Following is our preview of 2015 Pac-12 action, broken into the two divisions. Straight-up, pointspread, and over/under marks from the 2014 season are included with each team, presented in predicted order of finish. We begin with Senior Editor Chuck Sippl's preview of the North before analyzing the South half of the loop in our next installment--Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor...

by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor

OREGON (SUR 13-2; PSR 9-5-1; O/U 7-7-1; Lost CFP Championship Game 42-20 to Ohio State)...Oregon has suffered substantial personnel losses since last year’s loss to Ohio State in the first College Football Playoff. Without practically-perfect Heisman Trophy-winning QB Marcus Mariota at the controls this season, another appearance in the title game seems substantially more unlikely. However, it might be a bit premature to cross off the Webbed Foots as a national contender.

In two years under Chip Kelly replacement Mark Helfrich, UO is 24-4. And another strong run can be expected this season. Among the more interesting positional battles in the nation will be the competition between last year’s No. 2 Duck QB Jeff Lockie and incoming Eastern Washington graduate transfer Vernon Adams Jr. Lockie has only briefly been allowed to flash his talents, with just 41 career attempts, hitting 21 of 28 last season when taking over for Mariota & Co. after the eventual Heisman winner had usually built a wide enough victory margin to keep the playoff Selection Committee sufficiently satisfied.

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Adams, the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year in both 2013 & 2014, has already impressed in the Pac-12. Adams led EWU to an eye-opening 49-46 at Oregon State in ‘13, and he tossed seven TD passes in last year’s 59-52 loss at Washington. The 6-0 Adams has a “live arm” (110 TDP vs. 31 ints. in three seasons) and quick-enough feet (1232 YR in three years), and he seems well-suited for the fast-paced Oregon attack. Interestingly, in a game scheduled long ago, the Ducks open their 2015 season by hosting Adams’ old team, Eastern Washington! Adams was not allowed to continue workouts at EWU after announcing in February he was transferring. Accordingly, Adams was a man without a team at spring football time, not practicing with the Eagles, and not being allowed on the Oregon campus until he graduates in June. Once Adams arrives on the scene in Eugene, the veteran QB will have about 11 weeks to learn the quick reads in the Ducks’ speed-oriented attack. Lockie, a fourth-year junior, will thus have a major lead in knowledge of the Oregon playbook, but will be at a definite deficit in terms of live game experience.

The rest of the Duck offense is sufficiently potent once again, but with “complications” this season that might keep it from reaching the “silly” production levels of last year—547 ypg, 45.4 ppg, and +23 in turnover margin—usually “eased up” (the Ducks led by a combined 360-175 at the half LY). The OL must replace three starters, including top T Jake Fisher and rock-solid C Hroniss Grasu, both on to the NFL. OU got one break in May when starting G/C Matt Hegarty of Notre Dame transferred in as a graduate. At RB strong, 230-pound soph Royce Freeman (1365 YR in 2014) and quicker jr. Thomas Tyner (573 YR) return as alternating, versatile threats. But the receiver situation had some issues coming out of spring practice, although there is no lack of talent.

First, the not-so-good news for the receiving corps. Promising 6-2 soph Darren Carrington (37 recs. LY, but suspended for the national title game) is likely to face additional punishment. 6-6 sr. TE Pharaoh Brown (6 TDC LY) is still recovering from a career-threatening knee injury in the 10th game LY that nearly resulted in amputation because of a damaged artery. While Brown is reportedly progressing better than expected, his return is far from certain even though he has All-American potential if healthy. Speedster Devon Allen (41 recs. LY) was held out of spring while recovering from a torn ACL in the Rose Bowl. Whippet-like jr. Bralon Addison (83 career recs.) will try to show he has regained his full speed following an ACL tear prior to the start of 2014. And last, speedy soph Charles Nelson (23 recs., 5 TDs) has been moved to CB because of Nelson’ potential of filling an opening on defense. But coaches say there is still plenty of WR talent considering the return of converted RB Byron Marshall (74 recs. LY), 6-5 jr. Dwayne Stafford (43), early enrollee Alex Ofodile, and incoming blue-chippers Malik Lovette & Kirk Merritt. With just a bit of luck with the previously-injured Ducks, OU will be well-stocked in pass catchers once again.

Defensive coordinator Don Pellum says he is going to scale back a bit this season after losing his most athletic defensive lineman (DE Arik Armstead, top pick of the 49ers), pass-rushing OLB/DE Tony Washington (6 sacks, 11½ TFL), and 3 of 4 starters in the Orregon secondary, including S Erick Dargan (top tackler with 95 and top ball hawk with 7 ints.) and top cover corner Ifu Ekpre-Oluma (injured late last season). While strong and athletic in 2014, the Duck defense did show some key chinks in an October 31-24 home loss vs. Arizona and later vs. QB Cardale Jones and RB Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State in the CFP decider in January.

Thus comes def. coord. Pellum’s decision to employ a smaller “toolbox” on defense, especially with a youthful secondary. But don’t make the mistake of thinking the Ducks are hurting for talent. Not with 6-7, 290 sr. DE DeForest Buckner (4 sacks LY) and 6-4, 310 sr. DT Alex Balducci anchoring up front, 6-5, 290 soph Henry Mondeaux blossoming in spring, 6-7, 295 true frosh Canton Kaumatule enrolling early, and 6-5, 250 sr. Christian French (6 sacks LY) joining two other sr. LBs.

SUMMARY...Oregon (with considerable help from OU alum and Nike founder Phil Knight and others) has used its extravagant facilities--plus its attractive playing style--to become one of the top destinations for recruits, even in its out-of-the-way outpost of Eugene. So, while the Webfoots have some question marks this season (at QB, OL, receiver, DB), there figure to be plenty of positive answers to be found within this talent-laden roster. But no QB on the team figures to match last year’s amazing 42 TDP vs. 4 ints. of Mariota, so winning the Pac-12 North in 2015 promises to be a tougher task, considering late-season trips to explosive Arizona State and physical Stanford, not to mention a Nov. 21 home clash with ascending Southern Cal. And Oregon’s Game Two this season--at revenge-minded Michigan State in Ann Arbor--might mean UO will be playing catch-up all season in the polls.

Note that Oregon (-20½ last year) defeated neighboring rival Washington 45-20 in 2014, making it 11 straight wins and covers (total score 481-202) vs. the Huskies!!!

STANFORD (SUR 8-5; PSR 7-6; O/U 3-9; Beat Maryland 45-21 in San Francisco Bowl)...Stanford might have a different look to it this season than the recent rugged Cardinal outfits that have produced victory totals of 12, 11, 12, 11 in the four previous seasons before last year’s 8-5. In fact, even with 2014's season-closing routs of Cal, UCLA and Maryland, it was clear such a change was underway. With more of it likely to come in 2015.

Evidence of the transition from a physically-dominating power bunch was apparent last season, when the Cardinal lost to every high-quality team they faced, except to UCLA in its regular-season finale (after the Bruins had enjoyed a satisfying 38-20 romp over bitter rival Southern Cal). Stanford lost to quality foes USC, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon, and Utah (in OT). The teams that fell to the Cardinal other than UCLA were UC Davis, Army, Washington, Washington State, Oregon State, Cal, and Maryland. Not an overly distinguished group.

There were two obvious problems in those losses for Stanford--a downturn in the power ground game that was so characteristic of previous Cardinal offenses, and a corresponding lack of TD conversions in the red zone. Stanford converted only 54.4% of its red-zone opportunities into TDs, ranking 85th in the nation. Offensive coordinator/OL coach Mike Bloomgren absorbed some of the responsibility, as did HC David Shaw, himself once a Cardinal coordinator on the offensive side. Stanford, so used to running with power and excellent effect with a series of future NFL OLmen, multiple-TE formations, and smashmouth RBs, found itself last season a little short in all three categories and, therefore, more reliant upon the red-zone playmaking skills of QB Kevin Hogan. Although competent enough (65.9%, 2792 YP, 19 TDP, 8 ints.; 295 YR, 5 TDR), Hogan (6-4, 225) is no Marcus Mariota or Dak Prescott inside the 20. Meanwhile, the Cardinal brain trust came under fire for its lack of creativity when opportunities arose in winnable games vs. those peviously-named tough foes. Stanford fans often groaned in exasperation after witnessing red-zone plays rather lacking in originality or much deception.

To be honest, however, many of 2014's problems stemmed from the apparent end of the Cardinal’s impressive string of featured power runners, from Toby Gerhart to Stepfan Taylor to Tyler Gaffney. Last year’s leading rusher was Remound Wright (only 601 YR, 4.5 ypc), followed by one-time WR Kelsey Young (331 YR), Barry Sanders Jr. (315), and freshman Christian McCaffrey (300 YR, 7.1 ypc). That’s a lot of RB variety, but not the old Stanford ground-game domination. In fact, Stanford fell to No. 70 in rushing in 2014, at 158.8 ypg (4.3 ypc).

This year’s ground attack might end up being more productive, but with a different style. Four of five starters return in the OL, plus rapidly-blossoming 6-4 soph TE Austin Hooper (40 recs. LY), who should improve as a blocker. But the spring focus was on getting more carries for the speedy 6-0, 197 McCaffrey, son of former Stanford and NFL star Ed. RBs Wright and Sanders return, and coaches say the TE group overall is improved this season.

With a varied WR core, veteran QB Hogan is expected to get more opportunities to spread out defenses. The 2½-year starter focused in the offseason on smoothing his mechanics and “playing faster” in his final campaign. Muscular sr. WR Devon Cajuste (34 recs. LY) goes 6-4, 229, while 6-1 sr. Michael Rector and 6-3 soph Francis Owusu provide the speed. In his final season, Hogan will get more chances to “attack” defenses rather than merely “guide” the offense.

The rock-ribbed Stanford defense of last year gave up only 16.4 ppg (No. 2 in the nation) and was No. 5 in sacks with 46. But there were only four starters back in spring, and hard-hitting safety Zach Hoffpauir might depart after in the summer if he is drafted high enough as an outfielder in baseball, his professed first love.

Last year’s starting front three has departed. But the drop-off might not be that great. Sr. DE Brennan Scarlett, usually Cal’s best pass rusher, has taken a graduate transfer across the Bay so he can be with his younger brother, Brian, a blue-chip RB coming off an ACL tear in high school. Sr. DE Aziz Shittu was contributing last year when felled by injury at midseason. And 6-3, 256 DE Solomon Thomas was redshirted last year to bulk up.

There is solid leadership at LB, with two of four returning, those being 6-2, 247 top tackler ILB Blake Martinez (102 Ts, 4½ sacks LY) and 6-4, 245 OLB Kevin Anderson (52 & 5½). Projected new starters Peter Kalambayi (6-3, 245) & Kevin Palma (6-2, 253) have the big-time LB size that 85% of the other FBS teams would die for.

The secondary is where Stanford might end up being most vulnerable this season, especially if Hoffpauir is syphoned off by baseball, leaving the Cardinal with only one returning DB “starter,” that being sr. Ronnie Harris (only three starts LY, but lots of action at nickel-back and on STs). In anticipation of a need at DB, Shaw moved 6-3, 213 RB Dallas Lloyd and 6-2, 204 WR Kodi Whitfield to safety last season. One of the reasons the secondary is thin is the transfer of sr. starting CB Wayne Lyons to Michigan. Lyons is one of three graduate transfers from the Farm (the other two are hard-hitting FB Patrick Skov to Georgia Tech, and backup C/G Kevin Reihner to Penn State).

SUMMARY...Stanford is in the midst of some retooling, and Hogan will be asked to do more early in the season. But the Cardinal might have a little time flexibility to find its best 2015 recipe, as the important Pac-12 North showdown with Oregon isn’t until Game Ten, and that contest takes place in Palo Alto. If Stanford can find a way to win at Southern Cal Sept. 19, the Cardinal should be in the North title chase for the duration, as its only remaining conference road games will be at beatable Oregon State, Washington State, and Colorado.

CALIFORNIA (2014 Straight-Up Record 5-7; Pointspread Record 7-4-1; Over/Under 7-5)...The picture is finally starting to brighten for HC Sonny Dykes in Berkeley. Year One of his tenure yielded only one lonely victory, that being over FCS foe Portland State. In Year Two at Cal, the Bears were 5-7 overall, making victims of Northwestern, Sacramento State, Colorado (in OT), Washington State (by a score of 60-59 after yielding 812 yards!), and Oregon State. Moreover, those five triumphs were achieved despite a Cal defense that was often critically thinned by injuries after lacking much stopping power to begin with.

After posting just terrible statistics on defense in 2014, Dykes and second-year def. coord. Art Kaufman are hoping the painful experience of last season and a little added incoming depth will help make the Bears’ stoppers more competitive. First, however, Dykes & Kaufman had to first endure the departure of pass-rushing senior DE Brennan Scarlett to arch-rival Stanford (where Scarlett will be a teammate of incoming freshman RB Cameron, his brother). And senior backup S Avery Sebastian left for Notre Dame.

However, with eight frequent starters back from last year’s battered platoon, it seems that up is the only way to go for Cal’s awful defensive stats—last in the nation in pass defense (367 ypg), 121st in total defense (511.8 ypg), and 120th in scoring defense (39.8 ppg). With hundreds of opportunities in the pass-happy Pac. 12, the Bears collected only 16 sacks (Utah and Washington finished one-two in the nation with 55 and 52 respectively). There was a little toughness displayed vs. opposing runners, as Cal allowed only 4.0 ypc on the ground. That was partly due to an improving group of young LBs, but also due to the eagerness of foes to attack the injury-thinned, inexperienced Bear defense that was forced to cover way too much territory vs. QBs with far too much time to pick their targets.

That pass-rush absence remains an issue in Berkely, even though sr. DE Todd Barr (2 sacks) and sr. DT Jalil Mustafa (5½ TFL) return up front. LB figures to be the strength of the defense, with jr. Michael Barton (80 Ts LY), jr. Hardy W. Nickerson (son of the Cal alum and NFL star; 69 Ts), sr. Jalen Jefferson (58 Ts; 2 sacks), and 6-3, 245 soph Devante Downs (34 Ts, 3 sacks) all back.

Reinforcements for the secondary are on the way in the summer, where 5 or 6 freshmen might immediately be assigned to DB. Change was already underway in spring, where early-enrolling juco Derron Brown impressed, and where soph backup QB Luke Rubenzer got a lengthy trial, showing a nose for the ball with several interceptions. If kept on defense, Rubenzer (2 TDP, 3 ints., 207 YR in 2014), who played plenty of DB in high school, will still be armed with a handful of plays as a change-of-pace QB. And one of Dykes’ goals in spring was to stay healthy, which the Bears did, giving injured safeties Stefan McClure (50 Ts; only 8 games LY) and 6-3 jr. Griffin Piatt (3 ints. in the first six games LY before a major knee injury) a chance to be ready for August. Juniors Cameron Walker & Cedric Dozier, plus soph Darius Allensworth, showed potential at CB or nickel back, combining for 139 tackles. The depth seems present in the secondary this season if the Bears can find or develop some precious pass rushers.

Offense is a different story for Cal, with an uptempo attack led by highly-regarded, 6-4, 210 jr. QB Jared Goff, a prime NFL prospect. With Goff (62%, 3973 YP, 35 TDs, only 7 ints.) firing away until the end, the Bears were 6th in passing in 2014 with 346 ypg and 11th in scoring at 38.3 ppg. Most of Goff’s top targets return, led by 6-3 jr. WR Kenny Lawler (54 recs., 9 TDs), 5-11 sr. Bryce Treggs (52 & 6), and sr. TE Stephen Anderson (46 & 5). Five receivers with 5 or more TDC in 2014 are back.

Goff will also be able to call upon a competent ground game, with three starters back in the Bears’ OL, plus 6-0, 210 sr. workhorse back Daniel Lasco (1115 YR, 5.3 ypc LY) and 5-7 speedster Khalfani Muhammad (only 215 YR in 2014 due to injuries, but 445 YR as a freshman in 2013). Sprinter/RB Muhammad can cover an open field in a blink if left unintended. Blue chip RB Lonny Powell might also join the fray in his true freshman season, while 6-3 redshirt freshman Chase Forrest from SoCal high school power Mater Dei might take over as Goff’s primary backup.

SUMMARY...Cal still has not beaten a Pac-12 contender using Dykes’ fast-paced (81.3 plays per game; 7th in the FBS), wide-open spread, partly because his Dykes’ defense has lacked the speed and depth to support and complement the attack. With just a little bit of injury luck, the Bear defense should be on the rebound in 2015. But California’s arduous road schedule (at Texas, at Washington, at Utah, at UCLA, at Oregon, at Stanford) appears foreboding, so it’s not easy to predict a Golden Bear return to the bowls for the first time since 2011.

However, Cal backers should not despair, as the Bears’ potent offense/porous defense combination has produced a somewhat-predictable pointspread pattern, with California 6-1-1 as a dog in 2014, but only 1-3 as a favorite.

WASHINGTON STATE (SUR 3-9; PSR 4-8; O/U 6-6)...How many synonyms are there for eccentric? Quite a few, actually. And many of them apply quite well in describing Washington State coach Mike Leach, beginning his fourth season in Pullman (where he’s 12-23), Leach’s 14th season overall as a head coach. The pass-happy, pirate-loving mentor is actually making a few changes this season to his Air Raid aerial attack, as Leach plans to have his QB under center for about one quarter of 2015's plays rather than in the coach’s seemingly omnipresent shotgun.

The Cougars were the most heavily pass-oriented team in the nation last season, with a 4:1 ratio of passes to runs. More importantly, WSU was last in the nation in rushing with only 39.8 ypg. That’s not a lot of ball control to help a defense and not a lot of diversion to keep opposing pass rushers from clawing at Cougar QBs.

What coaches say in the spring doesn’t always come to pass in the fall. But Leach says he’s not making the adjustment just to prepare his QB for sneaks and dives (which could have proven helpful in recent years, had they been available). Leach contends there will be sweeps by RBs and WRs, plus some play-action passes.

Truly, the Wazzu attack needed some new elements after producing only three victories in 2014 despite leading the nation's pass offenses with 478 ypg thru the air, generating 45 TD passes and 31.8 ppg. However, Pac-12 defenses that are well familiar with wide-open offenses found success vs. the Cougars with 36 sacks, 18 ints., and dozens of painful hits on Cougar QBs. Prolific starter Connor Halliday was lost for the rest of the season in the ninth game last year with a broken ankle.

This year’s expected starter is slender 6-4, 208 redshirt soph Luke Falk, a former walk-on with a passing background who impressed--and how--in his 3 ½- game run as No. 1 last season. In his first career start, at Oregon State, Falk connected for 471 yards and 5 TDs with no interceptions. In his second start, he milked the Air Raid for 601 YP, but endured a deadly 4 ints. at Arizona State. And, in his third, Falk suffered two ints. in a sound whuppin’ vs. hated Washington (UW led 31-0 in the fourth quarter). So, before WSU begins moving up the Pac-12 “food chain,” Falk has some learning to do. Falk’s backup going into summer will be undersized 6-0, 185 RS frosh pocket passer Peyton Bender.

The good news for Falk is that Wazzu returns a fairly solid nucleus elsewhere on offense. It has taken Leach a while, but he now has the tall, long-armed, OL pass protectors in quantity like the ones he developed while at Texas Tech. All WSU OL starters return, but they must now be able to pick up the nuances of blocking for a QB under center at times after training virtually exclusively to be road blocks in the Air Raid shotgun.

5-8 soph smurf Jamal Morrow (352 YR) is the leading returning RB, but will get help from 5-11, 211 soph Gerard Willis (2345 YR) when a little more punch is preferred. Despite losing top receiving duo Vince Mayle (106 recs.) and Isiah Myers (78) from LY, the Cougars still return 5-11 jr. River Cracraft (66 & 8 TDs) and 6-2 sr. Dom Williams (43 & 9). Plus, 6-0 jr. Gabe Marks returns from a reshirt season after leading the team in 2013 with 74 recs. and 7 TDs. Depth at WR is always a priority for Leach, who believes he must be at least two deep each of the four receiver spots because of the repeated stretch-the-field patterns in the Air Raid coupled with the high number of heavy hits his wideouts absorb from opposing DBs seeking to intimidate.

On defense, it almost doesn’t matter how many starters are returning from a unit that allowed 38.6 ppg and 297 ypg passing (only Cal was worse). The Cougar defenders collected only 3 ints. and total of just 8 takeaways, tied for last in the nation. Opponents surpassed the 40-point mark five times.

To help make his defense more stingy, Leach has imported a grinch--specifically Alex Grinch--safeties coach the L3Ys at Missouri, where the Tigers have surprised with consecutive SEC East titles. The Cougar defense was often overworked last season due to the team’s offensive style, and toward the end of the campaign, the Cougar starting secondary was comprised of one soph, two redshirt freshmen, and one true freshman. On the plus side for this season, the young WSU defenders fo 2014 got lots of experience that could now be valuable.

Grinch is expected to employ a 3-4 base, with lots of variations, as the strength of the defense will likely be its LBs, including seniors Kache Palacio (6½ sacks) and Ivan McLennan (4½). Grinch appears to have a few of the ingredients (speedy edge rushers) that Mizzou has developed with good results the past couple of years. Overall, however, the Cougar unit remains undersized in the front seven and overall, and vulnerable as its DBs gain more experience and savvy.

SUMMARY...QB Falk (three starts, six appearances LY) showed plenty of potential. And he should benefit from a few more runs that are reportedly in the works this season. The undersized defense returns some experienced youth. Wazzu was only 3-5 as a dog LY, but many of Leach’s teams have done better. A bowl game seems unlikely this season. However, as Falk progresses along the QB learning curve (and, hopefully, avoids injury), the Cougars should regain a little of their underdog mojo of the past and perhaps be quite a Pac-12 pest by the middle of the season.

WASHINGTON (SUR 8-6; PSR 7-7; O/U 4-10; Lost 30-22 to Oklahoma State in the Cactus Bowl)...Washington begins its second season under Chris Petersen with several important question marks. First and foremost is at QB, where 2014 starter Cyler Miles (67%, 17 TDs, only 4 ints.; 307 YR) initially took an involuntary leave of absence not related to last year’s discipline issues, then announced in mid-June that he would be retiring from football due to a hip injury. That means the QB spot will go to either 6-3, 244 jr. Jeff Lindquist, 6-2, 205 true freshman Jake Browning, or 6-2, 219 RS freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels. Lindquist, boasting UW’s only QB starting experience, started one game last year and was 10 of 30 passing overall, plus 16 for 63 rushing. Browning is a four-star recruit and early enrollee, but exhibited some decision-making and interception problems in spring. Carta-Samuels is a dual threat who ran the scout team last season. Juco Tony Rodriquez was a mid-June add. As at most places, inexperience at QB usually portends difficulty in the high-octane Pac-12.

Petersen will also be missing a key cog in his WR corps, as speedy WR/KR/CB John Ross III will miss the season due to a leg injury in spring. The Huskies still have an experienced receiving nucleus with 5-11 sr. Jaydon Mickens (60 recs. LY), 6-0 soph Dane Pettis (17), and sr. TE Joshua Perkins (25, 3 TDs LY). However, the Huskies were a handy +12 in TO margin LY, due partly to only six tossed interceptions. Expect that +12 number to decline and number of ints. to increase considering the situation at QB.

With the Huskies expected to emphasize the running game early, UW might not even match last year’s 200.1 ypg passing, only 87th in the country. There is proven ability at RB in a couple of hammers--6-2, 221 Dwayne Washington (697 YR in 2014) and 5-11, 221 soph Avon Coleman. But the OL will feature three new starters.

Last year, UW allowed 24.8 ppg while collecting 52 sacks. That latter number was second in the nation, thanks largely to the presence of rugged DT Danny Shelton (12th overall to Cleveland), OLB/RB Shaq Thompson (25th to Jacksonville), and DE/OLB Hau’oli Kikaha (44th overall to New Orleans). Now, for 2015, only one member of last year’s voracious starting front seven returns, that being 6-4, 225 OLB Travis Feeney (only one sack LY).

Last season’s weakest defensive unit--the secondary--is now its most experienced, especially after headstrong sr. starting CB Marcus Peters was dismissed from the team after nine games. This year’s DBs are still young, but promising soph CB Sidney Jones (two ints. LY) and soph safety Budda Baker (fourth on the team in tackles) have given every indication they will be key playmakers. In fact, because of his speed, Baker was given some trials at slot receiver and RB in spring. Given Petersen’s penchant for creative use of his roster while at Boise State and at UW (LB Shaq Thompson 4 TDs on defense in 2014, plus 456 YR and 2 TDs on offense), a sighting of Budda on offense in 2015 would come as no surprise.

It might be too soon to write off the Huskies in 2015. There is still plenty of high-quality talent in Seattle. However, after last season’s 8-6 finish (and disappointing 30-22 Cactus Bowl loss to Oklahoma State) there was a general consensus that 2014 was a bit of a disappointment. This spring, upon reflection, the once hotly-pursued Petersen admitted, “It’s hard to be new.” Some say the HC rubbed many the wrong way with his furious attention to detail, which was a big change from the more laid-back Steve Sarkisian regime. Players have now mostly adjusted. And assistant coaches now say they are relieved to be implementing some of the nuances of the Petersen schemes rather than just getting and keeping all their players on the same page. Says the head coach, “I feel like the last third of the season, we really figured out how we wanted to practice; how we wanted to prepare for games. You could really feel us changing. The bowl game was disappointing.”

SUMMARY...With his starting QB, his speediest WR, and the guts of 2014's intimidating defense gone, Petersen’s coaching talents will be challenged early and often in 2015. UW’s season opener is at Boise State, where Petersen served as an asst. or HC for 14 seasons! At least the hosting Broncos will also be breaking in a new starting QB. But--with road games not only at Boise, but also at USC, Stanford, and Arizona State--the Huskies most likely will have to overachieve a bit in 2015 to extend their streak of five straight bowls.

NOTE: UW has lost and has failed to cover 11 straight years against bitter northwest rival Oregon!!! The horror!

OREGON STATE (SUR 5-7; PSR 2-10; O/U 6-6)...Major changes are on the way in Corvallis. Long-time Beaver coach Mike Riley decided in December to accept a compelling offer to take his experience and upbeat style to “redder” pastures, succeeding the deposed Bo Pelini at Nebraska. In truth, however, many at Oregon State thought the program was in need of change anyway after falling so far behind Oregon’s Ducks in the Beavers’ home state and behind most of the expanded Pac-12. Last year, the Beavs were only 5-7 straight-up (2-10 vs. the spread), and they lost 6 of their last 7 games.

Incoming is Gary Andersen, a proven winner at Utah State and Wisconsin, who resigned in Madison citing “family considerations.” Born in Salt Lake City, Andersen has spent the vast majority of his playing and coaching career in the Utah, Idaho, Northern Arizona area. And, despite the surprise expressed by the Wisconsin administration, many in Madison were not unhappy to see Andersen leave. For one thing, the reserved HC had a difficult time getting the Badger Nation to warm to him after the departure of the boisterous, boastful Bret Bielema to Arkansas. For another, Andersen wasn’t ranking very high on the popularity meter in Madison after Ohio State went all Ronda Rousey on UW in the Big Ten title game, annihilating the Badgers 59-0, even with No. 3 QB Cardale Jones making his first career start.

Now, Andersen is trying to lower expectations a bit as he takes over at OSU. After all, the 2015 Beavers have no experience at QB. Only two full-time starters return on defense. Also, Andersen has brought in a new staff. And the new HC is changing the systems on both offense and defense. Moreover, potential starting QB Luke Del Rio has transferred to Florida, where he is better suited to the Gators’ new pro-style system. The Andersen regime has been slowed by five Beaver players who have had to give up football since the end of last year for medical reasons, including potential starting CB Dashon Hunt, a former four-star recruit and one of the plums of the team’s 2013 class.

In order to aid his green QBs and to provide some protection for his rebuilding defense, Andersen is installing the uptempo, run-oriented attack that has become his trademark as a HC at Utah State and Wisconsin. Says Andersen, “I’m not going to...make any promises. But everywhere we’ve been, we’ve run the ball effectively.” (See Melvin Gordon’s 2587 YR last year at Wisconsin.) Helping OSU in that endeavor this season will be an OL with five returning starters, including Rimington candidate sr. C Josh Mitchell and versatile 6-6, 340 G/T Gavin Andrews. Andersen’s teams have usually featured a solid one-two RB punch, and this year’s duo will be 6-0, 210 sr. Storm Woods (766 YR & 6.3 ypc LY) and 5-10, 205 jr. Chris Brown, who showed excellent development in spring.

The WR group has a good nucleus with quick 5-9 jr. Victor Bolden (72 recs. LY), and burly 6-4, 235 soph Jordan Villamin (35 recs. & 6 TDs), who had a fast finish LY even while the team was struggling. However, sure-handed sr. Richard Mullaney (52 recs. in 2013, but only six games LY due to an elbow injury) decided in June to transfer.

Departed Oregon State QB Sean Mannion, a starter for most of his four years in Corvallis and the third-round pick of St. Louis, graduated as the all-time leader in passing yardage in the Pac-12. But Mannion was not the best QB in the Pac-12 last season. To be honest, he wasn’t even the third best (Marcus Mariota of Oregon, Brett Hundley of UCLA, and Cody Kessler of USC all were playing better, and maybe even a couple of others as well), as the poorly-balanced Beavers gave up 36 sacks and converted only 32% on third down.

With this year’s no-huddle, quick-hitting system, Andersen says it will be required for his QBs to be as athletic as possible, a far different requirement than for the pocket-passing Mannion in Riley’s aerial attack. And, with no experience on hand, early-enrolling 6-3, 186 true frosh dual-threat Seth Collins goes into August practice as the most likely starter for the season opener vs. Weber State (to be followed by a trip to Michigan). Collins excelled in the spring game (Andersen says Collins made some “Wow” plays that were amazing), but must improve further in order to be ready for the season. Battling him for the No. 1 spot will be 6-2 RS freshman Nick Mitchell, more of a pocket type. 6-1 RS freshman dual-threat Marcus McMaryion was No. 3 after spring. Before the Beaver faithful despair about their prospects for 2015, it should be remembered that it was Anderson who successfully launched the career of skinny true freshman Chuckie Keeton at Utah State in 2011.

With only two returning starters, there is obviously major work to be done on a defense that gave up 37 points or more in 5 of last year’s last 6 games. Tasked with the job of turning things around is new defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, most recently asst. HC/def. coord./LB coach at Utah. Sitake has a relationship with Andersen dating back to 2003 at Southern Utah. Sitake had a big hand in developing the voracious defenses at Utah in recent seasons, as the Utes led the FBS in sacks last year with 55. Andersen is changing OSU’s familiar 4-3 front to a 3-4 base, saying one of his greatest priorities is finding six aggressive DLmen to rotate up front. One of those spots is likely to be manned by 6-3, 262 sr. Lavonte Barnett (4½ sacks LY), with coaches hoping that 6-2, 295 jr. Jason Grimble--a former University of Miami transfer--will be ready to go after missing six games LY with a knee injury.

Sr. starting CB Larry Scott returns in the secondary, as does soph N-B Justin Strong, the team’s leading returning tackler with 56. But the Orange and Black will be very “green” in the back seven next year in a conference loaded with potent, wide-open attacks.

SUMMARY...Easiest prediction for OSU in 2015--growing pains. With a new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive systems, inexperience at QB, and a rebuilding defense, the Beavers will have to fight hard merely to stay afloat in the Pac-12. However, with a veteran OL, RBs, and experienced receivers, Andersen has the core to support a young, but competent QB--IF he can develop one. Andersen’s lack of swagger and sparkle disappointed at Wisconsin. But he might be just what the doctor ordered in the long run in at Oregon State, which was due for a change in order to keep pace in the in the highly-competitive Pac-12.



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