Gold: A New Year's resolution for every Pac-12 team
Ah, the dawning of a new year, and with it, a chance to make amends and change behaviors.
Gyms will fill, diets will start and Pac-12 coaches will get down to business.
Here are New Year’s Resolutions for each of the Pac-12 teams:
Arizona: A full defensive makeover
The Wildcats ranked 11th in the conference, ahead of just Colorado, in most defensive categories.
The one that stands out to me is yards per play. Arizona allowed 6.6 yards per play to opposing offenses, and an average of 467.67 yards per game.
The Wildcats have to get better on every single play next season, not just rise to the occasion.
Arizona State: Take advantage of opposing mistakes
It’s almost an impossible number: The Sun Devils recovered just 1 fumble this year.
That means every time the ball bounced on the ground, it bounced the wrong way. Or it means that the Sun Devils didn’t get after it nearly enough.
That’s my vote. We’ll see if ASU can play with the energy of its new young head coach, Kenny Dillingham.
Cal: Commit to the running game
Despite boasting one of the league’s best young running backs, the Bears ground game simply disappeared at times. Jaydn Ott had 274 yards in one game, but there were times Cal almost completely abandoned him in the running game.
Justin Wilcox needs to establish an offensive identity, and relying on Ott would be a good start.
Colorado: Buy in to Coach Prime
Deion Sanders ruffled a few feathers when video was released of him basically telling a bunch of returning Colorado players that they wouldn’t have roles on his 2023 team. And, sure, there is always a fair amount of turnaround any time there is a new head coach in charge.
But Coach Prime is an entity to himself, and he’s going to bring a set of renewed hype, enthusiasm and energy — as well as a ton more scrutiny — to the Buffaloes.
The players must find a way to fall in line quickly or risk being replaced without much fanfare.
Oregon: Keep Bo Nix healthy
It’s pretty clear the difference between a fully functional Bo Nix and whatever we saw toward the end of the season. Without his legs as a weapon, Nix was forced to rely entirely on his arm in the last quarter of the season and the Ducks’ narrow Holiday Bowl victory over North Carolina.
When Nix is healthy, he’s maybe the most dangerous quarterback in the league, if not the country. When he’s limited, Oregon’s entire offensive outlook changed.
Oregon State: Take the next step
The Beavers had a terrific season, and the turnaround from when head coach Jonathan Smith arrived appears nearly complete.
But Oregon State has to find a way to compete with the big dogs, in-state rival Oregon withstanding. The Beavers beat the Ducks in stunning fashion in the season finale, but they suffered losses to USC, Utah and Washington, three teams along with them at the top of the Pac-12 heap.
If OSU can reverse the 3-point losses it suffered to both the Huskies and Trojans, the Beavers are looking at an 11-1 season.
Stanford: Rediscover its purpose
The Cardinal felt like a Big Ten or Big-12 team in the Pac-12 for almost a decade there. Tough, mean, nasty and big — most importantly big — across both sides of the line.
As its top-line recruiting has fallen, so to has Stanford’s fortunes.
The Cardinal need to get back to the kind of grind-up rushing attack and tough-nosed defense that became its calling card in the 2010s.
UCLA: Button up that pass defense
Midway through the season, it appeared the Bruins were taking major strides toward correcting a pass defense that had plagued it since Chip Kelly’s arrival in 2018. The replacement of Jerry Azzinarro with Bill McGovern appeared to be paying off, a retooled pass rush with some nice transfer portal talent was stepping up.
When the Bruins (relatively) stifled Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. and Utah’s Cam Rising in back-to-back wins over top-15 opponents, it was hailed as a new day in Westwood. Then Oregon happened. Then Arizona and USC happened, and to some extent, Cal. Then Pitt happened. In UCLA’s four losses, it allowed a total of 110 1st downs and 1,292 passing yards.
The Bruins finished 11th in the conference in pass yardage allowed and 9th in pass defense efficiency. No amount of offensive talent can make up for that.
USC: Button up that run defense
Four Pac-12 defenses allowed under 3.9 yards per carry. Six allowed fewer than 20 rushing touchdowns.
The USC rushing defense surrendered 4.66 yards per carry and 25 rushing touchdowns to opposing offenses.
Much of the ire around the Trojans defense was centered around a pass defense that seemed to allow big plays with little resistance. But the Trojans ranked a respectable 7th in the league in pass defense efficiency and had a ton of interceptions.
Shoring up that rush defense is the more pressing concern.
Utah: Develop some wide receivers
The Utes boasted a fine passing game in 2022, but that was mainly due to the strength of two of college football’s best tight ends — Brant Kuithe and Dalton Kincaid.
Utah didn’t have much at wide receiver aside from Devaughn Vele, and whether Cam Rising returns at quarterback or not, the Utes are going to develop a more varied downfield attack.
Washington: Get some umbrellas — or a pass defense
Yeah, it rains in Seattle, we get it. But seriously, the Huskies needed some aerial protection in 2022, as the pass defense just didn’t cut it.
The Huskies pass defense efficiency ranked 10th in the conference, ahead of just Arizona and Colorado, two of the worst pass defenses in all the land. Washington also allowed 25 touchdowns through the air, tying with the Wildcats for 2nd-worst.
Even if Michael Penix Jr. is back to throw bombs in 2023, it won’t matter much if the Huskies don’t protect themselves better.
Washington State: Become more efficient on 3rd down
The Cougars had another good year with 7 wins in Jake Dickert’s first season at the helm.
But for Dickert to really leave his mark, his offense will need to become more consistent, particularly in the clutch. The Cougars only converted 36.36 on 3rd downs, finishing with just 64 3rd-down conversions on the year, or just more than five per game.