5. Stanford Cardinal
Be Excited About … the offensive line is going to be special if everyone can stay healthy. That last part is the key after keeping things together with duct tape and prayers throughout last season, but there’s going to be a fast turnaround if all the NFL talent up front can last the year.
Be Concerned About … the pass defense that has to be a whole lot better. The miserable ground game of last season should bounce back fast if the line is as good as it’s supposed to be, but the secondary needs to be a whole lot stronger after allowing 280 yards per game. Paulson Adebo is a first round NFL Draft pick at one corner, and the parts have to fill in around him.
The Season Will Be Successful If … it’s back to the Pac-12 championship level production. Stanford won nine games or more for four straight years before last year’s injury-plagued disaster, and only a big 2020 will show that 2019 was an aberration.
4. Utah Utes
Be Excited About … another year of great line play. The offensive line is every bit as good as Stanford’s, if not better, and the defensive front is up there with Oregon’s for the best in the Pac-12. The infrastructure will make everything else better.
Be Concerned About … the offensive backfield that has to replace two terrific talents. QB Tyler Huntley and RB Zack Moss were wonderful for the Utes over the last few seasons, and now the O needs South Carolina transfer Jake Bentley and a rotation at running back to pick up the slack. It’ll all be fine, but Huntley and Moss were just that good.
The Season Will Be Successful If … there’s a third straight trip to the Pac-12 Championship. The USC game is in Salt Lake City, and the rest of the South is more than gettable. Beat the Trojans, and even with Oregon likely on the schedule in an all-Pac-12 format – the Utes and Ducks weren’t scheduled to play – the division should be theirs.
3. Washington Huskies
Be Excited About … a defense that isn’t going to skip a beat. There might be some question marks about the offensive side in the first season under head coach Jimmy Lake, but the defensive front and secondary are as strong as any in the conference.
Be Concerned About … the offensive backfield loses its guys. Jacob Eason is an Indianapolis Colt and leading rusher Salvon Ahmed is done. Jacob Sirmon is a great-looking young quarterback, and Richard Newton is a proven back, but it’s still a transition.
The Season Will Be Successful If … Washington wins the West. Oregon has more talent – and the game is in Eugene – but whatever. Chris Petersen left the cupboard full for Lake. Expect a new energy – not like it was lacking under Coach Pete – and a whole lot of fire from this year’s team.
2. USC Trojans
Be Excited About … lots and lots and lots of experience. Almost everyone who made a tackle last season is back, and even with the loss of star WR Michael Pittman, the passing game should be even stronger now that everyone knows what they’re doing under offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. All of that, and no Alabama to start the season.
Be Concerned About … the ground game needs to find its way. The passing game will be what butters the bread in this offense, but USC was a whole lot better when the rushing attack was able to rock. It was hardly Student Body Right averaging just 120 yards per game.
The Season Will Be Successful If … the Trojans win the Pac-12 title. It’s USC. There’s too much talent, too much experience, and too many good parts to this year’s team to expect anything less than at least a trip to the title game. Again, though, it’s USC, so it needs to win it.
1. Oregon Ducks
Be Excited About … the NFL talent across the board almost – but not there yet – at the level of the big powerhouses. Penei Sewell is the best offensive lineman in the country, Kayvon Thibodeaux might be the best pass rusher in the college football, and Thomas Graham is a next-level corner still in college. That’s just the high-rent district of the Duck talent – there’s a whole lot more.
Be Concerned About … Tyler Shough. No, Justin Herbert wasn’t quite as amazing for the full season as he probably should’ve been, but he was still a franchise NFL quarterback under center for the Ducks. Shough is more than good enough to put together a great season, but the pressure is on to take the program from Pac-12 title good to …
The Season Will Be Successful If … Oregon makes the College Football Playoff. There’s no Ohio State to deal with now, and – don’t laugh – there’s no danger of a quirky misfire against North Dakota State. Washington, USC and Stanford all have to come to Eugene, so win the Pac-12 Championship again, don’t lose more than one game, and get into the CFP for the second time.