9. Oregon State Beavers
Be Excited About … a linebacking corps that might just be the best in the Pac-12. The offense picked it up at the end of last season, but any hope to take another step under head man Jonathan Smith comes from an improved defense. Starting with All-America talent Hamlicar Rashed, the linebackers should make things better.
Be Concerned About … the lines. They’re both okay, but not great. It’s a stretch to think the Beavers will have a big problem in the trenches, but they don’t have any stars on the defensive front and the offensive line has to rebuild a bit to be as good as the 2019 version.
The Season Will Be Successful If … Smith gets his team to a bowl game. It has been six years without a bowl game, with 2013 the last time the program got to enjoy the vacation and the extra contest. The Beavers went from two wins to five in Smith’s second year. One extra win makes it a big season.
8. Washington State Cougars
Be Excited About … the special teams. Yeah, the passing game doesn’t stop under new head coach Nick Rolovich – the receiving corps is going to be fantastic – and the combination of Oscar Draguicevich and PK Blake Mazza is among the nation’s best. Five games were decided by a touchdown or less – having top-shelf kickers will matter.
Be Concerned About … the defensive front. Will Rodgers is a good tackle, but the line that didn’t generate a whole lot of sacks and was hammered for a Pac-12-worst 186 rushing yards per game is still an issue. Wazzu will have to bomb its way to wins.
The Season Will Be Successful If … Rolovich shows that the passing game can be every bit as good as it was under Mike Leach. The Cougars have the style that works, and it all has to keep on going. Leach might not have won anything big, but he did take the program to bowl games in the last four years.
7. Cal Golden Bears
Be Excited About … an offense that should finally start to carry its weight. The Bears failed to hit the 300-point mark in either of the last two seasons, finishing last in the Pac-12 in scoring. They went 8-0 when scoring more than 17 points, and 0-5 when scoring that many or fewer. With QB Chase Garbers back and healthy, getting to 17 won’t be a problem.
Be Concerned About … the passing game that was just okay even when Garbers was healthy. He completed 60% of his passes on the year, but the Bears still finished last in the conference throwing the ball. 11 of the team’s 19 touchdown passes came in three games, but it’s hard to do much when the O line is allowing the most sacks in the conference.
The Season Will Be Successful If … the Bears make a push for the North – and at least come up with a huge win over one of the big boys. No one will get helped more by an all-Pac-12 schedule – they were supposed to miss Arizona and Colorado from the South – and they get Oregon and Washington at home.
6. Arizona State Sun Devils
Be Excited About … a defensive front seven that should be the best so far in the short run of the Herm Edwards era. DE Jermayne Lole, LB Marlin Robertson, and the rest of the parts up front, combined with QB Jayden Daniels on the other side, should be enough to come up with a stronger season.
Be Concerned About … the running game that could use an infusion of production. Daniels and the passing game will be good enough to keep things moving, but the O needs more out of the leaky line that struggled in pass protection and paved the way for just 123 yards per game.
The Season Will Be Successful If … there’s a push for the Pac-12 South title. The USC game is on the road, but Utah comes to Tempe. This is hardly a complete team, but it’s a very, very gettable division. Shooting for the first appearance in the Pac-12 title game since 2013 isn’t asking for too much.