2019 PAC-12 College Football Preview

MIKEDROPSPORTS college football coverage

I went through all 838 games of the 2019 college football season, picking winners to project the record of all 130 FBS teams.

Projected Standings

North OverallConference
Washington 11-18-1
Oregon 10-27-2
Washington State7-55-4
Oregon State1-110-9
 SouthOverall Conference  
Arizona State6-64-5
Colorado 3-91-8

PAC-12 Championship Game – Utah over Washington

I am going all in on the Utes. In a rematch for the 2018 game, Utes get their revenge. Utah is 1-12 all-time vs Washington, entering this season. Utes would represent PAC-12 in their first ever Rose Bowl appearance.

Arizona Wildcats

1. Players to Watch: QB Khalil Tate burst onto the scene in 2017, running for 1,411 yards (17th in the country) and 12 TDs. His rushing numbers were significantly down in 2018. Mostly due to injury. But also because Arizona coaches tried to keep Tate in the pocket. As a passer he has 43 TD and 20 INT in his career, but his strength is his ability to move.

Another guy whose best ability is to move is RB JJ Taylor, who was 7th in the country in rushing yards in 2018 with 1,434. Taylor and Tate should form one of the top QB/RB running duos in the country.

2. Recent Recap: The first year of the Kevin Sumlin era was a major flop. Wildcats finished 5-7 after entering the season with PAC-12 South title hopes.

3. Preview: Last year I had Arizona winning the South and making the Rose Bowl. Whoops. Khalil Tate flopped in 2018 in his encore from his breakout 2017 season. What will 2019 bring? He is supposedly healthier and after a year with this coaching staff should be much more comfortable. 7-8 wins seems like the most realistic scenario.

Arizona State Sun Devils

1. Player to Watch: RB Eno Benjamin finished 5th in the country in rushing yards with 1,642 yards and tied for 9th with 16 rushing TDs.

Junior Dillon Sterling-Cole, who is one of seven QBs from the top 25 of the 2016 recruiting class to remain at their committed school (and not transfer), will have to beat out highly touted 2019 prospect Jayden Daniels, in the battle to replace Manny Wilkins.

2. Recent Recap: Herm Edwards led ASU to a 7-6 season in his first year as a college Head Coach. Sun Devils have lost 6 or 7 games each of the last 4 seasons

3. Preview: “You play to win the game”. That’s what Arizona State certainly did last year. I wasn’t a huge Manny Wilkins fan and think Daniels or Sterling-Cole have a higher ceiling. Losing N’Keal Harry hurts but Eno Benjamin helps.

California Golden Bears

1. Players to Watch: Safety Jaylin Hawkins had 6 interceptions in 2018, second most in the country. LB Evan Weaver led the team with 155 tackles, had 4.5 sacks and picked off 2 passes.

2. Recent Recap: In the 8 seasons since the PAC-12 expanded to 12, Cal has had a winning record just three times, maxing out at 8 wins in 2015. They haven’t had a winning record in conference play since going 5-4 in 2009.

3. Preview: I expect Cal to remain consistent with their recent reputation – Cal ranked 115th in total offense (averaged 21.5 ppg) but 15th in total defense. Weaver and Hawkins are studs but Chase Garbers and Devon Modster, who are competing for the starting QB job, both have lots of questions.

Colorado Buffaloes

1. Player to watch: WR Lavishka Shenault is the Buffs best player. All 6 of his touchdowns were scored in Colorado’s five wins in 2018. In 4 of the 5 games, he caught 10 or more passes for over 100 yards. He was banged up a bit and slowed down in the second half of the season but with better health and a new coaching staff, the sky remains the limit for Shenault.

2. Recent Recap: Colorado started 5-0 last season before losing 7 straight, which cost Mike McIntyre his job. In McIntyre’s 6 seasons, Buffaloes had just one winning season, going 10-4 in 2016, including an 8-1 PAC-12 record where they lost to Washington in the conference championship game. With the exception of that year won just 5 PAC-12 games in total.

3. Preview: Despite the presence of QB Steven Montez and WR Lavishka Shenault, I am down on the Buffaloes. I think new Head Coach Mel Tucker will do a fine job long term, but this isn’t a short term fix. PAC-12 South might not be loaded with great teams, but all of the teams are good and there are no easy games. It doesn’t help that their crossover games are Washington, Washington State, and Stanford.

Oregon Ducks

1. Player to watch: QB Justin Herbert might have been the #1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft had he declared early, but he decided to return to Eugene for his senior season. He threw 29 TD and 8 INT.

RB CJ Verdell is certainly a nice asset for Herbert to have. The freshman averaged 5 yards per carry, running for 1,018 yards and 10 TDs

Oregon since the 2019 #1 recruit, Defensive Lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux. He is expected to play right away and should be a disruptive force on the Ducks defense.

2. Recent Recap: Oregon has not won 10 or more games since losing the National Championship Game in 2014. They have averaged 7 wins a year during that 4 year stretch. They have had three Head Coaches in three seasons (Mark Helfrich, Willie Taggart, Mario Cristobol). In those three years, they have finished 6th, 4th, 4th in the PAC-12 North.

3. Preview: Ducks are finally on stable ground after having 3 coaches in three years, Mario Cristobol returns for year 2. Their opening week game against Auburn could be season-defining. If the Ducks lose, unless they run the table in the PAC-12, the Playoffs discussion is over quickly. If they win, as I project them to, and Auburn goes on to win 9-10 games in the SEC, Oregon will be in the Playoff discussion all year. I see them losing at Washington and at Arizona – the Wildcats oddly have the Ducks number, including a home loss last year to a down Arizona team.

Oregon State Beavers

1. Player to Watch: RB Jermar Jefferson ran for 1,380 yards and 12 TDs as a freshman. WR Isaiah Hodgins has a chance to be the Beavers’ breakout star.

2. Recent Recap: Oregon State has not had a winning record since 2013 and as a result own the conference’s longest bowl drought. Since Mike Riley’s departure after the 2014 season, Beavers have won a total of 4 PAC-12 games in four years (3 of those wins came in 2016).

3. Preview: It’s going to be another long year for Oregon State. The PAC-12 is too deep and too good and Oregon State is still too limited in talent and depth. I expect to see baby steps and progress in 2019. It may show up on the scoreboard some weeks with more competitive games, but their record won’t really reflect progress.

Stanford Cardinal

1. Player to Watch: KJ Costello was the #3 recruit in the 2016 class. He threw for 3,540 yards, 29 TD, 11 INT, completing 65% of his passes. Cardinal lose RB Bryce Love and exciting WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside.

2. Recent Recap: Since David Shaw took over as Head Coach in 2011, Stanford has won single digits just 3 times, including last year at 9-4. 2014 (8-5) was their only season not reaching 9 wins.

3. Preview: Stanford 6-6?! It’s possible. I do believe this will be Stanford’s second season under 9 wins under coach Shaw. I have them beating Washington at home, but losing to Oregon and Notre Dame at home and Washington State on the road. The OOC schedule does them no favors with Northwestern, UCF, and Notre Dame and I have them at 1-2, beating Northwestern. They key to 8-9 wins will be road games at Washington State and Arizona and a home game with UCLA.

USC Trojans

1. Player to Watch: JT Daniels threw 14 TD and 10 INT as a true freshman in 2018. Graham Harrell (famous Texas Tech QB and former North Texas OC) is the new Offensive Coordinator. All three of his top WRs return in 2019 – Armon-Ra St Brown (750 yards), Michael Pittman Jr (758 yards), and Tyler Vaughns (674 yards). Those three combined for 15 of USC’s 18 passing TDs.

2. Recent Recap: Clay Helton took over as head coach in the middle of the 2015 season. He led the Trojans to the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl in back-to-back years and flopped hard in 2018 going 5-7.

3. Preview: Head coach Clay Helton is squarely on the hot seat entering 2019. Will an 8-4 season be enough to save him? I have USC winning homes games against Oregon, UCLA, and division winning Utah. But three losses in the PAC-12 will doom the Trojans, will it doom Helton?

UCLA Bruins

1. Player to Watch: QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson played 9 games as a freshman. He has a lot of growing to do as both a passer and runner. The focal point of the offense needs to be RB Joshua Kelley, who ran for 1,248 yards and 12 TDs. Kelley ran for 1,060 yards more than the second leading rusher.

2. Recent Recap: UCLA has not had a winning record since 2015 (8-5). In four years at Oregon (2009-2012), UCLA Head Coach Chip Kelly lost 3 PAC-12 games total (33-3 overall). In his UCLA debut, the Bruins won just 3 games (3-6).

3. Preview: UCLA’s bad season was expected, at least by me. I like Chip Kelly, but it’s challenging to go from a pro-style offense with Jim Mora Jr and Josh Rosen to the up-tempo style he likes to play. UCLA had the 4th youngest team in FBS last year and got to experience growing pains together. I think those pains will make them better in 2019. They have 62 freshman/redshirt freshman on the roster so there is still a ton of room for growth. The home schedule is favorable (Arizona State, Colorado, Cal) so they need to pull off one signature win to get to 6. At Arizona or at Stanford seem to be their best bets, and I have them going 6-6.

Utah Utes

1. Players to Watch: As good as QB Tyler Huntley was in 2018, RB Zach Moss is “the guy” on the Utes offense. The Utes success goes through their backfield. Moss ran for 11 TDs and averaged 6 yards per carry on 1,096 yards total.

More importantly, the Utes are led by their defense and two guys stand out – DE Bradley Anae had 7.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles for a loss and CB Jaylon Johnson picked off 4 passes.

2. Recent Recap: Utah made the PAC-12 title game for the first time in 2018. It was their 5th straight winning season. They lost the Holiday Bowl to Northwestern, which snapped a 5 bowl win streak. Since 1999, Utes are 14-2 in bowl games.

3. Preview: With a healthy QB Tyler Huntley and Zach Moss, not only do I see Utah getting back to the PAC-12 title game, I think they run around with the South division. At 10-2, I project them to lose to USC and Washington, both on the road.

Washington Huskies

1. Players to watch: QB Jacob Eason replaces four-year starter Jake Browning at QB. Eason started 13 games for Georgia as a freshman in 2016, throwing for 2,430 yards, 16 TD, 8 INT, guiding Georgia to an 8-5 season.

3. Recent Recap: Washington has made three consecutive New Year’s Six Bowls and are 0-3 (Peach Bowl/Playoffs, Fiesta, Rose). Their 12-2 record in 2016 was the Huskies first double-digit win season since 2000.

4. Preview: Huskies got off to a slow start in 2018, including a week 1 loss to Auburn. Their OOC schedule is much more favorable, and they get Oregon, USC, and Washington State all at home. Stanford is the tricky one, on the road, and that’s where I have them losing. If the Oregon game was on the road, I would take the Ducks, but I’ll lean Huskies with homefield advantage.

Washington State Cougars

1. Player to Watch: Gage Gabrud takes over at quarterback, replacing Gardner Minshew, who led the country in passing yards in 2018.

2. Recent Recap: Cougars had an amazing season in 2018, going 11-2. They should have made a NY6 bowl and were a home loss vs Washington away from making the PAC-12 title game and potentially the Rose Bowl.

3. Preview: Mike Leach keeps winning in Pulman and keeps churning out stud quarterbacks, but I’m less optimistic in this Washington state team following the losses of Minshew and RB Boobie Williams. They lost a lot on defense too and I think the North division is loaded. They also have a non-conference game with Houston, one of the better Group of Five teams and Utah, in a cross-over game.

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Mike is a member of the FWAA (Football Writers Association of America) and an alum of the University of Cincinnati.

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