PAC-12 Preview 1.0:
After Justin Herbert departed from Oregon to the NFL Draft, the PAC-12 has become more open to crowning a champion. Oregon used to be THE dominant force for that conference, but now that their leader is gone, it seems as if a few underdogs could sneak in to win. Yes, Oregon still is the favorite to win, but it might not be that easy. Both California and USC are teams to look out for this year. 2020 should shape up to be one of the most competitive years that the PAC-12 has had in a while.
Teams with a chance of winning:
- Oregon Ducks :
Though the Ducks have lost their best player from 2019, they have a lot of defensive starters and offensive weapons returning. These guys are still the favorite to win their conference, but replacing their best player will be hard. Backup quarterback Tyler Slough should end up being the starter for the Ducks, and he will have a few veterans to work with on the offensive end. For example, both CJ Verdell and Jaylon Redd will be returning, giving experience to the freshmen. Speaking of freshmen, Oregon has brought in a few freshmen that can really help this team in the future. Outland Trophy winner Penei Sewell is going to help the O-Line, along with Noah Sewell, a future leader as a linebacker. All in all, if this Oregon team can come back with the same confidence as they did last year, no team in the conference should be a HUGE problem for them.
- California Golden Bears:
After closing the 2019-2020 campaign on a three game win streak, Cal is ready to have a breakout year and become PAC-12 Champions. The defense for the Golden Bears hasn’t been the problem, it’s been the struggling offense. Quarterback Chase Garbers finished the season on a strong note, and proved to the staff that he is worthy of leading this team to unexpected territory. It’s as simple as having a consistent offense for Cal. If this offense can provide points continuously, there should be no problem getting to the Pac-12 Championship.
- USC Trojans:
In the 2019-2020 campaign, the USC Trojans finished with a record of 8-5, three of those losses being outside of the conference. This year’s schedule isn’t very friendly either. I have the Trojans losing three games. The losses come against the Crimson Tide, Oregon, and Notre Dame. Other than those three, the Trojans should be able to wrap up the Pac-12 with little to no problems. Getting over the hump has been the main problem for USC, and because of this year’s schedule, I can’t imagine them getting close to the CFP. If USC somehow snuck into the Pac-12 Championship Game, it would be a huge step for this program.
Teams who need some help:
- Utah Utes:
After last season’s great run for the Utes, they are likely going to be heading in the wrong direction in 2020. For this next season, the absences on the defensive end are going to be the main problem. Utah will have just 2 starters returning on defense, the rest now NFL players. Their strong suit was defense, and now that experience will be lacking, there’s just no way to see them in the top 5 again. Not to mention Quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss departing. Yes, the Utes will have veterans returning on offense, but the main leaders will not be there for the 2020 campaign.
- Arizona State:
The Arizona State Sun Devils have been a roller coaster team for the past couple of seasons, and have stayed in the middle of the Pac-12. With every loss last season being within 10 points (other than Utah), Sun Devil fans are used to close nail biters. This season Quarterback Jayden Daniels will be returning, bringing more veteran presence to the offense. The schedule this season for Arizona State isn’t hard outside of the Pac-12, it’s their conference rivals who will stop them from being Pac-12 champions. The up-and-down play from ASU is the main reason as to why they can’t get to the next level. One game it seems they can pull off an upset against Oregon, and then next week, you will think as if a matchup against Oregon will be over by the third quarter. If Herm Edwards can find a way to stop the inconsistency, I would have less doubts about this team.
- Washington Huskies:
Huskies fans can think of the upcoming season as a “fresh start.” Many staff members and team leaders will not be returning. Quarterback Jacob Eason will no longer be at Washington, along with the head coach. Replacing Eason won’t be easy, but hopefully the rest of the offense can help the incoming quarterback. Other veteran presence will be lost, receivers, and offensive linemen are just a couple of the positions that will need a filled gap. This year, Washington shouldn’t be aiming for a championship. The goal should be to get the team to find a connection, and gel together.
Teams who are in, or going into the rebuilding stage:
- Stanford Cardinal:
Unlike many other teams in the conference, Stanford will have their starting quarterback return for the 2020-2021 season. Davis Mills has shown a lot of promise throughout his career, and fans are hoping for an unexpected year for Mills. The Cards are hoping to get out of the rebuilding stage, and to get back into contention like they used to. This season hopefully won’t be anything close to last year, but I see no improvements to this team to make me think otherwise.
- Washington State Cougars:
The main headline this offseason for Washington State was the departure of Mike Leach. After Leach left for Mississippi State, the Cougs replaced him with Nick Rolovich. These two have similar coaching styles, but don’t expect the play from Washington State to be the same. Quarterback Anthony Gordon is gone, which is yet another hole needing to be filled. On the defensive side, most veterans will be back to help, including Skyler Thomas, the team’s second leading tackler. The 2020 campaign isn’t looking very bright for these guys, but hopefully something good can be taken away with a brand new QB and Head Coach on the field.
- UCLA Bruins:
After last season’s result, I think that UCLA still has a lot of room to improve in. The Bruins might be able to fight for bowl eligibility, but it will take a lot of outstanding performances. Three of the offensive linemen are gone, along with running back Joshua Kelly. There really isn’t much to say about this next season other than a bowl appearance would help Chip Kelly remain the head coach at UCLA.
- Oregon State Beavers:
After being one win away from a bowl game last season, it seems like the Beavers will be taking a step in the wrong direction in 2020. Oregon State has lost their quarterback and leading receiver. The staff will need to make some good replacements to get this team back into bowl contention. The defensive side shouldn’t be a huge problem for the Beavers; they will have a lot of starters returning for the next season. It could come down to the last game again this year, but hopefully Oregon State will be able to prove doubters wrong.
- Arizona Wildcats:
This Wildcat football team now seems like a big mess. Arizona lost their last seven games last season, and left many fans disappointed. These guys are obviously heading into rebuild mode, hoping to land top recruits in the future. Khalil Tate is now gone, along with leading rusher J.J. Taylor. On top of last year’s disappointment, there will be even more gaps to fill. Hopefully blowouts won’t be a norm for the Wildcats this year, we will see if they can prove otherwise.
- Colorado Buffaloes:
After the surprising departure of Mel Tucker, many questions are needed to be answered by this Colorado program. The Buffaloes schedule isn’t too easy either, with opponents like Texas A&M and Oregon, these guys will have quite a bit of challenge throughout the season.
After looking through all the teams in the Pac-12, it seems like most starting quarterbacks will not be coming back. Although on the other side of the ball, some veterans will be returning for most teams. My prediction is that Oregon will go back-to-back, and win the Pac-12 once again. Both Cal and USC can make it interesting, but I still think the Ducks will pull through.