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A Cal Fan’s Guide to the Pac 12 Conference

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A detailed break down of everything we’ve seen from each team

Tier 1

Washington 3-1 (2-0)

vs Auburn L 16-21

North Dakota W 45-3

@Utah W 21-7

Arizona St W 27-20

Offense

QB Jake Browning has taken a lot of heat the last season or two but you have to remember he is still by all means a very good QB. He may not be an early draft pick or any sort of Hesiman candidate but he is a smart QB who reads the field better than most. Last season’s lack of WR weapons has seemingly made him more aggressive which has cost them with some ill-advised passes but it is not a trend that will continue for long. The Huskies have more threats at WR this year with the emergence of Aaron Fuller and Ty Jones. This adds to a lethal RB combo of Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed. The Huskies, however, are not quite as good as expected on the OL primarily due to the loss of injured LT Trey Adams. This OL is still good and this run based offense is still one of the top in the conference.

Defense

It is difficult not to love the Huskies defense. They have a massive D-Line led by DT Greg Gaines. The Huskies rarely have to put many guys in the box because of their physicality up front. This frees up their elite secondary. This is one of the best groups of DBs the Huskies have had led by Safeties Taylor Rapp and JoJo McIntosh just to name a few. This may be the best defense in the conference.

Outlook

Washington is my favorite to win the conference. They missed out on a golden opportunity in Week 1 to put themselves in the College Football Playoff conversation losing to Auburn in what essentially was a true road game. This team, however, does not appear to be quite on par with their 2016 team that made the playoff and is still a bit behind the top contenders (Alabama, Georgia, Ohio St, Clemson). This is a great team either way and it should be an interesting race in the North with Stanford and Oregon.

Stanford 4-0 (2-0)

San Diego St W 31-10

USC W 17-3

UC Davis W 30-10

Oregon W 38-31 OT

Offense

This offense plays old-school power football and runs at a slower pace than anyone in the conference. The expectation was they would be able to run through teams win their Offensive Line and Heisman candidate RB Bryce Love. So far it has not been that easy for the Cardinal to run the football. There have been a few injuries up front and I expect the OL to get better with time but the run blocking is still not as good as many thought it would be. Love is still the explosive star we saw in 2017 but the emergence of QB K.J. Costello and WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has been the storyline so far. That combination along with the stellar TE play gives this offense more options even when it struggles to run the football.

Defense

I was much higher on this defense until I saw the Ducks pick them apart in Eugene. This is not a strong group if we are talking College Football Playoff indications but it is still easily in the top tier of the conference. They have a deep group of good LBs headlined by Bobby Okereke and Joey Alfieri and a solid Secondary led by CB Alijah Holder

Outlook

Stanford is definitely in the running for the Pac 12 North but by no means do I see them as a strong candidate for the College Football Playoff. They are full step behind the elite teams of college football.

Oregon 3-1 (0-1)

Bowling Green W 58-24

Portland St W 62-14

San Jose St W 35-22

Stanford L 31-38 OT

Offense

Folks who have not seen Justin Herbert play should know this kid is the real deal. He is incredibly talented and mature and is easily the top QB in the conference. He has plenty of talent and speed around him including WR Dillon Mitchell who looks like an emerging star. They are not as good at RB as we have seen them in the past but this OL rivals any in Eugene in a long time. They really played well in the heartbreaker vs Stanford and this offense will put a lot of games away.

Defense

This is not the deepest defensive group. There are some spots of inexperience but there are a few really good players. NG Jordon Scott absolutely dominated Stanford’s OL and DE Jalen Jelks and LB Troy Dye are early NFL Draft picks. They may not shut teams down but they are easily in the top tier of the conference defensively.

Outlook

The Stanford loss had to be the most heartbreaking debacle for any fanbase in quite some time. This team really needs to demonstrate more maturity and be able to bounce back from adversity. We will find out a lot about Head Coach Mario Cristobal and this Ducks team when they travel to Berkley on Saturday. They are still a contender in the North.

Tier 2

USC 2-2 (1-1)

UNLV W 43-21

@Stanford L 3-17

@Texas L 14-37

Washington St W 39-36

Offense

It is hard to watch a team make their true Freshman QB throw the ball as much as the Trojans do but J.T. Daniels has some undeniable talent. He is the next budding star in this conference but there are many times you will see his inexperience hold this offense back. The real problem that keeps this offense from being great is the Offensive Line. Once again the Trojans are not very tough up front though the OL should still perform adequately against most Pac 12 defenses. Everything this offense does will come down to the performance of the Offensive Line and the young QB because their skill players are elite. True Freshman WR Amon-Ra St. Brown was high school teammates with Daniels last year and has been awesome along with Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman. There is plenty of backfield star power as well that will shine if the OL can open some lanes.

Defense

I have been disappointed by the defense so far but it is still a good group. Some early season attrition has left some gaps of inexperience while player development as a whole has been a concern around this program for a long time. Even so, LBs Cameron Smith and Porter Gustin are phenomenal and CB Iman Marshall and S Marvel Tell hold up the back end. This unit should finish well.

Outlook

The Pac 12 South is so wide open primarily because USC has not developed players at a high enough level to be the consistent powerhouse the recruiting rankings would indicate. I have a hard time picking this team to win the South but they sure have a good shot.

Utah 2-1 (0-1)

Weber St W 41-10

@Northern Illinois W 17-6

Washington L 7-21

Offense

This offense really needed the bye week to get things figured out. The Utes moved toward a more spread offense last season but improvement has still been hard to find. This Offensive Line has played poorly and QB Tyler Huntley has not made the mental improvements needed to elevate this offense. Huntley has some real talent but the offense needs more leadership and consistency from him. They are decent at the skill positions but RB Zach Moss and WR Britain Covey are the only real stand-outs. I expect this unit to perform better as the season unfolds but much of it will be up to Huntley.

Defense

The Utes really do great job developing players on this side of the ball. This is not the same pass-rushing front we are used to seeing in “Sack Lake City” but they are still incredibly physical led by DT Leki Fotu and their versatile LB Chase Hansen. The unit nobody talks about is the Secondary but this may be the best group of DBs Utah has had in their tenure in the Pac 12. CB Julian Blackmon is a player and Safety Marquise Blair hits harder than anyone in the conference.

Outlook

The offense has been hard to watch but there is enough in the cards to believe it will get better. Their defense is once again among the leagues best and they are still a sure contender in the South.

Colorado 3-0

vsColorado St W 45-13

@Nebraska W 33-28

New Hampshire W 45-14

Offense

After a disappointing 2017 campaign, QB Steven Montez is having a breakout season. He has all the tools to be successful and is taking advantage of a talented cast of receivers highlighted by Laviska Shenault who looks like one of the nation’s best skill players. The RBs are solid with Virginia Tech transfer Travon McMillian a great addition. The Offensive Line, however, is suspect. They got pushed around badly by Nebraska up front and will have a tough time against quality competition. Even so, this is a good offense.

Defense

I am not too high on this defensive unit. Nebraska had no problem moving the ball in Week 2 until their quarterback got injured and this may be a sign of things to come when the Buffs play better teams. This unit has some good players, however, including a very strong ILB tandem of Nate Landman and Rick Gamboa as well as Safety Evan Worthington. This, ultimately, looks like a decent unit improving on last season.

Outlook

This team will be back in a bowl and can make things interesting in the wide open Pac 12 South. Their play on the line of scrimmage may keep them from contending with the league’s best but they will still win some games.

Arizona St 2-2 (0-1)

UTSA W 48-7

Michigan St W 16-13

@San Diego St L 21-28

@Washington L 20-27

Offense

The Sun Devils offense will be interesting to watch as the season progresses. They are stocked at the skill positions with some real dynamic players headlined by N’Keal Harry who may be the first WR taken in the upcoming NFL Draft. QB Manny Wilkins has one of the best deep balls in the conference and they have plenty of guys who can beat you deep. They appear to be looking to strengthen their ground game running the ball more frequently in their last game at Washington. RB Eno Benjamin is a star in the making and this might bode well considering Wilkins is not as crisp in the intermediate passing game as he is on deep passes and in scrambling opportunities. Their Offensive Line looked a little better last game but still appears to be the group that holds this offense back from its full potential (much like a lot of teams in the conference.)

Defense

Danny Gonzalez was the former Defensive Coordinator under Rocky Long at San Diego St and has brought their 3-3-5 defense with him. They are young on defense but play with toughness. They play similarly to Washington State, except with much bigger LBs. They are vulnerable in play action and there are many plays where their overall inexperience is evident. NG Renell Wren is a beast and CB Chase Lucas is really good. This looks like a decent unit.

Outlook

This is one of the toughest teams to get a read on but the Herm Edwards experiment is going much better than people thought. The Michigan St win was a big one but the loss at San Diego St brings to light how much of a wild card the Sun Devils are this season. They are another team that should go bowling and should throw their hat in the ring for the Pac 12 South as well.

Washington St 3-1 (0-1)

@Wyoming W 41-19

San Jose St W 31-0

Eastern Washington W 59-24

@USC L 36-39

Offense

Credit Mike Leach once again for finding himself a capable QB. East Carolina transfer Gardner Minshew is really starting to play well. I have been surprised by the great protection this young OL has provided so far this season. They are not a group that will move you off the ball but they are athletic and play in wide splits as a part of Leach’s Air-Raid system. The skill guys are decent with plenty of depth at WR and a good pass-catching RB in James Williams. This should be a solid offense but a lot it will depend on the consistency of Minshew.

Defense

I love the edge this defense plays with even after losing some big time talent on the DL from last season. They play a 3-3-5 Speed Defense similar to what Rocky Long does at San Diego St. They try to win up front with quickness while loading the box and trusting their DBs to hold up in coverage. The Secondary is solid and experienced and Safety Jalen Thompson along with LB’s Peyton Pelluer and Jahad Woods are proven players. This unit may struggle against better competition but will still be solid.

Outlook

The Cougars should be back in a bowl and be a tough out for anyone.

Tier 2.5

Arizona 2-2 (1-0)

BYU L 23-28

@Houston L 18-45

Northern Arizona W 62-31

@Oregon St W 35-14

Offense

The Wildcats are not as dynamic on offense as people thought they would be in 2018. A key reason for this is the health of QB Khalil Tate. When healthy, Tate is one of the most dynamic runners in the country but after injuring his ankle Week 2 at Houston, he has not been able to run it since. The few times he has taken hits, he has come up gimpy and is clearly playing through pain. Not having Tate’s running ability takes away the versatility in the run game. This Offensive Line already only had two starters returning but both went down in fall camp. LT Layth Friekh returned Week 3 but 2017 All Conference Honorable Mention Center Nathan Eldridge is out for the season. This Offensive Line performed well the past two weeks against bad defenses but will struggle to create holes against quality defenses. The Wildcats are loaded with speed at the skill positions and have plenty of big play capability and while Tate has a cannon, he is not a polished pocket passer. It will be difficult for this offense to carry the team.

Defense

The sophomore-heavy defense looked to be much improved in 2018 but has only turned in one strong performance coming last week at Oregon St. Talent and player development has been lacking on this side of the ball for a long time and depth is always critical given the quick tempo of their offense. They are not imposing up front and the secondary has been hurt by the absence of injured CB Jace Whittaker. LB Colin Schooler is a stud and CB Lorenzo Burns is solid but this is not a very strong defensive unit.

Outlook

A bowl game is not out of the picture but without the 2017 running version of Khalil Tate, I have a hard time imagining this team winning five conference games.

Tier 3

UCLA 0-3

Cincinnati L 17-26

@Oklahoma L 21-49

Fresno St L 14-38

Offense

This offense looks really young. It has been hard to watch and Freshman QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson does not look ready to start. They have some weaknesses up front and there are not the usual amount of proven skill players outside of WR Theo Howard and TE Caleb Wilson. They will get better as they find their identity but the turnaround will not be significant this season.

Defense

They are better on the line of scrimmage than they were last season but LB play has been poor. They are young at a lot of spots and have suffered some undesired attrition. CB Darnay Holmes is solid and the young guys will continue to get better but this will not be a great unit this year.

Outlook

Wins will be very tough to come by. This team really needs to fight if they are going to get anyone excited. I expect them to play a few close games but the win total will be the lowest it has been in a long time.

Oregon St 1-3 (0-1)

@Ohio St L 31-77

Southern Utah W 48-25

@ Nevada L 35-37

Arizona L 14-35

Offense

Everybody was feeling alright about the offense until their anemic performance against a mediocre Arizona defense last weekend. This may be a sign of things to come given this Offensive Line is not very good and QB Jake Luton continues to sit out with injury. The skill players are much better than they have been the past few seasons even with RB Artavis Pierce out with injury. RB Jermar Jefferson and WR Isaiah Hodgins look promising.

Defense

It is going to be another long season for the Beavers defense. They are missing a bunch of guys in the Secondary and this unit looks poor on every level.

Outlook

The goal for the Beavers is just to win a Pac 12 game. The offense is talented enough to put up some points if QB play is sharp but this defense will lose a lot of games for them.