Who will emerge as USC’s top contender in the Pac-12?
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Who will emerge as USC’s top contender in the Pac-12?

There has been so much madness in the realignment world that it’s easy to forget how close we are to the 2023 college football season.

As part of our preview for the season, we’ll be bringing out the Yahoo Sports Top 25 in the lead-up to the seven FBS games being played in Week 0.

Here are Numbers 15 through 11. (Starting Monday, we’re counting down from No. 10 to No. 1 in the days leading up to the season opener on Aug. 26.)

previously: From 25 to 21And Numbers 20 to 16

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - APRIL 22: Notre Dame battling Irish quarterback Sam Hartman (10) throws the football during the Notre Dame Blue Gold Springs football game at Notre Dame Stadium on April 22, 2023 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Sam Hartman is the new starting quarterback for Notre Dame. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

15. Our Lady

Can Notre Dame avoid the embarrassing losses that soured head coach Marcus Freeman’s solid first season?

At 9-4, Notre Dame’s first season in the post-Brian Kelly era wasn’t a total disappointment. Losses to Ohio State and USC were acceptable. But the home losses for both Marshall and Stanford were strange developments.

After Drew Payne took over for an injured Tyler Buchner (Buchner played in the bowl game), former Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman arrived in South Bend to take over as the starter. Hartman has been incredibly prolific in Wake Forest’s RPO-based offense and will be in a very different system in offensive coordinator Gerad Parker’s first season. Hartman had more receiving talent around him at Wake Forest, and how well Hartman does in his new environment will largely determine how well Notre Dame does this season.

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The defense brings back seven starters but must replace DE Isaiah Foskey. Ohio State’s Javontae Jean-Baptiste transfer could help that rushing pass combo and former Oklahoma State safety Thomas Harper right into the secondary alongside star duo Benjamin Morrison and Cam Hart. Ohio State comes to South Bend this season along with USC, while the Irish have to go to Clemson. But Notre Dame is likely to be favored in every other contest.

Tennessee is off to the breakout season its fanbase has always been craving. The Vols won 11 games, including a thriller over Alabama and a defeat of Clemson in the Orange Bowl. The Vols had one of the biggest offenses in the country, but they won’t have quarterbacks Hendon Hooker or receivers Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman this year.

All three moved on to the NFL, as did all-SEC Darnell Wright. Despite these losses, the Vols should still have a stellar offense as long as Joe Milton plays like he did in the Orange Bowl. Milton has a lot of upsides, but will he be as effective and evasive in the pocket as Hooker? Milton has a lot of talent around him. Even without Hyatt and Tillman, the receiving group is excellent, featuring Oregon natives Pro McCoy, Ramell Keaton, Squirrell White, and Dont’e Thornton.

The offensive line may not be as good without Wright and there are some concerns on defence. The Vols need their veteran secondary group to play better than they did a year ago and have someone to step over the edge to reach the heights they did in 2022.

KNOXVILLE, TN - APRIL 15: Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Joe Melton III (7) throws a pass in a warm-up before the Tennessee Volunteers spring game on April 15, 2023, at Neyland Stadium, in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Joe Melton takes over as Hendon Hooker’s QB position for Tennessee. (Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

13. Oregon

Bo Nix is ​​back after an incredibly successful first season on Eugene.

Nicks transitioned from former Auburn player to rival Heisman mid-season with his performance on Kenny Dillingham’s offense in 2022. Nicks completed 72% of his passes for nearly 3,600 yards and 29 stops to just seven interceptions. With Dillingham now the head coach at Arizona State, the Knicks will have their fourth offensive coordinator in as many seasons of college football.

Much like Dan Lanning and his crew did a season ago, Oregon has hired several high-profile transfers that can make an immediate impact. WRs Traeshon Holden (Alabama) and Gary Bryant Jr. (USC) will immediately see playing time with running backs Troy Franklin and Kris Hutson in 2023. The defense was the weaker of the two units preseason and former South Carolina adds. Jordan Burch, DB Evan Williams (Fresno State) and LB Justin Jacobs (Iowa), among others.

Texas Tech’s road game in Week 2 is an interesting non-conference test before a Pac-12 schedule that includes visits to Washington, Utah, and a home game against USC. It’s a tough schedule, but Oregon should once again be in the mix for the Pac-12 title.

12. Washington

Washington has had an amazing turnaround in its first season under head coach Kalin DeBoer, going from 4-8 in 2021 to 11-2.

DeBoer’s offense in Seattle has been excellent and most of this unit is back in 2023. Michael Bennix is ​​a legitimate candidate for the Heisman at quarterback, and the Huskies have one of the best receiver groups in the country with Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan, and Ja’Lynn running backs. . One concern, though, is the three starters on the offensive line. Both treats are back, but the UW has to replace all three starters inside.

Washington wasn’t as good defensively last fall, but the personnel up front are very promising. The edge duo of Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui is excellent and the Huskies are very deep on the inside of the D-line. The secondary struggled in 2022 and could be a weakness again in 2023. This is likely the team’s biggest concern and could ultimately cost the Huskies a chance to compete for a college football berth.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 29: Michael Bennix Jr. #9 of the Washington Huskies threw a touchdown pass in the third quarter at the Valero Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome on December 29, 2022 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Curtis/Getty Images)

Michael Bennix Jr. and Washington are Pac-12 rivals. (Photo by Ronald Curtis/Getty Images)

11. Utah

How healthy is Cam Rising in 2023?

The Utah QB suffered a torn left ACL in the Utes’ Rose Bowl loss to Penn State and aimed to be ready for their season-opener against Florida on August 31. It was the second year in a row that Rising was injured in the Rose Bowl—and the second time in a row that Utah’s fortunes were reversed in a game when he left the contest.

In addition to rehabilitating his knee, Rising has also been adjusting his throwing motion to be a better passer on the court. Utah’s offense loses TE Dalton Kincaid but brings back TE Brant Kuithe, WR Devaughn Vele and RB Ja’Quinden Jackson, who could be a standout performer in the Pac-12.

The defense needs to replace CB Clark Phillips III’s shutout but brings back three starters on the defensive line and adds players like CB Miles Battle (Ole Miss), Logan Fano (BYU) and Levani Damuni (Stanford) at the transfer gate. Utah will once again be a very physical team on both sides of the ball.

Games against Florida and Baylor to start the season are tough but winnable before a break against Weber State before facing the Pac-12. The Utes have to go to Oregon State, USC, Washington and host UCLA, Oregon. If Rising is completely healthy, Utah will be near the top of the conference with a chance to win the Pac-12 title for the third straight season.

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