Leading up to the kickoff of the 2019 college football season, The Game Haus will be previewing each FBS conference and those independent teams. It is continued today with the Pac-12, as league predictions and top performers will be looked at while also highlighting key games from each conference.
Here is the Pac-12.
It would be easy to go with Oregon at the top of the Pac-12 North, but even with what the Huskies lost, it seems a matter of reloading, not rebuilding. Georgia transfer Jacob Eason should win the quarterback derby, and there is talent upfront and at receiver. Only two defensive starters are back, but there’s a lot of pride on that unit to step up.
Quarterback Justin Herbert (3,151 passing yards, 29 touchdown passes) is the best offensive player in the Pac-12. That, in some minds, is enough to make the Ducks the Pac-12 North favorite. A total of 17 starters return from last season’s 9-4 squad, but Oregon has to face Washington in Seattle.
The Cardinal finished 6-3 in the Pac-12 North in 2018, so it felt like an underachievement. Don’t be surprised if Stanford does a little overachieving this year. K.J. Costello (3,540 yards, 29 TDs) is one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the country and it’s never wise to rest on a David Shaw-coached team.
4. Washington State
Strength lies at the receiver position and on the offensive line. Former FCS star Gage Gubrud is a quarterback to keep an eye on, as well. Having to face Oregon and rival Washington on the road won’t make contending for a Pac-12 North title easy.
A second straight bowl appearance for the Bears is surely possible, mainly because of linebacker Evan Weaver (159 tackles). Offensively, Cal must find a way to improve after scoring 17 or fewer points seven times last year.
6. Oregon State
Jonathan Smith’s first season guiding the Beavers yielded just two wins in 2018. However, there are signs that maybe that total can increase, albeit slightly. Seven starters return on defense and RB Jermar Jefferson was third in the Pac-12 with 1,380 yards, plus 12 TDs, as a freshman.
Defensive end Bradlee Anae (eight sacks) and defensive back Jaylon Johnson (four interceptions) return from a defense that allowed an average of 19.4 points. Offensively, if QB Tyler Huntley and RB Zack Moss (2,651 career rushing yards) can stay healthy, the sky might be the limit for the Pac-12 South favorites.
A severely disappointing 5-7 season in 2018 leaves coach Clay Helton firmly on the hot seat. That said, the Trojans have talent, especially in receivers Michael Pittman Jr. and Amon-Ra St. Brown (1,508 combined receiving yards in 2018). Of course, there’s the issue of who will throw them the ball.
3. Arizona State
Eno Benjamin (1,642 rushing yards, 16 rushing TDs) might be the best running back in the Pac-12 and a defense that looked strong against Stanford, Utah and Michigan State returns six starters. Don’t be surprised if the Sun Devils challenge for the Pac-12 South title once again.
It was going to be another challenging season for coach Chip Kelly and the Bruins, and a recent knee injury to RB Joshua Kelley (1,243 rushing yards, 12 rushing TDs) might only make things tougher – depending on the severity. There’s some experience on both sides of the ball, but another tough schedule (Cincinnati, Oklahoma, Stanford, Washington State) won’t make getting to a bowl any easier.
Kevin Sumlin’s first season at Arizona ended a disappointing 5-7. It also did not help that an ankle issue plagued versatile QB Khalil Tate in 2018, forcing him to hinder his balance as a dual-threat. Don’t be fooled, the Wildcats have plenty of concerns, but they need Tate to be the dominant player he was as a sophomore (3,002 combined passing and rushing yards) in 2017.
The Buffs have one of the best players in the country in receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., but they’re in transition under new coach Mel Tucker. The new regime will obviously bring a new culture and eight starters are back on offense, but that might not mean a winning record.
Players to watch
Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado: Herbert and Benjamin might get more consistent national recognition. but Shenault is arguably the most exciting player in the Pac-12. He caught 86 passes and had 11 total touchdowns in eight games in ’18.
Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford: Adebo is a physical corner who has become one of the better cover men in the nation, not just the Pac-12. He was third on the team with 64 tackles and led the Cardinal with four interceptions in ’18.
Oct. 19: Oregon at Washington. This matchup could determine the Pac-12 North Division title. The Ducks have won 13 of the last 15 meetings.
Oct. 19: Arizona State at Utah. Mark the date as perhaps the most important on the Pac-12 slate. These could be the front-runners in the South, but Utah is 6-2 against ASU since joining the Pac-12.
Nov. 23: UCLA at USC. It was a disappointing campaign for these L.A. powers, so their annual matchup might have a bowl berth on the line. Maybe, we’re a year or two away from this being for the Pac-12 South title.