The 2015 season isn't far away; we can see the light at the end of the offseason tunnel already. 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 examine the defensive lines in the South.
UCLA: Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes are going to be a very strong duo up front for the Bruins, but there's not much depth beyond that. To complement those two, UCLA will look to Takkarist McKinley or Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, who combined for 11 total tackles last season in 20 combined appearances. That's not much in the way of production. And the two-deep behind Clark and Vanderdoes doesn't get any better. Matt Dickerson and Eli Ankou combined for six tackles while Ainuu Taua redshirted last season. But, for the same reason that I put the USC linebackers in the "great shape" category, I'm putting the UCLA defensive line up here. Clark and Vanderdoes could be the best 1-2 punch on the D-line in the conference, but an injury to either would send this unit into the "we'll see" group considering the inexperience that surrounds them. Stay healthy and the Bruins stay here.
Utah: The Utes' strength comes from its talent and depth. Before long, people are going to be saying “Nate who?” as they watch defensive end Hunter Dimick pick up that slack and more en route to a season in which he could very well lead the Pac-12 in sacks. Defensive tackle Jason Fanaika and defensive end Lowell Lotulelei round out the Utes' starters (the three combined for 140 tackles, 28.5 tackles for a loss and 19 sacks). Pac-12 QBs, consider yourselves warned. Second-string linemen such as D-end Filipo Mokofisi and D-tackle Viliseni Fauonuku combined for 8.5 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks last season in limited snaps. On top of that, UCLA transfer Kylie Fitts, will add depth and size (6-foot-4, 268 pounds).
Arizona: With a veteran such as Reggie Gilbert -- 34 starts in 44 appearances -- leading this line, we expect him to pull some of the younger, less-experienced players up to speed. Jeff Worthy should see some competition for the vacated defensive tackle spot from junior college transfer Anthony Fotu. Parker Zellers had his best game of the season last year against Oregon (round one), so if he can duplicate that kind of performance consistently through the season, he'll be a player the Wildcats lean on more and more. But if defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel wants more size at Zellers' spot on the line, he can also turn to Sharif Williams (6-foot-2, 313 pounds) and Marcus Griffin (6-foot, 302 pounds), who have more size but less experience.
Arizona State: Expect coach Todd Graham to lean heavily on Tashon Smallwood to be an athletic pass-rusher/playmaker for the Sun Devils. Beyond Smallwood, Graham will also have Demetrius Cherry, Edmond Boateng and Mo Latu. The four combined for 11.5 tackles for a loss, including 4.5 sacks in 2014. This group needs to step up considering it lost Marcus Hardison (15 TFL, 10 sacks), but it has good talent and decent depth. The Pac-12 Blog thinks ASU should be fine.
USC: The Trojans are the envy of no defensive line coach as they need to replace Leonard Williams and J.R. Tavai. But with Su'a Cravens as the primary pass-rusher, the USC defensive line won't have to be incredible, they'll just have to be solid, which it looks like it will be considering this veteran group (five fifth-year seniors). Antwaun Woods at nose tackle and Claude Pelon at defensive end will be a solid combo, and defensive tackle Delvon Simmons, who made his transition from offensive to defensive line this offseason, is a third athletic body that could be playing at 300-plus this fall. The big question mark is Kenny Bigelow Jr., who's coming back from a knee injury. (He also dropped three pounds this offseason ... after a haircut.) Greg Townsend Jr. as well as some freshmen could all be a part of the rotation depending on how things shake out. But at the end of the day, between Cravens and a lot of big, athletic bodies on the line, we're not worried about the Trojans' defensive front.
Colorado: Poor Buffs. One of the big selling points of this Colorado defense in 2015 was senior defensive tackle Josh Tupou, who played the most snaps of any defensive lineman in 2014. But now he's gone, and the Buffs will turn to Justin Solis, who has experience but doesn't bring quite the fire that Tupou did. The Buffs will rely on junior college transfers Jordan Carrell and Leo Jackson. Good news: Mike MacIntyre prioritized the defensive line in his recruiting classes the past few years (11 D-lineman in the past two classes). Bad news: It's just not enough to make us think this group will be drawing our eyes for the right reasons this fall.