Where Colorado stands in Athlon’s Pac-12 spring football power rankings
Football is approaching.
Yes, the 2022 college football season concluded only two months ago with Georgia dismantling TCU to win the national championship, but here’s your reminder that spring practice is on the horizon.
Colorado’s practices begin in just shy of two weeks on March 19, followed by the highly anticipated spring game on April 22 as the Buffaloes get set to begin their first season under Deion Sanders.
With that in mind, Athlon Sports released its spring 2023 Pac-12 power rankings ahead of most spring camps starting up. The Pac-12 runs the gamut from heavyweight USC, the intrigue of Colorado and the quest for Stanford to get out of the conference basement.
Here’s how all the programs stack up, according to Athlon Sports:
Nov 11, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) drops back to pass against the Colorado Buffaloes during the first half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Athlon is high on the Trojans, and there’s few reasons not to be. Despite losses on the offensive side including Jordan Addison and Travis Dye, Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams returns to Los Angeles to head what should still be an explosive offense in 2023.
Defense is still a question mark for USC, but the Trojans do return eight starters from a unit that admittedly needs to improve. Transfer CB Christian Roland-Wallace from Arizona and LB Mason Cobb from Oklahoma State could prove to be good additions on that side of the ball.
Sep 24, 2022; Seattle, Washington, USA; Washington Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (9) passes against the Stanford Cardinal during the third quarter at Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
In what is a mild surprise, Washington landed in the No. 2 slot coming off of a momentous 2022 campaign. But with the return of Michael Penix Jr., the Huskies should still have one of the best offenses in the conference.
Like USC, defense is a concern for Washington, but this team from the Pacific Northwest is capable of winning shootouts with nearly anyone in the conference.
Sep 3, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Oregon Ducks quarterback Bo Nix (10) passes the ball against the Georgia Bulldogs during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Sliding in at No. 3 is the high-flying Oregon Ducks as Bo Nix returns (are you seeing a pattern here?) for his second and final season in Eugene.
Oregon’s offense is still formidable, but an offensive line that’s replacing four starters and a leaky secondary are areas of concern for the Ducks heading into 2023.
Jan 2, 2023; Pasadena, California, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Bryson Barnes (16) passes against the Penn State Nittany Lions in the third quarter in the 109th Rose Bowl game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Utah isn’t as straightforward as the previous three.
Although the Utes should still have an elite defense, quarterback Cameron Rising tore his ACL in their Rose Bowl loss to Penn State, leaving Bryson Barnes to likely start the season in the veteran’s absence.
Barnes has been solid in limited action, although the offense should go through primarily the Utes’ running game. It’ll be interesting to see if Utah can at least tread water in the early part of the season with games against Florida and Baylor to begin 2023.
Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (5) fades back to pass near North Carolina defensive lineman Kevin Hester (98) during the first quarter of the ACC Championship football game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina Saturday, Dec 3, 2022.
Clemson Tigers Football Vs North Carolina Tar Heels Acc Championship Charlotte Nc
The Beavers are coming off a successful 2022 campaign under Jonathan Smith, but they have a few questions heading into ’23.
Former highly-touted recruit DJ Uiagalelei transferred in after an up-and-down tenure at Clemson, and it’s one of the more intriguing stories in the entire conference to see whether or not he can rekindle the magic that made him a five-star in high school.
Defensively, key losses on that side — namely LB Omar Speights — are a concern and the defense could be an issue for the Beavers in 2023.
Detroit King quarterback Dante Moore looks to pass against Birmingham Brother Rice during the first half of the Division 3 regional championship game in Detroit on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022.
UCLA will enter the fall with new names on offense, as QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, RB Zach Charbonnet and WR Jake Bobo are three key players no longer in Pasadena. Five-star QB Dante Moore comes in to try to replace DTR and he should be the early favorite in a three-man competition.
On defense, D’Anton Lynn replaces Bill McGovern as the Bruins’ defensive coordinator.
Lynn comes in with an NFL pedigree namely as a secondary coach, which is an area that needs to improve for UCLA. But, this is his first defensive coordinator job, and it remains to be seen whether there will be any scheme changes in 2023.
Sep 3, 2022; Pullman, Washington, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Cameron Ward (1) is forced out of the pocket by Idaho Vandals defensive lineman Zach Krotzer (96) in the first half at Gesa Field at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
What stands out for the Cougars as an area of need is wide receiver.
Washington State will be replacing its top four receivers from last year, so a rather thin group there experience-wise could be a problem.
Additionally, an offensive line that allowed the most sacks in the Pac-12 is still a question mark, so this year could be boom or bust for the Cougars on offense at least as it stands now.
Oct 1, 2022; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Arizona Wildcats quarterback Jayden de Laura (7) smiles after a play against the Colorado Buffaloes in the first half at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports
Arizona had one of the more consistent offenses last season, and that should remain the status quo in 2023 as most of the key playmakers return to Tucson.
The question — again — for Arizona is its defense. The Wildcats lost winnable games because of that unit last season, but if they can improve in that area, they could be a surprise this year.
Dec 31, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; TCU Horned Frogs quarterback Sam Jackson (16) against the Michigan Wolverines during the 2022 Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
There are encouraging signs for Cal heading into 2023 as the Golden Bears return the majority of their offensive starters from last season, with a rather notable exception being quarterback Sam Jackson, who transferred in from TCU.
If Jackson can come in and be a difference-maker for Cal under new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, it could be a decent year in Berkeley. If not, it could be a difficult season, one in which a shaky defense would need to take a big step forward in 2023.
Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham calls out to players during practice with the Ducks on Tuesday, April 5, 2022.
O40522 Eug Football Practice 10
Kenny Dillingham will take the reins for ASU in 2023, following a 2022 season in which he turned Oregon into one of the more prolific offenses in the nation.
Coming in, a quarterback battle between true freshman Jaden Rashada and Notre Dame transfer Drew Pyne will be the most intriguing story for the Sun Devils.
The direction that Dillingham goes in will likely shape the scheme that ASU runs this year, and I think Pyne comes in as the favorite, given Rashada’s tumultuous recruit and thus leaving him less time to get acclimated in Tempe.
Dec 4, 2022; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders reacts during a press conference at the Arrow Touchdown Club. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
And here stand the Buffaloes.
There have been plenty of headlines this offseason as Deion Sanders came to Boulder, bringing his son Shedeur with him to be the starting quarterback in 2023 following two prolific seasons at Jackson State. With the Prime duo will be Travis Hunter, a former No. 1 overall recruit who proved to be a lockdown corner and a capable receiver at Jackson State.
With that said, think of this as more of a long game for Colorado. Even with these additions, it will take time for the Buffs to turn around given that they’re coming off a 1-11 season in 2022.
Those three are definitely the foundation for a turnaround in Boulder. Just don’t necessarily expect them to be Pac-12 contenders quite yet.
Sep 18, 2021; Berkeley, California, USA; Sacramento State Hornets head coach Troy Taylor kneels on the sideline during the second quarter against the California Golden Bears at FTX Field at California Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
I know that spring practice is usually a time of optimism for programs. However, the cupboard’s bare for Stanford and new head coach Troy Taylor.
Taylor comes to Stanford after an incredible season at Sacramento State, but there’s not much at his disposal. Given the loss of quarterback Tanner McKee from a previously underwhelming offense and a defense that was one of the worst in the conference, there isn’t much reason for optimism — at least in 2023.
Now, the Cardinal could surprise people, and, not to get too cliche here, that’s why they play the games. But I personally would be extremely surprised if Stanford becomes formidable this year.