USC Trojans top projected Pac-12 standings for 2015

A loaded offense led by Cody Kessler puts the Trojans at the top of our Pac-12 projections.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

USC Trojans top projected Pac-12 standings for 2015


Who will win the Pac-12 in 2015? We dug into our PFF college football data — which includes grades for every player on every play of every game involving at least one FBS opponent last season — to help produce projected standings for this season.

Here’s how we expect things to turn out, based on the strength of each team’s rosters, and the quality of talent they saw leave after the 2014 season.

South:

1. USC Trojans (projected champions)

Offensive snaps lost: 2,947 (26.1 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,555 (28.2 percent)

Ready to prove themselves as a potential champions, the Trojans are boosted by having the best quarterback in the nation in Cody Kessler (96). Kessler threw for 11 touchdowns and two interceptions on plays where he was under pressure last year, with that ratio spiking to 28-3 with no pressure. He’s got plenty of help on offense too, with JuJu Smith (81.5) a strong targets to throw to. Defensively they are lead by linebacker Su’a Cravens (90.5), who had 38 defensive stops in 2014 and is poised to be a thorn in the side of opposing offenses again in 2015.

2. Arizona State Sun Devils

Offensive snaps lost: 3,953 (35.0 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 1,939 (17.4 percent)

The Sun Devils looked to be on a roll last season before coming undone late in the year, but they return enough talented players that they can compete in the Pac-12 once again. At wide receiver Ellis Jefferson (71) is a solid receiver, but the conversion of running back D.J. Foster (90 receiving grade) to wide receiver full time, allows them to let one of the best playmakers in the conference stay where he performs best. They have plenty of talent on defense too, despite losing Damarcus Randall to the Green Bay Packers in the first round of the NFL Draft. Safety Jordan Simone (81.1) and linebackers Antonio Longino (80.5), Viliami Moeakiola (75) are the keys to this defense being one of the best in the conference. One player to keep an eye on is linebacker DJ Calhoun. He couldn’t maintain it throughout the year, but flashed serious potential at points.

3. Arizona Wildcats

Offensive snaps lost: 4,921 (36.8 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 6,048 (46.5 percent)

The Wildcats are neck and neck with their in-state rivals as challengers to the Trojans as favorites, and have two of the best players in the country. William Parks (89.6) at cornerback didn’t allow a touchdown in his coverage in 2014, while linebacker Scooby Wright III (87) stood out against the run, in coverage, and as a pass rusher where he had 14 sacks. The talent level isn’t quite there on offense, but Samajie Grant (75.7) provides a solid number one receiving option for quarterback Anu Solomon (73.4). Don’t be surprised if the game with Arizona State has big-time implications in the Pac-12, as well as potentially for the playoffs.

4. UCLA Bruins

Offensive snaps lost: 2,377 (20.3 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,555 (30.7 percent)

The Bruins still have plenty of talent, but the loss of several key players will be their biggest test. Quarterback Brett Hundley is now in the NFL, with freshman Josh Rosen and junior Jerry Neuheisel competing for the job. Defensively the big loss is Owamagbe Odighizuwa, who had 56 total pressures a year ago, but defensive standouts in linebacker Myles Jack (86.1) and defensive tackle Kenny Clark (85.1) still remain. Deon Hollins (82) will look to continue to provide a pass-rushing threat off the edge, after edging Odighizuwa with 58 total pressures in 2014.

5. Utah Utes

Offensive snaps lost: 3,528 (32.2 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 3,918 (35.7 percent)

The Utes don’t have a particularly bad roster, with solid players on offense like offensive tackle J.J. Dielman (85.7) and wide receiver Kenneth Scott (75.5) to go along with quarterback Travis Wilson (74.9). They just find themselves in a tough conference and even tougher division. Defensively, edge rusher Hunter Dimick (78.9), linebacker Jared Norris (78.8) and interior defensive lineman Lowell Lotulelei (78.6) have the potential to be difference makers, However, with the level of opposition around them, the Utes likely find themselves in the role of late-season spoiler as opposed to conference challenger.

6. Colorado Buffaloes

Offensive snaps lost: 3,619 (31.2 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 2,243 (22.6 percent)

Like Utah, the Buffaloes have their share of talent, but they’ll find it tough in the South in 2015. On offense wide receiver Nelson Spruce (83.4) is the top weapon for quarterback Sefo Liufau (75.1), with Spruce racking up 1,197 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2014. Defensively it’s all about the defensive backfield, with safeties Tedric Thompson (82.8) and Chidobe Awuzie (78.5), and the cornerback trio of Ken Crawley (76.6), John Walker (76.5) and Ahkello Witherspoon (74.3) their top five players on that side of the ball. That will be important, because their best pass rusher from a year ago was Derek McCartney (65.3), who managed just 20 total pressures from 255 pass-rushing attempts in 2014.

North

1. Oregon Ducks

Offensive snaps lost: 4,644 (36.0 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 5,544 (40.5 percent)

Royce Freeman

Runners up in the first ever college football playoffs, the Ducks head into this season after losing four players who were drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL draft in May. The headliner of those is obviously Marcus Mariota — it’s never a good thing to lose your Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback — and the losses of Jake Fisher, Arik Armsteak, Troy Hill, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Hroniss Grasu will all be felt as well. One key for Oregon’s potential success in 2015 will be who of Jeff Lockie and Vernon Adams wins the battle to replace Mariota, but they still have plenty of talent across the board to be the favorites in the North once again. DeForest Buckner (86.0), who had 44 total pressures in 2014, leads the way on defense, while the impressive Royce Freeman (84.6) will look to provide the spark on offense.

2. California Golden Bears

Offensive snaps lost: 2,655 (23.0 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 1.963 (17.3 percent)

Cal returns a lot of their starters from 2014, with the most important of those being quarterback Jared Goff (87.6). One of the best quarterbacks in the nation, Goff threw for 3,930 yards and 35 touchdowns a year ago, with 15 of those touchdowns coming on passes 20 yards or more downfield. There’s plenty of talent around him on offense, with Kenny Lawler (82.7) and Stephen Anderson (80.7) at wide receiver, and Daniel Lasco (79.4) in the backfield. The talent level isn’t quite as high on defense, but linebacker Jalen Jefferson (83.7) and a now-healthy safety Griffin Piatt (80.2) are still very good players.

3. Stanford Cardinal

Offensive snaps lost: 3,612 (36.2 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 6,879 (67.2 percent)

Despite losing Andrus Peat and Ty Montgomery on offense, fans of the Cardinal will be buoyed by quarterback Kevin Hogan’s (77.2) strong finish to the 2014 season. He struggled through the majority of the season, including one of the worst performances by a quarterback all year against Arizona State, but those final three games saw him look much more like the sort of quarterback who can keep the offense ticking in 2015. The big concern for the Cardinal is on defense, with few teams losing as many snaps and quality players, with David Parry, Henry Anderson, James Vaughters and A.J. Tarpley all now in the NFL. How their replacements step up will be key to success.

4. Washington State Cougars

Offensive snaps lost: 3,064 (25.8 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 2,966 (29.4 percent)

The Cougars have more talent this year as their in-state rivals, with River Cracraft (83.2) and Dom Williams (76.5) capable of filling the void left by Vince Mayle and becoming the team’s top target. Quarterback Luke Falk (75.3) still has a way to go to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country, but plenty of schools around the country would rather have him that what they have, with Falk grading positively on throws 20 yards or more downfield. Defensively the big loss is Xavier Cooper up front, but Kache Palacio (72), Peyton Pelluer (74.1) and Marcellus Pippins (71.7) return.

5. Washington Huskies

Offensive snaps lost: 6,249 (55.2 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 6,023 (47.6 percent)

It’s tough to lose as much talent as the Washington Huskies did this offseason, with key players Shaq Thompson, Hau’oli Kikaha, Danny Shelton and Marcus Peters all drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL draft. That’s not good news for a team that was based around their strong defense and, despite solid players like Travis Feeney (77.4) and Kevin King (76.6), Washington fans should expect a significant drop-off here. Thompson was their best offensive player a year ago too, despite playing just 119 snaps on that side of that ball, and they’ll be hoping that John Ross (67.7) can grow as a player and add to the big plays he made a year ago.

6. Oregon State Beavers

Offensive snaps lost: 3,009 (29.0 percent)
Defensive snaps lost: 6,597 (67.2 percent)

While they did lose starting quarterback Sean Mannion, who we had with a negative grade in 2014, the Beavers will be glad to still have running back Storm Woods around, after he rushed for 736 yards and averaged 6.1 yards per carry in 2014. That’s especially true when they can run him behind their best player on offense in full back Ricky Ortiz (83.1). The bad news for the Beavers is that there isn’t a whole lot of talent outside of safety Justin Strong (76.3) and cornerback Larry Scott (71) on that defense, with key players like Steven Nelson and Michael Doctor no longer around.

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

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