College Football Season Previews: PAC-12 North Edition

(image by Andrew Percival)

It’s that time of the year again and I will be previewing the PAC-12 Conference, North division. After sending the Washington Huskies to the College Football playoff back in 2016, the conference has failed to earn a bid in consecutive seasons. Despite this, there is increasing optimism around the PAC-12 Conference that a number of programs have the chance to break that streak during the 2019 season.

Currently, ESPN’s FBS Preseason Rankings have five PAC-12 programs ranked in the top 25. They are #12 Washington, #13 Oregon, #15 Utah, #21 Washington State, and #23 Stanford. Let’s break it down.

PAC-12 North Division

1. Oregon Ducks (10-2) overall; (8-1) conference

The Oregon Ducks are certainly an intriguing team to watch this season. Senior quarterback Justin Herbert returns after foregoing the opportunity to go the NFL. Herbert is coming off a strong campaign in which he threw for 3,151 yards and 29 TDs, despite his receivers dropping a total of 52 passes in 13 games. Thankfully, this issue was addressed with the addition of former Penn State receiver Juwan Johnson.

Defensively, Oregon’s versatile three-man front of Kayvon Thibodeaux, Austin Faoliu, and Gus Alexander will be a tough group to handle and should keep opposing quarterbacks under pressure. The questions remain in the secondary. If the youth can grow up in a hurry under first year defensive coordinator Andy Avalos, the Oregon Ducks could return back to national relevance.

WINS: Nevada, Montana, @Stanford, California, Colorado, Washington State, @USC, Arizona, @Arizona State and Oregon State.

LOSSES: Auburn, @Washington

2. Washington Huskies (10-2) overall; (7-2) conference

The Washington Huskies have fallen short of the College Football playoff the last few years and are hoping to change the narrative this year. The Huskies offense will be filled with experience despite the running back position being suspect. Former Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason will be at the helm of the offense and will have a surplus of talented receivers at his disposal. The likes of senior receiver Aaron Fuller and junior receiver Ty Jones will give Eason the ability to stretch the field. Defensively, Washington lost a lot. However, they have done a fantastic job of filling the gaps, quite literally. Redshirt freshman Sam Taimani could emerge as a massive piece for the purple and gold.

Washington’s season rests on the play of Jacob Eason. During his freshman year at Georgia he threw for 2,430 yards and 16 TDs but only completed 55% of his passes. If Eason improves on these numbers, Washington could find themselves back in the College Football playoff.

WINS: Eastern Washington, California, Hawaii, @BYU, USC, @Arizona, Oregon, Utah, @Oregon State, and @Colorado.

LOSSES: @Stanford, Washington State

3. Stanford Cardinal (7-5) overall; (6-3) conference

Stanford’s previous season was a disappointment. This was a result of the injury plagued season the Cardinal suffered. Now, the program is hoping to hit the reset button. They bring back senior quarterback KJ Costello who, despite Stanford’s struggles, threw for 3,540 yards and 29 TDs a year ago. The Cardinal relied heavily on the passing game with current Washington Redskin running back Bryce Love struggling with the injury bug last year. Now, head coach David Shaw would like to go back to Stanford’s smash mouth run offense with senior running back Cameron Scarlett leading the way.

Stanford’s defensive capabilities remain a mystery. The unit only returns five starters, but maybe that’s a good thing. The pass defense was horrific and it played a part in the Cardinals allowing over 400 yards per game to opposing offenses. If that number doesn’t improve, Stanford will find themselves in a lot of shootouts. And I’m not sure they have enough offensive talent to win those games.

WINS: Northwestern, @Oregon State, Washington, UCLA, Arizona, @Washington State, and California.

LOSSES: @USC, @UCF, Oregon, @Colorado, and Notre Dame.

4. Washington State Cougars (9-3) overall; (6-3) conference

Washington State emerged as one of the PAC-12’s finest with an impressive 11-win season in 2018. Gone is quarterback Gardner Minshew II and out comes the questions about the quarterback position. Not to worry, head coach Mike Leach replaced him with someone who could have immediate success in his Air Raid scheme. Former Eastern Washington Gabe Gubrud is the safe bet for the starting gig. During his time at EWU, Gubrud was an FBS All-American, recorded 11,000 total yards of offense, and 100 total TDs.

On the defensive side of the football, the Cougars improved once again in 2018. There is no question that the talent is there to take yet another leap in 2019. But, it remains to be seen if linebacker Peyton Pelluer steps up in a leadership role for Wazzu.

WINS: New Mexico State, Northern Colorado, Houston, UCLA, @Arizona State, Colorado, @California, Oregon State, and @Washington.

LOSSES: @Utah, @Oregon and Stanford

5. California Golden Bears (5-7) overall; (2-7) conference

The California Golden Bears could be the dark horse to challenge for the North division title. There are a lot of questions with this offense. First of all, there is a legitimate question about the quarterback situation. Between Chase Garbers, UCLA transfer Devon Modster, and Brandon Mcllwain, someone needs to help improve a California offense that was last in the PAC-12 in scoring with 21.5 points per game.

On the other hand, Cal’s defense was outstanding last year. It ranked 11th in the nation in total defense and 1st in the PAC-12 in both pass defense and takeaways. The Golden Bears return eight of their top ten tacklers and brings back a secondary that recorded 21 interceptions last year. The saying “defense wins championships” might come to fruition in Berkeley, California.

WINS: UC Davis, North Texas, @Ole Miss, Arizona State, and Oregon State.

LOSSES: @Washington, @Oregon, @Utah, Washington State, USC, @Stanford, and @UCLA.

6. Oregon State Beavers (2-10) overall; (0-9) conference

The Beavers were bad last year and the rebuild will continue under second year head coach Jonathan Smith. Smith’s team can’t be worse than last year’s, so that’s a positive. Another positive for Oregon State fans to be excited about is former Nebraska quarterback Tristan Gebbia. The redshirt sophomore might just do enough before the season begins to be named the starter. Gebbia should produce well with receivers Isaiah Hodgins and Trevon Bradford around him.

The bigger concern is the defense. This defense was atrocious and might have been the worst defense in the nation last year. It returns virtually no starters from the year before and it was clear that there was no synergy between the scheme and the personnel defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar assembled. Beaver fans will need to be patient and wait for sometime before things change in Corvallis.

WINS: @Hawaii, Cal Poly

LOSSES: Oklahoma State, Stanford, @UCLA, Utah, @California, @Arizona, Washington, Arizona State, @Washington State, and @Oregon.

For more insight on the 2019 College Football season, follow me on Twitter @asethi03.