Oregon and Mario Cristobal are poised for another big season. Who are the other contenders in the Pac-12?
AP Photo/Chris Pietsch
The defending Pac-12 champs are looking to reload and make another run at the conference title and a possible College Football Playoff appearance. The Ducks return 8 starters from a defense that ranked in the Top 10 nationally in 2019 and look to be even more dangerous in 2020. ESPN's SP+ computer rankings project Oregon to feature the nation's 2nd best defense. On offense, Mario Cristobal managed to snag the top offensive coordinator on the market in Joe Moorhead and he will have plenty of weapons available starting with CJ Verdell and Travis Dye at running back. Oregon has recruited better than anyone in the Pac-12 over the past 3 seasons while accumulating 34 4/5 star recruits in the 2018-2020 classes.
Clay Helton and the Trojans boast the best quarterback in the Pac-12 for 2020 in Kedon Slovis and he will be surrounded by an outstanding collection of NFL prospects. USC should be the heavy favorite to win the conference but the pressure on Helton and a difficult schedule could prove to be too much to overcome. USC's schedule features Alabama, Notre Dame and a tough road test when they travel to play Oregon in Eugene on November 7th.
The Golden Bears will be the dark horse contender for the Pac-12 Championship in 2020. Cal seems to be flying under the radar this offseason but they will have all the pieces on offense to team up with a defense that has stymied opponents over the past 2 seasons. In games that Chase Garbers started & finished, the Bears were 7-0 in 2019. Over the past 2 years, Cal is 12-2 in games that Garbers attempts 20 or more passes. The Bears should expect to win 8-9 games and with a few lucky breaks could find themselves in the 10 win range.
4. Arizona State
Herm Edwards has ASU trending upwards both on the field and on the recruiting trail. The Sun Devils took a step forward last season while winning 8 games with a freshman QB. Jayden Daniels came to Tempe as the 35th ranked player nationally and lived up to every bit of the hype. The Freshman phenom threw for 17 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions while running for 355 yards and 3 TD's. Off the field, Herm Edwards has proved his Sun Devils can can be a dynamic recruiter and has become a top destination for California prospects. ASU managed to reel in 9 4 stars in the 2020 recruiting cycle. Expect the Sun Devils to compete for the Pac-12 South in 2020 and keep your eye out for ASU to make a conference title run in 2021.
It's hard to know what to make of Washington this season. Chris Petersen suddenly stepped down as the Head Coach after winning 40 games over the past 4 years. The Huskies were rolling and recruits were noticing. Washington will be one of the most talented teams in the Pac-12 this season after signing 44 4/5 star recruits over the past 4 years. But, despite all that talent, Washington will have to rebuild their offense with unproven players. Gone are Jacob Eason, Hunter Bryant & Salvon Ahmed. The Huskies will feature a dominant defense to support the offense but if the Huskies can't score points they could be looking at a 7-8 win season. However, if Jacob Sirmon and a new cast of offensive weapons can step up, Washington will be capable of competing for the conference title in Jimmy Lake's first season as Head Coach.
Utah has proven to be one of the most consistent Pac-12 teams over the past 6 seasons. Since 2014, the Utes lead the conference in total wins with 55. A drop off from last season's 11-3 record is expected but Kyle Whittingham will keep the Utes competitive in the Pac-12 South. Jake Bentley is the favorite to win the Quarterback competition this off-season and brings winning experience from the SEC. While at South Carolina, Bentley threw for 55 touchdowns and ran for 8 more. The schedule is favorable as the Utes miss Oregon and Stanford this season. 8-9 wins should be the expectation in Salt Lake City this Fall.
The Chip Kelly era hasn't gone as expected over the past 2 seasons. After Kelly dominated the Pac-12 at Oregon from 2009-2012, UCLA fans thought it was only a matter of time before the 10 win seasons started racking up. Instead, UCLA has managed just 7 wins in Kelly's first 2 years. Still, there is hope for the Bruins in 2020. QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson returns after accounting for 25 TD's last season. The Bruins also feature dynamic running back Demetric Felton. Felton tallied 1263 all purpose yards in 2020 and will need to team up with Thompson-Robinson to form a high powered offense if UCLA is to make a bowl.
Entering 2019, Stanford had won 8+ games for 10 straight years. That streak ended with a 4-8 record last year. It was a remarkable run and David Shaw has done an outstanding job since taking over for Jim Harbaugh. The Cardinal still recruit at a high level and will feature a bevy of talent despite 13 transfers this off-season. Simi Fehoko should be one of the best receivers in the conference after a breakout season that resulted in 566 yards and an absurd 23.6 yards per catch.
The Cougs will shift from the Air Raid to the Run N' Shoot in 2020 with the hire of new Head Coach Nick Rolovich. Rolovich comes to Pullman after a 10 win season at Hawaii. The Warriors featured a high powered offense in 2019 that averaged 33.9 PPG and will translate well with WSU's current roster. On defense, WSU hired Wyoming's Jake Dickert. Dickert's defense ranked 11th in the nation last season and long term he will be able to build an excellent defense on the Palouse.
10. Oregon State
Oregon State surprised many when they finished 2nd in the Pac-12 North last season with a 4-5 conference record. They narrowly missed out on a bowl after suffering 3 losses by 3 points or less. They lose QB Jake Luton but will have enough talent on defense and at running back with Jermar Jefferson to win 5-6 games again. Making a bowl would be a big step for Jonathan Smith's program.
Sumlin's first 2 seasons at Arizona ended in disappointment when both years they failed to make a bowl with Khalil Tate. Grant Gunnell now takes the reigns of the Wildcat offense and may be a better fit for Noel Mazzone's scheme. Gunnell totaled 10 TD's and 1 interception in limited play time last season.
Mel Tucker had Colorado headed in the right direction but suddenly bolted for Michigan State. In steps Karl Dorrell to take over in Boulder. Colorado's defense showed positive signs at the end of last season and should be solid in 2019. Colorado fans have to be sick of the constant rebuilding but they'll need to be patient once again and give Dorrell a few years before they can expect to be back in a bowl game.