Welcome to the Hotline’s preview of the 2019 football season, a month-long rollout of content scheduled for three installments.
Starting today and continuing into next week, we’ll examine issues specific to training camp, the conference’s top newcomers and staff changes most likely to impact performance.
In the middle of the month, we’ll transition to team previews that include the Hotline’s annual game-by-game predictions and an expanded offering of commentary and analysis.
The final wave will look at bowl projections, all-conference picks, quarterback ratings and more (much more).
For the South preview below, note that we avoided diving into QB matters except in the case of the one team without a returning starter (Arizona State); nor did we assess the impact of coordinator/staff changes.
Both matters will be addressed in upcoming Hotline columns.
Our preview of North training camps is coming Thursday.
(Note: The head coaches’ comments are from Pac-12 football media day, last week in Hollywood.)
Camp started: July 26
Season opener: Aug. 24 at Hawaii
We’re watching: The Wildcats lost their top-three receivers. Is senior Cedric Peterson ready for a primary role? And who else fills the voids left by Shawn Poindexter and Shun Brown? … The offensive line rotation must be sorted out after losing several regulars from a unit that was a bit thin to begin with … Arizona’s back seven should be solid, but how will the defensive front hold up without PJ Johnson? The Wildcats needed to get bigger in the interior, and JC transfer Myles Tapusoa brings size (330 pounds), but is he an impact player immediately? Two names to watch in August: Jalen Harris and JB Brown.Kevin Sumlin on … Khalil Tate: “You couldn’t be at a higher point in your career than he was walking in here last year … and you couldn’t be at a lower point when you’re in the Rose Bowl in your hometown and you don’t even have a uniform on and you can’t help your team. I think that’s affected how he’s approached the offseason.”
Camp starts: July 31
Season opener: Aug. 29 vs. Kent State
We’re watching: The quarterback competition, where true freshman Jayden Daniels is expected to challenge inexperienced senior Dillon Sterling-Cole. (Working in the Sun Devils’ favor: They open with two cupcakes, giving the coaching staff until the trip to Michigan State in Week Three to sort it out.) … The defensive line is undergoing an overhaul after losing Renell Wren and Jalen Bates. The key here might be Rice transfer Roe Wilkins … ASU has one of the top tailbacks in the country in Eno Benjamin, but who provides the relief? Durable as Benjamin was last season, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if he can manage another 300 carries without injury.Herm Edwards on … inexperience: “We’re going to be very young. But that was part of it. That’s why I sit here today, is that we were going to build a program, and there’s going to be a lot of young players. What’s unique about that is that we were able to do that last year, and some guys were successful, and we want to continue to do that.”
Camp starts: Aug. 1
Season opener: Aug. 30 vs. Colorado State
We’re watching: Laviska Shenault’s reps and health: He broke down last season (understandably) and is recovering from multiple injuries/surgeries. Keeping him fresh through August should be CU’s top priority, followed closely by identifying a secondary option in the passing game (best bet: KD Nixon) … Defensive tackle Mustafa Johnson is one of the best in the conference, but will help emerge from a group of transfers and underclassmen? Name to watch up front: Terrance Lang … Just a few years ago, Colorado was billed as DBU. Without Evan Worthington, the secondary lacks a marquee name entering 2019. Is there a game changer on the roster?Mel Tucker on … his philosophy: “At the end of the day, I have to be myself, and the team is going to be a reflection of me and how I believe the game of football should be played. But the experiences I’ve had have been a tremendous asset for me moving forward. There are going to be some things from Bama, from Georgia, from Ohio State that I’ve learned and that I’m going to install in Boulder.”
Camp starts: July 31
Season opener: Aug. 29 at Cincinnati
We’re watching: The Bruins were No. 117 nationally in tackles-for-loss and 119th in sacks. They’re well stocked at inside linebacker, but who will provide pressure off the edges with Keisean Lucier-South out of action (academic issues) … Within the Pac-12, only Cal produced fewer passing plays of 30+ yards last season. The Bruins must do a better job stretching the field — a task made more difficult by the loss of tight end Caleb Wilson … Freshman tackle Sean Rhyan is touted as one of the top offensive line recruits in school history. Is he ready to wall off the left edge? If so, UCLA will have one of the division’s top lines.Chip Kelly on … habits: “There’s a lot of people that say, ‘New Year’s Day, I’m going to get in shape and I’m going to go work and do other things,’ and it lasts for three days, and then they’re buying chips and soda at the store three days later. Their habits don’t reflect their mission. You all figure out what your mission is and then your habits need to reflect that. So that’s all we’re just trying to emphasize, your habits need to reflect that. That’s all we’re trying to emphasize, making good choices.”
Camp starts: Aug. 2
Season opener: Aug. 31 vs. Fresno State
We’re watching: “Culture, discipline, schemes, personnel and staff” … The offensive line has been overhauled following the departures of starters Chuma Edoga, Toa Lobendahn and Chris Brown. Unless the unit coalesces rapidly under new position coach Tim Drevno — the early-season schedule is ridiculous — the Trojans won’t rise up to challenge Utah … The secondary has more holes than any other unit, especially on the perimeter with vacancies at both corner spots … The sophomore class: quarterback JT Daniels, receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, defensive tackle Jay Tufele, linebacker Palaie Geoteote, safety Talanoa Hufanga — so many of USC’s top playmakers are sophomores. The Trojans need them to play like seniors.Clay Helton on … the team dynamic: “The big men are controlling our team right now, and that’s what you want to see. The best teams that I have been on, the offensive and defensive line have thrived, they control the team, and they’ve controlled the line of scrimmage.”
Camp starts: July 31
Season opener: Aug. 29 at Brigham Young
We’re watching: Utah has one of the nation’s finest tailbacks in Zack Moss, but the departure of Armand Shyne (to Texas Tech) leaves a hole in the backup spot. The top option is probably Devonta’e Henry-Cole, who missed last year due to injury … Loaded as the Utes are on the defensive front, talented as they are in the secondary, a playmaking void exists at linebacker. Francis Bernard, formerly of BYU, and Penn State transfer Manny Bowen — both seniors — are the favorites to man the middle … The program with what’s usually the best kicker-punter combo in the conference is in need of both (Matt Gay and Mitch Wishnowsky have moved on). Freshmen Jadon Redding and Ben Lennon are the top candidates. (UPDATE: Bowen has reportedly left the program.)Kyle Whittingham on … dealing with hype: “We started these discussions with our players two or three months ago because we felt like we were going to have some preseason hype and that type of things, and so we wanted to make sure that we got out ahead of it and talked to our players about just ignoring the noise and just staying focused.”
Why we need your support: Like so many other providers of local journalism across the country, the Hotline’s parent website, mercurynews.com, has moved to a subscription model. A few Hotline stories will remain free each month (as will the newsletter), but for access to all content, you’ll need to subscribe. I’ve secured a rate of 16 cents per day for a full year or 21 cents for six months. (Click here.) And thanks for your loyalty.
*** Send suggestions, comments and tips (confidentiality guaranteed) to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 408-920-5716
*** Follow me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline
*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.