The college football world has been waiting for the return of the powerhouse that is known as USC, but it has been sometime since the Trojans have been relevant on the national stage.
Following the mid-season firing of head coach Steve Sarkisian, Southern California turned to their offensive coordinator Clay Helton who led the Trojans to a 5-4 record down the stretch and a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game. USC officially promoted Helton from interim coach to head coach during the off-season. 2016 will be Helton’s first full season as a head coach.
USC is another team that will feature a new starting quarterback as junior Max Browne takes the reigns from Cody Kessler. Browne, a former National High School Player of the Year, will have one of biggest playmakers in the nation to throw to in junior wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster. An experienced secondary will have to help bring along a young defensive front that has no returning starters.
It might be surprising to see the Huskies on the list of contenders but under former Boise State head coach Chris Peterson, Washington is poised to make a jump into the upper echelon of the Pac-12 sooner rather than later.
The Huskies return sophomore quarterback Jake Browning who started all 13 games a season ago while throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and 16 touchdowns. If the offensive line can improve this season, Browning could be one of the better young quarterbacks in the conference.
If the Huskies are truly contenders in the Pac-12 it will be because of their defense which allowed a league-low 18.8 points per game in 2015.
After a rough 3-3 start to last season, Oregon rebounded to finish a respectable 9-4 in 2015. Once again the Ducks are bringing in a graduate transfer to compete for the starting QB spot. Former Montana State QB Dakota Prukop has had an impressive spring and figures to be the starter come Fall. Although redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen is not far behind.
Oregon made one of the more interesting hires during the summer when they brought in former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke to be their defensive coordinator. Hoke is unveiling his new 4-3 scheme and will have to replace 5 starters on defense.
If the Ducks can play like they did in the 2nd half of the season where they won 6 straight games, including a 38-36 win over eventual Pac-12 champ Stanford, then they will be in the mix when it’s all said and done.