With spring practices starting up throughout the Pac-12, we're taking a look at some of the strengths and weaknesses for the conference title race in 2017. Last week, we examined the biggest strengths of every Pac-12 team. Today, it's time for the weaknesses.
We start with the North:
Cal: Quarterback. The Bears have five quarterbacks on the 2017 spring roster, but only one who has attempted a pass in college football (Chase Forrest attempted 18 passes during the 2015 season). That’s not exactly promising for Justin Wilcox’s first season and it’s certainly not great news for a Cal wide receiver group that could be one of the best in the conference. Cal will have all five on campus this spring to compete through spring ball, but in terms of North quarterbacks, the Bears will be the only program without any kind of significant college QB experience on the roster in 2017.
Oregon: Run defense. Yes, Oregon returns a lot on the defensive side of the ball in 2017, but the group needs to make major, major strides to get caught up to speed with the rest of the conference after finishing 2016 as the seventh-worst run defense in FBS (5.7 yards per carry). They finished last and second-to-last in FBS in two major run defense categories -- rushing touchdowns (Oregon gave up 38) and 10-yard rushes (Oregon gave up 108 -- more than one-fifth of opponent rushes went for 10-plus yards). Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt has his work cut out for him up front when it comes to the Ducks run defense.
Oregon State: Offensive line. The Beavers need to replace three starters from their offensive line a season ago and without a functioning, consistent offensive line, Oregon State’s passing game (which remains a question mark) and run game (which rests in the capable hands of Ryan Nall) will be at a huge deficit. How bad could it be? Currently, Houston Sumner -- a converted defensive lineman who hasn’t taken center snaps since elementary school -- is working with the first-team offensive line. But, with a healthy position group and T.J. Woods running the offensive line, the Beavers have the benefit of using this spring to start formulating their pecking order so they can be ready to hit the ground running (pun intended) next fall.
Stanford: Quarterback. There’s so much uncertainty at quarterback for the Cardinal. Keller Chryst is sitting out the spring, which opens up reps for Ryan Burns and K.J. Costello. That means this competition really won’t kick off until fall camp (when David Shaw hopes Chryst will be 100 percent and 2017 signee Davis Mills will be enrolled), and that’s far from ideal considering the Cardinal will get no kind of easy lead-in to the season. Stanford can get the ball rolling against Rice in Week 1, but Week 2 is a road trip to USC and Week 4 is UCLA at home. The delayed start to this competition and the 0-to-60-mph-start to the season will put a real crunch on a position group that already seemed lacking.
Washington: Cornerback. The Huskies lost both starting cornerbacks from a season ago -- lock down Sidney Jones and the rangy and athletic Kevin King. It certainly doesn’t help the corners that safety Budda Baker has also departed, leaving three open spots in the Washington secondary. Defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake will find himself working in some new faces to the rotation as he figures out how to keep this unit functioning at full speed. Washington has been able to reload on defense recently so even if this unit is a weakness to start out the season, don’t expect it to be too glaring of a deficiency for the Huskies. Even if freshmen like Elijah Molden or Keith Taylor get on the field here, the secondary could continue to be a strength for Chris Petersen and Co.
Washington State: Wide receiver. The Cougars have the opposite problem of Cal -- instead of wide receivers without experienced QB play, Wazzu has an experienced QB without experienced wide receivers. The Cougars had to bid farewell to Gabe Marks and River Cracraft, who combined for 142 catches in 2016. Last season, Mike Leach turned to his running backs in the passing game more than he ever had in his career and with all three back, it’s fair to think he’ll do the same in 2017. But Leach will need more long-range, deep threats to join Tavares Martin Jr. in order to keep the Air Raid as lethal as possible.