The 2018 College Football season ended on Monday night in Santa Clara at Levi’s Stadium with Clemson crushing Alabama in the National Title Game. The Pac 12 Season ended with Washington getting beaten in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day by Ohio State. It wasn’t a stellar year for the Pac 12 overall, with very little national attention and zero signature wins outside of Pac 12 play. The season was a step forward for Utah, despite the way it ended in the last two games.
We are inside of 240 days until the start of the 2019 Season, so it’s about time we take a look ahead at what might be in the Conference of Champions this fall.
1. Utah-Kyle Whittingham’s Squad took a major step forward in 2018 with their first South Title. As good as 18′ was, 19′ could be even better. Utah got a huge boost with the decision of running back Zack Moss’ decision to return for his senior season., plus three all conference defensive players Julian Blackmon, Bradlee Anae and Leki Fotu. Utah will have 9 offensive starters back and 7 on defense. Utah’s biggest off-season questions will come in trying to replace their All American Specialists and both Safety spots. The Utah schedule will also be more favorable with Stanford and Oregon dropping off and California and Oregon State coming back on in 2019. If healthy, Utah should win the South without much trouble.
2. USC-2018 was the worst in almost two decades at USC. Missing a bowl game and a losing record. Clay Helton was forced to make staff changes and made one of the “splash” hires with Kliff Kingsbury at Offensive Coordinator. That lasted all of 34 days, before KK left to be the Head Coach of the Arizona Cardinals. USC is a bit of an off-field mess. That said, they still have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. Daniels at QB, St. Brown and Vaughns at WR, Carr at RB, ect. Factor in a Top 10 recruiting class and talent won’t be (not that it ever is) an issue in South Central. For USC to have success in 2019 they’ll need to figure out their coaching and culture issues.
3. Arizona-Year One of the Kevin Sumlin Era wasn’t exactly what many thought it would be in Tucson. Sumlin missed a bowl game and finished with a losing record. The good news is that his QB Kahlil Tate will return for his senior year with a better grasp of the offense and RB JJ Taylor returns coming off an All Pac 12 sophomore season. Where the Wildcats have to get better is on the defensive side of the football. They’ll need an upgrade in talent and playmakers. This may be Defensive Coordinator Marcel Yates’ last shot with the Wildcats if things don’t improve.
4. Arizona State-Herm Edwards return to college football was a pleasant surprise to many skeptics that thought he would struggle. He inherited a veteran QB, WR and RB and this made the transition back to College Coaching much easier. In 2019, he will have to replace Manny Wilkins at QB and N’Keal Harry at WR. The good news is that All Pac 12 RB Eno Benjamin returns to Tempe. The Bad news is that the Devils will have zero experience at QB, with three freshman competing for playing time. Merlin Robertson and Chase Lucas will anchor an improved defense.
5. UCLA-2018 was a hard reality check for Chip Kelly. His return to college football was more thud than bang. The Bruins finishing 3-9 and losers of 4 of their last 5 games. Kelly needs a ton of talent and a culture change in Westwood. UCLA does have a pair of good offensive building blocks in QB Dorian Thompson Robinson and RB Joshua Kelley, but not much else. UCLA appears to be at least another year away from being competitive in the Pac 12.
6. Colorado-The Buffs made the only coaching change in the conference this off season, hiring Georgia Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker. Tucker inherits a program that has had one winning season in the last 13 in Boulder. There will be no quick fix at Colorado.
1. Washington-This won’t be a popular selection by many. The Husky’s are losing a ton of talent to graduation and the NFL, including Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin, Ben Burr-Kirven, Taylor Rapp and Byron Murphy. I know, I know that’s a ton talent to replace. Petersen has recruited and developed talent as well as anyone in the Pac 12 the last four years and the cupboards are stocked with talented in the waiting. Jacob Eason, Georgia transfer, will step in and play QB immediately. Salvon Ahmed will assume the role of lead back and All Pac 12 Tackle Trey Adams returns too. The schedule is daunting but Utah, Oregon, Wazzu and USC all come to Seattle. I’m betting on Petersen here as much as anything else here.
2. Oregon-Justin Herbert returns for his senior season. This must have been the best Christmas present that Mario Cristobal could have asked for. Herbert will be joined by 8 starters returning from 2018 on offense. He’ll need to find a replacement for his favorite target Dillon Mitchell. The Defense returns seven starters and will add the nation’s top recruit, Kayvon Thibodeaux. I thought that the Ducks underachieved a bit in 2018 and I’m curious to see how Cristobal evolves and improves in 2019.
3. Washington State- Let us never again doubt the Pirate of the Palouse and his ability to find a Quarterback. Leach will need to find a new starter for a second straight season, with Gardner Minschew and his moustache off to the NFL. Three QB’s will compete for the starting job in Pullman. 8 offensive starters return and 6 on Defense, with the biggest hole to fill here at Linebacker as Peyton Pelluer departing.
4. Stanford-David Shaw’s team went 9-4 in 2018 with a bowl win over Michigan State. On the surface that would seem a successful season, but in Palo Alto it felt a little off. Gone are Bryce Love, JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Kaden Smith, three of Stanford’s top playmakers on offense, plus Bobby Okereke at linebacker. KJ Costello will return but who will be around him?
5. California-Year 2 of the Justin Wilcox Era was a step forward in Berkeley, with a trip to the Cheez-It Bowl and a loss to TCU. The Bears had one of the top defensive units in the Pac 12, but struggled mightily on offense and at Quarterback. For Cal to take another step forward they will need a major upgrade at the QB spot.
6. Oregon State-The Beavers might have been the most entertaining 2-10 team in college football in 2018. 1st year Head Coach Jonathan Smith has his work cut out for him heading to 2019. Oregon State’s defense needs athletes and a major upgrade. Freshman Running Back Jermar Jefferson is a nice building block moving forward.
Offensive Player of the Year Candidates
Justin Herbert-QB Oregon
Zack Moss-RB Utah
JJ Taylor-RB Arizona
Eno Benjamin-RB Arizona State
Defensive Player of the Year Candidates
Jaylon Johnson-CB Utah
Bradlee Anae-DE Utah
Troy Dye-LB Oregon
Myles Bryant-CB Washington
Merlin Robertson-LB Arizona St.