at UCLA. Unlike Neuheisel, Wulff has no real hope of turning this program around. The Cougars are 5-32 SU over the past three seasons and underdogs of two TDs or more 29 times.

Yes, Wassou has 17 starters back, including a third year starter at QB, a loaded receiving corps and an offensive line that features four seniors. But when it comes to size, speed and overall talent, there’s a reason WSU has been catching all these points in every game. The only times the Cougars have been competitive is when their opponents have overlooked them completely.

State has been outgained on average by more than 230 yards per game in conference play over the past three seasons. Wassou was a money earner last year, closing 7-3 ATS and could hang within some inflated point spreads in 2011. But if Wulff’s job depends on six wins, it’ll be a whole new rebuilding process next year.

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