Commentary on Pac-12 developments on and off the field …
Rising: ASU’s outlook
Were offseason rosters moves tallied on a scoreboard, the Sun Devils were losing 70-7 in the fourth quarter. But they mustered a rally last week when the transfer portal produced a quarterback who just might alter the 2022 trajectory.
Emory Jones won’t be mistaken for a future first-round pick — his performance last season at Florida was decidedly uneven.
But Jones instantly improves the overall state of ASU’s quarterback depth and should be considered the frontrunner for the starting job over inexperienced returnees Daylin McLemore and Trenton Bourguet and transfer Paul Tyson, who threw a handful of passes for Alabama.
Jones owns more than 400 career attempts and faced some of the best defenses in the country during his Gator career.
ASU lost its top playmakers and key offensive linemen. If forced to play a rookie quarterback, the situation would have been deeply dire. With Jones running the offense, there’s reason to think the Sun Devils won’t bottom.
Division races are often decided on the margins; a few plays in a few games sometimes separate first place from third, or third place from fifth.
Jones increases the likelihood that some plays on the margins will break right — that ASU will scrap together enough wins to stay above Arizona and Colorado in the South.
Absent an array of complementary pieces (think: Caleb Williams at USC), a veteran quarterback dropped into a difficult situation cannot transform a season by himself. But he can account for two or three victories the team would not otherwise have collected.
That’s how we see ASU.
Without Jones, the Sun Devils appeared to be a rudderless offense destined for one or two conference wins.
With Jones, maybe the pieces fit and they climb to 3-6 or 4-5.
Add two non-conference wins (NAU and Eastern Michigan), and perhaps the postseason awaits.
Falling: QB clarity
By our calculations, only four teams are set to start the same quarterback in 2022 as they did last season: Utah (Cam Rising), Oregon State (Chance Nolan), UCLA (Dorian Thompson-Robinson) and Stanford (Tanner McKee).
Everyone else is either navigating a transition or in outright competition:
— Arizona, Washington State, USC and Cal will have newcomers.
— ASU, Oregon and Washington could have newcomers.
— Colorado won’t have a newcomer but is expected to hold a training camp competition.
Why does the turnover and uncertainty matter?
Because the opening weeks of the season feature a barrage of matchups that will shape the narrative carried by the Pac-12 throughout the fall.
The conference has nine games against Power Five opponents and four more against top-tier Group of Five foes, all in Weeks One and Two.
If the quarterback competitions play out deep into training camp — or the newcomers take time to settle in — immediate success could prove elusive.
Every loss early creates a math problem late, when playoff berths (potentially) and bowl bids (assuredly) are on the line.
Rising: Arizona prep talent
Last week, first-year Oregon offensive coordinator (and Arizona native) Kenny Dillingham tweeted the following:
“The next 3 years AZ HS football is LOADED!!!”
We’d argue the prep talent in the Grand Canyon State has been rising for six or eight years, if not longer.
Former NFL players retire there. Families move there (from California and elsewhere). And the high school coaching has improved.
But a glance at the 247Sports recruiting database supports Dillingham’s assertion:
The current sophomore and junior classes feature nine recruits with four- or five-star ratings, and more are sure to join the blue-chip list as the evaluation process unfolds over the next six months.
The best prospect of them all, Chandler High School quarterback Dylan Raiola, is the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the ’24 class, according to 247Sports.
Raiola recently moved to Arizona and committed to Ohio State a few days ago.
Unless the Pac-12 can pry him away from the Buckeyes in the next 19 months, which seems unlikely, Arizona’s top talent is off the table for the talent-shy conference.
We have written frequently about the steady stream of California high school stars who leave the Pac-12 footprint, with Alabama quarterback Bryce Young and Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud as glaring recent examples.
But there’s a mini-exodus taking place in Arizona, as well. And if the Pac-12 hopes to compete on the national stage, it needs to end.
For the collective, it makes little difference if all those premium prospects in Arizona sign with the Sun Devils, the Wildcats or another school in the conference.
But they cannot get away. The figurative fence needed around the Southern California talent must be extended 400 miles to the east.
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