Last season, the Pac-12 had many dominant defensive back corps, with three teams being ranked in the Top 10, in passing defenses in the nation. With the combination of playing in a stacked conference, and having a young quarterback & receiving corp, the Oregon State Beavers were the runner-up for worst passing offense in the Pac-12. While the Beavers quarterback situation may still be fluid, the reality of many rival schools losing their best defensive backs to the National Football League draft, opens the door for Oregon State to have a rejuvenating season. However, the Beavers will have to prove their worth against these five daunting secondaries in the upcoming season.
5. USC Trojans
The Beavers take a trip to So-Cal during the midpoint of the season. Last season, USC finished top 50 in the nation in passing defense thanks in part to defensive backs, Adoree’ Jackson and Leon McQuay III who both got drafted in the NFL. Despite these departures, The Trojans still have a promising defensive back in Iman Marshall, who had three interceptions last season, one of them coming in the 2016 Rose Bowl. The trio of Marshall, senior, Johnathan Lockett, and Isaiah Langley should give the Beavers’ receiving group a run for their money and make them truly earn every catch. USCs’ safety tandem of Matt Lopes & Marvel Tell III will also make it challenging for Oregon State to complete deep passes.
4. Minnesota Golden Gophers
The only non-conference team on the list, The Golden Gophers proved last season that they can hang with the big boys, holding Penn State quarterback, Trace McSorely to under 50% completion percentage, and Washington State quarterback, Luke Falk to a pedestrian 24.8 QBR respectively. Golden Gophers’ defensive backs, Duke McGhee and Jacob Huff’s experience with elite receivers should be up for the task of covering OSU’s receivers and tight ends.
3. Stanford Cardinal
Although Christian Mcaffrey was the star for Stanford last season, their 25th ranked pass defense was also a key to their successful 2016 10-3 campaign. Last season, the Cardinal gave Marcus McMaryion his second worst game of the season, holding him to fewer than 150 yards, one touchdown, and a horrendous 30.9 total quarterback rating. Stanford also intercepted McMaryion twice in the second half of their 26-15 victory. With both starting cornerbacks returning for their senior season, we can either see the junior quarterback get his vengeance from last season, or Stanford shut him down two seasons in a row.
2. UCLA Bruins
One would think that the team who lead the Pac 12 conference in passing touchdowns allowed, second in passes defended, and finished third in interceptions would be ranked number one on this list. However, the number one team on this list slightly edged them. UCLA can mirror last season’s accomplishments due to their returning safety duo that consists of Jaleel Woodward and Adarius Rickett. Corners, Nathan Meadors and Johnny Johnson also have the ability to contain the outside receivers, making another possible nightmare for Marcus Manyion, who had his worst QBR as a starter last season.
1. Colorado Buffaloes
In the Pac 12, there was no better ball hawking team than the Buffaloes. Along with 15 interceptions, the Buffaloes had an outstanding 72 passes defended, 12 more than the runner up UCLA Bruins & USC Trojans. Not only did the Buffaloes have success within their conference, they were also the fifth-best passing defense in the nation. Despite the loss of their top cornerback, Chidobe Awuzie, it is highly unlikely that Colorado will not continue to make opposing quarterbacks’ and receivers’ Saturday rough.