This article is part of our Spring Practice Preview series.
2023 Spring Practice Preview: Pac-12 Preview and Storylines
The future of the Pac-12 will be in flux after 2023, but with one year remaining before USC and UCLA escape to the Big 10, we'll see another season of Power 5 football, featuring legitimate CFP candidates. Last season brought some surprises, with teams like USC, Arizona, and Washington taking huge steps forward with their programs, and the biggest storyline of 2023 involves some big changes in Fort Collins, where Deon Sanders takes over the reins.
Aside from Stanford (and possibly Arizona State), every Pac-12 team will start a quarterback that was a product of the transfer portal. It's a prime example of how the portal has transformed college football, and most of the pressing questions will stem from the arrivals and departures of key players.
Arizona Wildcats Spring Storyline
Building on 2022 Improvement
The Wildcats took a huge step forward in 2022, improving to a 5-7 overall record after a horrific 1-16 run over the two previous seasons. Coach Jedd Fisch enters his third season in Tucson with the same centerpieces that made the Wildcats more competitive, namely 2022 transfers Jayden de Laura and Jacob Cowing.
De Laura ended his 2022 campaign with the third-highest passing yardage total in the conference, trailing only Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and Michael Penix, with 3,685 yards. Other aspects of his season weren't as strong. He led the Pac-12 in interceptions and was sacked 23 times, leaving De Laura's 182-pound frame roughed up for most of the season. He entered the first day of camp almost 30 pounds heavier, which should help increase his ability to break tackles out of the packet and curb the lofty sack number from 2022. Over the first week of camp, the offense was seen working on read-option plays designed for de Laura's rushing skill set.
Spring practice began with the de Laura-Cowing connection picking up where it left off. With USC's Jordan Addison off to the NFL, the duo has a chance to be one of the most prolific QB/WR tandems in the conference. Dorian Singer, Arizona's #2 receiver option last season, transferred to USC, so eyes will be on freshman 3-star prospects Malachi Riley, AJ Jones, and Jackson Holman as potential candidates to start opposite Cowing. Chris Hunter, who was redshirted last season, has a year of playbook study under his belt and is another likely candidate to see playing time. Hunter has already displayed his talent early in camp, converting some nifty snags from the QB corps.
Michael Wiley elected to return to the team for his senior season so the backfield will be in secure hands, but backup Jonah Coleman and three-star prospect Brandon Johnson will also compete for time.
Arizona State Sun Devils Spring Storyline
The Kenny Dillingham era is well underway, and the former Oregon OC started out spring practice by putting his signal-callers through their paces. While Trenton Bourguet is the current QB1 in practice, his past experience with the team may not be enough to fend off some promising freshmen and transfers. Bourget took over for Emory Jones last season and sported a 71.4 percent completion rate to go along with 1,490 yards, 11 touchdowns, and six picks. That's a respectable season on paper, but one could argue that incoming Notre Dame transfer Drew Pyne's resume is much stronger. Pyne was an 8-2 starter with the Irish, and threw for 2,021 yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions over 11 games. Pyne is battle-tested thanks to success against a strong list of opponents, and there's a lot of buzz surrounding his potential to take over the starting gig.
Pyne and Bourget's experience counts for something, but the QB room added a four-star prospect in Jaden Rashada, who could also push for the starting job. He's more of a dual-threat scrambler than Pyne or Bourguet, but he's likely going to take some time to be a full-time starter at the college level.
Elsewhere in the offense, Cal transfer DeCarlos Brooks is expected to be the top player in the backfield, and wideout Elijhah Badger returns to Arizona State and will be the #1 wideout to begin camp.
California Bears Spring Storyline
Two-man QB Race
Many aspects of Cal's offense are foregone conclusions. Jaydn Ott is an NFL star in the making, and Jeremiah Hunter has the goods to be the top wideout in the conference. The big question is who will throw it to Hunter and hand off to Ott. Right now, the quarterback race focuses on TCU transfer Sam Jackson and redshirt freshman Fernando Mendoza. Neither player has much experience at the college level, but new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital will be inclined to give Jackson the first shot. This is Spavital's second stint with Cal after a few years at Texas State, where he implemented an offense that is not all that different from TCU's scheme. That's great news for Jackson, making him the current favorite.
J. Michael Sturdivant transferred to UCLA, so there will also be a hotly-contested battle for who will line up opposite Hunter this season. Illinois transfer Brian Hightower is the odds-on favorite to win the job.
Colorado Buffaloes Spring Storyline
Prime Time Arrives
The new-look Buffaloes are creating the most buzz in the conference thanks to the arrival of Deion Sanders as the team's new head coach. Is Boulder ready for Prime Time?
One easily-answered question is at the quarterback position. Sanders brought his son Shedeur Sanders with him from Jackson State and he is the clear favorite to be under center for the Buffaloes in the fall. Sanders also brought over Travis Hunter from his former team, and if early practices are any indication, the team is grooming him for the wide receiver position, although it's possible that we could be a two-way player at cornerback, his former position. Another guy to watch for in a pass-catching role is Arkansas State transfer tight end Seydou Traore, who caught 50 passes for 655 yards and four touchdowns for the Red Wolves last season.
Oregon Ducks Spring Storyline
Loaded at RB
The Ducks will log only two practices before taking a 17-day break, but second-year coach Dan Lanning already has a solid core of offensive pieces in place, led by quarterback Bo Nix. Due to the timing of the break, many of the team's new signees won't be seen until April, so it's a bit too early to make any determinations about how things will shake down in Eugene. One position to watch is running back, where Bucky Irving is expected to once again lead the backfield. Georgia transfer Jordan James made some noise late in the season, and his progression will be something to keep an eye on.
Oregon State Beavers Spring Storyline
Uiagalelei poised to start
The positional battle commanding the most attention is at the quarterback position, where Clemson transfer DJ Uiagalelei will try to reset his college aspirations with the Beavers. Uigagalelei has superb physical traits but he struggled with consistency throughout his tenure with the Tigers. He enjoyed a bit more success as a runner in 2022, putting his 6-foot-4, 235-pound frame to work, but his time with the Tigers ended once Cade Klubnik filled in and put up a good number against UNC. Uiagalelei's main competition is Ben Gulbranson, who was the Beavers' starter last season. Freshman Aidan Chiles has looked good in practice so far, and I expect this job will eventually go to DJ, with Gulbranson and Chiles battling for backup duty.
Stanford Cardinal Spring Storyline
Quarterback questions with coaching change
Stanford won only three games last season and after 11 years, the program is finally moving on from David Shaw. Former Sacramento State coach Troy Taylor is now at the helm, and he intends on a complete reboot of the offense. Taylor's wide-open passing offense shredded the FCS, although it helped to have guys like Cooper Kupp come through the program. Taylor cleaned house, bringing two coordinators from his previous job. Luckily for Taylor, the team has very few starters returning for 2022, so it won't be a massive change. Taylor will need to replace Tanner McKee, and early reports indicate that Taylor will be looking at Ari Patu's progression closely. The sophomore played sparingly last season, but his dual-threat capability makes him the presumed front-runner for the job. His only competition is Ashton Daniels, who performed in a Wildcat role last season.
The primary positional challenge for the Cardinal will be at running back. The team lost E.J. Smith early last season, and while Casey Filkins filled in aptly as a backup, the re-insertion of Smith would be an excellent offensive shot in the arm for the offense. 2022 was supposed to be a breakout year for Emmitt Smith's son, and it remains to be seen if he'll be active at spring practice.
UCLA Bruins Spring Storyline
QB and RB changes
The Bruins won't start their spring practice schedule until April 4th, but there are already some storylines worth mentioning before their spring session begins. The departures of Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Zach Charbonnet leave a gaping hole in Chip Kelly's offense, and as we head into spring practice, there appears to be some competition at the position. Collin Schlee has transferred from Kent State island and is widely considered to be the first man up, but incoming five-star freshman Dante Moore is probably UCLA's long-term option. If he picks up the speed of college ball quickly, we could see Moore on the field if Schlee struggles early.
At running back, Carson Steele hit the portal from Ball State and made the correct guess about Zach Charbonnet's departure to the NFL. He rushed for 1556 yards and 14 touchdowns last season and is the odds-on favorite to take the starting job. Keegan Jones played well during Zach Charbonnet's litany of injuries last season, and he'll also be involved.
USC Trojans Spring Storyline
Two new faces on offense
Although the Trojans used the transfer portal to load up on offensive linemen and cornerbacks, the team will introduce two new weapons on offense. South Carolina transfer MarShawn Lloyd is taking on a full load in practice and will likely push Austin Jones for playing time. Jones excelled after Travis Dye's season-ending injury, but the acquisition of Lloyd may signal a committee approach at running back.
The loss of Jordan Addison stings a bit, but the Trojans provide that the offense could hum without him last season. The addition of Dorian Singer from Arizona should help the offense considerably, and returnees Brenden Rice and Mario Williams will once again be key targets for Caleb Williams.
Utah Utes Spring Storyline
Little movement with offense
It should be business as usual for the Utes, as there aren't really any questions for the offense as spring practice begins. Cameron Rising is back but won't participate in spring practice due to last season's knee injury, so we'll see a lot of Bryson Barnes with the first-team offense. It's expected that Ja'Quinden Jackson will continue to improve as the top man in the backfield. Dalton Kincaid is gone, but Brant Kuithe is still with the team and will be a prime target for Rising if he is healthy enough to play.
Washington Huskies Spring Storyline
Running back race
Michael Penix returns as Washington's quarterback, and he's expected to have another prolific season. A bonafide Heisman contender, he'll lead an offense that will have wideouts Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan returning as his top targets. There will be a battle for the top job at running back, however. Mississippi State transfer Dillon Johnson brings a considerable skill set to the running back room, proving his mettle as a rusher and pass-catcher during his tenure with the Bulldogs. Daniyel Ngata transferred from Arizona State in hopes of taking the top job, but it remains to be seen of he has the goods for a full-time role. Cameron Davis is still with the team, but he'll need to prove himself among this new crop of rushers.
Washington State Cougars Spring Storyline
Wide receiver transfers
We won't see a lot of movement for the Cougars on offense, as Cameron Ward and Nakia Watson will return to lead the team. The Cougars' first spring practice began March 21st, so we have very little information about other positional battles. Most of the key offensive pieces are returning, although key transfer additions Isaiah Hamilton, Josh Kelly and Kyle Williams will force some movement in the wideout room.