Washington Huskies 11-2 (8-2)
When Chris Petersen was named as the head football coach of the Washington Huskies in 2014, he was brought to Seattle to restore order, and get the program back to consistently contending for the Pac-12 Championship. Petersen has done just that as the Huskies have won two out of the last three Pac-12 Titles. And although that the Dawgs have lost some talent to the National Football League, they will once again be a force in the Pac-12.
The past several years saw Jake Browning become one of the top quarterbacks in Washington history, and when his eligibility expired following the conclusion of the Rose Bowl this past January, Petersen had his heir apparent waiting in the wings.
Jacob Eason’s collegiate story began in the Southeastern Conference with the Georgia Bulldogs where he appeared ready to etch his name into the program’s history. However Eason would get the “Wally Pip” treatment when an injury would shelve him as Jake Fromm would lead the Dawgs to an SEC Title, as well as a berth in the national championship game. Eason saw the writing on the wall, and decided to return home as he is a native of Lake Stevens, Washington.
But what Petersen and the Huskies are getting in Eason is a big quarterback that can sling it all over the field as he will definitely be in the mix to be the Pac-12’s Newcomer of the Year.
Eason’s go-to-guy in the passing game will be senior wide receiver Aaron Fuller who has the ability to line up in different spots, while he is also a leaper, and solid route runner.
Washington has a long history of quality running backs coming through their program, and they’ll have another one this year in junior Salvon Ahmed. Ahmed spent the last two years serving as a backup to Myles Gaskin, but now will be the time for him to shine, and show off his blazing speed.
The Huskies will also have one of the best offensive lines in the conference which includes three upperclassmen as they’ll be led by senior left tackle Trey Adams who is an anchor up front.
Defensively Washington was 12th in the nation in total defense last season as they could be very stingy at times. Unfortunately for Washington they have to replace a wealth of talent from last year’s defensive as only linebacker Brandon Wellington and free safety Myles Bryant are the only seniors that are starting which means that co-defensive coordinators Jimmy Lake and Pete Kwiatkowski will be dealing with a “green” unit to start the season.
The Huskies should benefit from having to face the USC Trojans, Oregon Ducks and Washington State Cougars at home, while their huge road test will be versus the Stanford Cardinal on October 5 will more than likely determine who wins the Pac-12 North, and gets to Santa Clara in December.
Stanford Cardinal 8-4 (6-3)
When David Shaw was named as the head football coach of the Stanford Cardinal in 2011, his hire fell under the category of being an “afterthought”. But Shaw has let his work speak for him as during his tenure at Palo Alto, Stanford has won three Pac-12 Conference Titles, while his 73 wins are more than any other head coach in the program’s history. Stanford was on the heels of winning another Pac-12 Championship last year until close losses to the Washington Huskies and Washington State Cougars knocked them out of contention. And although that the Cardinal fell short of winning the Pac-12 last year, they still recorded their eighth 9-win season in the last nine years as they’ll once again be in contention to be the top team in the conference.
Quarterback K.J. Costello had a big year for the Cardinal in 2018 as he passed for 3,540 yards, while also throwing 29 touchdowns. Costello has a big arm, and he is playing for a head coach in Shaw who knows how to develop and get the most out of his quarterbacks.
In recent years the Cardinal have had their fair share of quality offensive linemen play for them and they have another one to keep an eye on this season in junior right tackle Walker Little who’ll be anchoring the weak side of one of the better units in the conference.
Defensively the Cardinal have the makings of one of the better units in the conference due to their returning talent. Stanford defensive coordinator Lance Anderson loves to have versatile players on his unit and he will have a pair of outside linebackers who fit that mold in senior Jordan Fox and junior Gabe Reid as each is solid in coverage, while also being able to rush the passer. Junior cornerback Paulson Abedo has the best hands on the team which is a big reason why he is a first-team All-Pac-12 member, and his coverage skills are not that shabby either.
Right out of the gate Stanford will be tested as their first four opponents of the season will be the Northwestern Wildcats of the Big Ten Conference, the USC Trojans, the Central Florida Knights of the American Athletic Conference, and the Oregon Ducks. However under Shaw, the Cardinal have always proven to be a resilient team which means that they’ll once again be in the thick of things in the Pac-12 North.
Oregon Ducks 9-3 (6-3)
The Mario Cristobal era as the head football coach of the Oregon Ducks got off to a solid start as his program was able to win 9 games last year which included an upset victory over the Washington Huskies. Cristobal brought some infamous “swagger” with him to Eugene as during his playing career he was a two-time national champion with the Miami Hurricanes who for the longest time have let people know that they brought swagger to college football. But all that aside Cristobal heads into the 2019 college football season with an Oregon team that is not only capable of pushing Washington for the top spot in the Pac-12 North, but also winning the conference and getting to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2011 season. The excitement for the Ducks is back in full effect in Eugene, but will Oregon be up for the challenge?
It was good news for Oregon and bad news for the rest of the Pac-12 when quarterback Justin Herbert decided to put off the National Football League Draft in order to return to school for his senior year. At 6’6″, 237 lbs., Herbert has the prototypical size for the pro game, while he has a litany of skills in his arsenal which includes possessing a strong as well as good field vision. And those intangibles will put Herbert in the running to be the Pac-12’s Offensive Player of the Year.
When you think of Oregon football in recent years, the focus is on the passing game, but the program is also dedicated to running the football. Sophomore running back CJ Verdell is a shifty ball carrier who is equally elusive as a runner and receiver which makes him the perfect complimentary player to the Ducks passing attack.
There is also plenty of experience in front of Herbert on the offensive line as the Ducks will have a quartet of seniors which includes a pair of preseason first-team All-Pac-12 members in right tackle Calvin Throckmorton and left guard Shane Lemieux.
Two impact players to keep an eye on for Oregon defensively will be senior linebacker Troy Dye and sophomore safety Jevon Holland. Holland was one of the top freshman in the Pac-12 last year has he tallied 5 interceptions, while Dye is equally good in regards to playing the run as well as the pass.
Oregon’s season will begin in prime time when they travel to Arlington, Texas to face the Auburn Tigers of the Southeastern Conference, while road games against the Stanford Cardinal, Washington Huskies, USC Trojans, and Arizona State Sun Devils will make it tough for the Ducks to reach the Pac-12 Title Game.
Washington State Cougars 8-4 (6-3)
The Washington State Cougars enter the 2019 college football season fresh off of one of their best years in program history. Last year the Cougars won a school record 11 games, while they finished in the top ten of the Associated Press Poll for the first time in 15 years. But even as good as 2018 was for the Cougars, they still fell short winning the Pac-12 Conference for the first time since 2002 as a loss to the Washington Huskies in the Apple Cup prevented them from getting to the conference title game. But even though that the Cougs fell short of winning the Pac-12 last year, this cannot be overlooked as long as Mike Leach is their head football coach.
During Leach’s time as a head coach in the college football ranks, he has always been known for his “air-raid” offense that puts up of numbers and passing yardage. Last year it was quarterback Gardiner Menshew who threw for more than 4,700 yards, and this season it’ll be senior Gage Grubrud that will have the opportunity to operate Leach’s offense.
Grubrud comes to Washington State after lighting it up at the Football Championship Subdivision level for the Eastern Washington Eagles. In 2016, Grubrud was the Big Sky Conference’s Co-Offensive Player of the Year as he set an FCS single-season record for passing yardage with 5,160. Grubrud’s ability to throw the football allows him to be tailor made for Leach’s pass heavy offense, and he’ll be a prime candidate to the Pac-12’s Newcomer of the Year.
Every wide receiver gets an opportunity to shine in Leach’s offense and two to keep an eye on this year will be senior Dezmon Patmon and junior Davontavean Martin. At 6’4″, 220 lbs., Patmon is a matchup problem for the smaller cornerbacks, while he should a big time impact in the red zone due to his leaping ability, and the same can be said for the 6’3″ Martin.
Defensively junior middle linebacker Jahud Woods is a tone setter for his ability to stuff the run as he will help Wazzu have one of the top defenses in the Pac-12.
You cannot accuse Washington State of playing a cupcake schedule this year as aside from traveling to face the Houston Cougars of the American Athletic Conference, they’ll also be on the road to tangle with the Utah Utes, Oregon Ducks, and Washington Huskies.
California Golden Bears 5-7 (3-6)
In order for any sports program to take the next step, they have to win games that they aren’t expected to be victorious in. That was the case for California Golden Bears in 2018 as upset wins over the Washington Huskies and USC Trojans helped them finish with a winning record for the first time under head football coach Justin Wilcox. Wilcox is attempting to build a program in Berkeley that not only a consistent winner, but will also compete for Pac-12 Championship. Rome was not built in a day, but how much improvement should we expect from the Bears in 2019?
Wilcox and the Bears are lacking impact players on the offensive side of the football, while wide receiver Jordan Duncan is the only senior in Cal’s starting lineup on offense. And as the Golden Bears were 115th in the nation in total defense last season, they’ll once again have their struggles on that side of the ball.
But if Cal intends to be a bowl team for the second consecutive year, their defense will have to carry them. Senior inside linebacker Evan Weaver will be a Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year candidate due to the fact that he tackles anything that moves. And aside from Weaver, the Golden Bears arguably have ht best secondary in the Pac-12 as it features junior cornerback Camryn Bynum, senior free safety Ashtyn Davis, and senior strong safety Jaylinn Hawkins.
Cal’s road schedule will be one of the toughest in the nation as it includes meetings with the Ole Miss Rebels of the Southeastern Conference, as well as Pac-12 meeting with the Washington Huskies and Oregon Ducks.
Oregon State Beavers 2-10 (1-8)
It’s hard to believe but it has been six years since the Oregon State Beavers finished with a winning record. The Beavers have really fallen on hard times as they’ve been steam rolled by the competition in the Pac-12 Conference. Jonathan Smith is entering his second season as the head football coach at Oregon State, and more than anything else, he needs to find a way to get his team to compete. Last year the Beavers lost six games by at least 21 points, while they surrendered at least 42 points in seven ball games. And if Smith and the Beavers are unable to find a way to improve, the cold chill of the Corvallis fall and winter will feel worse than what it already is.
There are some bright spots on offense for Oregon State that are returning this season. Sophomore running back Jermar Jefferson is coming off of a solid freshman campaign where he gained 1,380 yards on the ground, while also getting 12 rushing touchdowns. Jefferson is a game changer, and he will need to have another huge season if the Beavers are going to be able to improve in the Pac-12.
Junior wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins is a big and physical pass catcher who’ll have a big impact if senior quarterback Jake Luton is able to get him the football enough. The Beavers also have an adequate offensive line which is anchored by senior left guard Gus Lavaka who is one of the best in the business in regards to plowing the road.
But even though that Oregon State will be able to score this year, it won’t mean a thing if their defense is unable to stop opponents. Last year the Beavers were ranked 129th out of 130 schools at the Football Bowl Subdivision level in regards to total defense. Oregon State will have five upperclassmen starting on defense this year, but will that experience which includes senior inside linebacker Shemar Smith be enough for the Beavers to be a winner?
The focus for Oregon State needs to be on fielding a team that’ll compete in the Pac-12 as the rest of the conference currently views them as an easy win.
USC Trojans 9-4 (7-3)
2018 was a year to forget for the Southern California Trojans. Injuries and inexperience derailed the Men of Troy’s chances of repeating as Pac-12 Conference Champions which resulted in USC finishing with a losing record for the first time since 2000. ‘SC’s struggles led to many people around the program calling for the dismissal of head football coach Clay Helton, but USC athletic director Lynn Swann decided to stick by his beleaguered head coach. However as a new college football campaign is on the horizon, Helton knows that he will need to rack up the wins in order to silence his critics in Los Angeles.
After a disappointing 2018, the plan was for the Trojans to upgrade their passing attack which was 48th in the nation last season. The original plan for USC was to hire former Texas Tech Red Raiders head football coach Kliff Kingsbury to be their new offensive coordinator, but he bailed on them in order to become the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in the National Football League. Helton would however still dip into the pool of former Texas Tech quarterbacks as he found Graham Harrell to be the new offensive coordinator at USC.
Like Kingsbury, Harrell was a quarterback who threw the football all around the field at Texas Tech under head football coach Mike Leach. And as Helton wants to install the air-raid offense in Los Angeles, Harrell will be the right guy to help him.
Harrell will be working with quarterback JT Daniels who after putting together a solid freshman campaign last fall which included throwing 14 touchdown passes, will now be asked to do more which includes him asserting himself as a leader.
In regards to the running game for USC, the cupboard is rarely bare as they look to continue their tradition as “Tailback U”. After being used sparingly in his first two years with the Trojans, Stephen Carr will be getting more reps in this his junior season. Carr is a burner who will definitely benefit in ‘SC’s passing attack can going as he’ll be trouble for a defense if he is able to get to the edge.
As Clancy Pendergast is set to begin his fifth season as USC’s defensive coordinator, his unit must get more aggressive. Last season the Trojans were 60th in the nation in total defense with their best returning impact player being senior inside linebacker John Houston Jr.
The Trojans won’t have an easy schedule as they’ll be on the road to face the likes of the Washington Huskies and Notre Dame Fighting Irish, but a solid season in the Pac-12 will be just what the doctor ordered in for Helton to secure his job status in Los Angeles.
Utah Utes 8-4 (6-3)
Since joining the Pac-12 Conference in 2011, the Utah Utes have been a thorn the side of the top teams in the league. But things would come together for the Utes last season as they won the Pac-12 South for the first time in school history. Utah would fall short of winning their first Pac-12 Championship, but they once again showed that they cannot be overlooked in this league. And as Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham once again has a team full of players that were overlooked coming out of high school, these pesky Utes are prepared to once again be a force in the Pac-12 South.
Senior quarterback Tyler Huntley does not have the intangibles that jump off of the page, but he is solid, and more importantly he knows how to win. And aside from winning, Huntley knows how to take care of the football as well as lead which endears him to Whittingham.
The Utes are a blue-collar program under Whittingham and he puts an emphasis on running the football. Last year running back Zack Moss gained 1,096 yards on the ground, while also accounting for 11 rushing touchdowns as he is a thick ball carrier who knows how to lean on opposing defenses.
Last year the Utes were ranked 14th in the nation in total defense, and even though that they have to replace some key talent from that unit, they still have the potential to be special here in 2019. Senior defensive end Bradlee Anae is arguably the best pass rusher in the Pac-12, and he will be vital for what Utah wants to do this season. Junior cornerback Jaylon Johnson is equally as good at covering wide receivers as he is at picking off quarterbacks.
Utah will fly under the radar for most of the season, but come season’s end they’ll be one of the top teams in the Pac-12 South.
Arizona State Sun Devils 7-5 (6-3)
When Herman Edwards was hired to be the head football coach of the Arizona State Sun Devils last year, it was met with a ton of raised eyebrows. Edwards had been out of coaching for 10 years, while he had not been involved with the college game for more than 30. But under Edwards, the Sun Devils would shock many observers (yours included) to finish with a winning record which included wins over the Michigan State Spartans of the Big Ten Conference as well as the USC Trojans. However it is time for Edwards and his Sun Devils to show us what they can do for an encore here in 2019 as they look to be a contender in the Pac-12 South.
If you paid attention to Edwards’ time as a head coach in the National Football League, you know that he was a strong proponent of rushing the football. Last year the Sun Devils averaged 4.8 yards per carry, and you can expect another solid dose of the ground attack in Tempe.
Last season running back Eno Benjamin gained 1,642 yards on the ground en route to being a first-team All-Pac-12 member. Benjamin is a hard runner, but he is also durable as he attempted 300 carries last season, and Edwards will give him every opportunity with the football once more. And if that isn’t enough, all five members of Arizona State’s offensive line are seniors as this unit is led by senior center Cohl Cabral who begins the year as a member of the Pac-12’s second team.
In Edwards’ first year at Arizona State, some of freshman had solid impacts, and they’ll be expected to do more as sophomores. Last year outside linebacker Merlin Robertson led the Sun Devils in tackles, and he has quickly developed a reputation for being one of the top tacklers in the Pac-12. Along with Roberston, sophomore inside linebacker Darien Butler gives the Sun Devils one of the best linebacking units in the conference as Arizona State will have an attitude on defense this year.
Sophomore safety Aashari Crosswell led Arizona State in interceptions last year with 4, and his nose for the football will make quarterbacks around the Pac-12 think twice in regards to testing him.
Arizona State has the potential to be a force in the Pac-12 South as they’ll be in contention to reach the conference title game all season long.
Colorado Buffaloes 7-5 (4-5)
2016 seems like it was so long ago for the Colorado Buffaloes. In 2016, Colorado returned to glory as they won 10 games for the first time since 2001, while also earning a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game. But as quickly as it came together for Colorado, it has come apart. In each of the last two years Colorado finished the season with a record of 5-7 which resulted in the school parting with head football coach Mike MacIntyre. MacIntyre has been replaced by Mel Tucker who does not have any previous experience as a head coach, but he has a wealth of credentials as a defensive coordinator as he looks to make that unit stingy, while also making the overall team tougher and better.
Quarterback Steven Montez has seen his fair share of ups and downs at Colorado and he heads into his senior season looking to close out his career at Boulder by helping this team reach a bowl game. Montez will once again be throwing the football to arguably to top duo of pass catchers in the Pac-12 in wide receivers Laviska Shenault and K.D. Nixon. Shenault enters this season as a member of the Pac-12 all-first team as the 6’2″, 220-pound senior definitely has the pro scouts checking him out. And if opposing defenses wants to focus too much on Shenault, the junior Nixon will burn them with his blazing speed.
Tucker also inherits some talent on defense as junior defensive end Mustafa Johnson is one of the best edge rushers in the Pac-12, while the tackling ability of junior inside linebacker Nate Landman will make him a sleeper in the race to be the conference’s defensive player of year.
Tucker and the Buffaloes have an opportunity to set the tone for this season early when they travel to Denver to face the Colorado State Rams of the Mountain West Conference which will be followed up by hosting a former Big 12 Conference foe in the Nebraska Cornhuskers. And when Pac-12 play begins, Colorado will have tough road dates with the Oregon Ducks and Utah Utes, while also hosting the Stanford Cardinal and Washington Huskies in consecutive games.
UCLA Bruins 4-8 (3-6)
Although that Chip Kelly has a stellar reputation in regards to being a head coach at the collegiate level, the expectations were not that high for him entering his first year with the UCLA Bruins. And the Bruins held their end of the bargain for that as they lost their first five games under Kelly. UCLA would finish the season with a mark of 3-9 which was their worst year since 1989, but Kelly got a huge shot in the arm when his team was able to upset the USC Trojans. Kelly does not enjoy losing, and now with a full year under his belt in Los Angeles, are his Bruins ready to make a move in the Pac-12 South?
There is a solid battle going on between Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Austin Burton to be UCLA’s starting quarterback this year. Both Thompson-Robinson and Burton are true freshman, but most importantly they are guys the Kelly recruited to be his starting quarterback which will make a big difference as opposed to the Bruins offense from a year ago.
Last year running back Joshua Kelly emerged as a play maker for UCLA which led to him being a honorable mention for the All-Pac-12 squad. Kelly got the lion’s share of the carries last year, and his durability as well as explosiveness will once again make him a key cog for the UCLA offense.
Aside from the quarterback position, the Bruins will also be young upfront on the offensive line where there are no seniors starting which will make it even tougher for one of these freshmen quarterbacks to get it going without a lack of cohesion in front of him.
Defensive football has never been a calling card for any of Kelly’s teams which was once again the case last year for UCLA. The Bruins were 102nd in total defense, and the only two senior starters on that side of the football this year will be inside linebackers Krys Barnes and Josh Woods.
UCLA will avoid having to face the Washington Huskies and Oregon Ducks, but they’ll still have to deal with conference heavyweights in the Stanford Cardinal and USC, while also hosting the Oklahoma Sooners from the Big 12 Conference on September 14. The record might not reflect it by season’s end, but this UCLA team is heading in the right direction under Kelly.
Arizona Wildcats 6-6 (3-6)
The 2018 college football season didn’t get started on the right foot for the Arizona Wildcats as after losing their first two games of the campaign, they were playing catch up all year long. And when it was all said and done, the Wildcats had to settle for a 5-7 mark. Kevin Sumlin now has a year under his belt in Tuscon as Arizona’s head football coach, and with a pair of recruiting classes now in tow, will he be able to lead the Cats to a bowl game, while also making them contenders in the Pac-12 South?
One thing that we know about Sumlin’s offenses is that they know how to score. Last year the Wildcats were 24th in the nation in total offense, and they will once again be explosive. Senior quarterback Khalil Tate is looking to finish off his collegiate career on a positive note, while showing that he is one of the better dual-threat signal callers in the nation. And once you put junior running back J.J, Taylor in the backfield with Tate, opposing defenses really have their hands full.
But as good as the Wildcats can be on offense is just how difficult that things can be on them on defense. Last year the Cats were 92nd in the nation in total defense. One standout for Arizona’s defense heading into the new season in junior middle linebacker Colin Schooler who has solid instincts. But the Wildcats must find a way to produce more pressure on defense as they only generated 23 sacks last season.
Arizona will do plenty of scoring in 2019, but there season will be defined by whether or not their defense is able to make enough stops.
Pac-12 Championship Game-Levi’s Stadium-Santa Clara, California: Washington vs. USC
Conference Champion: Washington