2017 Pac-12 spring summaries: A look at every team's early practices

Dr. Saturday
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaaf/players/255254/" data-ylk="slk:Sam Darnold">Sam Darnold</a> has spent the spring working with a young receiving corps. (Getty)
Sam Darnold has spent the spring working with a young receiving corps. (Getty)

Welcome to spring practice wrap-up week. With most spring practices in the books, it’s time to take a look at each Power Five team’s early 2017 storylines. We start our series with the Pac-12, where Washington and USC enter the season as the conference’s favorites.

ARIZONA (2016 record: 3-9)

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The Wildcats’ spring football session began long ago. Arizona was one of the first teams to begin spring practices, starting its spring session on Feb. 14.

Key takeaway: There’s a lot to work on when you’re attempting to rebound from a 3-9 season and Arizona is integrating a lot of new faces. The Wildcats signed 26 players to scholarships in the 2017 class and, according to coach Rich Rodriguez, there are more than 40 players overall who are new to the program.

“There’s going to be some open competition at all positions,” Rodriguez said after the team’s final scrimmage of the spring. “As of now, there’s 43 of 44 new players joining the squad in June.”

Position battle: With Anu Solomon’s decision to transfer to Baylor, the starting quarterback job is wide open. Brandon Dawkins and Khalil Tate are the two main competitors for the job and Dawkins ran with the No. 1 unit and Tate with the No. 2s in Arizona’s final scrimmage of the season.

From GoAZ Cats.com:

Having a clear cut pecking order at that position is a good thing. It brings a different level of comfort that Arizona hasn’t quite had in a while. Then Friday happened. Tate was clearly the better quarterback that night just putting that little bit of extra zing into the battle. It’s just one night and it is just one scrimmage, but if it’s a precursor to what August camp will look like it could get interesting.

Team trend: Last season was a nightmare for Arizona. It can’t repeat itself, can it? Up

For more Arizona news, visit GoAZCats.com.

ARIZONA STATE (5-7)

Key takeaway: Former Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett was hired to help fix a defense that was one of the worst in college football in 2016. The Sun Devils gave up over 520 yards a game to opponents last season. It’s safe to say the team’s biggest priority is improving that number. The spring was a good chance for Bennett to get his first idea of what he needs to fix at Arizona State while also coexisting with former ASU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, who is still on staff as the team’s linebackers coach.

Position battle: There doesn’t seem to be much separation between quarterbacks Blake Barnett and Manny Wilkins yet. Wilkins was with the team a year ago while Barnett is a transfer from Alabama after starting the Tide’s win vs. USC to open the 2016 season. ASU’s new offensive coordinator is former Alabama assistant Billy Napier and he said the plan to keep both quarterbacks on the same team during the spring game last weekend was by design. From ASUDevils.com:

“We wanted to give those guys equal reps with the first group,” Napier said. “We’ve kind of split up the reps as we went through spring practice, and those two guys have kind of separated themselves. We wanted to make sure those guys got out there and had the opportunity to play with the best players.”

Team trend: We aren’t too bullish — yet — on Arizona State. The defense may not be able to be fixed overnight and UCLA should be better in 2017 with a healthy Josh Rosen and better run game. The Bruins’ likely improvement, coupled with continued success from Colorado, USC and Utah may mean Arizona State is staring at being picked sixth in the Pac-12 South. Down

For more Arizona State news, visit ASUDevils.com.

CALIFORNIA (5-7)

Key takeaway: Spring looks completely different at Cal under coach Justin Wilcox. The former Wisconsin defensive coordinator was hired after Cal fired Sonny Dykes and 2017 was the longtime DC’s first spring as a head coach.

Position battle: Hey look, another QB battle in the Pac-12. With Davis Webb off to the NFL, the Bears haven’t picked a new starter for 2017. Chase Forrest is competing with Ross Bowers to be the opening day starter. Both quarterbacks are learning offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin’s offense and the OC said this week there aren’t many differences between the two contenders.

“They’re fairly similar in size, they’re fairly similar in certain things they do well, in certain things they need to keep working on,” Baldwin said via Golden Bear Report. “In other words, I don’t look out there and wonder who’s out there and think about how I’m gonna call something. I’m gonna call, you could close my eyes, I’d call it, it wouldn’t matter which one is out there in terms of what I believe gives them the chance to have success.”

Straight from the coach: Wilcox wasn’t tipping his hand either regarding Cal’s potential starter after Saturday’s spring game.

“We’ll go watch the video, I mean those guys have really, throughout spring have continued, I mean I thought the last week they both made significant steps,” Wilcox said. “I think you could see in the last week and a half of practice or so. Both do certain things well, and competing hard, and [quarterbacks coach Marques Tuiasosopo has] done a great job with them, and I think the more they play, obviously the better they’re going to get, but it was nice to see the finish of spring ball for both those guys.”

Team trend: No matter if Bowers or Forrest ultimately wins the starting QB job, Cal’s hopes for improvement hinge on a defense that brings back nine starters. A bowl game can be in the cards if the offense doesn’t fall off a cliff and the defense is simply average — something it wasn’t during Dykes’ tenure with the team. Up

For more Cal news, visit GoldenBearReport.com.

The starting job is Steven Montez’s at Colorado. (Getty)
The starting job is Steven Montez’s at Colorado. (Getty)

COLORADO (10-4)

Key takeaway: The Buffs are learning a new defensive staff too. With the departure of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to Oregon, the spring was defensive coordinator D.J. Elliot’s first opportunity to work with his team. And the word “takeaway” also is highly applicable here. The Buffs were one of the best teams in the country in turnover margin over the regular season. Yeah, turnovers can be fluky, but if Elliot can keep that up, Colorado is in good shape.

Position battle: Colorado is replacing a lot of talent from a disruptive front seven a year ago. But the Buffs should have outside linebacker Derek McCartney back and at full speed. McCartney started 10 games as a sophomore in 2015 but was lost for the season with a knee injury against Michigan last season. The team captain’s return should add stability to a unit that could have four new starters.

Straight from the coach: Quarterback Steven Montez has the starting job to himself after the departure of Sefo Liufau. Montez filled in when Liufau was injured in 2016 and now enters as the undisputed No. 1.

“He’s been on the field before and won some big games and [his teammates] know his work ethic and they’ve seen his talent,” Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said after the team’s spring game.

Trending down. Barely: There isn’t much room to go up, and that’s not a bad thing. With so much turnover up front on defense, it’s reasonable to expect a little step back. The offense returns Montez, running back Phillip Lindsay and a cadre of receivers, however, so don’t be surprised if the Colorado offense is better than it was a year ago. Was 2016 an aberration or a sign of sustained success?

For more Colorado news, visit CUSportsNation.com.

Justin Herbert is competing to start at Oregon. (Getty)
Justin Herbert is competing to start at Oregon. (Getty)

OREGON (5-7)

Key takeaway: Much like Arizona State, the goal for Oregon is to fix the defense after an absolutely atrocious season in 2016. Coach Mark Helfrich and defensive coordinator Brady Hoke are gone and replaced by coach Willie Taggart and former Colorado coach Jim Leavitt. Oregon will also have a new offense for the first time in a while too. It’s the most change Oregon football has had in a long time.

Position battle: Yeah, quarterback battles are a theme this spring in the Pac-12. While Justin Herbert entered the spring as Oregon’s starter, Travis Jonsen spent a practice last week taking reps with the first team. While Herbert is still the top quarterback on the depth chart, a strong performance to close spring camp by Jonsen could make for an interesting set of summer practices. The competition went down to two earlier in April when Terry Wilson, who had been getting time with the No. 2s in spring, said he would be transferring.

Straight from the coach: Oregon has yet to play its spring game. The Ducks play Saturday and last weekend coach Willie Taggart said the team had a draft to decide the teams for the game. The coaches for each team were decided randomly too.

“We actually picked the names out of the hat for who’s going to be the head coach for each team and [outside linebackers coach Raymond Woodie] and [safeties coach Keith Heyward] will be the head coach for both teams and I will be the commissioner,” Taggart said Saturday via DuckSportsAuthority.com.

Trending up: For a team with the talent level Oregon has, it’d take one heck of a nosedive to trend down after last year’s season and the rocky start to Taggart’s tenure. There will be some bumps, but anything short of a 7-5 season in Taggart’s first season should be considered a disappointment.

For more Oregon news visit DuckSportsAuthority.com.

OREGON STATE (4-8)

Key takeaway: A big goal for the Beavers was to figure out ways to generate sacks and force turnovers. Oregon State players had just 18 sacks and 18 interceptions and fumble recoveries in 2016. Only two players had more than two sacks last season and just one, linebacker Bright Ugwoegbu (5.5) returns in 2017.

Position battle: You guessed it, it’s at quarterback. Oregon State is deciding between Marcus McMaryion, Darrel Garretson and junior college transfer Jake Luton.

Both Garretson and McMaryion each threw over 100 passes for Oregon State last season while McMaryion got the most playing time and was by far the more effective passer. He completed nearly 60 percent of his throws and averaged over 7.5 yards an attempt while Garretson was a 50 percent passer and didn’t even average 4.25 yards a pass.

Anderson told Beavers Edge the team would “hopefully like” to redshirt Conor Blunt, who threw 35 passes in 2016.

Straight from the coach: Andersen suggested that a redshirt could be in the cards for wide receiver Seth Collins, who was hospitalized at the end of the season for “suspected meningococcal disease.”

Collins became a key wide receiver for OSU in 2016 after he decided to not transfer to Northern Illinois. He had made the decision to move schools after a position switch from wide receiver to quarterback.

Beavers Edge asked Andersen about Collins in an interview published last week.

“Seth is doing great. The key thing with him is that we want him to be a great player when he gets back on the field. He’s in a very good spot right now. He’s a wide receiver who hasn’t played wide receiver; he’s a quarterback, obviously. He is completely bought in and excited and is showing the same energy and juice that he showed as quarterback for the wide receiver position. Now we are talking about transitioning to allow Seth to be a big time player. That timeframe we will see as it goes. Seth is the most important part of this puzzle and I want him to be a great student, a great player, and I expect him to continue to grow and develop to be both of those. He is a key part of this team and will be for years to come. Would it the best situation for Seth Collins to redshirt this season, absolutely.”

Team trend: With more playmaking ability from the defense, Oregon State should have thoughts of making it to a bowl in 2017. But someone has to be last in the Pac-12 North and right now the preseason pick will probably be Oregon State until the Beavers prove otherwise. Up… ish.

For more Oregon State news, visit BeaversEdge.com.

STANFORD (10-3)

Key takeaway: Stanford is searching for stability along the offensive line. After the Cardinal’s beacon of offensive line consistency and dominance was dimmed in 2016, the spring practice sessions have been a great time for David Shaw to figure out what his best offensive line combination will be heading into fall camp.

Shaw was asked earlier this month by the San Jose Mercury News to rate his certainty with where things stood along the offensive front on a 1-10 scale.

“Somewhere between six and eight, depending on the day,” he said. “Today was probably seven. We’ve had a couple eight days and a couple six days.”

We’re thinking Shaw is happy with that progress.

Position battle: With Keller Chryst recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in the Sun Bowl, the quarterback competition this spring is between 2016 season-opening starter Ryan Burns and K.J. Costello.

Behind the quarterbacks, however, there’s no debate as to who will be the replacement for star running back Christian McCaffrey in 2017. Bryce Love, who averaged over seven yards a carry in 2016, will step in as the starter. Believe it or not, his YPC of 7.1 was down from his freshman year in 2015 (7.8) and if Stanford gets off to a fast start, we’re betting you’ll hear his name as a darkhorse Heisman candidate.

Straight from the coach: Shaw was asked by Rich Eisen earlier this week about the new NCAA rule adding a 10th assistant coach for the 2018 season.

We have 100 guys on the team and we’ve been going with nine full-time guys and a bunch of assistants and it’s just about a little bit more equity in the coach-player relationship and the number of full-time guys you can have recruit and coach the guys on the field and that’s really what it’s about.

Team trend: If the offensive line issues get sorted out — remember, Stanford signed two five-star offensive linemen in the class of 2017 — the offensive production should improve no matter if it’s Burns, Chryst or Costello at quarterback. Up

For more Stanford news, visit CardinalSportsReport.com.

Can UCLA find a running game to help Josh Rosen? (Getty)
Can UCLA find a running game to help Josh Rosen? (Getty)

UCLA (5-7)

Key takeaway AND position battle: UCLA entered spring attempting to figure out a way to mount a rushing attack to complement quarterback Josh Rosen.

The Bruins averaged less than 3 yards a carry in 2016 and new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch is tasked with scheming ways for running backs Soso Jamabo, Nate Starks and Bolu Olorunfunmi to each net over 4 yards a carry in 2017 — a mark they didn’t break a year ago.

Each got over 70 carries in 2016 and Fisch said Saturday via Bruin Sports Report that there was no clear starter at the moment.

“Full competition, the competition is on,” Fisch said. “If you ask me right now I don’t even know who the starter is right now. They are just competing, competing, competing. We’re just mixing them all in. They’re all practicing hard.”

Straight from the coach: Mora said Thursday that he was happy with the way the offense was learning the new scheme and terminology.

“I’m really impressed with the progress the offense is making,” Mora said. “It doesn’t show up on every play but everything from the verbiage — learning how to call a play and putting it together sequentially the way it makes sense. To getting to the line of scrimmage and getting set — we haven’t had a lot of formation errors, we haven’t had a lot of false starts or dropped snaps. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect but there’s just a lot of encouraging things when you look at the film or watch practice that maybe don’t show up when you’re out here just as an observer.”

Team trend: While the whole section about the Bruins has centered around the team’s offense, the upside only comes to fruition if a defense that lost a bunch of talent to the NFL reloads. The Bruins are particularly looking to find contributions right away on the defensive line with the loss of Takkarist McKinley and Eddie Vanderdoes, both who will probably be early selections in this week’s NFL draft. Up

For more UCLA news, visit BruinSportsReport.com.

USC (10-3)

Key takeaway: After his performance in the Rose Bowl (and the regular season games before it), quarterback Sam Darnold is going to get a lot of hype heading into 2017. And while the Trojans’ quarterback situation is settled, the spring was a good time for USC to get a good look at the contenders to fill three vacant starting spots on the offensive line. If Darnold is going to have success, he can’t be having to avoid the rush all the time.

According to Trojan Sports, Chuma Edoga was a standout performer this spring on the offensive line and should slide in for Chad Wheeler at left tackle after spending most of 2016 at right tackle.

Position battle: Darnold needs players to throw to as well. Leading receivers Darreus Rogers and JuJu Smith-Schuster are off to the NFL, leaving a void at receiver. It should be filled by a combination of Deontay Burnett, Michael Pittman, Josh Imatorbhebhe and Steven Mitchell. But watch out for redshirt freshman Velus Jones, who impressed over the spring. Jones was a four-star member of the class of 2016 and the No. 63 wide receiver in the class.

Straight from the coach: After last weekend’s spring game, USC coach Clay Helton noted how much the chemistry between Darnold and his team’s wideouts had grown — but that there was more work to be done.

“I think the things we’ve got to continue doing is the development of the young wideouts and the chemistry between them and Sam,” Helton said. “It has progressed so much from practice 1 to practice 15 but I don’t think we’re a finished product yet.”

Team trend: With Darnold at quarterback and the way the Trojans closed the season, USC is going to be the favorite to win the Pac-12 South. Up

For more USC news, visit TrojanSports.com.

UTAH (9-4)

Key takeaway: Utah’s offense is being run by new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor, who spent the 2016 season as Eastern Washington’s coordinator.

According to UteNation, which charted out Utah’s second scrimmage, Taylor’s offense will be a bit more pass-heavy that prior Utah offenses. But with a running back in on nearly 75 percent of plays during the scrimmage, the Utes aren’t suddenly going to empty the backfield and start chucking the ball all over the field.

This offense is considerably more fluid and active than in prior years. There were very few routes where receivers would sit and wait for the ball- only 6.7% of the routes were curls or hitches. Receivers are in motion and occupying defenders until the play concludes. The lack of pre-snap motion, the consistency of two or three receivers to a side, and Coach Taylor’s repeated emphasis on simplicity makes me think this is a package play offense.

Position battle: While QB Troy Williams is back for 2017, the job isn’t automatically his. Alabama transfer Cooper Bateman is in the mix for the starting job and so is Tyler Huntley. The three quarterbacks are currently listed as co-starters.

Utah is also looking to replace running back Joe Williams, who ran for over 1,400 yards in 2016. Devonta’e Henry-Cole and Justin Tatola could be the top two candidates to succeed Williams at running back.

Straight from the coach: Whittingham was happy with Utah’s April 15 spring game. Well as happy as one can be with a team that was missing numerous players because of injuries.

“We had limited numbers as everyone does in spring-ball and then when you sit out close to 12 of your starters, it is difficult to field a couple of teams, so relative to that I think it was a good day,” Whittingham said via Utah’s site.

Team trend: After three-straight seasons of nine or more wins, Utah has ascended to perennial contender status in the Pac-12 South. But with a healthy UCLA and a stacked USC — along with a Colorado team that doesn’t look like it’s going back to the cellar anytime soon — Utah’s 2017 could be a fascinating one. Down(?)

For more Utah news, visit UteNation.com.

Jake Browning is currently rehabbing from shoulder surgery. (Getty)
Jake Browning is currently rehabbing from shoulder surgery. (Getty)

WASHINGTON (12-2)

Key takeaway: Getting through spring with quarterback Jake Browning progressing on his rehab timeline is key for Washington. Browning played the end of the season with a right shoulder injury and his performance struggled down the stretch.

He threw some during Saturday’s scrimmage and coach Chris Petersen said Browning was right on track to be ready for the fall. From The Dawg Report:

“You can’t [take] three months off from running sprints and get right back into running without having to work through some kinks and stuff like that,” Browning said, comparing his rehab mentality to that of a sprinter getting back into condition.

“That’s kind of where I’m at right now, just getting my body used to a high-volume of throws. But like I said, it’s going how it’s supposed to. I’m happy be back out there. It sucks watching. And I’m pretty happy with where it’s at.”

Position battle: Who’s going to replace defensive backs Sidney Jones, Kevin King and Budda Baker? Baker and Jones are going to be early selections in the NFL draft and helped contribute to a secondary that was one of the best in college football in 2016.

Taylor Rapp was the Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year, so he’s entrenched in the secondary. JoJo McIntosh is back too; he was the fourth-leading tackler for the Huskies in 2016. But that leaves the corner position open. Jordan Miller and Austin Joyner could be the favorites to start in the fall. Joyner, the 2014 Washington high school player of the year, missed the 2015 season because of a torn ACL but played in 12 games a year ago.

Straight from the coach: Fresh off a Pac-12 title, Petersen signed a contract extension with the school earlier in the month.

“I’ve been so fortunate in my travels, everywhere I’ve gone I’ve thought I was going to stay there the rest of my life,” Petersen said after Washington’s practice April 12. “And I’m getting older now, it’s harder to move the older you get. Teaching those old dogs new tricks. And I just feel really excited that I can be here a long time. And I was talking about how long [former basketball coach Lorenzo Romar] stayed. That’s amazing to me. And if I can stay as long as this contract is I’ll be the happiest guy around.”

Team trend: Much like Colorado, Washington’s not heading for a letdown season. But after a one-loss Pac-12 title season, it’s hard to go up. The Huskies have to replace a lot of talent. But if Browning is healthy, a repeat of 2016 could be in the cards. Down. Maybe

For more Washington news, visit TheDawgReport.com.

WASHINGTON STATE (8-5)

Key takeaway: Washington State entered the spring needing to replace wide receivers Gabe Marks and River Cracraft. The two combined for over 140 catches,  nearly 1,600 yards and 18 scores in 2016. But we know now that Grant Porter won’t be in the mix to pick up some of their production. Porter, a three-star recruit in the class of 2016, switched to defensive back this spring. And according to defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, Porter has a shot to start this fall in the defensive secondary.

“He’s working hard and he’s in the right spot,” Grinch told WazzuWatch.com. “But he’s going to need fall camp, no doubt. He has a chance to compete for a (starting) spot. We need him. It’s good move for him and a good move for our defense long-term.”

Position battle: RBs James Williams, Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks all got at least 88 carries in 2016. And if the return of all three for 2017 didn’t make the backfield crowded enough, running back Keith Harrington is also in the mix after missing 2016.

Harrington had nine carries for 87 yards in Saturday’s spring game while Williams had 10 catches for 112 yards. Morrow and Wicks both sat out. All four figure to receive significant time in 2017, though given coach Mike Leach’s propensity to throw the ball, the most effective runner may be the one who’s best at catching the football.

Straight from the coach: WSU’s spring game was Saturday and the team will finish up practice this week.

“The first part of [fall] camp, that’s spring ball all over again,” Leach said. “You’re doing the same things — you’re experimenting with any new stuff you want to check out. You’re evaluating how players have evolved, which they will — there will be definite differences. Even though it’s just a couple of months there will be guys that all of the sudden that could do stuff that couldn’t previously. And plus you have the freshmen in there.”

Team trend: Washington State’s 2016 started with a two-game win streak followed by an eight-game win streak followed by a three-game losing streak. A four-loss season without a loss to an FCS team is an improvement in 2017. Up

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of Dr. Saturday and From the Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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