2019 Pac-12 Preview

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It Was So Bad That...

On the heels of a disastrous 2018 campaign, the PAC-12 is in need of a makeover, the likes of which no plastic surgeon can immediately change the look of this plummeting Power-5 Conference.

It was so bad that UCLA and USC each suffered a losing season in the same year for the first time since 1958. It was so bad that the PAC-12 has gone 7-15 SU and 3-19 ATS in bowl games the last three years ... with only ONE WIN by more than 3 points. It was so bad that since the College Football Playoff was introduced, the Pac-12 has made two appearances — going 1-2 — and failed to appear in three of the five seasons, missing out each of the last two years. Sheesh.


Unlike five new head coaches that entered the league last season, the highest number of new coaches on the sidelines in one season for the Pac-12, the loop welcomes just one newbie in 2019 – Colorado’s Mel Tucker.

Ralphie has been running in the wrong direction for far too long. During the past 13 years, the Buffs have produced one winning season and fired three coaches. Competing in the PAC-12’s soft South division, Tucker looks to reverse the Buffaloes path this season.

The numbers following each team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. The RPR represents each team’s overall, offensive and defensive rankings in overall returning production experience.


CALIFORNIA (Offense - *4/3, Defense - 7/1, RPR: 52/104/21)


Thanks to a Top 10 nationally-ranked defense that led the Pac-12 in Yards Per Play (4.59) and improved 113 yards per game, head coach Justin Wilcox guided the Bears to the Cheez-It Bowl in his second campaign with Cal. The good news is the defense returns 13 players – including leading PAC-12 Defensive Player Of The Year candidate LB Evan Wheeler - that started a combined total of 135 starts last season while losing only 5 that made 45 starts a year ago. Signature wins last year included surprises over Pac-12 champion Washington and at USC. The challenge this year will be to improve on last year’s accomplishments. To do so they will need to navigate a salty conference road slate with visits at Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Utah, and Washington. Gulp.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Cal finished last season ranked No. 129 (last) in both red zone offense (.718) and most turnovers lost (31).

PLAY ON: at Stanford (11/23)

OREGON (Offense - *10/5, Defense - 7/2, RPR: 32/37/46)


With the bloodletting the Pac-12’s reputation has suffered the past two seasons, including nary a playoff team, they desperately need a team to emerge and raise the conference’s stock. With 6’ 6” QB Justin Herbert – 4.06 GPA with 7,070 passing yards with 63 TDs and 17 INTs – shirking the NFL Draft in favor of returning for his senior season, the Ducks just maybe the placebo the loop needs. But the fact of the matter is head coach Mario Cristobal has yet to prove himself at this level. With no consecutive road games, and behind a 2019 signing class that ranks among the best in OU history, there should be no excuses in 2019.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Oregon averages 39.4 PPG in Herbert’s 27 starts for the Ducks.

PLAY ON: at Stanford (9/21) - *KEY

OREGON STATE (Offense - *7/2, Defense - 9/2, RPR: 23/73/3)


Jonathan Smith’s debut in Corvallis put Beaver backers to sleep last season. The team was 1-10 against FBS foes and ranked dead last in the Pac-12 in Yards Per Play allowed – by nearly a yard-and-a-half. In addition, Oregon State finished the year last in sacks allowed (4.0 per game) and second-last in overall scoring defense (45.7 PPG). Compounding matters, OSU has dropped 34 of its last 38 Pac-12 performances. When asked about re-building the culture in Year Two, Smith intoned, “We feel good on the direction we’re headed.” To that, we say it can only be up. It starts with an experienced squad of returning starters and overall production with 6th-year senior Jake Luton at the helm.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Beavers have been outyarded in 24 of their last 25 away games.


STANFORD (Offense - *4/2, Defense - 5/2, RPR: 108/112/70)


Questions abound on The Farm these days. The running game slumped to 11th in the Pac-12 last season behind an injured Bryce Love, but having to replace WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside (last year’s leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns) might prove more critical than losing Love to the NFL. Nonetheless, QB K.J. Costello (17-7 as a starter) will carry the burden. The bigger concern is a defense that has slipped badly in the last two years. The 410 yards allowed last year is the most ever allowed under Shaw, breaking 2017’s yield of 405 YPG. Still, while Shaw is no Vince Lombardi, he remains highly respected among his peers. Look for him to deliver answers this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The team that won the stats in Cardinal conference games last season went 3-6 SU and 3-5-1 ATS.

PLAY ON: vs. Washington (10/5)

WASHINGTON (Offense - 7/4, Defense - 2/1, RPR: 118/53/130)


Coming off three-straight double-digit win seasons, including three consecutive New Year’s Six bowl games, it’s safe to say head coach Chris Petersen is going to miss both 3-year starting QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin this season. With it, Petersen must replace the winningest class in school history. The rebuild begins with five-star Georgia transfer QB 6’ 6” Jacob Eason, who comes in to take over for Browning. Eason promises to be the PAC-12 Newcomer of the Year. On the defensive front, the Huskies must replace all but two starters – including the entire defensive line – as well as LB Ben Burr Kirven, whose 176 tackles were nearly 100 more than any other Washington player last season. A favorable schedule finds them at home in four of their first five games. Unfortunately, it may not be enough.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Head coach Chris Petersen is 1-11 ATS in his career in games when coming off a SU favorite loss.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Utah (11/2) - *KEY

WASHINGTON STATE (Offense - 7/4, Defense - 6/2, RPR: 77/84/65)


QB Gage Gubrud transfers in from Eastern Washington where he tossed for nearly 10,000 yards to fill Gardner ‘Ginsu’ Minshew’s shoes. And big shoes they are as Minshew passed for 4,779 yards and 38 touchdowns while leading Wazzu to its first 11-win season last year after transferring in from East Carolina. The bad news is standout LT Andre Dillard departs. The good news is the rest of the OL is back. The better news is Gubrud will have all four of last year’s top targets back in 2019, which means the mad scientist (read: head coach Mike Leach) should be up to the task of replicating the 9 wins a season he’s averaged the last four years.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cougars are 11-1 ATS as conference road dogs under Mike Leach vs. winning foes coming off a SUATS win.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Stanford (11/16)


ARIZONA (Offense - *7/4, Defense - 8/1, RPR: 33/76/11)


Kevin Sumlin came up short – real short – in his first year with the Wildcats last season. A majority of the disappointment can be attributed to the wobbly condition of star QB Khalil Tate. An early-season ankle injury saw Tate’s rushing yardage drop from 1,411 yards to 224 last year. This was after Tate dominated the conference in 2017, earning an unprecedented four-straight Pac-12 Player of the Week awards. The upside to the injury is that Tate’s passing game improved leaps and bounds as he threw for 26 TDs (as opposed to 14 in 2017). Healthy this season, Tate figures to become a dual-threat for a team loaded with returning experience.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Arizona is 5-1 SU and 5-0-1 ATS in Last Home Games.

PLAY ON: at Arizona State (11/30)

ARIZONA STATE (Offense - 8/4, Defense - 7/1, RPR: 44/103/14)


Herm Edwards’ first year on the job started strong but ended a bit flat when the Sun Devils’ 7-6 record mirrored that of the 2017 squad. Nonetheless, they were picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South but finished second instead. The largest degree of improvement came on the defensive side of the ball where ASU improved by 8 points and 45 yards per game thanks to the extraordinary play of freshmen linebackers Darien Butler and Merlin Roberson. The offense loses two key components this season, though, in QB Manny Wilkins and star WR N’Keal Harry. The good news is workhorse RB Eno Benjamin returns along with most of the offensive line. Still, Year Two could have Herm singing the blues.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Sun Devils are 13-2-1 ATS as conference home dogs of more than 5 points.

PLAY AGAINST: at Michigan State (9/14)

COLORADO (Offense - *8/4, Defense - 6/1, RPR: 43/44/63)


New head coach Mel Tucker is a defensive guru who has never been a head coach in college football. However, Tucker served as interim head coach with Jacksonville in the NFL. His most recent stops were as a defensive coordinator at Georgia and an assistant head coach at Alabama. Meanwhile, Colorado will debut a new up-tempo offense in 2019 that will alternate pistol and play-action formations that will change on a dime behind dual-threat SR QB Steven Montez. It will be interesting to see if this new offense - led by future NFL WR Laviska Shenault - combined with an always reliable Tucker defense can carry the Buffaloes to only their 2nd winning season in the past 14 years.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After a 5-0 start to the season last year, Colorado closed out the campaign going 0-7.


UCLA (Offense - *9/4, Defense - 10/3, RPR: 34/75/16)


A 3-9 season under first-year coach Chip Kelly was disappointing, but the Bruins showed signs of life from mid-October out when they averaged nearly 30 PPG over that span. UCLA also eclipsed its 2017 rushing totals by more than 400 yards last season. And therein lies the key to success: Kelly’s non-stop offense evolving into a more balanced attack to keep opposing defenses back on their heels. Big Chip’s mission this season is to reclaim a passing attack that compliments the ground game and this season, Kelly’s recruits fit his system (last year he inherited Jim Mora’s kids). With a year under his belt and a boatload of experience returning, look for Chip to fulfill that mission.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Kelly was 28-1 SU against sub .800 college football opponents until last season (3-5).

PLAY ON: at Stanford (10/17)

USC (Offense - *6/2, Defense - 5/2, RPR: 79/21/118)


Graham Harrell, the ex-Texas Tech quarterback who put up big numbers the last three seasons as the OC at North Texas, should prove to be a good hire for the Trojans this season. “I’m very excited for the 2019 season,” said a concerned Clay Helton, who has seen more than a third (10) of his overall coaching victories come over AP Top 25 teams, including 3 Top 5 wins. Things went terribly sideways for USC last season after witnessing a 19-game win streak at the Coliseum under Helton go down the tubes with three consecutive losses in their final three home games. It’s time for SO QB JT Daniels to deliver.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: 1965: the last time both USC and Florida State each failed to go bowling in the same season.

PLAY ON: at California (11/16)

UTAH (Offense - *7/2, Defense - 7/4, RPR: 21/3/81)


When starting QB Tyler Huntley was forced to miss last year’s Holiday Bowl with a broken collarbone, and leading rusher Zack Moss was kept out with a knee injury, it dropped head coach Kyle Whittingham’s record to 11-2 SU all-time in bowl games. Fortunately, with Huntley and Moss back, the Utes return a bevy of experience on offense. The bad news is the top four tacklers on defense have departed. The Utes can thank their lucky stars to have DE Bradlee Anae, a PAC-12 Defensive Player Of The Year candidate, back in 2019. The biggest holes this season, though, will be replacing two national-award winners in PK Matt Gay and P Mitch Wishnowsky. A favorable schedule finds no consecutive away games, thus paving the way to another bowl season for Whittingham and the Utes. Utah should prove to be the team to beat in 2019.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Head coach Kyle Whittingham is 17-5 SU against the other four Power Five conferences.

PLAY ON: vs. Arizona State (10/19)