Three of the Pac-12 writers sat down to discuss this week’s hot question: If you could be a fly on the wall at any program this offseason, which would you choose and why?
Kyle Bonagura: Stanford.
Two words: Shannon Turley.
There might not be a more influential behind-the-scenes figure in the Pac-12 than Stanford’s director of sports performance. He’s the primary reason several of Stanford’s NFL alumni return to the Farm in the offseason to work out and the driving force behind the Cardinal’s reputation for being one of the most physical teams in the country. Turley’s reputation as an innovator and a leader in his field is understood and to sit in and watch his methods first-hand would be an intriguing experience.
That’s all compounded by the fact Stanford is coming off arguably its best season in over half a century. It’s always interesting to see how a team handles success. In some cases, it can create momentum heading into the next season and in others a sense of entitlement. Stanford’s track record is indicative of the former, so why go anywhere else? And if eavesdropping is part of the deal, Stanford’s not a bad place to do it as there would sure to be a lot of interesting conversation outside of football.
Chantel Jennings: Washington.
Quarterback Jake Browning made some major progress in front of our eyes during the 2015 season but now he has gone behind closed doors in Seattle for the next few months. To get a look in on that offense -- which had three true freshmen as key cogs -- and see how it develops after a season of growing pains would be really interesting to me.
But the most interesting part would be the defense. How many people completely discounted that defense coming into last season because of all of the big names it lost? (I’m pretty sure everyone and his or her mother.) But somehow that group stayed at the top of the Pac-12. How? Largely due to the work they put in during the offseason. So, what exactly does that work look like? Who is/are going to be the player/s taking the lead on it this offseason?
Chris Petersen is building the foundation of something that could be really great and really tough to beat in Seattle. To have a behind-the-scenes look now, when it’s still young and still growing, would be like being able to sit in on a movie set during the preliminary talks with the producer. They have the actors, the script and a general idea, now how are they going to make it a hit?
David Lombardi: UCLA.
UCLA led the Pac-12 in pass defense this past season, but the Bruins were woefully bad against the run at key junctures of 2015. When Kalen Ballage pushed the pile over 23 yards to seal Arizona State’s win over UCLA in early October, we were served an early preview of the carnage to come: The Bruins surrendered 311 rush yards to Stanford in their next game before struggling to end the season. Nebraska gashed UCLA to the tune of 326 yards on 62 carries (5.3 yards per rush) in the Foster Farms Bowl.
“We need to get bigger, obviously,” coach Jim Mora said after that final paltry effort “We need to get stronger, obviously. So when we get into these games against a team like Nebraska that’s a power team or Stanford that’s a power team, we have more guys we can roll through there that have some girth to them and we don’t get pushed around.”
Mora couldn’t have said it any more bluntly: His Bruins need to beef (and toughen) up this offseason, and that falls on the shoulders of strength coach Sal Alosi, who will have more time with the roster than any other UCLA coach in the coming months. Lineman Eddie Vanderdoes will return from injury, and that should give UCLA a boost, but even this centerpiece faces a big challenge: He must regain his rigid form while simultaneously rehabbing from 2015’s season-ending knee injury. The Bruins must cultivate heavy, hard-nosed depth around him.
For many programs, that’s a process that takes years to successfully complete. UCLA must fortify their muscle in one offseason if they are to finally graduate to the Pac-12’s next tier, and that effort will be based in their offseason workouts.