Pac 12 Conference Preview – By Lee Wakefield

Welcome to the Full 10 Yards Pac 12 Conference Preview

Man, I love myself some west coast college football action. The Pac 12 is probably about as even a conference as you get at the top of college football, which certainly has its drawbacks in some respects but it makes for some competitive action and the 2019 season should be no different.

Looking Ahead…

When trying to call the conference champion, I find myself having a pretty hard time. I feel like there are a lot of really good players in the Pac 12 and there are some really solid teams too. Whether they will trouble the college football playoff is a different matter altogether because, as I alluded to earlier, without one truly outstanding team à la Clemson in the ACC, all of the teams kind of beat up on each other and therefore take a dip in the rankings.

What About 2018?

Last season was a perfect example of these things; Washington State had the best overall record in the conference at 11-2, however Washington won the North division due to their Apple Cup win over the Cougars and went on to win the conference championship over South division champion, Utah (9-5 overall record) by a score of 10-3, with the only touchdown of the game being a pick 6 by now Arizona Cardinals cornerback, Byron Murphy.

Pac 12 teams play each other tough.

Washington State finished the 2018 season the highest ranked team at #10 in the AP rankings too. So yeah, it’s one higgledy-piggledy, mushy mess in terms of trying to figure out who is going to be good again, or good at all in 2019!

Back to Looking Ahead…

Aside from the team’s I’ve mentioned already there are players who I feel are about to set the conference and college football landscape on fire.

The first player that came to mind when I wrote that sentence was Colorado wide receiver, Laviska Shenault.

Shenault was the Buffs offense last season. Unfortunately, Shenault was injured after 5 games of the season… Colorado were 5-0 at that point and the do-it-all wide receiver had accounted for, 708 receiving yards (141.6 apg) and 10 touchdowns (6 receiving, 4 rushing), playing wide receiver, running back, H-back and even some Wildcat QB. For context, the Buffalos had a total of 1,465 passing yards through those 5 games, so Shenault’s 708 receiving yards was a shade over 48% of the receiving yards of the team. That’s O N E player. Like I said, Laviska Shenault is the Colorado offense and I cannot wait to watch him again in 2019. Oh and for further context, the Buffs finished the season 5-7… Yep, they didn’t win without #2 on the field. I hope he can stay healthy in 2019 because I’m really interested in seeing just how far he can drag his team.

Lastly on Colorado, special mention to QB, Steven Montez, who I’d certainly describe as an interesting prospect for the coming year.

Who Else Should You Keep Tabs On?

Well some might say that the Pac 12 is the conference of quarterbacks and this year shouldn’t be any different with my personal QB1 residing in the Pac 12 North – That man is of course, Justin Herbert of Oregon.

During the pre draft process for the 2019 draft, prior to final declarations, I was hoping that Herbert was going to go back to Oregon for his Senior season, even though he’d have probably been QB1 for me in the draft class and would have been a top 10 pick, if not top 5. As you can probably deduce from that, I’m a fan but I do appreciate that Herbert definitely needed some more experience and time in college perfecting his game. I feel that with Herbert at the helm, Oregon can better their 9-4 overall record. However, as always in the Pac 12, it’s how the Ducks navigate their conference games… Let’s see if they can better their 5-4 conference record. 

The Ducks have the most talented offensive line in college football to protect one of the best QB’s in the country, so offensively they should be pretty solid, as long as the likes of Jaylon Redd and Johnny Johnson can step up and fill the void of Dillon Mitchell, who really was the Robin to Herbert’s Batman in 2018

I’m also a fan of Jordon Scott and Troy Dye in the Ducks’ front 7 on defense too. Will it be enough to power them to the top of the Pac 12, or even trouble the college football playoff?

Oregon were the last Pac 12 team to make it to the Championship game since the current format was introduced and one of only two west coast teams to make it to the final four in the same timeframe.

Anyone Else?

Before we talk more QB’s, let’s talk a little defense.

One player who I’m really looking forward to watching more of in 2019 in Utah corner Jaylon Johnson. I feel like Johnson will become a star of this talented Utes defense that had four members voted on to the first team All-Pac 12 defense last year (Johnson, defensive linemen, Bradley Anae and Leki Fotu and linebacker Chad Hansen). This group is stingy, folks.

In my view, Utah will once again be the pick of the Southern conference and I really don’t think it’ll be close… Tyler Huntley is back after his collarbone injury and we all saw what Zack Moss is capable of last year and Utah is just a really, really solid team.

Other defensive players that I haven’t already mentioned that I am going to be keeping an eye on in the Pac 12 are; Corners Paulson Adebo out of Stanford and Darnay Holmes of UCLA, interior defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson of Colorado (who tied the lead for sacks in 2018 with Bradley Anae with 8) and Jaylin Hawkins of the California Golden Bears, who lead the conference with 6 interceptions last year at safety. Defense may not be the strongest aspect of the Pac 12 but there are certainly some dudes worth keeping tabs on.

Back to offense now and back to the sport’s most important position.

Jacob Eason may be the most intriguing player in the whole of the Pac 12 next year. A former 5-star recruit who went to Georgia but couldn’t unseat the King of Athens, Jake Fromm, from his starting berth for the Bulldogs.

Eason ended up transferring the Washington and is now pencilled in to he the Huskies starting QB.

Interestingly, Huskies head coach Chris Petersen, recently said that the transfer portal gives the opportunity for athletes to “tap out” and is harmful for them, which is all kinds of levels of poor self-awareness, given the above.

However, Coach Pete is an awesome coach and if it all clicks in Seattle, Eason could be something really special in his homecoming, given the Lake Stevens native is only a 50 minute drive along the I-5 from his home town.

During my summer film studies, Eason was a really tough evaluation given that all of the tape I could find on him is from 2016 when he was at Georgia but the thing is, the talent is certainly there, it’s just a case of putting it together in a new environment and with a new team.

Washington are another team who I expect to play everyone tough and would bet on them having a good season in the North. Also watch out for Eason to strike up a nice partnership with talented, Senior wide receiver, Aaron Fuller. [Insert Eyes Emoji, Fire Emoji, Drool Face Emoji]

Who Are The Young Upstarts?

J.T Daniels and Amon-Ra St. Brown down in L.A are a pair of Sophomore’s who the Trojans fans will be looking to make some noise. Neither of whom are draft eligible until the 2021 draft but given the hype and buzz around both of these young men, I would imagine we will be hearing lots about them both way before then.

For St. Brown, 60 receptions and 750 yards as a True Freshman says it all. Plus we know there’s talent in the blood lines since older brother Equanimeous plays for the Packers after coming out of Notre Dame and Brother, Osiris plays at Stanford.

As for Daniels, well, USC has a long lineage of QB prospects, of which he’s the latest one and he played in 11 games for the Trojans last year as a True Freshman… that was after the former 5-star recruit graduated from high school early and won the USC starting job a mere three weeks after arriving on campus.

Like I said, this isn’t some Sun Belt Conference school either… This is the University of Southern California, I’m talking about.

Dropping Down a Notch From 2018?

The Washington State Cougars – I just can’t see the Cougs having quite as much success as they did in 2018, which was one of the best in programme history. The loss of charismatic leader, Gardner Minshew and star tackle, Andre Dillard will be a huge blow and I feel it’ll mean a season which will be a regression to the mean for Washington State. Mike Leach is an unbelievable coach and fully deserved his Coach of the Year honour last season but Gage Gubrud just ain’t it when it comes to piloting Leach’s hyper-pass centric Air-Raid offense when you consider that Minshew lead the FBS in passing attempts and completions and was second in passing yardage.

Shout Out to…

Khalil Tate. Man I want to see Arizona get back to what they were in 2017, so badly. The Wildcats took the phrase, lighting up the scoreboard to another level, averaging 41.3 points per game and scoring 71 touchdowns during the 2017 season.

What caught everyone’s eye so much was the method… Arizona’s run game went insane as they rushed for over 4,000 yards on the season.

Who was their leading rusher in 2017? Quarterback Khalil Tate with 1,411 yards at a conference leading 9.2 yards per attempt, whilst scooting in for 12 scores.

E L E C T R I C.

Running back J.J Taylor also got 847 yards and 5 TD’s which made him the 10th best rusher in terms of total yardage in the Pac 12 and with Tate and Taylor, the Wildcats, ran well… wild on their opponents.

Unfortunately, there was no repeat in 2018 as Tate was severely hindered by a high ankle sprain which sapped his mobility and he racked up a poultry 224 yards on the ground – his worst return in Tucson.

Kevin Sumlin will surely want to bring back that running attack for this 2019 season whilst he still has Tate and Taylor available to him, the two players who were absolutely intrinsic to Arizona’s offensive potency two years ago.

I drafted both Tate and Taylor in my most recent CFB fantasy league so I’m the driver of that particular hype train this season. 

And Finally… Who’s Bringing up the Rear?

In the South, UCLA and in the North, it’ll be a familiar story with Oregon State propping up the rest and probably being the worst team in the Pac 12.

Maybe I’m wrong on UCLA, maybe Chip Kelly gets it together in year 2 after a pretty awful debut season but I really don’t see a great deal of proven talent on this roster that makes me think otherwise. I think this is another building year for the Bruins although, I’ll be keeping an eye on Dorian Thompson-Robinson. The Sophomore QB was highly recruited when he attended high school football powerhouse, Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas. DTR, is a lively dual-threat, which can always be utilised well in Kelly’s spread offense.

However, I can’t muster much optimism for Oregon State… Sorry Beavers fans.

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