How Can Larry Scott Fix the PAC-12 Officiating Issue?

For years, the phrase “PAC-12 refs” has been synonymous with negativity. The conference seems all-too often to have issues with referees being inconsistent, overly flag-happy, and/or slow to make decisions.

An extensive review of the PAC-12 referees after last season resulted in no significant findings, according to ESPN, but things have only gotten worse in recent weeks.

The refs missed a close call in the Arizona State – Michigan State game back in September, and Ole Miss was unhappy with a call in their game against Cal a week later.

The PAC-12 did suspend a referee and downgrade a few others for performance issues, but then they had two instances where they called penalties on the wrong teams just this month alone.

I could go on, but you get the point.

The PAC-12 officiating has been poor and inconsistent over the last few years. With competitive pay, how can they fix a clearly broken system?

What Can the Pac-12 Conference Do?

So what can be done? well, at least according to the available data, the PAC-12 does pay their referees at an equal or similar rate as the other power-five conferences.

That doesn’t mean that the quality is better, obviously, but it should separate the cream from the crop when looking for talent.

So maybe, then, the issue lies in talent evaluation? If the PAC-12 genuinely believes they are hiring the best referees available, and paying them as such, but they are having to fine, suspend and downgrade many of their recent hires, then something must be wrong with their initial evaluation – right?

Doing some digging, it’s really hard to find any information on how PAC-12 referees, or any D1 college referees, are trained. They are often independent contractors, paid a previously agreed upon stipend per game, with more experienced refs getting a higher rate pay.

However, there doesn’t seem to be a concrete training system, or really any way to know that the talent you are getting is the best of the best outside of whomever’s job it is to recruit refs.

Development: Pac-12 Officiating

Of course, asking the PAC-12 to fund and develop a complex training system for referees, especially when other conferences don’t have that, is silly. They should, in theory, be able to rely on their ability to pay a higher rate than other local conferences (like the Mountain West) and their talent evaluator to find the best available refs from a pool of high school refs and other qualified applicants.

The officiating is one of many frustrations fans of PAC-12 schools have voiced recently, and the other failures of commissioner Larry Scott has only served to heighten this area of need for the conference.

Fixing the issue is by no means simple, but it’s clear that something has to give, and soon.

The Leaders for the PAC-12 End of Season Awards: POY, DPOY

pac-12 podcast apostles 2020 schedule

The PAC-12 regular season is nearing its end, and it is time for us to make our prediction about the major awards.

From Offensive and Defensive player of the year to the freshman of the year and of course the coach of the year, here is a look at who is in the running for each award and our best guess at who will win it.

Justin Herbert Oregon Football

PAC-12 Offensive Player of the Year

The candidates: Justin Herbert – QB (UO), Anthony Gordon – QB (WSU), Zach Moss – RB (Utah) Isaiah Hodgins (OSU)

This award actually goes to non-quarterbacks pretty often, but it definitely seems like the 2019 award will be between Justin Herbert of the Ducks and Anthony Gordon of the Cougars.

Herbert’s numbers are unreal this year, with a 69.4 percent completion rate, a 163.5 passer rating and an outstanding 24-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Considering Oregon is still in the running for a playoff berth, this award is almost all but locked up. Gordon’s gaudy numbers (32 touchdowns, 70 percent completion rate, 3,387 yards) will make it interesting, but WSU’s losing streak may have killed his chances.

PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year

The candidates: Evan Weaver – LB (Cal), Troy Dye – LB (UO), Paulson Adebo – DB (Stanford) Nate Landman – LB (COL) – Jaylen Johnson CB (Utah)Hamilcar Rasheed – DE (OSU

Evan Weaver is leading the conference in tackles by a wide margin, while also providing leadership to the best defense in the conference, and one of the best in the Nation.

As such, he will be difficult to unseat as the PAC-12 defensive player of the year.

However, Nate Landman of the Buffaloes is also among the conference leaders in nearly every defensive category, and both Troy Dye and Paulson Adebo have been billed as potential first-round picks. Adebo leads the conference in interceptions while Dye is rapidly climbing the leaderboards in PAC-12 history among tackles and tackles for loss. In addition, there is little mentioned, Hamilcar Rashed from Oregon State. He is leading the conference in sacks (12).

Weaver would have to get hurt or Cal would have to get torched for him to not win this award, but this conference does have a lot of successful defensive players to choose from.

Kedon Slovis USC Pac-12 Football Top Performer Week 3

PAC-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year

The candidates: Jayden Daniels – QB (ASU), Kedon Slovis – QB (USC), Jaren Mangham – RB (COL)

This award will almost certainly come down to the two quarterbacks, although Mangham’s contributions as both a ball-carrier and a receiver will merit some consideration.

Daniels has thrown for more yards and has a better touchdown-to-interception ratio than Slovis, but the USC star in the making has him beat nearly everywhere else. With a 68.5 percent completion rate, 16 touchdowns and a 149.6 passer rating, I expect this award to go to Slovis.

However, these two are close enough statistically that if Arizona State is able to pull of a few quality wins, thanks to Daniels, he could sneak in and take this award from Slovis.

EUGENE, OREGON – OCTOBER 26: Anthony Gordon #18 of the Washington State Cougars is sacked by Mase Funa #47 of the Oregon Ducks in the second quarter during their game at Autzen Stadium on October 26, 2019, in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

PAC-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year

The candidates: Mase Funa – LB (UO), Kuony Deng – LB (Cal) Stephan Blaylock – DB (UCLA)

Not a lot of big-time contributors on defense as freshmen this season, but a pair of linebackers lead the pack.

Funa is tied for seventh in the conference in both sacks (4) and tackles for loss (7.5) proving himself an effective weapon off the edge.

Deng is third in the conference in combined tackles with 80, while also racking up a handful of sacks and even a pair of pass breakups. At this point, he’s probably the favorite for this award thanks in part to Cal’s elite defense.

Blaylock is the only non-linebacker on this list, but his 59 tackles and two pass breakouts lead all freshmen defensive backs in the PAC-12.

Coach of the Year – Mario Cristobal (Oregon)

Oregon and Utah are both 8-1 on the season, and every other PAC-12 school has at least four losses. That makes the choice for PAC-12 coach of the year a fairly easy one. Utah was expected to finish first with Oregon second, so Oregon is (technically) overachieving.

Kyle Whittingham at Utah will certainly get some consideration, but outside of those two, there is literally no one else in the conference who deserves this award.

How the Best PAC-12 Defenses Stack Up with the Rest of College Football

Best pac-12 defenses

The PAC-12 may not be nationally known for having elite defenses, but this season it has become clear that many of the best overall defensive teams reside on the west coast, along with some of the best individual defensive players.

Four teams – Oregon, Utah, Arizona State, and Cal – are among the top 20 in all of college football in scoring defense, with another (Washington) coming in at No. 28.

Of course, the other side of that coin is that four other teams are actually among the 33 worst defenses in the NCAA at preventing scoring: Washington State, Arizona, Oregon State, and UCLA, who is allowing opponents to score a whopping 37.7 points on average.

So, as one might expect, the PAC-12 is actually pretty average defensively – at least when evaluating them based on points allowed.

Let’s take a look at those elite defenses though, and how they are getting it done in 2019.

Best Pac-12 Defenses 2019

Troy Dye Oregon Pac-12 defenses 2019

Oregon Ducks

The Ducks have long been stigmatized as a speedy, offense-oriented team with little attention or care for their defense – a stigma that has lasted well past the Chip Kelly era despite a reality that contradicts that narrative.

This season, Oregon is allowing the third-fewest points per game on average, at just 8.7 points per game. They are successful at limiting both the run game (107.5 rushing yards per game – 23rd in the nation) and the pass game (196.2 passing yards per game – eighth in the nation) which of course means they are in the top 10 in fewest yards allowed per game – eighth to be exact, at just 267.7 yards per game.

Linebacker Troy Dye, a potential first round pick, has been perhaps their biggest performer on defense, with 33 combined tackles and one sack.

Mase Funa and Kayvon Thibodaux are getting it done off the edge with 5.5 combined sacks, and safety Jevon Holland already has three interceptions.

The Ducks still have an outside chance at a college football playoff appearance, and while their strength is still their quarterback, Justin Herbert, their defense will have played a big role if they make it that far.

Utah Utes

The Utes are probably the PAC-12’s most impressive defensive team, although they are limited somewhat against the pass.

Led by a flurry of playmakers, including Devin Lloyd, Francis Bernard, Julian Blackmon, and Bradlee Anae, the Utes have held opponents to just 13.2 points per game on average.

Their run defense is elite, and would be the best in the entire NCAA were it not for the ridiculousness that is the University of Wisconsin’s defense.

While their pass defense still leaves something to be desired, they do have seven interceptions as a team, including three that have been returned for touchdowns.

Utah will contend for a Rose Bowl appearance this season, thanks primarily to their defensive prowess.

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Arizona State Sun Devils

Arizona State Sun Devils

Arizona State may not have the playmakers that Utah or Oregon have, but as a team, they have allowed just 17.7 points per game on average, good for 16th in the nation.

They are considerably better against the run than the pass, giving up big games to Washington State and Colorado who both like to attack through the air.

Still, it’s been a wildly successful season for the Sun Devils, who held the Michigan State Spartans to just seven points and only gave up 17 to Cal.

The team still has Utah and Oregon on their schedule, however, so they’ll need to really tighten up if they want to contend for the Rose Bowl this year.

Cal Bears Evan Weaver pac-12 defenses

Cal Golden Bears

Cal has one of the most exciting playmakers in the nation in linebacker Evan Weaver. Weaver leads the entire nation with 83 combined tackles, an absolutely ridiculous total through just six games.

Cal has only allowed one team to score over 20 points this season, in their 24-17 loss to Arizona State.

As such, their 18.3 points per game allowed ties them with Auburn for 18th in the nation – despite only average numbers in run and pass prevention.

The PAC-12 may not be known for their defensive prowess, but there are still a handful of elite defensive teams that can manhandle any opponent on any given night.

Pac-12 defenses are some of the best in all of college football in 2019.

Sports Illustrated layoffs highlight the sensationalism of sports journalism

Last week, in a gut-wrenching but unfortunately unsurprising move, TheMaven’s takeover of Sports Illustrated resulted in layoffs for nearly half of the iconic magazine’s staff members.

The process to let go of so many staff members was callous and ill-managed, as the staff originally asked staffers to report to one of two meetings – presumably separating the people staying and leaving – before deciding to cancel them 10 minutes beforehand.

Regardless of how it went down, it’s clear this move is another step away from the investigative, high-quality journalism that so long dominated the sports industry, and is another step toward what is not-so-affectionately being called “content farms”.

What’s a content farm?

Basically, content farms are sites like FanSided, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation, sites that hire underpaid staffers to man team-specific sites that produce rapid amounts of content about each individual team (Addicted to Quack is the Oregon Ducks SB Nation site, for example).

These sites aren’t inherently bad themselves necessarily, although the amount of work required by site managers (or experts at Fansided) generally does not equal the amount of pay provided.

The issue is that so many organizations, including USA TODAY and now Sports Illustrated, are going this route as opposed to investing in actual storytellers and investigative reporters, leaving the industry thin on that kind of content.

Having a few sites that just produce short news stories and quick analysis to reach a more general fan base is fine, as long as there are sites that do long-form journalism, finding stories that these – often college-aged – site managers who make at best $400 per month don’t have the time or expertise to find themselves.

When companies like Sports Illustrated resort to the same tactic, what readers will get is 6-7 sites all producing 8-10 articles per day, none over 200 words, with tons of videos and links and ads and very little actual substance to them.

Gone will be the days of 1,500 word articles about players past, their relationship with their coach, or their parents, or their siblings, replaced by fluff anyone can find on any number of different sites.

Deadspin reported on what TheMaven COO said in his presentation on the company’s plan:

“So our vision, and this is where you come in, is that entrepreneurs run these team-specific sites. People who are all Hawkeyes all the time or all Jets all the time. And are covering their team on an intense basis, and equally important are fostering an intense community of fans who come back to the site everyday.”

Quality journalists, journalists who spent hours, maybe days, crafting the perfect story – talking to multiple sources, sending follow-ups, digging deeper – they lost their jobs for Sports Illustrated to do this.

And, unfortunately, this may just be the beginning of the end for quality, long-form sports journalism as we know it.

Who’s Still In and Who’s Out: The 2019 Pac-12 Football Championship

Arizona State vs Stanford Football 2019

As we predicted earlier in the season, the PAC-12 is doing an excellent job of eating each other alive – a tradition unlike any other in the conference of champions.

Cal and Washington State both cost themselves spots in the top-25 with losses to Arizona State and Utah, respectively, leaving the conference with no undefeated teams.

At this point, because so many teams are lumped together, it’s hard to pick a clear favorite for the PAC-12 championship.

Here are the schools who still have a realistic chance of winning the PAC-12, with a look at their remaining schedule:

Pac-12 Power Rankings Week 5

No. 13 Oregon Ducks (3-1)

Oregon’s loss to Auburn hurts, especially since it was a winnable game, but ultimately they are still the team best positioned to win the PAC-12 Championship, and possibly the only team who has a real chance at playing in the College Football Playoff this season.

That doesn’t mean it will be an easy road however, as they have true road games against Washington, Arizona State and USC, as well as a home date with the Cougars of Washington State.

Led by quarterback Justin Herbert, the Ducks should be playing meaningful football into the early part of 2020, but they still have some work to do to get there.

Washington Huskies Rose Bowl

No. 15 Washington Huskies (4-1)

A pounding by the Huskies of the Trojans on Montlake went a long way for this team, who is still rebounding from a tough, weather-aided loss to Cal at home a few weeks ago.

Washington actually has a somewhat favorable schedule going forward, as their two toughest opponents – Oregon and Utah – are both at home along with this year’s Apple Cup against Washington State.

Oregon is still the favorite, but the Huskies are also in good shape to make a push for a Rose Bowl berth if they can win out this season.

Utah Football Helmet
Sleeping on the Utes in 2019? Not a good idea.

No. 17 Utah Utes (4-1)

As I predicted, the Utes fell for the trap game against the USC Trojans down in California, wish dampened their hopes this season quite a bit.

They did bounce back with a commanding victory over Washington State, 38-13, but they’ll probably need to be perfect (or close to it) if they want to win the PAC-12 championship and play in either the Rose Bowl or the college football championship.

A date with the No. 15 Huskies in Montlake will be the biggest challenge they face, although back to back home bouts with Arizona State and Cal won’t be easy either.

Pac-12 Football Power Rankings Week 3

No. 20 Arizona State (4-1)

Arizona State is the biggest wildcard out of this group, but they did beat Michigan State earlier this season and just defeated Cal on the road, making them 4-1 with only a three-point loss to Colorado standing in their way.

They also have a favorable home schedule as well, with only Utah remaining as a tough conference game on the road.

They’ll have to defend their home turf against Oregon, Washington State, USC and rival Arizona, but they are a team to keep an eye on in the hyper-competitive PAC-12 conference this year.

NFC West Week 1: What to Know About Your Favorite NFL Team

The NFC West should once again produce some excellent football this season, although fans who love high-scoring, pass-heavy offensive attacks may not enjoy it as much as others.

The Los Angeles Rams, fresh off a Super Bowl appearance, are the preseason favorites once again. They’ll be challenged heavily by the Seattle Seahawks, who just added a huge piece to their defensive line in Jadeveon Clowney, as well as the young San Francisco 49ers, who will be lead by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

While the Arizona Cardinals are expected to bring up the rear, the team does have an exciting young quarterback in Kyler Murray and an eager young coach in Kliff Kingsbury, and they could surprise some folks.

Here is a preview of each team in the NFC West ahead of their first game of the 2019 season.

Feb 3, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald (99) reacts after a tackle on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) during the second quarter in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Rams (Pred: 11-5)

Key Additions: S Eric Weddle, LB Clay Matthews, QB Blake Bortles

Key Subtractions: S Mark Barron, OL John Sullivan, DT Ndamukong Suh

First game: @ Carolina Panthers

The Los Angeles Rams found themselves in the Super Bowl last season, their second under coach Sean McVay. Although they lost the game, this team has the potential to make their way back to that level again in 2019.

After making a ton of high-profile roster moves last offseason, the team laid pretty low in 2019, looking to make small changes but keeping the rest of their core intact.

The additions of veteran safety Eric Weddle and linebacker Clay Matthews could end up both being bargains when the year is up, even though both of them are up there in age.

LA must have liked what they saw out of the University of Washington last year, as they took safety Taylor Rapp and defensive tackle Greg Gaines in the draft. Both could serve as solid depth pieces this season.

The Rams are on their way to another 10+ win season, and although Carolina is a solid team I think they’ll take care of business on the road on their way to an 11-5 record.

NFL highest paid players Russell Wilson contract

Seattle Seahawks (Pred: 10-6)

Key Additions: DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Ezekiel Ansah, WR DK Metcalf, K Jason Myers

Key Subtractions: FS Earl Thomas, WR Doug Baldwin, DE Frank Clark

First game: Vs. Cincinnati Bengals

The Seattle Seahawks had a whirlwind of an offseason, punctuated by a surprising trade of star defensive end Frank Clark, two massive, record-breaking contract extensions for Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner, the loss of franchise icons Doug Baldwin and Earl Thomas, the selection of uber-hyped receiver DK Metcalf, and then finally the last-minute trade for star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.


Ultimately this team is even better than the team that surprised everybody by winning 10 games and making it to the NFC wildcard game last year. Their run game is still excellent with Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny, Russell Wilson is still an elite quarterback, and the additions of Ansah and Clowney in front of Wagner, K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks gives them a formidable front seven.

The secondary isn’t what it used to be, and the receiving corps is extremely young, but this team has all the tools to win double-digit games and make a run in the playoffs.

Their first game against the Bengals should be a breeze, even if Clowney and Ansah are still learning the playbook up front.

San Francisco 49ers (8-8)

Key Additions: DE Nick Bosa, DE Dee Ford, RB Tevin Coleman, LB Kwon Alexander

Key Subtractions: P Bradley Pinion, WR Pierre Garcon, RB Alfred Morris

First game: @ Tampa Bay

The 49ers did a lot to improve their roster this offseason, signing a pair of quality defensive players in Kwon Alexander and Dee Ford, while also using the second overall pick to snag Nick Bosa.

The fact that they lost very little talent from last year’s squad (their punter was the biggest loss) is a great sign for this team going forward.

Of course, their success will hinge on how quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo looks in what the team hopes will be his first full season in the Bay.

Garoppolo has played in nine games for San Francisco over the last two seasons, with a nice 64.8% completion rate but a subpar 12/8 touchdown-to-interception ratio. If he can develop into the stud QB the fans envision, this team should play over .500 ball this year. If he cannot, it could be another ugly year in San Francisco.

Their first game over in Tampa Bay will give fans a good look at which Jimmy G they are going to get this year.

Arizona Cardinals (Pred: 5-11)

Key Additions: QB Kyler Murray, CB Byron Murphy, EDGE Terrell Suggs, TE Charles Clay

Key Subtractions: QB Josh Rosen, EDGE Benson Mayowa, FS Antoine Bethea

First Game: vs. Detroit Lions

Last but not least, the Arizona Cardinals will look to climb out of the cellar in the NFC West. Lead by their new coach, Kliff Kingsbury, and new quarterback Kyler Murray, this team does have some intrigue as a sleeper pick – even in the top-heavy NFC West.

Arizona made some shrewd moves on defense, signing free agent Terrell Suggs and drafting former UW cornerback Byron Murphy – although the losses of Benson Mayowa and Antoine Bethea will definitely hurt them.

They did their best to shore up the offensive line as well, and a healthy David Johnson should be a huge asset in 2019.

They get a nice litmus test in their season opener against the Lions, another young team attempting to re-brand themselves to get out of the cellar.

Perhaps Murray and Kingsbury can move the Cardinals in the right direction going forward.

Why the Pac-12 Moving Away from 9am Games is Only Step One

Pac-12 9am games Larry Scott Commissioner

Those on the west coast may enjoy their coffee but 9am Pac-12 games were a ridiculous thought. And fortunately, for at least one year, Larry Scott decided it is the Pac-12’s best interest to avoid 9am kickoffs.

The idea gained some traction earlier in the offseason, as it would allow games to be featured at 12 pm on the east coast, putting them in a more favorable TV time slot. This was much to the chagrin of west coast fans, who would lose their precious tailgating time and would have to get up at the crack of dawn. It would also take them away from watching some great Big Ten and early east coast games.

The decision to squash 9am Pac-12 games was a good one, but it was only step one in what should eventually be an overhaul of the conference’s priorities. Gone should be the days of focusing on TV deals and bowing down to the desires of the big TV stations – who are always going to prioritize the SEC and ACC anyway.

Instead, the Pac-12 must re-align themselves with their fan bases, making games a much more enjoyable experience. Fans should be encouraged to enjoy the stadium, not have to worry about where they will watch their favorite teams.

Time for the Pac-12 to be Forward Thinking with Distribution

Sure, TV is still a lucrative business for college football – but with less and less younger people subscribing to cable, and with ESPN and other big-name sports broadcasters losing business left and right, it makes sense for the Pac-12 to stay progressive and ahead of the curve.

Perhaps they could look into making their games more accessible on social media? Or on subscription services like Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime, the latter of which is in the University of Washington’s backyard? These things may become tricky if the NCAA steps in, but it is worth looking into for a conference that should not be afraid to stir things up instead of catering to the TV powers that be.

Engage with fans, in-person, and not during 9am Pac-12 kickoffs

There are, of course, multiple ways to cater to fans that don’t also disrupt the enjoyment of the game on TV, including lowering concession prices, selling alcohol in the stadiums (five stadiums don’t allow alcohol, and many others only allow it in small areas) and upping fan interaction with players and coaches. Teams could offer more on-field activities, autograph sessions, tailgating with players, etc.

Overall, the Pac-12 is running into serious financial issues thanks to a myriad of concerns at the upper level of the conference. Bowing down to an outdated industry like TV is only going to make things worse. To think 9am Pac-12 kickoffs would bring additional revenue completely ignores what should drive conference decisions: coaches, players and fan experience. What good is it to broadcast a 9am game to the nation when half the seats in the stadium are empty? Is this the impression the Pac-12 wants to make to national audiences?

The west coast is progressive and so is the Pac-12. 9am kickoffs, however imaginative and new to those in the west, are not. Instead the conference needs to be innovative the ways it engages fans at stadiums, taking some of the responsibility from individual programs and helping change the image of the Pac-12 for the better.

College Football Power 5 Sleeper Teams From Each Conference

Sleeper Teams from each Power 5 conference

Perhaps more than any other sport, parity seems to be – for lack of a better word – a rarity in college football. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Auburn, etc. seem to always be near the top of the standings, while teams at the bottom of the barrel tend to remain there for years, even decades. But every so often a team climbs from the ashes and shocks the world. They surprise their respective college football Power 5 Conference and come close to – if not actually – winning their conference. The ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC all have sleeper teams in the mix for 2019.

Washington State was one of the best examples of that last season. Led by transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew, the Cougars nearly won the PAC-12 crown and finished well within the top-25 despite projections having them near the bottom of the conference in the preseason.

Which team could make the WSU leap in 2019? Here is one option for a college football Power 5 surprise team in each conference. Consider them the proverbial dark horses.

College Football Sleeper Teams 2019

ACC: Virginia Cavaliers

Virginia was projected to finish sixth in the ACC by USA TODAY, but that feels like it could end up being a mistake if quarterback Bryce Perkins can build off his ridiculously excellent 2018 season.

Perkins proved to be one of the more dynamic players in college football last season, throwing for 2,680 yards with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and running for 923 yards and nine scores. 

The team will need to replace running back Jordan Ellis and receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, no easy task, but they do return nine starters to a defense that allowed the 20th fewest points last season.

A top-3 finish in the ACC seems very plausible for Bronco Mendenhall’s squad.

Minnesota RB

BIG-10: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Minnesota has a lot of things going for them in the BIG Ten, and could be a scary team if things go their way. For starters, they have one of the easiest schedules in college football, and could easily find themselves 5-0 in October.

Second, they return nine starters on offense and seven on defense, which includes receiver Tyler Johnson and a pair of former 1,000-yard rushers in Mohamed Ibrahim and Rodney Smith.

The Gophers finished 2018 winning three out of four, and could realistically challenge for a BIG-10 championship this season if things go right for P.J. Fleck and company.

Baylor QB Charlie Brewer College Football

BIG-12: Baylor Bears

Baylor went from one win in 2017 to seven wins in 2018, the second year under coach Matt Rhule. USA TODAY has them 22nd overall, so it’s hard to call them a dark horse necessarily, but Rhule’s squad is only picked to finish fourth in the BIG-12, and I think they can challenge for the top spot.

The Bears have one of the deepest groups of wide receivers in the country, and quarterback Charlie Brewer is coming off a season where he threw for over 3,000 yards with 19 touchdowns.

With an offense poised to do some damage through the air, and a team that has continued to improve in the last few seasons, Baylor has a chance to make some noise in 2019.

Chip Kelly Dorian Thompson-Robinson UCLA Pac-12 Teams

PAC-12: UCLA Bruins

Chip Kelly has proven he can win at the college level. His offensive style is no longer as unique and unknown as it was when he was leading Oregon to prominence a half-decade ago, but there’s reason to believe that the Bruins will begin to hit their stride in the second year under Kelly.

After all, the Bruins did show improvement in the second half last season, and they are returning a good chunk of starters on both sides of the ball.

While they have one of the toughest schedules in the entire college football landscape this year, they could certainly surprise some people heading into conference play.

USA TODAY has them ranked ninth in the PAC-12, and a top-five finish wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Tennessee QB Jarrett Guarantano Power 5 Sleeper

SEC: Tennessee Volunteers

The Vol’s may have lost defensive lineman Emmitt Gooden, but they still have a packed house upfront – especially if they can get Michigan transfer Aubrey Solomon cleared before the opener.

The defense should be solid, but this team’s ability to succeed next season will depend on how quarterback Jarrett Guarantano develops under new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.

Guarantano had some electric performances last season, particularly against Kentucky, which helped make him the 21st ranked quarterback in college football according to Pro Football Focus.

However, poor offensive line play limited his playmaking ability, and that is something that Tennessee will need to improve if they want to rock the boat in the stacked SEC conference.

These college football Power 5 sleeper teams may not win their conference but they will win games that decide who does.

Ten Pac-12 Players Who May Be NFL Draft 2020 First-Round Picks

Ten Pac-12 Players NFL Draft 2020 First-Round Picks

The PAC-12 may not be viewed as the powerhouse that the SEC is, but make no mistake, each year plenty of high-quality talent is selected in the NFL draft out of PAC-12 schools.

It’s too early to tell, but players like Andre Dillard (WSU), Byron Murphy (UW) Marquise Blair (Utah) and Kaleb McGary (UW) all have a chance to make an immediate impact in the NFL after getting drafted last season.

The 2019 college football season is nearly upon us, and once again the PAC-12 has numerous candidates who might hear their name called early on draft day next season.

10 players out of the PAC-12 who have a realistic chance of getting selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft.

Justin Herbert Oregon Ducks

Justin Herbert, Quarterback, Oregon

Herbert is not only a near-lock to go in the first round next season – barring an injury – he has a great chance to go No. 1 overall. It was definitely a surprise when the star quarterback elected to return to college for his senior season, coming off a junior year where he threw for 3,151 yards with an excellent 29-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio, leading the Ducks to a 9-4 record.

Herbert said he felt he had unfinished business with the Ducks, and he’ll return as an immediate candidate for the Heisman trophy, alongside Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

Herbert has been praised for his ball placement, knowledge of the game and his sneaky mobility, although durability concerns and a tendency to stare down receivers could hurt him at the professional level.

Expect Herbert to be the first PAC-12 player selected next year, and possibly the first player overall.

Laviska Shenault Colorado Buffaloes Pac-12

Laviska Shenault, Receiver, Colorado

Laviska Shenault is not only one of the best names in the PAC-12 (more on that later) but he has a real chance to be a top-10 pick in the 2020 NFL draft, particularly if he can build off an incredible junior season.

At Colorado, Shenault hauled in 86 receptions for 1,011 yards and six touchdowns, while also carrying the ball 17 times for 115 yards and five more touchdowns.

Shenault is listed at six-foot-two and 215 pounds, and most scouts think he’ll time out around a 4.40, which gives him an extraordinary blend of size and speed.

He’s still a bit raw as a receiver, but his versatility, size, speed, and instincts make it easy to see him as a future star – and one that should get drafted early in 2020.

Walker Little Stanford OL NFL Draft

Walker Little, Tackle, Stanford

Stanford tackle Walker Little is anything but – standing at six-foot-seven and weighing 317 pounds. He was co-freshman offensive player of the year in the PAC-12 two years ago and was an absolute beast at clearing rushing lanes for Bryce Love of the Cardinal.

Little is already projected as a mid-first round pick, and if he can stay healthy (he’s battled injuries in the past) there’s little reason to assume he won’t find himself as an NFL starter as soon as 2020.

Calvin Throckmorton Pac-12 NFL Draft

Calvin Throckmorton, Tackle, Oregon

On nearly any other list, Laviska Shenault would be the best name. However, it’s pretty darn hard to beat Oregon tackle Calvin Throckmorton, a name that sounds like it belongs in the Harry Potter universe.

Throckmorton is listed as a tackle, although he has experience as a guard as well – and many analysts believe that is where he will end up in the NFL.

His explosiveness is nearly unparalleled, and his ability to pull and locate blockers makes him an attractive piece to run-heavy NFL squads. He does struggle out in open space however and might be a liability as a pass-blocker.

Throckmorton will have to mitigate some of those concerns if he wants to end up in the first round, but his size, explosiveness, and high football IQ make him a tantalizing prospect entering his fifth season at UO.

Trey Adams Washington Huskies Football offensive lineman

Trey Adams, Tackle, Washington

Trey Adams is an absolute unit, standing at six-foot-seven and weighing over 300 pounds. Despite that he has shown good body control as a pass-protector, making him a potential left tackle in the NFL and capable protector of the blindside.

Durability is a big concern here, as the UW star has missed big chunks in each of the last two seasons. He’ll need to be healthy and productive next season if he wants to find himself getting selected in the first round, but he does have the talent to go that high.

Jaylon Johnson Utah Utes cornerback

Jaylon Johnson, Cornerback, Utah

Jaylon Johnson enters his third season at Utah coming off a sophomore campaign that saw him snag four interceptions, along with 31 solo tackles and two sacks.

Johnson has the near-perfect size for an NFL corner, standing six-foot and weighing 190 pounds. He’s physical and aggressive at the point of contact, making him a great asset against bigger, more physical NFL receivers.

He’s raw, and has some issues in quick throws. But Johnson has the tools and build to be a high-quality defensive back in the NFL. He could find himself getting picked in the first-round of the NFL Draft if he has a strong junior campaign.

Jacob Eason QB Washington transfer from Georgia bulldogs

Jacob Eason, Quarterback, Washington

The range of outcomes that are possible for new Huskies quarterback Jacob Eason is nearly infinite.

The transfer from Georgia sat out last year but is expected to start for Chris Peterson and company next season. Eason wasn’t bad the one season he started at Georgia, completing 55.1% of his passes for 2,430 yards with a nice 16-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

But after losing his job to Jake Fromm, Eason will have to prove himself in the Pacific Northwest. If he can harness his absolute cannon of an arm, he could easily find himself getting selected by a QB needy team in the first round.

Troy Dye 2020 NFL Draft Oregon linebacker

Troy Dye, Linebacker, Oregon

Dye has started for the Ducks over the past three seasons, posting remarkably consistent numbers throughout his career. His 182 solo tackles are already 22nd all-time in the PAC-12, and his 125 assisted tackles rank 16th.

Dye possesses excellent range and instincts as a linebacker, and his size and style of play should mesh well with the current NFL style.

He does have some issues in run protection, often relying on seeing the ball-carrier and chasing them rather than anticipating, but those are things he can learn at the pro level. It would take a step forward from Dye for him to jump into the first round, but as it stands he has a great chance to be a high-quality NFL starter for a long time.

KJ Costello Pac-12 conference quarterback Stanford

K.J. Costello, Quarterback, Stanford

Scouts, coaches and general managers love their tall quarterbacks. It’s why Paxton Lynch was an NFL Draft first-rounder and Russell Wilson fell into the third – even though Lynch is now fighting for a job backing up Wilson in Seattle.

K.J. Costello stands six-foot-five and weighs a lean 215 pounds, and his size and absolute rocket arm make him an appealing potential first-round target next season.

He led the Cardinal to a 9-4 record by throwing for 3,540 yards with a nice 29-to-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a solid 65.1% completion percentage.

Costello’s IQ in the pocket is excellent, and he has complete trust in his receivers – often making challenging throws and seeing openings before anyone else can.

He’s a bit limited mobility wise – as most six-foot-five quarterbacks are – but another strong season could vault Costello into the first-round conversation, particularly if multiple quarterback-needy teams emerge. He may end up being a Pac-12 NFL Draft first-rounder.

Christian Rector USC defensive end

Christian Rector, EDGE, USC

EDGE defenders were all the rage in the NFL Draft first-round last year, and while the PAC-12 doesn’t have a huge laundry list of elite, draft-eligible pass-rushers in 2019, one who could sneak his way into first-round consideration with a strong campaign is USC’s Christan Rector.

Entering his fifth year with the Trojans, Rector will need to show consistency if he wants to get attention at the top of the NFL Draft. An imposing six-foot-four and 270 pounds, Rector can absolutely wreak havoc off the edge – but too often he disappears for entire games.

His hand placement and use of length have been strengths of his in the past, but he often gets too upright and struggles to fill gaps in the run-game – both traits that he’ll need to improve on in his final season down in Southern California.