Welcome to the Pac-12 Preseason Power Rankings. A team from the Pac-12 has a real chance to make the College Football Playoffs in 2019. The conference starts off with five teams in the preseason AP Poll. Oregon, Washington, and Utah all start the season ranked inside the AP top 14. The conference has a chance to quiet all the outside noise about money and tv deals, and the Pac-12 network by winning a national championship. Join and participate in the new Pac-12 Sports Subreddit for all your Pac-12 news, info, and smack talk.
Pac-12 Preseason Power Rankings:
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12. Oregon State Beavers
The Beavers should be markedly better in Jonathan Smith’s second season as head coach. Oregon State returns their top passer, running back, wide receiver, and top nine tacklers from last season. They finished 2018 with a 2-10 record and lost nine games by 17 points or more, so truthfully, there is nowhere to go but up. The best thing they have going is Sophomore running back Jemar Jefferson. He finished 4th in the conference in running as a freshman last year with 1,414 yards. Fans should expect another 2-10 season, but the games should be much more competitive.
11. Colorado Buffaloes
Mel Tucker’s first season as head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes should not be a bad one. He did not inherit a full rebuild like Jonathan Smith at Oregon State. Tucker returns veteran QB Steven Montez who has won big games. And they have the best offensive weapon in the conference WR Laviska Shenault.
The Buffaloes started last season 5-0 with wins over Nebraska, UCLA, and Arizona State. The back half of their schedule was much tougher, but losing seven games in a row seems more of a loss of confidence and focus than just being terrible.
10. Arizona Wildcats
The biggest wildcard in the Pac-12 is the Wildcats. On paper, this team looks very average. Their players don’t have a ton of recruiting stars behind their names, but when they play as a team they can be a force. If QB Khalil Tate can rekindle the magic from his sophomore season that landed him on magazine covers before last season, the Wildcats will make a bowl game. The combination of Tate and RB JJ Taylor in the read-option can a nightmare for defenses. But, can head coach Kevin Sumlin convince Tate not to worry about proving his passing abilities to NFL scouts and just play to his strengths?
9. Arizona State Sun Devils
A year ago so many people were questioning the hiring of Herm Edwards as ASU head coach. They said he was too old, hadn’t coached recently, and his “NFL model” would not work. Then the Sun Devils went 7-6, made a bowl game, and did a helluva job recruiting. Now all the critics are silent. Herm and his staff will have their hands full in the Pac-12 starting a freshman at QB. But they return eight starters including the 2018 Pac-12 leading rusher Eno Benjamin (1,642 yards, 16 TDs) who should make life a little easier.
8. Washington State Cougars
I am still irritated that the Cougars magical 11-2 season last year was not rewarded with a New Years’ Six Bowl game. They were passed but by the bowl selection committee for teams ranked lower and the conference didn’t make a big deal about it. They just took the scraps and stayed quiet about it.
Mike Leach’s ‘Air Raid’ offense gives Pac-12 teams fits when he has a good QB. Last year Gardner Minshew came out of nowhere to be an NFL draft pick after transferring from East Carolina. Can Leach recreate that magic with grad transfer Gage Gubrod or Anthony Gordon at QB? Word on the street is that Gordon has the edge for this job. Hence the #8 spot on the Pac-12 Preseason Power Rankings 2019. The Cougs also have Max Borghi who is expected to have a breakout season in 2019.
7. UCLA Bruins
Call me crazy, but this is the team I picked to win the Pac-12 south. I expect the Bruins to be much improved in 2019. Chip Kelly proved he is a great football coach in 2018. He is known for his up-tempo style, but by seasons end the Bruins were in three tight end sets running smashmouth football winning games. He adjusts his offense to whatever will win. The Bruins started the youngest team in the nation in 2018. Their 2-deep was full of lineup freshman and sophomores.
I expect that with a full offseason of work Chip will have a new wrinkle and magic trick up his sleeve. He made it to a national championship and won a ton of games with guys like Daron Thomas and Jerimiah Masoli at QB. So, he should be able to have success with expected sophomore starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
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6. Cal Golden Bears
There is only one thing that can keep Cal from back-to-back bowl games, quarterback play. If Cal could have switched QBs with ANY team in the conference they would have won 10 games in 2018. Cal’s defense was just devouring offenses. They only gave up more than 20 points six times in 2018. The Golden Bears held USC and conference champion Washington to a combined 24 points last season. Their defense returns seven starters including the best secondary in the Pac-12 and top 5 in the nation.
QB Chase Garbers is no longer a freshman and should be much better in 2019. If he plays really well, Cal could shock the Pac-12 world. I wanted to put them higher on the Pac-12 Preseason Power Rankings but the north division is just stacked.
5. USC Trojans
USC should have enough motivation to right the ship in 2019. They had their first losing record since 2000 and only the 3rd one since I have been alive (1981). The Trojans are playing for well-like head coach Clay Helton’s job. And they are being absolutely disrespected nationally. USC only got one vote in the preseason AP poll and are behind Appalachian State and Army.
QB JT Daniels should make huge strides in 2019 because he is throwing to the 2nd best WR core in the nation. The combination of St. Brown, Vaughns, and Pittman is special. USC is not short on talent, so anything besides a Pac-12 south title is a failure.
4. Utah Utes
The Pac-12 media (except me) is in love with Utah and even picked them to win the conference. The Utes are well-coached, play hard, and have a three clear cut 1st-2nd round NFL players (Zack Moss, Jaylen Johnson, and Leki Fotu). But, their Achilles heel this year will be their QB play. They play a very favorable conference schedule but have to play USC and Washington on the road. Tyler Huntley is back healthy at QB. He is a solid QB but Utah will need him to be special to manage 10 wins out of this schedule.
3. Stanford Cardinal
2018 was a huge disappointment for David Shaw and the Stanford Cardinal. Their 9-4 record looked fine on paper. But they could have been 11-2. Their inability to run the football with Heisman candidate Bryce Love was surprising. However, they did get some good news. They found out they have a sure-fire NFL QB in KJ Costello.
The thing I love about Stanford is that their schedule is always good. They don’t schedule themselves 2-3 easy non-conference game. But that could ultimately be their undoing in 2019. The Cardinal have Northwestern, at USC, at UCF, Oregon, and Washington in the first six weeks of the season, with no open week. OUCH!
2. Washington Huskies
The defending Pac-12 champions only return two starters on what was one of the nation’s best defenses in 2018. Their defense will still be well-coached but there will be a natural dip when you lose five starters to the NFL draft. Chris Petersen does believe he has an upgrade at QB in Georgia transfer Jacob Eason.
The Huskies have a very easy non-conference schedule so navigating the brutal Pac-12 north will be the only thing that stands between them and another Rose Bowl and potential CFB Playoff berth.
1. Oregon Ducks
There can be no excuses for the Mario Cristobal and Oregon in 2019. The Ducks have an NFL 1st round QB in Justin Herbert, the best OL in the nation, and a very solid defense. It all starts on Aug. 31against Auburn in the most important game a Pac-12 team will play this season. This game will determine the national respect of the Pac-12 in 2019.
Their road schedule (Stanford, Washington, USC, Arizona St) is tough, but they avoid Utah with the schedule rotation.
This is the season the Ducks must prove they “are back” as a national championship contender. They have a real shot at the CFB Playoff if they beat Auburn and don’t lose more than 1 Pac-12 game. However, undefeated would guarantee them a spot.
Check back every Monday for the Pac-12 Power Rankings.