Pac 12 Championship: Oregon over USC
Pac 12 North
1. Oregon Ducks
Projected Record: 6-1
Wins: Stanford, Washington State, UCLA, Cal, Washington, USC
Losses: Oregon State
The Ducks biggest task will be replacing quarterback Justin Herbert. The competition will be between Boston College transfer Anthony Brown and Redshirt Sophomore Tyler Sholough. The new starter will be protected by the Oregon offensive line which returns 2021 top five pick Penei Sewell, but must replace all four other starters. At the skill position look for WR Johnny Johnson III and RB CJ Verdell to lead the group.
The Oregon Ducks defense will be one of the best in the nation. The Ducks get their entire defensive line back led by DE Kayvon Thibodeaux who had 9 sacks as a freshman. Senior DTs Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu also should lead the way and are pro prospects. Linebackers are a young talented group where highly rated freshman Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe may contribute. The entire secondary is also back led by potential first round pick Jevon Holland (UPDATE: Oregon lost Holland and two other secondary starters . This is all pretty good for a team who ranked 9th in scoring defense last year.
Final Outlook: Oregon’s defense will be dominant, but the offense needs to develop if they have playoff aspirations.
2. California Golden Bears
Projected Record: 4-3
Wins: Washington, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington State
Losses: Arizona State (x2), Oregon
The key is keeping Chase Garbers healthy. Garbers was 8-0 when he played the entire game. Along with Garbers, Cal gets almost their entire receiving core back and also 914 yard rusher 230-pound RB Christopher Brown Jr. back. The offense also returns all of their offensive line starters which means Cal should have one of the best offenses in the Pac-12.
Cal last year was led by their defense. However they lose major contributors LB Evan Weaver, Safety Jaylinn Hawkins, and Safety Ashtyn Davis. Cal does return key corners Camryn Bynum and Elijah Hicks, as well as linebackers Kuony Deng. and Cameron Goode (9.5 sacks). While the defense does lose key starters, they should be solid again.
Final Outlook: Cal might be a surprise top-25 team to the general public, but they are legit.
3. Washington Huskies
Projected Record: 5-2
Wins: Oregon State, Arizona, Washington State, Stanford, Utah
Losses: Cal, Oregon
New head coach Jimmy Lake takes over for Chris Petersen. The biggest issue is what they will do at quarterback? None of the QBs have started a game, but Jacob Sirmon is the most likely to get the starting role. Sirmon has a strong arm, but accuracy is a question. The offensive line must also replace three starters. At receiver, Puka Nucua is a young talented guy and Terrell Bynum has shown promise. Overall, this offense is a big fat question mark going into next year.
The team will be led by the defense which ranked 15th in scoring defense returns almost everyone. Defensive back Elijah Molden last year led the team in tackles and interceptions. Molden is a potential All-American and first round pick. In the front seven, OLB Joe Tryon returns off a 8.5 sack season and DL Levi Onwuzurike will lead the defensive line (UPDATE: Both have opted out).
Final Outlook: The offense struggled last year and I do not see them getting any better. The team will be led again by a strong defense.
4. Oregon State Beavers
Projected Record: 5-2
Wins: Washington State, Oregon, Utah, Stanford, Arizona
Losses: Washington, Cal
Oregon State is moving in the right direction after finishing 5-7 and winning four games in conference. Head Coach Jonathan Smith now enters his third season. The offense will have some challenges replacing QB Jake Luton, WR Isaiah Hodges, and three offensive linemen. QB Tristan Gebbia is ready to take over after seeing some action last year along with RB Jermar Jefferson. At receiver Champ Flemmings comes back and Florida State transfer Tre’Shaun Harrison may receive a waiver to play right away.
The defense has made major improvements from an absolute terrible defense in 2018. The front seven is excellent with their two top linebackers Avery Roberts and Omar Speight returning along with All-American DE Hamlicar Rashed (14 sacks). The secondary returns almost all of their starters as well.
Final Outlook: Coach Smith has made a tremendous turnaround to make Oregon State a competitive team in the Pac-12. Look for Oregon State to possibly have a few upsets this year.
5. Stanford Cardinals
Projected Record: 3-4
Wins: Colorado, Washington State, UCLA
Losses: Oregon, Cal, Washington, Oregon State
KJ Costello transferred to Mississippi State and David Mills now takes over full time. The offense stunk in 2019, but return receivers Michael Wilson and Simi Fehoko. Austin Jones will have to step up at running back. The offensive line will be led by highly regarded offensive tackles Walker Little and Foster Sarrell.
Stanford used to always have a reliable defense… it was not in 2019. Now the defense has gone through additional loses with grad transfers on the defensive line and secondary going to SMU, Indiana, and UCLA. The linebackers lose three out of the four starters. What the defense does have are DE Thomas Booker and great cover corner Paulson Adebo.
Final Outlook: Stanford has taken a tumble and is no longer the Rose Bowl contenders from the past. They won’t be terrible like last year, but don’t expect a major improvement.
6. Washington State Cougars
Projected Record: 1-6
Losses: Oregon State, Oregon, Stanford, Washington, USC, Cal
New head coach Nick Rolovich takes over for Mike Leach. What the offense does have left is Max Borghi who is an underrated player and one of the best running backs in the Pac-12. The offense might be focused around him without an experienced option at quarterback. Cammon Copper is the most likely option to start. Washington State also loses their top three wide receivers. This offense will be nowhere near the top ten which they finished in last year.
The defense struggled last year giving up over 31 points per game. The defense is led by their linebacker group including Jahad Woods who is coming off a 141 tackle year. Safety Skyler Thomas is a multi-year starter coming off a 4 INT season. The defense should improve from being awful last year.
Final Outlook: An offense that is falling back to average and a not great defense? The Cougars will be fighting in the bottom of the Pac-12.
Pac 12 South
1. USC Trojans
Projected Record: 6-1
Wins: Arizona State, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Washington State, UCLA
USC is coming off an 8-5 season, but finished 7-2 in the conference. The offense is loaded with Kedon Slovis at QB and a talented group of receivers including Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns, Drake London, and 5-star redshirt freshman Bru McCoy. The run game is led by Vavae Malepeai, but USC does not run the ball much with Graham Harrell at Offensive Coordinator. Four of the five offensive linemen return with first-round pick Austin Jackson the only one leaving. He will be replaced by All-Pac 12 offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker who will move from left guard to left tackle.
The defense struggled last year, finishing 6th in the Pac-12. However, almost the entire defense returns in 2020. DE Drake Jackson leads the group coming off an All-Pac 12 second team year as a freshman. DL Jay Tufele was named USC defensive lineman of the year. Safety Talanoa Hufanga leads the secondary as a tackling machine with 141 tackles over his 18 career games. Also safety Isaiah Pola-Mao is a very active safety with 73 tackles and 4 INTs.
Final Outlook: Good offense? Check. Good Defense? Check. Worst division in college football? Check. There should be no reason Clay Helton can’t lead USC to a Pac-12 South division title.
2. Arizona State Sun Devils
Projected Record: 5-2
Wins: Cal (x2), Colorado, UCLA, Arizona
Losses: USC, Utah
Arizona State was a pleasant surprise at 8-5 with QB Jayden Daniels coming off a fantastic freshman season. However, the Sun Devils will be tasked with replacing RB Eno Benjamin, WR Brandon Aiyuk, and WR Kyle Williams. WR Frank Darby is returning after a 600 yard season and a major deep threat option. Another issue is the offensive line, who struggled last year and must replace three starters. Obviously Herm Edwards sees the issue and brought in graduate transfer offensive tackles Henry Hattis (Stanford) and Kellen Diesch (Texas A&M).
The defense returns eight starters from a defense that ranked 35th in scoring defense. The defense is good against the run, but will need to improve getting to the quarterback finishing with just 26 sacks on the season. DE Jermayne Lole is back after leading the group with 6.5 sacks. The linebackers are a position of strength with Darien Butler leading the group. The secondary is also loaded with talent including corners Chase Lucas and Jack Jones.
Final Outlook: Arizona State will be USC’s biggest threat in the South. Coach Herm Edwards in his third season might be able to take the next step turning the Sun Devils into a top-25 team.
3. Utah Utes
Projected Record: 3-4
Wins: Arizona, UCLA, Arizona State
Losses: USC, Oregon State, Colorado, Washington
The offense was alright last season, but must replace some key pieces. Graduate transfer QB Jake Bentley (South Carolina) most likely takes over for Tyler Huntley and RB Devin Brumfield replaces Zack Moss. The leading receiver on this team is Tight End Brant Kuithe, which means having an actual receiver step-up will help the offense. A brightspot for the offense is the offensive line returns four starters and JUCO four-star Bamidele Olaseni.
The defense was fantastic last year finishing second overall in total defense. However, Utah loses nine starters from that 2019 defense. Only DE Mika Tafua and LB Devin Lloyd return. Utah has to replace the entire secondary and will have to start some young players.
Final Outlook: A really young defense and not much fire power on offense means the Utes will take a step back from their 11-3 season last year.
4. Arizona Wildcats
Projected Record: 2-5
Wins: UCLA, Colorado
Losses: Utah, USC, Washington, Arizona State, Oregon State
QB Grant Gunnell is back after a few impressive performances as a freshman, even outplaying Khalil Tate. There aren’t many proven skill position players, but they do have Oregon grad transfer WR Brenden Schooler and WR Jamarye Joiner. RB Gary Brightwell will take over for JJ Taylor who was a key piece to the offense over the past few years. Arizona does have a good offensive line that brings most of their starters back from last year.
Arizona’s defense returns a lot of starters but will need an increase in production after finishing 120th last year. The unit was going to be led by linebackers Colin Schooler and Tony Fields (UPDATE: Both transferred). Add in a secondary that struggled last year and lost top CB Jace Whitaker, the defense won’t be great again
Final Outlook: With a bad defense and a questionable offense, Arizona will be fighting with the bottom of the Pac-12.
5. UCLA Bruins
Projected Record: 1-6
Losses: Utah, Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State, USC, Stanford
Chip Kelly had UCLA to 3-9 in 2018 and 4-8 in 2019. Maybe they can be 5-7 in 2020? Chip Kelly hasn’t turned around UCLA as planned. Dorian Thompson-Robinson made a step in his sophomore year, but he is still completing less than 60% of his passes. RB Demetric Felton and Duke Grad Transfer RB Brittain Brown will attempt to replace Joshua Kelley. Additionally, UCLA doesn’t bring much back at receiver. The Bruins offensive line was young last year and returns three starters.
The defense ranked 11th in the Pac-12 and was just flat out bad. In the secondary, the Bruins lost their best corner with Darnay Holmes. They will try to replace him with Stanford Grad Transfer Obi Eboh. Additionally, UCLA replaces four starters at linebacker and the defensive line is dangerously thin. DT Osa Odighizuwa leads the defensive line.
Final Outlook: It is year three for Chip Kelly and there is still not much talent on the roster. The only saving grace is the bottom of the Pac-12 South is also horrible.
6. Colorado Buffaloes
Projected Record: 1-6
Losses: UCLA, Stanford, Arizona State, USC, Arizona, Washington State
Colorado hired Karl Dorrell after Mel Tucker’s exit to Michigan State. Returning at quarterback is Tyler Lytle who threw a total of 1 pass last year. Other than K.D. Nixon, there isn’t many other options at receiver. The Buffs return the entire running back stable including lead RB Alex Fontenot along with most of their offensive line which should help the running attack.
On defense they were bad last year giving up 31.8 points per game. Safety Derrion Rakestraw is a strong starter, but will need someone else to step up in the secondary. The Buffs return their entire defensive line including sack leader (5.5 sacks) DE Terrance Lang. 113 tackle leader Nate Landman returns and is the leader of the defense.
Final Outlook: Coach Mel Tucker didn’t leave much talent in Boulder. With a new quarterback and struggling defense, this could be a rough season.