Pac-12 spring preview: North Division

We're taking a look at the key issues Pac-12 North Division teams face this spring.

Kevin will take a look at the South Division on Friday.


Spring start: Feb. 25

Spring game: March 23

What to watch:

1. Who's the QB? One of the big reasons that Jeff Tedford's star fell in Berkeley was because he was unable to maintain his early success developing quarterbacks over the past five or so seasons. New coach Sonny Dykes is an offensive-minded guy who built high-powered offenses at Arizona and then as Louisiana Tech's head coach. He'll be choosing between touted redshirt freshman Zach Kline, longtime backup Allan Bridgford and several others.

2. New defense: Under new defensive coordinator Andy Buh, the Bears will be switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base front. That means guys who were outside linebackers will be putting their hands on the ground and some defensive ends will be moving inside to tackle spots. Buh needs to win over a crew that had a pretty solid degree of success with a 3-4, excluding, of course, the 2012 season.

3. Skill questions: There are questions all over the offense, and leaving off an offensive line that gave up 41 sacks last year might be a mistake. But the Bears have real issues with the guys who will be touching the ball in 2013. Cal must replace its top two rushers from 2012, and the top two candidates to step up will sit out with injuries this spring: Brendan Bigelow and Daniel Lasco. Further, receiver Chris Harper and tight end Richard Rodgers are out.


Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:

1. Players reacting to new coaches: Mark Helfrich and Scott Frost step in as head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively. Ron Aiken and Matt Lubick join the staff at defensive line coach and wide receivers coach, respectively. How much will things change after Chip Kelly's departure?

2. Next man up: Which young players will take the next step? Defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, running back Byron Marshall, receivers Chance Allen and B.J. Kelley and safety Reggie Daniels have the ability and will have the opportunity in 2013.

3. Replacing departing linebackers: Linebacker is the position with the most questions heading into the spring. Who will replace Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso? Tyson Coleman, Derrick Malone, Rodney Hardrick and Joe Walker will battle for the spots vacated by the All-Pac-12 performers.

-- Brandon P. Oliver, DuckNation


Spring start: April 1

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:

1. Cody Vaz or Sean Mannion? Or is that Mannion or Vaz? The Beavers have a nice core of talent coming back on offense, but much depends on -- finally -- figuring out the true No. 1 triggerman. Mannion was the starter at the beginning of 2012 but fell out of favor. Vaz did himself no favors by the way he played in the Alamo Bowl against Texas. Vaz might be the front-runner, but Mannion has more overall talent.

2. Defensive tackle: The Beavers must replace both starting defensive tackles, and Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo were underrated players who were very valuable to a very good run defense. The top four backups in 2012 had 12 tackles combined. Further, the recently reinstated Mana Rosa will miss spring with a foot injury. Youngsters and JC transfers are going to need to step up.

3. Receiver depth: Leading receiver Markus Wheaton is gone, but Brandin Cooks is back. That's a good start at receiver, but things are a little sketchy after that. Kevin Cummings was the third leading pass-catcher among the receivers last year, but he caught just 18 balls. Is the intriguing but unproductive Obum Gwacham ready to step up? The high jumper dropped track this spring in order to focus on football. We'll see if it pays off.


Spring start: Feb. 25 and April 1

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Tight end: The tight end obsessed Cardinal lost Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, perhaps the best tandem at the position in the nation in 2012. The general feeling was coach David Shaw therefore would move 2012 fullback Ryan Hewitt back to his former position, but Shaw is hoping a youngster or two, starting with sophomore Luke Kaumatule, will step up. Shaw also moved senior Eddie Plantaric and junior Charlie Hopkins, former defensive linemen, to tight end.

2. Center and left tackle: Shaw wants to move All-American left tackle David Yankey inside to left guard. That would set up a big battle between touted sophomores Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy for the left tackle spot. The loser might still end up starting, perhaps pushing Cameron Fleming at right tackle. Further, center Sam Schwartzstein needs to be replaced. Top candidates are seniors Conor McFadden and Khalil Wilkes, as well as junior Kevin Reihner and sophomore Graham Shuler.

3. Replacing Thomas: The loss of running back Stepfan Taylor became less of an issue when Tyler Gaffney opted to drop baseball for football. The Cardinal seems fairly deep at running back, with Gaffney looking like the lead dog. But what about replacing outside linebacker Chase Thomas? Thomas' 2012 backup, Alex Debniak, also graduated. The most obvious answer would be sophomore Kevin Anderson, who had seven tackles and two sacks as Trent Murphy's backup last fall.


Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Quarterbacks: As he prepares for his senior season, Keith Price is the incumbent at quarterback. However, he is coming off an up-and-down campaign as a junior and some wonder if one of the younger quarterbacks in the program -- Cyler Miles, Jeff Lindquist or early enrollee Troy Williams -- could push Price for the starting job.

2. Offensive line: Injuries vaulted young players into starting roles in 2012. While the group struggled at times, the experience should lead to improvement, and it will be interesting to see how this group develops throughout the spring.

3. Early enrollees: Williams and safety Trevor Walker are getting early starts on their college careers. The incoming freshmen want to make an impact right away. Kicker Cameron Van Winkle also plans to enroll before the end of spring practice and should push for a starting job as a true freshman.

-- Mason Kelley, HuskyNation


Spring start: March 21

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Is Halliday Leach's guy? Quarterback Connor Halliday has plenty of starting experience and he's played well at times. He seems like the front-runner to start in 2013. But he's also been inconsistent, and that clearly frustrated coach Mike Leach last year. Halliday needs to end all doubt this spring, or he could get challenged by redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca, incoming freshman Tyler Bruggman or perhaps someone else this fall.

2. The O (No!) line: A team cannot give up 57 sacks in 12 games and expect to have a good season. While Leach isn't a big fan of running the ball, 29 yards rushing per game -- a 1.4 yards per carry average, no less -- isn't going to cut it, either. Four starters return from the 2012 O-line. That may or may not be a good thing. To have any legitimate chance at a bowl game in 2013, the Cougs must get better on the offensive line.

3. Going Long on the pass rush: Travis Long was a four-year starter, a guy who was underappreciated because he played on lousy defenses. He's been the Cougs' best defender probably all four years and now he's gone. He led the defense with 9.5 sacks last year, even though everyone knew he was the only true pass-rushing threat. No other Coug had more than three sacks. His backup, junior Logan Mayes, had 2.5 sacks last year. But it's not just about replacing Long, it's about the pass rush in general, which relied heavily on blitzes to create pressure, a big reason the Cougars were 11th in pass efficiency defense in 2012.