These spring games were a few months ago, but I felt it was a good idea to review how the spring games went. Here’s an early look at what players figure to make an early impact in the Pac-12 North.
If I were a betting man (cough), here's how I would order the final standings as I see it today.
Oregon and Washington are neck and neck in the odds for the Pac-12 title, with implied odds of about 25% each (Utah sits right behind them at around 24%), but I have to give the edge to Oregon here. Oregon is a really deep and well-rounded team, returning many of their key players from last year. QB Justin Herbert forwent the NFL Draft to return for his senior season, and he’ll be protected by a strong offensive line anchored by another future high draft pick in OL Penei Sewell. Oregon also had a number of high profile recruits join them this year, such as 5-star DE Kayvon Thibodeaux and WR Mycah Pittman (brother of USC star WR Michael Pittman Jr). Oregon’s biggest weakness last year was wide receiver drops, and the transfer of WR Juwan Johnson from Penn State should help fill the void left by WR Dillon Mitchell. Oregon only has 4 away games in conference this year, and they’ll miss Utah.
In the spring game itself, DE Kayvon Thibodeaux made a number of plays for the second team, and it will be interesting to watch how Thibodeaux and OLB DJ Johnson develop as pass-rushers this season. WR Juwan Johnson was a sure-handed receiver and looks to be the new #1 wide receiver. However, outside Juwan Johnson and Mycah Pittman, drops were still an issue for the rest of the receiving corps. Justin Herbert was... Justin Herbert.
Justin Herbert completes a pass to WR Brenden Schooler
One thing I didn’t see coming was how well freshman QB Tyler Shough played in the back-up role.
Tyler Shough completes a pass to WR Kyle Buckner
Also of note was that freshman DB Mykael Wright had the play of the game with a one-handed interception. Oregon is decently strong all-around, and Herbert definitely has some flashes of brilliance, but he was also prone to overthrows and inaccuracy at times, and all the receiver drops don’t help. Herbert is going to need to have a Heisman-worthy season if Oregon has aspirations beyond the Pac-12 title game.
Also, not really relevant, but there are a lot of Johnsons on the team.
Players to watch: DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, WR Mycah Pittman, DB Mykael Wright
Washington is still Washington, but they’ve got a lot of big shoes to fill. There’s no more QB Jake Browning (UW passing yards leader, UW wins leader), RB Myles Gaskin (leader all-time rushing at UW), OL Kaleb McGary, DL Greg Gaines, CB Byron Murphy, S Taylor Rapp, LB Ben Burr-Kirven, TE Drew Sample, CB Jordan Miller, and UW will be replacing 10 of their 11 starters from last year’s defense. Washington is one of the most talented teams in the Pac-12, but there will be some rebuilding to be done here. The big story here is the transfer of 5-star QB Jacob Eason from Georgia: Eason is a very talented quarterback, but it remains to be seen how quickly he can assimilate to the new offense, and hence why I am glad that Cal will be playing UW early on in the season. As talented as Eason was, though, he did have one noticeable flaw in that he often failed to pick up pressure:
OLB Ryan Bowman strips the ball from Eason, who fails to see him coming from his right side.
I really wish Cal had a former player or an alum as an announcer on the Pac-12 Network, because it seems like pretty much every other team does— UW’s Nigel Burton, Wazzu’s Ryan Leaf, Stanford’s Evan Moore, Yogi Roth talking about his “time coaching with Pete Carroll at USC,” etc. And in this practice, Nigel Burton was, let’s say, just slightly biased in evaluating UW, so I am a bit miffed Cal doesn’t have anyone to pump sunshine for us on the Pac-12 Network. Burton predicts RB Salvon Ahmed will be a 1st or 2nd round NFL Draft pick, and I just wanted to write that down for posterity.
The secondary looked good, particularly DB Isaiah Gilchrist, but hard to imagine this defense will be where it was last year. LB Joe Tryon had a good day and generated a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Also not really relevant, but there are a lot of Jake QBs on this team. From QB Jake Browning to Jacob Eason, they also have Jake Haener and freshman QB Jacob Sirmon.
Players to watch: QB Jacob Eason, DB Isaiah Gilchrist, LB Joe Tryon
This was the spring game that disappointed me the most to watch, because it was evident that Wazzu is still going to be a good team again this year. QB Gage Gubrud transferred from Eastern Washington, but he sat out this practice due to injury. QB Anthony Gordon played on the first team offense and looked very impressive, starting off 21/25 with 200+ yards through the air. The biggest difference between the 1st/2nd team QBs and the freshman backups seemed to be how open the wide receivers are, which seems to indicate that having good command of the Air Raid offense and knowing where that open receiver is going to be was even more important than having a big arm. Some of the freshman QBs did make some nice (but difficult) throws, and it almost seemed like a failing on their part. Wazzu is very deep at QB and WR (obviously), but WR Kassidy Woods looked like the next big (literally) wide receiver to emerge from this spring game, and a likely 3rd down possession receiver. WR Brandon Gray also impressed filling a similar role.
QB Trey Tinsley completes a pass to WR Renard Bell, who then does a backflip.
RB Max Borghi is definitely going to be a stud next year, but one thing to keep an eye on is his utilization and the depth behind him. Borghi was great, but they’re pretty thin behind him. It was interesting to see Wazzu utilize a fullback in Clay Markoff, however. Most of my notes seemed to focus on the offense since they pretty much had their way on defense, but S Jalen Thompson still looked like an NFL caliber safety... so it’s no surprise that he was selected in the NFL supplemental draft after being declared ineligible for his final season. Washington State’s defense is definitely a concern for the upcoming season, as you can’t win games on offense alone.
Players to watch: QB Gage Gubrud, QB Anthony Gordon, WR Kassidy Woods, WR Brandon Gray, RB Max Borghi
The Cal spring game was covered here, so there’s no need to go to in-depth here. Cal actually looked pretty good at running back with RB Chris Brown, RB Marcel Dancy, RB Alex Netherda, and CCSF transfer RB DeShawn Collins. More concerning is the situation at QB, and neither QB Devon Modster nor QB Chase Garbers threw a deep ball, and that was really what I was hoping to see. Kuony Deng lined up at ILB to fill the hole left by LB Jordan Kunaszyk, and he did come away with an interception. Safety Daniel Scott had a nice interception during the spring game as well. I think my favorite play of the spring game was watching McCallan Castles bounce off a tackler and stay upright-- I'm very excited to watch him develop this year.
Players to watch: TE McCallan Castles, RB Chris Brown, LB Kuony Deng, QB Devon Modster, QB Chase Garbers
I know this gets said every year, but I think this is the year that Stanford is taking a step back. QB KJ Costello is still a very good quarterback, but most of last year’s receiving corps is gone: TE Kaden Smith, WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR Trenton Irwin, and so on. They’ve also lost RB Bryce Love, LB Bobby Okereke, and punter Jake Bailey to the NFL. I think that last one is going to have a surprising impact on this team, considering how important field position is to a team that plays Boring-Ball the way Stanford does. Stanford has a new offensive coordinator, Tavita Pritchard (promoted from QB/WR coach), after Mike Bloomgren left to become head coach at Rice. Apparently Rice also plans to run a boring ass offense. RB Cameron Scarlett is going to be a star next year, but he was injured for the spring game, and the running game looked outmatched without him. WR Simi Fehoko does a good job getting a clean release, and he looks to be the big target trying to replace Arcega-Whiteside. The Stanford players all say to keep an eye on DE Thomas Booker. I was impressed by the play of CB Obi Eboh, playing in the spot left by CB Alijah Holder:
Near pick by Obi Eboh
Offensive line looks troubling, but it seems Stanford has found some good replacements on the defense. Wide receiver will be a huge issue for Stanford, even though KJ Costello will be a top tier Pac-12 QB. Stanford is hoping to find what each WR specializes in. Fehoko is a big target, but he isn’t able to stretch the field vertically. The loss of Jake Bailey at punter might make an impact, seeing as how Stanford frequently relies on winning the field position battle when they can’t score.
Players to watch: WR Simi Fehoko, ILB Ricky Miezen, DE Thomas Booker, CB Obi Eboh
QB Jake Luton granted a 6th year of eligibility, and so Nebraska transfer QB Tristan Gebbia is competing for the backup role. OSU’s run defense was a huge weakness last year; one of the worst in the country. Coach Jonathan Smith looks a bit like Nathan Fillion in Firefly. WR Jesiah Irish was impressive in this game, and he did a great jump adjusting to the ball on throws. OSU has a surprising amount of depth on offense, particularly at RB, with Jermar Jefferson, Artavis Pierce, and BJ Baylor all looking like starting-caliber RBs. RB Jermar Jefferson whiffed on a block in pass protection, but then broke off a huge run the next play to make up for it. RB BJ Baylor also had a big TD run through a giant hole, which indicates OSU still isn’t very good at run defense. QB Tristan Gebbia doesn’t have too much touch on his throws, everything he threw was a fast ball. OSU’s defense had some poor tackling, which is another sign that their trouble at defense is far from over. OSU is basically the inverse of Cal: they have a very competent offense, but they just need to have a not-completely-terrible defense and they’d start winning some big games. I do think they’ve improved from last year, and I think they will surprise some people (but hopefully not Cal, please).
Players to watch: WR Jesiah Irish, WR Tyjon Lindsey