The Conference of Cannibals gets underway in just a few short hours with the opening game being an absolute blockbuster! Arizona State is in Los Angeles to take on USC, it’s a game that contains two young quarterbacks who we previewed on this past week’s podcast as Kieran and Andy talked up Jayden Daniels of ASU and Kedon Slovis of USC respectively; these two passers are set to be the jewels in the Pac-12 quarterback crown for at least two more years before they both head to the NFL. The Pac-12 is the conference of quarterbacks, afterall.

If you haven’t already heard this week’s podcast, be sure to check it out for all of our takes on the most exciting conference in college football.

Photo Credit: LA Times

Conference overview:

The Pac-12 never gets the respect that it truly deserves on a national scale, which I feel like is a huge crime.

As mentioned above, it is the conference of quarterbacks, both historically and at present. There is also a heck of a lot of talent on most teams throughout the conference and because of this there is much more equality throughout, with tighter games and teams able to take wins off each other on any given day. Hence, Conference of Cannibals and why these teams barely ever make the playoffs – it is hard to run the table out west.

Time zones, of course, play a part in the lack of notoriety of the conference too – playing later and often in the small hours of Sunday morning for us in the UK.

The conference has made strides to market this as #Pac12AfterDark, with some success but realistically until there are teams from the west coast consistently pushing for and/or making the college football playoffs, the Pac-12 will always be seen as the fifth conference of the Power-5.

Alternatively, once the college football playoffs are extended to 6 or 8 (or more) teams, the Pac-12 will have a representative, then it’ll be up to the team who makes it to fly the flag.

The conference is split into North and South divisions, with 6 teams in each division, the champions of each division meet in the conference championship game and the winner gets an automatic entry to the Rose Bowl (unless that team makes the college football playoff).

Last year, Oregon overcame Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl with Justin Herbert running in 3 touchdowns

Historically, the parity is for all to see – Since 2011, there have been 4 different champions and 5 different runners up.

Stanford and Oregon have 3 titles each, with Washington (2) and USC (1) being the other previous winners.

This year, the conference is the last conference to get started (and it almost didn’t happen at all) and will just play a 7 week schedule. 5 of these games will be the usual divisional games and one crossover game. Week 7 will feature the conference championship game, with the division winners facing off as usual, however the rest of the week 7 schedule will be made up of a group of games that have yet to be decided. This is because the final week of the conference games will be all of the respectively placed teams playing each other, 2nd in the north plays 2nd in the south, 3rd placed teams play each other and so on.

A nice addition and ending to the conference for one year only.

Teams and last season’s record:

North Overall (Conference)

Oregon 12-2 (8-1)

Oregon State 5-7 (4-5)

California 8-5 (4-5)

Washington 8-5 (4-5)

Washington State 6-7 (3-6)

Stanford 4-8 (3-6)

South

Utah 11-3 (8-1)

USC 8-5 (7-2)

UCLA 4-8 (4-5)

Arizona State 8-5 (4-5)

Colorado 5-7 (3-6)

Arizona 4-8 (2-7)

Team in focus:

I’m going to take one from the North and one from the South here.

North; Oregon

The Ducks are the reigning Pac-12 champions and will once again be amongst the front runners. However, after losing star QB, Justin Herbert to the NFL in the off season I feel like it’ll be the defense which will be the leader of this team, rather than the offense as it was when Herbert was at the helm.

Why do I think that?

Well The defense is more of a known quantity, plus they have been boosted by a couple of 5-star recruits at linebacker in Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell (little Brother of star left tackle, Penei). Flowe was the 6th and Sewell the 13th ranked prospects of the previous recruiting class, and together they were the #1 and #2 inside linebackers. Whether these two talents will start immediately remains to be seen but it’s safe to say Oregon’s run defense is going to be good for a few years.

Elsewhere on defense, Oregon’s secondary was amongst the best in college football prior to the season, however the unit was heavily hit with opt-outs due to COVID-19, which safeties Javon Holland and Brady Breeze, and corner Thomas Graham now sitting out the season. The unit will now be led by corner Deommodore Lenoir and safety Nick Pickett.

On offense, it’s all change once again as Joe Moorhead replaces Marcus Arroyo as offensive coordinator, which is Oregon’s 4th OC switch in 5 years.

The offense will be run by QB, Tyler Shough, however, Grad Transfer, Anthony Brown will be hot on his heels if things don’t run smoothly.

The Ducks have replaced every starter on the offensive line, 4 to the NFL (Calvin Throckmorton, Jake Hansen, Dallas Warmack and Shane Lemeuix) and Penei Sewell, who has opted out of the season.

It’s going to be a lot of change to overcome on that side of the ball, and really interesting to see how Mario Cristobal’s squad fare with all of the upheaval. 

South; USC

The Trojans are coming into the season with a much more settled playing staff, the biggest question seems to be whether Clay Helton can knit it all together to mouth a serious challenge for the conference title this year.

The talent is there on both sides of the ball for sure, and unlike Oregon, this team feels like it may be at its peak this year rather than trying to introduce a bunch of younger players whilst mounting its challenge.

The offense is headed up by Kedon Slovis, as mentioned previously. Slovis is one of the best young QB’s in the college football ranks and will be looking to build upon a fantastic Freshman year to position himself as one of the better passers outside of the NFL when he becomes draft eligible after this season.

Slovis also has plenty of weapons to throw to – Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns and Drake London make up a group of wide receivers who are as good as you’ll see outside of Alabama. The running game is in great hands with Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr, who should make up a thunder and lightning duo for USC, so as much as OC Graham Harrell runs an air raid system, you will see plenty of yards on the ground from this team too. Lastly on offense, watch out for Alijah Vera-Tucker who will be lining up at left tackle this season after spending some time on the inside at guard previously in his college career – If he performs at tackle, Vera-Tucker could be one of the hottest names in this upcoming offensive line class.

On defense USC has a lot of talent too – Most notably, watch out for linebacker Palaie Gaoteote and safety Talanoa Hufanga. Both of these young men were great recruits from the 2018 class Gaoteote especially considering that he was the #15 overall recruit and #1 linebacker. These two are going to be at the peaks of their college careers and should be the enforcers on defense for USC.

It is a shame that defensive tackle Jay Tufele opted out of the season, otherwise we would be looking at a highly draftable talent at each level of this defense. 

These two teams are my picks for the Pac-12 championship game but ultimately I feel USC will take it.

Players to watch:

I’m going to go for one on offense and one of defense and look outside of Oregon and USC here.

Offense; Max Borghi, RB, Washington State

Max Borghi grew up in the Denver area and in fact originally committed to Colorado in 2017 as a 3-star rated all purpose running back out of Pomona High School in Arvada, Colorado.

Borghi was committed to his home state university but a late push for his signing by WSU and Stanford, made Borghi reconsider and eventually sign for the Cougars.

Borghi also ran track in high school as part of the 4x100m relay team who won a silver medal at the state championships as a Sophomore.

Borghi is a back with back with a lot of receiving experience and it really shows in his comfort level when catching the football – He does so with soft hands and a natural technique, plus he runs a varied route tree out of the backfield and has been used in the slot on occasion and rare drops passes.

Defense; Hamilcar Rashed, EDGE, Oregon State

Rashed is a twitched up athlete who despite being the only guy on the Beavers defense these past couple of years, has had a lot of success getting after the passer. This shows in his production, 22.5 tackles for loss last year and 14 sacks, up from 12.5 and 2.5 in 2018, which is exactly the type of growth I love to see when evaluating players for the NFL Draft.

Rashed is a player who wins with speed and bend, he has a quick first step and ability to turn the corner. Rashed plays as an outside linebacker in the Beavers defensive system and at 6-4 and 235lbs, I’d imagine that he’ll be going the same in the NFL unless he put on 25lbs in the pros.

However, I don’t think you want to take away from his speed and agility by bulking him up just so he can put his hand in the dirt – Brian Burns is showing that you can be successful as a lighter pass rusher for the Carolina Panthers. Burns has put on some weight and I would expect the same to happen with Rashed but he’s still going to want to be on the lighter side.

Oregon State aren’t going to pull up any trees in the Pac-12 North this year, but when you watch the tape or if indeed, you do put on any of their games this season, watch out for #9 coming off the edge.

The offensive lineman will know he’s coming, the question is whether they can stop him…

Photo Credit: NFL Draft Diamonds

Game to watch:

We will have to watch this space throughout the season as games have already begun to fall foul of COVID-19 in the Pac-12, Utah vs. Arizona and Washington vs. California later today has already been cancelled.

At the start of the article I referenced Arizona State going to USC today, which genuinely has the chance to be one of the best games in the conference and to get it off to a bang – Both teams have a chance to be a contender in the South and with that, both have a chance to assert themselves immediately.

Outside of today, Week 5 gives us Oregon vs. California which will be two of the strongest teams in the North division, who should both be in full flow by that time and it really could be the division decider.

To finish off, another fantastic clash will be Utah and Colorado on week 6 – This is a huge rivalry game, it will be absolutely freezing in Bolder, Colorado and it is a Friday night game.

This will be a war of attrition full of big hits and tough football – exactly the sort of game that epitomises the Pac-12, and exactly the sort of game where the bigger teams come unstuck on their run to the top of the division.

Utah will be a very tough team and I think they will challenge Oregon and California for the North – Colorado would love nothing more than upsetting the Utes and stopping their title bid at the last hurdle.

Record predictions:

North;

Oregon 7-0

California 5-2

Washington 4-3

Oregon State 3-4

Washington State 2-5

Stanford 1-6

South;

USC 6-1

Utah 5-2

Arizona State 4-3

Colorado 4-3

Arizona 1-6

UCLA 0-6

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