Bad 2017 Bowl Season
The Pac-12 is coming off a historically bad bowl season where their teams went 1-8. This came after the Pac-12 was left out of the College Football Playoff when it’s conference champion, the 11-2 USC Trojans, were not even considered to be one of the final four teams.
Big Names Leaving
The other big story surrounding Pac-12 football during the bowl season was the exodus of its premier passers to the NFL Draft. The conference’s top three quarterbacks in terms of passing yardage in 2017 were USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, and Washington State’s Luke Falk. All three players have completed their college careers and will enter the upcoming NFL Draft.
Top Returning Players
Stanford’s Heisman runner-up tailback Bryce Love has decided to return to Palo Alto for his senior season. He will definitely be a favorite for the Heisman Trophy. His decision to return makes Stanford a serious contender for the conference championship.
Their toughest competition in the North Division will be the Washington Huskies, who will have the man many consider to be the Pac-12’s top passer for next season, Jake Browning. Washington may also have running back Myles Gaskin, who led the conference in rushing touchdowns with 21.
The best returning wide receiver in the Pac-12 is unquestionably Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry. Harry finished his sophomore season with the second most receiving yards in the Pac-12 behind UCLA’s Jordan Lasley, who decided to enter the NFL Draft. With his dominating size, Harry can take over an entire drive. He and quarterback Manny Wilkins will be entering their third season together and that chemistry will be crucial given Arizona State’s coaching staff changes.
Every college football fan knows about Bryce Love, but the most intriguing player returning to the Pac-12 is Arizona’s, Khalil Tate. Tate is absolutely electrifying at quarterback. Tate led the entire country in yards per carry in his sophomore season. It will be interesting to see what Tate can do in Kevin Sumlin’s offense. The South Division looks to be wide open. Khalil Tate makes Arizona a big-time contender.
Incoming Freshman and Breakout Stars
USC is usually the class of the Pac-12 when it comes to recruiting and their top incoming prospect is 6’1” 190-lb wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown from Mater Dei High School. St. Brown took home MVP honors in this year’s U.S. Army All-American Game.
Bryan Addison is a 6’4” 175-lb UCLA commit that could play either safety or wide receiver. Given his height, he could be a useful weapon in UCLA’s offense that lacked quality receivers last year outside of the two that are leaving.
Freshman Eno Benjamin ran harder than either of Arizona State’s senior tailbacks last season. His carries were very limited but his 19-yard touchdown run against Colorado showed his outstanding relentlessness. He should be a key piece in the Sun Devil attack in 2018.
Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert had a completion of at least 50 yards in each of his seven full games in 2017. In those seven full games, Herbert had 14 touchdowns through the air and 4 touchdowns on the ground. He will be a junior and lead what could be a formidable Ducks offense in 2018.
South Division Outlook
As previously stated, the Pac-12 South is up for grabs in 2018. USC loses its best player at the most important position. Having said that, the Trojans will still likely be the pre-season favorite in this division. They will have a strong running game yet again with Stephen Carr, who averaged 5.6 yards per carry last season.
After USC, Arizona, Arizona State, and UCLA could make some noise. The Wildcats are led by the dynamic Khalil Tate and dodge Stanford and Washington on the schedule. The Sun Devils bring back an experienced quarterback in Manny Wilkins but they draw Stanford, Washington, and Oregon out of the North. UCLA brings in Chip Kelly, who obviously has experienced great success in the Pac-12. However, the Bruins have a bear of a schedule that includes a difficult non-conference slate and the three best North Division teams.
North Division Outlook
The top team in the Pac-12 North is the Stanford Cardinal. They return Bryce Love and K.J. Costello, who showed incredible improvement down the stretch last season. Close behind Stanford is Washington, who has perhaps the best quarterback and the best coach in the conference.
These two teams are easily the best teams in the division and in the entire conference. It would be an absolute shock if neither of these teams win the North Division.