The 2015 season isn't far away; we can see the light at the end of the offseason tunnel. It's time for a quick Pac-12 knowledge refresher.
Here's how we do this. Every day features a new position group. We provide three categories and place each conference team accordingly: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."
Today, we move on to the defensive lines of the Pac-12 North.
Nobody. There isn't a single team in the Pac-12 North that can confidently classify its defensive line in the "great shape" category. There has been too much offseason attrition at the position, and perhaps that's an indication that -- unless several glaring questions are answered -- 2015 will be a down year defensively across the board.
The departures of Arik Armstead and Sam Kamp hurt, but the Ducks return DeForest Buckner up front and they should enjoy a solid boost from their recruiting efforts, which recently netted 6-foot-7, 295-pound Hawaiian giant Canton Kaumatule. He delivered two sacks in the spring game, and a carryover of that success into the regular season would be money for Oregon. Buckner is the undisputed veteran leader of this group, but the Ducks are also fortunate to have a proven returner at nose tackle in Alex Balducci. With Armstead's former spot open, this can be the year for strong-bodied Tui Talia to seize an opportunity.
The Bears think they can be solid here -- and there is some evidence supporting that optimism -- but until an anemic pass rush is strengthened, any assumptions of strength are premature. We can, however, discuss Cal's potential improvement up front, which is rooted in its acquisition of junior college transfer DeVante Wilson (once a USC signee) and Wake Forest tackle transfer James Looney. Mustafa Jalil and Kyle Kragen offer veteran presences, and Noah Westerfield and Tony Mekari should be a year stronger. The Bears can probably sleepwalk their way to at least some improvement, as they managed only 16 sacks last season -- least in the Pac-12 and 113th in the nation.
The Beavers' situation up front is rather unique: Though they must replace most of their starters, a trio of seniors awaits to fill starting spots on Kalani Sitake's new defense. Oregon State can probably benefit from mass changes up front anyway, as it finished second-to-last in Pac-12 rushing defense last season. Jaswha James, Lavonte Barnett and Jalen Grimble comprise the veteran core, and 310-pound nose tackle Kyle Peko represents a potentially massive boost if he's academically eligible. The latest indications suggest he's on track, and that news can have a positive effect.
For the first time in the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era, Stanford must replace all of its starting defensive linemen. Though Henry Anderson represented the star power up front, nose tackle David Parry likely leaves the toughest shoes to fill. The Cardinal no longer have a true nose tackle, so they must improvise to keep things sturdy. Aziz Shittu will likely man the middle, and sophomores Harrison Phillips and Solomon Thomas have been rapidly bulking up in their quest to contribute (they might rotate to the interior, too). Former Cal end Brennan Scarlett is Stanford's first-ever graduate transfer, and they hope he can supply a veteran presence on the edge. The program is also hoping to see some production from veterans Nate Lohn and Jordan Watkins -- at least enough to bolster depth.
There might not be a single defensive loss in the Pac-12 as damaging as nose tackle Danny Shelton's departure to the NFL. Aside from being a 340-pound block-gobbling machine that made everyone around him better, the man was a statistical juggernaut: 93 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks. Andrew and Evan Hudson are also gone, so the Huskies must break in an entire new group of starters, and the linebacking corps behind them will be inexperienced, too. Tackle Elijah Qualls and end Joe Mathis are the two headlining names here, and they're trailed by a host of young guys.
Destiny Vaeao enjoyed a breakout spring for the Cougars, and junior college transfer Jeremiah Mitchell also impressed new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. But there is plenty of murky water here, especially since Xavier Cooper and Toni Pole, Washington State's best defensive linemen from a year ago, are gone. Daniel Ekuale, Robert Barber, Kingston Fernandez, Ngalu Tapa, and Hercules Mata'afa all have their work cut out for them. This defense is expected to be aggressive, but the line can take critical pressure off the back end if it can deliver some pressure on its own -- without blitzes.