Pac-12 teams went 3-4 in bowl games last season. The conference has not had a playoff team in the previous two seasons. Oregon will head into the season as Pac-12 favorites, with Washington and Washington State not too far behind in the North Division. The South Division is up for grabs with Utah, USC, and Arizona probably fighting for the top spot. Here is my early Pac-12 conference ranking:
Quarterback Justin Herbert is returning for his senior season to lead the Ducks. He should also be one of the Heisman Trophy favorites thus season. Also returning are running backs C.J Verdell and Travis Dye. The receivers are the big question marks. With the departure of Dillion, Mitchell receiver will be an issue. The Ducks offensive line is on target to be one of the best in college football. I think the offense will be pretty explosive.
The Defense lost a few key players, but the linebacking core is outstanding. Also, the Ducks top cornerbacks are returning led by Thomas Graham.
Washington will be led by Georgia transfer Jacob Eason. He will be ready to step in and possibly be better that than last year quarterback Jake Browning. Salvon Ahmed will be prepared to take on a more significant role and breakout this season. The Huskies top receivers are back, so the bodes well for Eason and they only lost one start to their offensive line.
The Huskies took a big hit on defense losing there top two tacklers Ben Burr-Kirven and Tevis Bartlett. Also gone are cornerback Byron Murphy and safety Taylor Rapp. Washington recruited heavily on the defensive side of the ball, so they will be young and inexperienced.
3. Washington State
Gardner Minshew moved on to the NFL in his place could be Eastern Washington transfer Gage Gurbrud. He will have a loaded receiving core to work within passing offense. James Williams will be a significant loss at running back, the Cougars will need help at that position.
The Cornerback position will be an issue they need somebody to step up in spring ball. The safety spots are secure though, Skyler Thomas will need to lead the secondary.
Stanford has Quarterback KJ Costello returning, but all of his supporting cast left to go play in the NFL. The Cardinals need to replace three offensive lineman, top two rushers, and number one receiver. Tight end Colby Parkinson will step in as the go-to guy for Costello. Osiris St. Brown and Michael Wilson will need time to develop at the receiver position.
On the defensive side of the ball, Stanford will need to replace all four of their starting linebackers. Cornerback Paulson Adebo is a rising star and will lead the Cardinal secondary. One thing you can count on from Stanford is that they will play a physical brand of football.
Cal is my sleeper team, they have made significant progress under head coach Justin Wilcox. Chase Garbers returns as the starting quarterback and must improve. Garbers struggled last season and will need to come back stronger for this season for the Bears to be successful. Cal has receivers returning, so the passing game should be much better with the familiarity. The offensive line returns four starts, so Garbers should have time to pass the ball.
The defense will lead this Cal team. They are returning eight starters from last season. Linebacker Evan Weaver will lead the defense and everybody in the secondary returns. I expect big things from the Cal defense this season, but the offense could hold them back.
6. Oregon State
Oregon State has the skill players in place to be completive this season. Running back Jermar Jefferson leading the way, he rushed for 1,380 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman. Tyjon Lindsey, Isiah Hodgins, Trevon Bradford, and Noah Togiai will help the passing attack. Jake Luton will be returning for sixth-year eligibility, but it will be up to the offensive line to keep him upright. The offensive line last season was suspect at best.
The defense did not lose a lot of key players, but they must improve; they allowed over 40 points per game. Oregon State defense will get a boost from transfers Addison Gumbs and Avery Roberts.
The Utes are returning quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss. Also, returning is five of there top six receivers and a fast-improving offensive line. Receiver Britain Covey is recovering from a knee injury, and it will be crucial to see how fast he can return. He caught 60 passes last season.
Utah’s defense led the Pac-12 in rushing defense and held teams to 19.4 points per game. The entire defensive line is back, Bradlee Anae is back he had 8 sacks last season. The Utes have outstanding cornerback in Javelin Guidry, Julian Blackmon, and Jaylon Johnson. I think the Utes will be a team to be reckoned with, they could take out Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.
USC will need to rebound after a disappointing 5-7 season. Returning is quarterback JT Daniels and all of his receivers. Amon St. Brown, Daniels favorite target and playmaker, leads the receiving core. Along with Tyler Vaughns, the USC passing attack should be dangerous. The Trojans will need more out of the running back position and must repair the offensive line.
The Trojans defense is a mess. Last season USC gave up 164.8 yards rushing a game and gave up 27 points a game. But the defensive front six are all returning, and with a year under their belt, they should be better. The linebacking core is young and will need time to develop. The secondary is the big question, they need to replace all four starters back there.
3. Arizona State
Gone out Arizona State is quaterback Manny Wilkins and star receiver N’Keal Harry. Dillion Sterling-Cole is the favorite to start at quarterback for the Sun Devils. But they have three other quarterbacks who will battle for the job also. Jayden Daniels, Joey Yellen, and Ethan Long are all highly talent quarterback prospects for Arizona state. Eno Benjamin is one of the best running backs in college football, i expect Arizona State to lean on him until the quarterback situation stabilizes. With Harry gone, the Sun Devils still have some talented receivers on the roster.
The Arizona State defense returns most of their starters from last season. They are led by linebackers, Merlin Robertson and Darien Butler. The defense will have to replace both safeties, but they are loaded with prospects in the secondary. I feel Arizona State is another team that could surprise, I am always pulling for Herm Edwards.
Khalil Tate returns as the Arizona quaterback. Last season he threw for 26 touchdowns passes and played with an injured ankle most of the season. Also, returning is running back J.J Taylor he had 2,107 total yards from scrimmage last season. Arizona lost there top three receivers, so there is some work to be done there. The offensive line returns for starters, so that unit should be improved from last season.
The defense gave up 32.6 a game last season, they have to be better this season. Returning is linebacker Colin Schooler, who had 21.5 tackles for a loss last season. The Secondary returns all four starters and must play better, they got beat deep a lot last season. Arizona will be an exciting team the offense will score, but can the defense play better.
Chip Kelly year two will be underway this season. The Bruins started out 0-5 but played better as the season went on. Dorian-Thompson will be the quarterback and should be outstanding in Chip Kelly’s offense in year two. Running back Joshua Kelly is back after rushing for 1,243 yards and 12 touchdowns. Theo Howard will lead the receivers he caught 51 passes last season. The offense should be much improved last season, also returning are four offensive linemen.
The UCLA was young last season, and it showed they gave up 34 points a game. With a season under the young player’s belt, there should be an improvement on the defensive side of the ball. UCLA will be an intriguing team, they will score points and probably will give up a ton too.
Colorado will have a new coach in Mel Tucker. Quarterback Steven Montez will back after throwing 19 touchdowns last season. He will throw to one the Nations best receivers, Laviska Shenaoult, who caught 86 balls for 1,011, and six touchdowns. The running back position is a significant need with Travion McMillian leaving. The offensive line returns four starters, so Montez should be protected pretty well.
Mel Tucker background is defense, so the Buffalos should improve there fast. Linebacker Nate Landerman and defensive end Mustafa Johnson will help lead the turnaround. The Colorado Secondary has a lot of returning players back there, so that should help the defense. I look for Colorado to be very competitive this year with the new coaching staff.
I think this will be an exciting season for Pac-12 football. I see a lot of teams getting better and competing this year. I want to see Pac-12 play better defense, that would hods Pac-12 teams back in games against other top-notch conferences. I feel it will be Oregon and Utah battling in the Pac-12 title game this year.
Lamarr Fields is a big time college football fan, covering all things Pac-12 for Saturday Tailgate