Pac 12 football, once again, appears to be spring loaded

Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler takes aim at a receiver in April 11's spring game.

Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler takes aim at a receiver in April 11’s spring game.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Oregon’s recovery from January’s national-title loss to Ohio State started with a box of tissues.

“Initially, a lot of tears,” Oregon Coach Mark Helfrich admitted Thursday during a Pac-12 Conference coaches’ teleconference wrapping up spring practices around the league. “There was a lot of emotions with a really special team,” Helfrich said.

And that’s about as close as Oregon gets to introspection.

The philosophy of short-term memory loss, administered so brilliantly by former coach Chip Kelly, has been passed down to Helfrich.

“Press reset, flush it, and go,” Helfrich said. “We don’t sit around and think about the good things, or sit around and think of the bad things. Ever.”

The entire Pac-12, coming off its best collective football season in years, is also moving forward. It fell short, again, in establishing it has a team other than USC capable of winning the national title in the BCS-era.


It hurt more that the Big Ten, dismissed as a lesser league for most of 2014, came in and stole the top prize.

The Pac-12 has a chance to be elite again, but things will be different. The league must replace several top-drawer quarterbacks in Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Brett Hundley (UCLA), Sean Mannion (Oregon State), Connor Halliday (Washington State) and Taylor Kelly (Arizona State).

Here’s a quick blurb on each team, based on last year’s order of finish, coming out of spring practice.

Pac-12 North

Oregon: The Ducks lose Mariota, last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, but are otherwise loaded. The new quarterback for now is Jeff Lockie, who was Mariota’s backup last year. That could change with the summer arrival of Vernon Adams, a fifth-year transfer from Eastern Washington.

Stanford: The return of senior quarterback Kevin Hogan gives the Cardinal a huge experience advantage in reclaiming the North from Oregon. “He’s getting to the point of really having the offense mastered,” Coach David Shaw said. Stanford also has a budding superstar in sophomore tailback Christian McCaffrey.

Washington: Chris Petersen’s first year, 8-6, probably rates as a C-plus. And now he’s got to find a new quarterback and retool a defense that loses three NFL-bound stars in Danny Shelton, Shaq Thompson and Hau’oli Kikaha.

California: The Bears became much more competitive last year and have a terrific quarterback in junior Jared Goff. The key is plugging a porous secondary that allowed 367 passing yards per game. Third-year coach Sonny Dykes: “We were bad our first year, became competitive last year and now we have to be a team that takes the next step.”

Washington State: Two 3-9 seasons are not what people expected out of Mike Leach. The Cougars can move the ball on anyone, but the defense has been lousy. Leach hopes the hiring of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is the answer.

Oregon State: Gary Andersen, formerly of Wisconsin, was a great rebound hire after Mike Riley shockingly left for Nebraska. In Corvallis, though, Anderson has a first-year mountain to climb

Pac-12 South

Arizona: The Wildcats won arguably the toughest division in college football but finished with two disappointing losses. Coach Rich Rodriguez needs more consistency out of sophomore quarterback Anu Solomon.

UCLA: Jim Mora’s Bruins are stacked but must find a quarterback, among four candidates, to replace Hundley. “We might go three games in and not know who are starter is,” Mora said. “We might give each one a quarter in each game.” Note: no one really believes that.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils lose Kelly at quarterback but have a reliable replacement in Mike Bercovici, who rallied his team to last year’s miracle win at USC. Arizona State also adds a weapon in receiver Devin Lucien, who is transferring from UCLA. “We’re excited to have him,” Coach Todd Graham said. “He really liked our system.”

USC: The return of post-probation scholarships and quarterback Cody Kessler will likely make the Trojans the division favorites. Coach Steve Sarkisian said he expects to be in the mid-70 range in total scholarships.

Utah: It was a strange off-season in which Coach Kyle Whittingham lost both his coordinators and seemed to be at odds with his athletic director. The upside is has returning quarterback Travis Wilson and tailback DeVontae Booker.

Colorado: The Buffaloes keep improving under coach Mike MacIntrye but can’t get out of the basement in this division. MacIntyre can only hope two years of hard recruiting will pay off. “We’re a more mature football team now,” he said. “We’re not a JV team any more, we actually have a 20-year-old now.”