PAC-12 NORTH

OREGON DUCKS

Coach: Mario Cristobal, 3rd year (21-7)

2019: 12-2 overall, 8-1 Pac-12

Starters returning: 10 (4 offense, 6 defense)

Players to watch

C.J. Verdell, RB, 5-10, 210, Jr. — The MVP of the Pac-12 title game and the conference’s leading rusher, Verdell is one of seven returning players in the Football Bowl Subdivision who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons.

Mycah Pittman, WR, 5-11, 200, Soph. — The youngest of a trio of talented receivers, Pittman isn’t as tall as his brother Michael, a former USC standout and current Colts receiver, but he’s more explosive.

Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, 6-5, 250, Soph. — One of the most dangerous pass- rushers in the country, he set Oregon’s school record for sacks by a freshman with nine, including seven in the fourth quarter, earning defensive freshman player of the year honors. He had two sacks and a blocked punt against Utah in the Pac-12 title game.

The skinny

The defense might have been dominant if not for defensive backs Jevon Holland, Thomas Graham and Brad Breeze opting out of the season. Still Oregon will have Thibodeaux running down quarterbacks and making tackles, Isaac Slade-Matautia at outside linebacker making plays, and cornerbacks Mykael Wright and Deommodore Lenoir harassing receivers. New offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead must replace all five starters on his offensive line and decide on sophomore Tyler Shough or grad transfer Anthony Brown or some combo of both as the replacement for all-everything quarterback Justin Herbert. Verdell leads a solid group of running backs that should help the new QB.  

CAL BEARS

Coach: Justin Wilcox, 4th year (20-18)

2019: 8-5 overall, 4-5 Pac-12

Starters returning: 16 (10 offense, 6 defense)

Players to watch

Chase Garbers, QB, 6-2, 225, Jr. — They were a different team when he was on the field, going 13-2 over the last two seasons. He isn’t flashy, but he’s solid decision-maker, who can make all the throws, tallying 3,278 yards, 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions over the last two seasons.

Camryn Bynum, CB, 6-0, 200, Sr. — He can play cornerback or at safety where he is solid in run support. He’ll start at corner and anchor a much-improved secondary.

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Kuony Deng, LB, 6-6, 250, Sr. — Overshadowed by tackling-machine Evan Weaver, Deng has the tools to be a menace as a pass-rusher, run-stopper or in pass coverage.

The skinny

The Bears return 10 starters on offense, but it was one of the worst in the Pac-12 last season, ranking 12th in yards per game (328.5), passing yards per game (197) and points per game (26.7). Much will depend on Garbers staying healthy. He has a reliable running back in Christopher Brown Jr., but the wide receivers are lacking in big-play ability. The defense will miss Weaver’s presence (and the 12-plus tackles per game) in the middle. Cal’s defense has been solid since Wilcox took over, and it shouldn’t change despite losing Weaver and three defensive backs.

WASHINGTON HUSKIES

Coach: Jimmy Lake, 1st year

2019: 8-5 overall, 4-5 Pac-12

Starters returning: 9 (4 offense, 5 defense)

Players to watch

Elijah Molden, CB, 5-10, 190, Sr. — The best defensive back in the conference and the best slot defender in all of college football. He’s plays with a physical edge that is only found in elite defensive backs.

Richard Newton, RB, 6-0, 210, Soph. — He was a beast in short-yardage situations, tallying 11 touchdowns. But can his punishing running style work as the lead back? He will get that chance, but UW also has Sean McGrew and talented redshirt freshman Cameron Davis.

Jaxson Kirkland, LT, 6-7, 295, Jr. — He moves from right guard to left tackle and will have to protect the backside of whoever is the QB. His size and athleticism should allow him to flourish on an offensive line that has potential.

The skinny

After serving as defensive coordinator during Chris Petersen’s stellar run at UW, Lake takes over as the head coach. He has remained coy about who will start at quarterback. Will it be grad transfer Kevin Thomson or Jacob Sirmon, who served as backup to Jacob Eason last season? The Huskies have a new offensive coordinator in John Donovan. He brings more of a prostyle look that will fit Lake’s desire to play a more physical type of football on offense, using a talented but inexperienced offensive line and a stable of running backs.

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STANFORD CARDINAL

Coach: David Shaw, 10th year (86-34)

2019: 4-8 overall, 3-6 Pac-12

Starters returning: 15 (8 offense, 7 defense)

Players to watch

Drew Dalman, C, 6-3, 300, Sr. — The anchor of an offensive line that was riddled with injuries last season. He’s smart, physical and similar to so many outstanding offensive linemen that have come through the program.  

Connor Wedington, KR/WR, 6-0, 204, Sr. — The former Sumner standout is one of the most dangerous returners in the conference and is growing into a playmaker at receiver to provide a compliment to Michael Wilson.

Thomas Booker, DE, 6-4, 310, Jr. — He tallied 50 tackles with four sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore. He represents Stanford’s best pass-rush threat.

The skinny

Thanks to a rash of injury and poor quarterback play, the Cardinal failed to make a bowl game in 2019, snapping a streak of 10 consecutive years. Senior Davis Mills, a one-time prized recruit, will take over as the starting quarterback. He has all the tools for success in terms of size and arm strength but has to stay healthy. Stanford needs former Graham-Kapowsin standout Foster Sarell to be a healthy and intimidating presence at left tackle to raise the level of line play.

OREGON STATE BEAVERS

Coach: Jonathan Smith, 3rd year (7-17)

2019: 5-7 overall, 4-5 Pac-12

Starters returning: 14 (five offense, nine defense)

Players to watch

Hamilcar Rashed Jr., OLB, 6-4, 245, Sr. — One of the best defensive players in the conference. He has racked up 16.5 sacks in 36 career games, including 13 last season.

Jermar Jefferson, RB, 5-10, 217, Jr. — As a freshman, he rushed for 1,380 yards and 12 touchdowns, but an ankle injury last season slowed his production and kept him off the field for three games. With a veteran offensive line returning, he should have a bounce-back year in 2020.

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Omar Speights, ILB, 6-1, 232, Soph. — He was named honorable mention freshman defensive player of the year with 73 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

The skinny

The Beavs are still trying to figure out who will replace Marysville-Pilchuck’s Jake Luton at quarterback. So far backup Tristan Gebbia is leading the competition for the spot. OSU should have a competent running attack led by a healthy Jefferson and an experienced offensive line anchored by right tackle Brandon Kipper. But it will be the defense led by Rashed that will make the Beavers competitive again.

WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS

Coach: Nick Rolovich, 1st year

2019: 6-7 overall, 3-6 Pac-12

Starters returning: 14 (5 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams)

Players to watch

Max Borghi, RB, 5-10, 198, Junior — he comparisons to Christian McCaffrey won’t stop because Borghi has been that good. He is the most versatile back in the league and proved that he can hold up as the featured playmaker.

Jahad Woods, LB, 6-1, 230, Sr. — One of the top linebackers in the conference, he racked up a whopping 141 tackles last season, including 20 tackles against Air Force in the Cheez-It Bowl.

Abraham Lucas, RT, 6-7, 328, Jr. — This shortened season will likely be his last in Pullman with an NFL career looming. He’s considered the best passing offensive tackle in college football and one of the three best overall tackles.

The skinny

Rolovich decided on true freshman Jayden De Laura as the starting quarterback to handle his run-and-shoot offense. It’s the same offense De Laura ran at famed St. Louis High School in Hawaii where he was the Gatorade state player of the year. The Cougs have Borghi, a do-everything back, to take some of the pressure off De Laura as well a solid crew of wide receivers and a massive offensive line for protection.

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PAC-12 SOUTH

USC TROJANS

Coach: Clay Helton, 7th year (62-40)

2019: 8-5 overall, 7-2 Pac-12

Starters returning: 16 (8 offense, 8 defense)

Players to watch

Kedon Slovis, QB, 6-2, 200, Soph. — An unexpected starter due to the injury to J.T. Daniels, Slovis was named the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year and first-team freshman All-American. He threw for 3,502 yards with 30 TDs while completing 71.9 percent of his passes.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, 6-1, 195, Jr. — Is he the next great USC receiver? He has drawn comparisons to former Trojan standouts JuJu Smith-Schuster and Robert Woods. He had 77 catches for 1,042 yards last season.

Drake Jackson, OLB, 6-4, 255, Soph. — With newcomers at middle linebacker, the need for Jackson to be a pass-rusher and play disrupter increases. As a freshman, he tallied 11.5 tackles for loss, including 5.5 sacks.

The skinny

They are favored to win the Pac-12 South, but they’ve been perennial underachievers under Helton for a myriad reasons — none of them acceptable to the fanbase. Slovis’ accuracy and the depth of talent at receiver should allow the Trojans to put up plenty of points. USC’s toughest game is its opener vs. Arizona State. The winner of that game should win the South.  

ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS

Coach: Herm Edwards, 3rd year (15-11)

2019: 8-5 overall, 4-5 Pac-12

Starters returning: 12 (3 offense, 9 defense)

Players to watch

Jayden Daniels, QB, 6-3, 185, Soph. — A future star, he threw for 2,943 yards and 17 touchdowns with two interceptions as a true freshman. With a year of experience and offensive coordinator Zak Hill (Boise State), Daniels could be ready for a monster season.

Frank Darby, WR, 6-1, 200, Grad. — One of the best big-play receivers in the Pac-12, he averaged 19.9 yards per catch last season and has averaged 20.8 yards for his career.

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Merlin Robertson, LB, 6-3, 250, Jr. — As a freshman in 2018, he tallied 77 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. Last season, his numbers dropped and he admitted he was distracted by family issues.

The skinny

Few teams could lose players such as wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and running back Eno Benjamin, all-conference performers and NFL draft picks, and still project to be among the top teams in the conference. Edwards has increased the talent depth at ASU, but he needs to get cleaner, consistent play with fewer penalties. The Sun Devils start out their season against USC and Cal. If they go 2-0, they could finish out easily finish out undefeated.

UTAH UTES

Coach: Kyle Whittingham, 16th year (131-64)

2019: 11-3 overall, 8-1 Pac-12

Starters returning: 12 (7 offense, 2 defense, 3 special teams)

Players to watch

Brant Kuithe, TE, 6-2, 230, Jr. — e racked 602 yards receiving six touchdowns on 34 catches. His average of 17.7 yards per catch was the second highest among all tight ends in the FBS.

Nate Ritchie, SS, 6-2, 200, Fr. — One of the top high-school players in Utah in 2019, he will start as a true freshman at a key position in the Utes’ defense. After this season he’ll leave for his mission with the LDS church.

Devin Lloyd, LB, 6-2, 232, Jr. — One of the few returners from last season, Lloyd racked up a team-high 91 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks last season.

The skinny

The Utes didn’t just lose nine starters from last year’s defense that ranked among the best in the conference. They lost nine players that were good enough to make NFL rosters, and eight are playing. Utah will still play physically under Whittingham, but the ball hawking in the secondary and disruption at the line of scrimmage won’t be as fierce. They haven’t announced a QB, but expect Jake Bentley, a three-year starter at South Carolina, to win that battle.

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UCLA BRUINS

Coach: Chip Kelly, 3rd year (7-17)

2019: 4-8 overall, 4-5 Pac-12

Starters returning: 13 (7 offense, 6 defense)

Players to watch

Demetric Felton, RB, 5-10, 200, Sr. — He played more as a receiver last year after playing running back in high school. But he won the starting job at his old position and will be used in a variety of formations.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB, 6-1, 200, Jr. — He’s the type of dual-threat QB that Kelly craves to run his up-tempo offense. He passed for 2,701 yards and 21 TDs, but the 12 interceptions were suboptimal.

Osa Odighizuwa, DL, 6-2, 279, Sr. — He’s probably one of their best returning players for a defense that can can’t get much worse. He tallied 46 tackles last season, including 10 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

The skinny

Things haven’t gone as planned for the Bruins since they backed up a Brinks truck full of money to hire Kelly. He has yet to come near his success at Oregon. He’s had massive roster turnover — some on purpose — in trying to rebuild the program. But there have been minimal signs of success and it doesn’t look much better in 2020. In a seven-game sprint, will the players quit on Kelly before the end of the season?

COLORADO BUFFALOES

Coach: Karl Dorrell, 1st year

2019: 5-7 overall, 3-6 Pac-12

Starters returning: 15 (7 offense, 8 defense)

Players to watch

Nate Landman, LB, 6-3, 235, Sr. — A first-team All-Pac-12 linebacker last season, he racked up 137 tackles (112 solo) with eight tackles for loss (two sacks), five pass breakups, four quarterback hurries and an interception. When CU needed a play on defense, he was in the middle of it.

Mustafa Johnson, DE, 6-2, 290, Sr. — An ankle injury kept him out three games, but he still tallied 34 tackles and 4.5 sacks with seven quarterback hurries. As a sophomore, he racked up 73 tackles and 18 tackles for loss, including 8.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hurries.

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K.D. Nixon, WR, 5-8, 190, Sr. — With Laviska Shenault Jr. in the NFL, Nixon will be a top pass-catching target despite his diminutive size. He caught 35 passes for 465 yards and three touchdowns last season. He is also a threat in sweeps and in the return game.   

The skinny

The Buffaloes have another new coach as former UCLA coach Karl Dorrell takes over for Mel Tucker, who bolted for Michigan State after one season. Dorrell recently named Sam Noyer as the starting quarterback. He’ll replace Steven Montez, who started 38 games for CU and threw for 7,000 yards and 61 TDs in his career.  

ARIZONA WILDCATS

Coach: Kevin Sumlin, 3rd year (9-15)

2019: 4-8 overall, 2-7 Pac-12

Starters returning: 11 (six offense, five defense)

Players to watch

Grant Gunnell, QB, 6-6, 228, Soph. — After serving as backup to Khalil Tate and making three starts as a freshman, Gunnell takes over as the full-time starter. He threw for 352 yards in his first college start, a win over UCLA.

Jamarye Joiner, WR, 6-1, 204, Soph. — Recruited as a quarterback, he changed positions and became a playmaking threat. He caught 34 passes for 552 yards (16.2 yards per reception) and five touchdowns.

Lorenzo Burns, CB, 5-11, 175, Sr. — With 35 starts, nine interceptions and 34 passes defensed in his career, he brings a level of experience to the secondary. He isn’t an imposing corner in terms of size, but he has ball skills.

The skinny

Remember when Sumlin was going to come in revitalize the Wildcats program? It appears that revitalization is taking a little longer than fans expected. The defenses during his tenure have been abysmal. He gutted that part of the coaching staff in the offseason. But also lost four lettermen to transfers and another to an opt-out.

* Order based on preseason Pac-12 media rankings