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Cal Football Monday Thoughts: Ranking Pac-12 returning offensive talent

Just nine more weeks of #content generation until we have actual football to discuss. But for now? Thank goodness for Phil Steele.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

A reason for hope, a reason for fear

New, talented WRs are great. Veteran running backs sound sweet. Grabbing a transfer QB with plenty of experience in the Air Raid is neato.

But if Cal is going to stay on an upward trajectory next season, the biggest reason will likely be the offensive line. Phil Steele put out a list of teams ranked by total starts they have returning on the offensive line, and Cal ranked pretty highly. Click the link for the entire country, but I cut out what I particularly care about - Cal's ranking in the Pac-12:

  1. USC - 131
  2. Utah - 90
  3. Cal - 89
  4. OSU - 82
  5. Colorado - 77
  6. Wazzu - 69
  7. UCLA - 63
  8. Washington - 62
  9. Oregon - 60
  10. Arizona - 57
  11. Stanford - 40
  12. Arizona State - 15
First of all, holy crap, USC. The Trojans are something of an outlier, even nationally where they tie with UNC for first among power 5 schools. And in case you're curious, Cal's non-con opponents return 73 (Hawaii), 56 (San Diego St.) and 49 (Texas) respectively.

It's certainly nice to have two seniors on the line that have essentially started since day one. Most of Cal's returning starts come from Chris Borrayo and Steven Moore, but Aaron Cochran, Dominic Granado and Addison Ooms all bring experience as well.

And why might Cal need a veteran line to win the battle in the trenches? Because Cal is 125th in the nation in Phil Steele's ranking of % yards returning. Again, here are the Pac-12 ranks:
  1. Washington State - 89.41
  2. Colorado - 75.76%
  3. Washington - 71.70%
  4. Oregon - 63.09%
  5. UCLA - 61.98%
  6. USC - 59.50%
  7. Arizona - 57.57%
  8. Oregon State - 55.76%
  9. Stanford - 47.97%
  10. Arizona State - 36.98%
  11. California - 23.13%
  12. Utah - 19.69%
Reactions to both sets of rankings:
  • The Pac-12 got hit very hard by graduation of skill position players. Only three schools rank in the top half of the country in % of yards returning, and two (Cal and Utah) were in the bottom 5. Returning offensive lines are more middle of the road, but some of the better lines (Stanford, Oregon, ASU) were hit hard.
  • Stanford basically just has friggin' McCaffrey back on offense. That's probably enough. But man, how sweet would it be if the rest of Stanford's offense stunk, and a bunch of dumb sports writers started filing 'What's wrong with Christian McCaffrey?' articles because he has to dodge two tacklers in the back field on every run.
  • Only Oregon State's team-wide implosion prevented Arizona State from having the worst defense in the Pac-12 last year. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils graduated pretty much any relevant offensive talent. I'm tempted to say that Todd Graham might have the worst team in the conference in 2016.
  • One of the advantages the Air Raid seems to have is how plug-and-play the system can be. Once a coach is established, it doesn't much seem to matter who plays - there's always a baseline level of production you're going to get. Then, when you DO get special players (your Michael Crabtrees, your Jared Goffs) you can reach another level. With so much skill position turnover, we might be testing the plug-and-play theory this season.
  • If Washington State could cobble together an above average defense they could take the Pac-12 North this year. I doubt they cobble together an above average defense.

Around the Pac-12

In which we find random news impacting conference-mates. Hopefully the kind that allows us to shamelessly laugh at them.

Along the same lines as the rankings above, ESPN discusses the Pac-12's lack of proven returning QBs. It's basically Josh Rosen, Luke Falk, a mediocre Anu Solomon, and the as-yet unrealized hype of Jake Browning. Man did we time Jared Goff's eligibility all wrong.

If you want to know which quarterback is next on Oregon's wheel-o-good-but-not-Mariota, read up on Dakota Prukop here.

USC basketball picked up a big boost when former Duke point guard Derryck Thornton decided to transfer to become a Trojan. He undeniably struggled in his only season at Duke, but with a year to sit out and practice he'll likely have a major impact in a season.

I still can't believe that Brennan Scarlett was the only player standing between Stanford and defensive line depth chart abyss last season.