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  • Dante Guardi

Pac 12 Season Preview

Pac 12 is here and looks to shake up this unorthodox college football season. Here are my predictions for every team and more!


North


1. California (6-1)- Cal enters this season as one of the most underrated teams in the country. If quarterback Chase Garbers can perform like he did at the end of last season, this team will beat Oregon. They return their two main contributors in Christopher Brown Jr and Nikko Remigio. I expect the Bears offense to take a big leap this season and for Garbers to prove himself as one of the best QBs in the pac 12 under new coordinator Bill Musgrave. The defense returns plenty of starters but will be without their best three from last season. Evan Weaver the tackle machine has left along with Ashtyn Davis and Jaylinn Hawkins. Head Coach, Justin Wilcox is a defensive mastermind however, so I don’t think they will have much of a problem retooling. The front seven returns plenty of experience in Luc Bequette and Zeandae Johnson as they both received 6th years of eligibility. Despite the loss of Evan Weaver, this is one of the best linebacking units in the country as Kuony Duong had 119 tackles last year and alongside him is Cameron Goode who had 9.5 sacks last season good enough for 3rd in the pac 12. Even the secondary who loses Hawkins and Davis will still be one of the best secondaries in the conference as they return corners Cameron Bynum and Elijah Hicks. A team that returns eighteen starters should not be getting slept on this much especially after ending last season 4-1. I think their experience is what sets them apart from Oregon and wins them the North.


2. Oregon (5-1)- Coming off a huge 2019 season where they won the Pac 12 and the Rose Bowl, the Ducks look to prove they are a force to be reckoned with. Justin Herbert leaves as one of the best Oregon Qbs ever and now enters Sophomore Tyler Shough. Shough appeared in 4 games last season and for his small sample size he did very well, I expect him to have a solid season but nothing special whatsoever. They return running back CJ Verdell who had a great season last year but there is no doubt in my mind he will regress due to Oregon losing all 5 of their offensive lineman including Penei Sewell, arguably the greatest offensive lineman of this decade. Their receiving corps is very scary as well, they return their 2 leading receivers, Johnny Johnson III and Jaylon Redd and expect Mycah Pittman and Devon Williams to break out. The receiving corps is the highlight of this offense but Shough’s inexperience and a new offensive coordinator will hold them back. As for the defense, if you asked me before Covid, i’d say Oregon's defense is the best in the country, but not anymore. 3 key players in the secondary, Javon Holland, Deommodore Lenoir and Thomas Graham, all opted out in order to focus on the NFL draft. Oregon recruits very well so they will still be solid but nowhere near as good as they were expected to be. Expect Brady Breeze to have a huge season as he really stepped up in the Pac 12 championship game and Rose Bowl. The Ducks also sport one of the most promising linebacker duos in Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe, a couple of 5 star recruits who have potential to be NFL stars. Coordinator Andy Avalos knows what he is doing so I expect Oregon's defense to be very good, but not as elite as some people believe. This team is pretty overrated and they lack senior experience which will hold them back from a Pac 12 Championship appearance.


3. Oregon State (3-3)- If you have followed the Pac 12, you know how bad Oregon State was a few years ago and how well Jonothan Smith has done since taking over this program. The record is not there but if you actually watch the games the improvement is impossible to miss. This year, they lose quarterback Jake Luton who was solid but not great and they replace him with Nebraska transfer Tristan Gebbia. Gebbia started for the Beavers in their loss to Oregon last year but had a solid game posting an 80.5 QBR. They return one of the most underrated running backs in the country, Jermar Jefferson who had over 1500 all purpose yards in 2018 but was riddled by injuries in 2019, if he can stay healthy expect him to have a huge year as wide receiver Isiah Hodgins declared early for the NFL draft. Trevon Bradford looks to fill his shoes, in 2018 he had over 600 yards but did not play in 2019 due to injury. This offense really just needs to stay healthy and if they can they will be one of the better offenses in the conference. On defense, they return another extremely underrated player in Hamiclar Rashed who is coming off a 14 sack, 22 TFL 2019. Alongside Rashed will be sophomore Omar Speights who had 73 tackles as a freshman. They also return Avery Roberts who led the team with 83 tackles last year. A very deep linebacking crew is the highlight of the defense. The secondary is also solid as they return a lot of experience such as Nashon Wright who led the team with 3 interceptions last year and David Morris who has 14 starts at safety. This team is criminally underrated and Jonothan Smith is turning this program around tremendously. It's a bit of a stretch but I think they beat Washington in week 2 as they will benefit playing their freshman Qb, inexperienced offensive and defensive line early in the season.


4. Washington (3-3)- Chris Peterson unexpectedly left the program that he solely rebuilt and now former defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake is the man in charge. The highlight of this team is the defense. Jimmy Lake is a defensive coach and they showed how dominant they could be in their final two games of last year. They were a very young group as they struggled at times but I expect them to take a huge step forward this year. Elijah Molden led the team in tackles last year as a cornerback and he also had 4 interceptions. Expect him, sophomore Trent Mcduffie and senior Keith Taylor to be the best cornerback trio in the conference and lock down opposing receivers. The defensive front is the weaker part of the defense but the secondary will make up for their inexperience and probable struggles. Washington’s offense is probably the toughest group to evaluate in the whole Pac 12. It looks like the starter will be freshman Ethan Garbers, brother of Cal quarterback Chase Garbers. Going up against a tough Cal defense in week one won’t do him any favors but I expect him to improve as the year goes on and having a strong receiving core led by Puka Nacua, Ty Jones and Cade Otton will help him tremendously. The run game is the big question. Their offensive line is very hard to evaluate as they lose a lot of production but recruited very well. As for their starting running back, it is going to be Kamari Pleasant who only had 16 carries last year. The beginning of the year will have some bad moments for their offense but they have lots of talent and as the season goes on I think they will be just fine. This is a solid team but nothing special. However, in a couple of years it will not surprise me to see them in the Rose Bowl.


5. Stanford (2-4)- They would be 1-5 but they got really lucky and drew Colorado for their crossover game. Last year, Stanford looked horrible and things aren’t looking good this year either. Davis Mills was merely average last year but got unlucky due to All American tackle Walker Little suffering a season ending injury. Little returns this year and looks to provide Stanford with a physical presence they lacked in 2019. The run attack is a big concern as they don’t have a clear cut starting running back. Look for Austin Jones and Ej Smith to compete for the job but neither have proved anything in their careers, so I think it is safe to say Stanford’s running game will be an issue once again. Mills’ best target is going to be tight end Colby Parkinson who it feels like has been at Stanford for ten years. They also have two formidable receivers in Michael Wilson and Connor Weddington. Stanford will have to rely heavily on their passing which is not a good sign as they have very average weapons and unless Davis Mills has a Joe Burrow esque turn around look for Stanford to have another miserable season. On defense, things don’t look any better. They lost four of their best tacklers from last season, three due to transfers and the only real playmaker on this defense is Paulson Adebo who had an underwhelming 2019 season after being considered one of the best defensive backs in the country. Stanford football is slowly dying and it is sad to see given how good they were just a few years ago.


6. Washington State (0-6)- There really isn't much to say here. They lose Anthony Gordon and Mike Leach and will replace them with Cam Cooper who has never started a game and Nick Rolovich who has never had a Power 5 head coaching job. Their defense was garbage last year and a new coach who is offensive minded will not help. With an inexperienced quarterback and a new system expect the Cougars offense to struggle as well. They have Max Borghi who is an NFL running back and well worth watching but other than him I don’t see much appeal in this team.


South


1. USC (7-0)- After Kedon Slovis’ huge freshman season, he forced JT Daniels to transfer to Georgia putting him in prime position to be USC’s next great QB. He loses Michael Pittman but still has Amon- Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns and Drake London who is bound to break out this season. The Trojans have three quality running backs in Stephen Carr, Vavae Malepeai and Markese Stepp and return three offensive linemen, this is the best offense in the Pac 12 and one of the best in the nation. On defense, they were very very bad last year but are sure to improve as they return most of their guys. Jay Tufele and freshman all american Drake Jackson are their stars when it comes to rushing the passer. At linebacker, the only sure starter is Palaie Gaoteote who had 58 tackles in 8 games in 2019. The secondary is deep but young, I expect Olijah Griffin to be the one to step up and set the tone at cornerback. They also have the best safety in the conference, maybe even the country in Talanoa Hufanga. Hufanga was struck with injuries throughout 2019 but if he can stay healthy he will be a phenomenal player. This team is incredibly talented and by far the best in the conference, it's just up to Clay Helton to not screw it up.


2. Utah (5-1)- After ending 2019 on a horrible note, the Utes look to build off what was still a great year. They lose Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss but I have no doubt they will rebuild amazingly as new quarterback Cameron Rising beat out South Carolina transfer Jake Bentley who had 33 starts under his belt and as for the running backs, Devin Brumfield and Jordan Wilmore showed flashes last year and 4 star recruit Ty Jordan looks to add to a deep committee. As for the receivers they get Britain Covey back after he missed 2019 due to injury. He is the most versatile player in the pac 12 as he can line up anywhere on the field and can even throw. They also return Bryan Thompson, Solomon Enis and Samson Nacua who have all been reliable weapons as long as they stay healthy. The strength of this offense however is tight end. Brant Kuithe is by far the best tight end in the conference and another versatile weapon as he had 3 rushing touchdowns, crazy for a tight end. Cole Fotheringham is their more traditional tight end and is a great blocker but will be used less in the pass game this year as the Utes added FCS all American Dalton Kincaid. Kincaid had over 800 yards last season along with 12 touchdowns. They return 4 offensive linemen and have 10 guys capable of starting according to Coach Kyle Whittingham. Very bold take but I expect Utah’s offense to improve this season despite losing the best RB in school history and the best quarterback they have had in their short time in the Pac 12. They lost a lot on defense as they had six guys drafted. There is no doubt the defense will regress but not as much as most people seem to believe as they are coming off their best recruiting class in school history. The best recruit in school history, Clark Phillips III will look to fill the shoes of Jaylon Johnson who is currently second in the NFL in PBUs as a rookie. Very big shoes to fill but I believe he will do a fine job. They got two four star defensive linemen in Xavier Carlton and Van Fillinger so expect them to be in the mix but look for Mika Tafua and Maxs Tupai to lead the defensive front as they both have started multiple games these past couple years. Linebacker Devin Lloyd had a huge breakout year last year as he had 91 tackles as a sophomore. As for their safeties, four star recruit Nate Ritchie will start immediately as well as Vontae Davis who got meaningful reps last year but did not start. Utah's defense is very inexperienced but loaded with potential. Because of the inexperience I see them losing to USC but would not be surprised to see them win. I think whoever wins that game will win the conference championship game.


3. Arizona State (3-3)- Better than their record, got screwed over by drawing Cal in the crossover. Herm Edwards is getting a lot more credit than he should for “rebuilding” ASU football when they weren’t really down bad in the first place, however he is still a solid coach. Quarterback Jayden Daniels is looking to build off a solid freshman year but it will be hard especially with their two best weapons, Eno Benjamin and Brandon Aiyuk going to the NFL. Frank Darby, one of the best deep ball receivers in the conference, returns and they signed Danyel Ngata to replace Benjamin. The X factor for this offense will be Daniels and how much he improves after an impressive freshman campaign. On defense they return almost all of their starters. Some players to look out for are Merlin Robertson and Jack Jones, two players that underperformed in 2019 but I believe will bounce back and carry this defense. New coordinators on both sides of the ball will hold back this team but they are still very talented so it would not surprise me if they finished higher than third in the south.


4. UCLA (2-4)- The Chip Kelly experiment has failed. There isn’t much to say about this team. Dorian Thompson- Robinson has been underwhelming and he doesn’t have much to work with as Devin Asiasi, his favorite target is gone. On defense, the Bruins were atrocious last year and they lose their top corner, Darnay Holmes this year. Expect another dismal year from UCLA as this is yet another dying Pac 12 program.


5. Arizona (1-5)- The only reason they are ahead of Colorado is because they have a returning quarterback. Grant Gunnell showed a lot of promise last year as he filled in for Khalil Tate while he was injured and even started over him on senior night. They lose JJ Taylor who was really their only weapon on offense and they don’t have a clear cut starter for this year. On defense, this team doesn’t even have a slot filled for middle linebacker, like their depth chart is just blank at that position which tells you all you need to know. Kevin Sumlin is driving this program into the ground.


6. Colorado (0-6)- Mel Tucker leaves for Michigan State which might be for the best as he was a horrible coach and was not ready for the job to begin with. Long time starter Steven Montez leaves and will be replaced by Sam Noyer who has never started a collegiate game in his life. I really have no idea what to expect from Noyer or first year head coach Karl Donnell who hasn’t coached in the pac 12 since 2007. This year won’t be their year but it will be interesting to see how they do down the road.


Conference Championship Game


I think USC beats Cal in the championship game as Cal will not be able to keep up with USC’s high powered offense, however it will still be a great game.


USC 35- Cal 24


Season Awards


OMVP- Kedon Slovis (USC)


DMVP- Harmiclar Rashed (Oregon State)


Most Improved- Chase Garbers (Cal)


Comeback Player- Merlin Robertson (ASU)


Freshman- Ethan Garbers (Washington)


Coach of the year- Justin Wilcox (Cal)




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