Arizona and California are getting the love as the 2015 football season gets ready to start.
The Associated Press preseason poll, released yesterday, lists Arizona State at No. 15 and University of Arizona at No. 22, and also includes three California teams in the top 25: USC (8), UCLA (13), and Stanford (21). Oregon, at No. 7, is the sixth conference team included.
That means that half of the Pac-12 Conference teams are nationally-ranked to start the season, which gives weight to the argument that the Pac-12 may be the toughest conference to play in this year.
And this year’s Sun Devils are positioned to win the South Division championship, and perhaps even the conference title. They have a boat load of seasoned players returning from last year’s squad – six starters on offense and all but two on defense – that went 10-3, including a quarterback that set school records after starting three games last year and beating two ranked opponents.
Senior Mike Bercovici will be throwing more often to D.J. Foster, who moved from running back to a slot position, but will still have a couple of solid rushers to work with, sophomores Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard. They’re young, but experienced. Ballage appeared in 12 games last season as a true freshman and Richard led the team in per-carry rushing, with 5.7 yards per carry.
Foster, a local favorite from Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, was the team’s leading rusher last year, finishing his junior season with 1,081 yards and nine touchdowns. He considered entering the NFL draft, but returned to school to help the Devils get back to the Pac-12 title game.
And there has to be more optimism in Tucson this year, since the Wildcats were not ranked going into the 2014 season.
Like their rival in Tempe, head coach Rich Rodriguez has his own version of Tinkers-to Evers-to Chance. Quarterback Anu Solomon, who had an impressive year as a freshman, will hand off to tailback Nick Wilson and toss it to wide receiver Cayleb Jones. Wilson, like Solomon, had a huge freshman campaign, scoring 16 touchdowns and rushing for 1,375 yards. Jones is the elder statesman in the trio, a redshirt junior who last year had 73 catches for 1,019 yards and nine TDs.
The Cats, who also posted 10 wins last year, have to rebuild an offensive line that lost three starters. But the key to this season may be in the increased emphasis on conditioning in the off-season. Thanks to a scheduling quirk, they won’t have any time off this year, playing 12 consecutive games.
So how much will the Cats have left in the tank when that final regular-season game against ASU rolls around?
If both teams can get past the Bruins and the Trojans, the South Division title could be riding on the outcome of that final game on Nov. 21.
No kidding. That really could happen. The potential is there for this to be a break-out year for both teams.
Hey, we can dream, can’t we?
(Photo: ASU Athletics)