Photo Courtesy of Pac-12
Written by: John Stocco
I’ll admit, the Pac-12 wasn’t the most exciting football to watch last season. I’ll also admit that’s probably not the best way to start an article previewing the conference. When you haven’t moved from your couch on a Saturday because you had the Big 10 kickoff at 11 CT, then you flipped to NBC and watched the Fighting Irish at 2:30, and then out comes Alabama and LSU at 7:30, you really start second guessing yourself when 10:00 comes around and you’re not sure if you’re getting an air raid attack from Washington State, or a ground and pound slugfest from the Washington Huskies. Last year it felt like collegiate football didn’t exist in the West Coast, but in 2019 that all can change, and quite honestly, it needs to change.
Key losses: Dillon Mitchell, Jalen Jelks, Justin Hollins, Ugo Amadi.
Players to watch: Justin Herbert, Juwan Johnson, Jacob Breeland, Calvin
Throckmorton, Shane Lemieux, Troy Dye, Kayvon Thibodeaux.
Oregon received great news all offseason. Justin Herbert returned for his senior season, Juwan Johnson transferred from Penn State, and top defensive recruit Kayvon Thibodeaoux is ready to play for the Ducks. Herbert was looking like he was going to be the first quarterback taken in the draft, but then the second half came and Herbert’s play along with the team fell off. Herbert is one of the most talented players in all of college football. He can make something out of nothing with his athleticism and his plus arm strength. Now that Oregon has Juwan Johnson look for Herbert and Johnson to be one of the best QB/WR combo in all of college football. Oregon has the most complete team in the Pac-12, and with one of the easiest schedules in the Pac, I believe Oregon will be back on top of the conference.
Key losses: Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin, Drew Sample, Kaleb McGary, Ben Burr-Kirven, Byron Murphy, Taylor Rapp.
Players to watch: Jacob Eason, Salvon Ahmed, Trey Adams, Levi Onwuzurike.
Washington has become the class of the Pac-12 conference since 2016, and even though they lost a lot of players to the NFL they’re still projected to be one of the top teams in the conference. Washington is known for their smash mouth defense and their physicality up front. This season the offensive efficiency can match the defenses. Jacob Eason, the Georgia transfer is a significant upgrade from Browning, as Eason is built for the NFL, he has the arm for the NFL, and he has the potential to be one of the first quarterbacks taken in the first round. Salvon Ahmed takes over for Myles Gaskin at running back. Ahmed, who put himself on the map last season showed that he’s ready to take on the workload. Rushing for 608 yards, catching for 170 and averaging 8.1 per catch, with 7 total touchdowns. Look for Ahmed to get more national love this season. Coach Petersen has a proven track record of developing great defensive players, but this season is one of the biggest tests for Chris Petersen. Next season he’ll have to replace his leading tackler, and two all-pro members of the secondary.
Key losses: Bryce Love, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Kaden Smith, Bobby Okerekee, Jake Bailey,
Players to watch: KJ Costello, Cameron Scarlett, Michael Wilson, Colby Parkinson, Walker Little, Paulsen Adebo.
Last season the Stanford Cardinal lost their identity. Bryce Love didn’t have the Heisman esque season we were all expecting, and the offensive line was one of the weakest parts of their team. This season that’s all expected to change. Stanford has two potential All American offensive lineman in Walker Little and Foster Sarell with those two leading the way in the trenches, Stanford can get back to their ground and pound style of football. Where things make a quick turn, is having KJ Costello. Yes, another Pac-12 quarterback with first-round aspirations. Stanford is a team that can get back into the category with other elite teams, but they’ll have to fight off one of the toughest schedules in college football.
4. Washington State
Key losses: Gardner Minshew, James Williams, Andre Dillard.
Players to watch: Max Borghi, Dovontavean Martin, Dezmond Patton, Easop Winston, Abraham Lucas, Jahad Woods.
I go to Concordia University. Safe to say we’re not the biggest football school, so last year I adopted Washington State as my favorite team. Losing Minshew will hurt, but all in all, it doesn’t matter who’s behind the center in the Mike Leach system. The Cougars are going to put up monster numbers on the offensive side of the ball, and having three wide receivers with NFL prospects will certainly help. Donvontavean Martin brought in 685 yards on 69 receptions, Patton caught the ball 61 times for 816 yards, and Winston showed how dangerous he can be after the catch in the slot. Watch out for Washington State this year. The culture is electric, they’re finally starting to have big program wins, and they’re going to cause fits in the Pac this year by causing more than a few upsets.
Key losses: Patrick Laird, Jordan Kunaszyk.
Players to watch: Evan Weaver, Ashtyn Davis, Jaylinn Hawkins, Tevin Paul.
CAL is a team that’s struggling to find their identity on offense. Walking into the 2019 season there’s a quarterback battle between Chase Garbers and Devon Modster. There isn’t that one running back they can depend on, and there isn’t that one standout wide receiver. On the defensive side of the ball, it’s a completely different team. One of the best defenses has eight returning starters. They led the conference in total defense, and takeaways. With another year with the majority of the core coming back, you have to expect the same, if not a better season of production.
6. Oregon State
Players to watch: Jermar Jefferson, Artavis Pierce, Isaiah Hodgins, Trevon Bradford, Hamilcar Rashest.
Oregon State has the exact opposite problem as the California Golden Bears. They can put up yards, and points, even with the inconsistent play from quarterback Jake Luton, and a bad offensive line. Jefferson and Pierce are a dynamic duo out of the backfield that could be the best in the conference. Both running backs put up a combined 1,788 yards, and 16 touchdowns. On the defensive side, they had a tough time stopping everybody. They gave up 537 yards, and 46 points per game leading to second worst in the country. It’s impossible to fix that over the course of one offseason, and it’s the biggest reason why I have the Beavers finishing last in the Pac-12 North.
Key losses: Chuma Edoga, Iman Marshall, Marvin Tell, Cameron Smith.
Players to watch: JT Daniels, Amon-Ra St. Bown, Michael Pittman, Austin Jackson, Christian Rector.
USC last year went through a tough rebuilding year last year. JT Daniels was playing quarterback with training wheels. Now is the season for the true sophomore to really put on a show and prove to the Trojan faithful that he’s the quarterback that can lead USC back to the championship stage. They don’t have that one famous running back the Trojans are used to having, but they have two wide receivers that are going to play on Sunday’s. Daniels, St Brown, and Michael Pittman could be three breakout stars playing for the same team. If the offensive line improves, and the defense grows into their own the Trojans will be back on top.
Key losses: Jackson Barton, Cody Barton, Marquise Blair, Mitch Wishnowsky.
Players to watch: Tyler Huntley, Zack Moss, Bradley Anae, Leki Fotu, Jaylon Johnson.
Great news for Utah is that there two best players are returning. Quarterback Tyler Huntley showed a bit of inconsistency in his play, and now that this is his senior season he has to show that he can put it all together. Not only to get Utah over the hump but to show NFL scouts that he can play at the next level. One running back that will be looked at by plenty of scouts is running back Zack Moss. Moss is a rough and rugged running back who likes to kill defense with his tough style of running. Me personally would love to see him develop as a receiver, but either way, he’s going to be the workhorse for the Utes. With Moss back, and another great year from their defense they will be right back playing in a big bowl game.
3. Arizona State
Key losses: N’Keal Harry, Renell Wren.
Players to watch: Eno Benjamin, Kyle Williams, Brandon Aiyuk, Merlin Robertson, Darien Butler.
I’m a big believer in Herm Edwards. I believe Herm Edwards is going to build a culture that will sustain success for the Sun Devils. They’re looking to replace their starting quarterback and their star wide receiver from the 2018 season. In 2019, Dillon Cole-Sterling, and a combo of Kyle Williams and Brandon Aiyuk look to replace the production of Manny Wilkins and N’Keal Harry. The one player that will lift the Sun Devils is Eno Benjamin. One of the most underrated running backs in college football who will get noticed quickly this season. Benjamin ran for 1,642, which was tied for 3rd in the nation, caught over 200 yards, and scored 16 TD’s. Eno Benjamin, along with a linebacker core that is explosive as much as they are exciting, the Arizona State Sun Devils are here to make noise in 2019.
Key losses: PJ Johnson.
Players to watch: Khalil Tate, JJ Taylor, Cedric Peterson, Colin Schooler, Jace Whittaker, Scottie Young.
This is the second year under Kevin Sumlin, and I’m expecting a better year. Khalil Tate is a dangerous dual-threat quarterback, but he was way too inconsistent in 2018, and with that, he was disappointing as some people looked at him as a Heisman candidate. A Wildcats team loaded with athletic playmakers, and most of their group on defense returning, I can see the Arizona Wildcats making one of the biggest jumps in the conference, let alone college football.
Key losses: Travon McMillian, Juwan Winfree.
Players to watch: Steven Montez, Jaren Mangham Laviska Shenault, Mustafa Johnson, Nate Landman.
Colorado made a head coaching change over the offseason and hired former Georgia’s defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. Tucker brought along Jay Johnson to be the new offensive coordinator. Bringing the Georgia championship experience with them to Colorado will not only help Colorado football, but it will take the Buffalos to the next level. Montez is a young exciting quarterback, and Shenault is one of the best receivers coming into the 2019 season. They’ll be looked at to carry the Buffaloes offense because with losing Travon McMillian and his 1,009 rushing yards, Colorado has a true freshman, Jaren Mangham starting at running back. Colorado is a team that looks really good on paper, but some skepticism comes with that.
Key losses: Caleb Smith.
Players to watch: Joshua Kelley, Theo Howard, Sean Rhyan, Darnay Holmes.
Another team that is looking to bounce back. Chip Kelly had a rough time his first season as the Bruins head coach, but give it time to recruit the specific players that fit his system, and UCLA is going to be back on top. There were some ugly games for UCLA last season, but once the season hit mid-October they started to come together and play better football. They suffered some heartbreaking losses, but I believe that will be a part of their growth and eventual success. They have their every-down back in Joshua Kelly who ran for over 1,000 yards with a beat-up offensive line, they have a solid receiving option in Theo Howard, but it’ll be tough to win a lot of games if the defense doesn’t improve, and if they can’t find their answer at quarterback. Dorian Thompson-Robinson or Chase Griffin. One of the young gunslingers are going to be put to the test.