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Duck Dive: Updates and Predictions for the Pac-12 North

Going deep with personnel changes and projecting every Pac-12 game

Oregon v Washington Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Every week this summer from the middle of June through the beginning of September, I published a Duck Dive article on each Pac-12 team. Those articles included podcast interviews with knowledgeable publishers, thorough roster reviews, and win total predictions with information that was current at the time. Since publication, both the schedule and available personnel have changed at every school.

In my opinion, those changes haven’t fundamentally altered what I believe will be the order of finish in the Pac-12, because the teams I projected to do better were the teams best situated to handle unforeseen losses. But for the sake of posterity (and putting down markers for accountability), this article and yesterday’s follow-up about the Pac-12 South will provide comprehensive personnel updates and win predictions.


Arizona v Oregon Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Oregon unavailabilities since September 3rd, 2020

OL Penei Sewell opt-out CB Thomas Graham opt-out
OL Chris Randazzo opt-out DB Brady Breeze opt-out
DB Jevon Holland opt-out
LB Andrew Johnson transfer
LB Sampson Niu personal

There were no real surprises on Oregon’s depth chart released this week - #12 QB Shough appears to have won the starting job with #13 QB Brown as backup, the offensive line looks as I’d guessed it would in the scenario that Sewell opted out, and no one who I figured would get playing time in my original article was left off.

Oregon played the most garbage time minutes (the happy kind, when you’re winning) of any team in the league both in 2019 alone and in 2018 + 2019 combined. Along with Coach Cristobal’s eagerness to put highly rated bench players on the field, that’s meant the Ducks have given an extraordinary amount of playing time to backups who will be taking the field in 2020. In my original preview article I included multiple videos of Shough and the new starting linemen in action.

I didn’t really expect Johnson or Niu to get more than rotational time given Oregon’s established starter and incredible recruiting at ILB, so I don’t think the losses here are too significant.

The secondary had a string of opt-outs very soon after I published, but #0 CB Lenoir has opted back in, and given the depth of returners (seven of the ten rotational DBs last year come back in 2020) I think the transition will be fairly smooth. In the meantime I published a film study article on the cornerback replacements and two more on the various safeties, including Boise St transfer #32 DB Happle and #15 DB B. Williams. A number of commentators have expected a falloff in the secondary, but given the extensive depth here I don’t see it.

Oregon predictions

The total amount of talent lost to opt-outs was probably bigger at Oregon than any other team in the league, though it’s close with USC and UW. But college football isn’t built for parity, and the factors that led Oregon to having that talent in the first place will likely ensure that they can replace those losses smoothly, because I believe that Cristobal is the best roster manager in the conference. Oregon has outrecruited the rest of the league in recent years, is getting some likely starters back from injury, and has provided the most playing time for their backups as well as made some smart moves in the transfer market.

Projected record: 6-0


California v Stanford Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

Cal unavailabilities since June 23rd, 2020

WR Jeremiah Hawkins opt-out DL Luc Bequette transfer
TE DJ Rogers release DL Tevin Paul opt-out
RB Deshawn Collins opt-out LB Ben Moos opt-out
DB Isaiah Humphries opt-out

With Hawkins opting out I figured a spot would open for some of the new recruits that Rob and I discussed, but when Cal released their depth chart this week it listed only two WR positions and the four returners I haven’t been particularly impressed with over the last couple years. Rogers was their only hope of a receiving TE, and the four options at tight end and fullback listed on the chart are not really ball-catchers. It remains to be seen what exactly the offense will look like under new OC Musgrave.

The loss of Collins, however, isn’t too big of a deal since they return two other backs who were ahead of him, plus they got a transfer from Wisconsin in #9 RB Shaw whom I happened to study last year as part of Rose Bowl preparations - I like all three backs a lot. The offensive line essentially matches up with what Rob and I figured - a lot of returners, not a lot of talent. We’ll have to see how well new OL coach McClure has developed them in the offseason, I’m not optimistic given his UCLA and Nevada track record.

On defense, I don’t think the loss of Moos or Humphries affects things much. I think they know who they want to play at ILB and DB already, and those would have just been depth guys. It’s puzzling that the depth chart lists a 3-4 defense instead of the 3-3-5 that they’ve been operating under for a couple of years - is that related to new DC Sirmon changing the scheme, or is it still Coaches Wilcox and DeRuyter’s defense with just a little disinformation?

However, losing Bequette and Paul from the DL is a big deal. I thought they were missing pieces in their front seven before, and this compounds the problem. I would also be concerned for Cal’s structure that their starting nose guard is a slim 275 lbs - the lack of a true nose was one of the big factors in their defensive falloff from 2018.

Cal predictions

I thought Cal was already too much of a media darling before they lost two potentially important receiving targets and two important defensive linemen. I think their strengths are still basically where they were when I wrote about them in late June, but their weaknesses have only gotten more problematic. I’m still interested to see what scheme changes if any the new offensive and defensive playcallers will bring, considering the challenges of this offseason. Fortunately for your faithful film reviewer, they’ll have put four weeks on film before Oregon plays them in Berkeley. I think they surprise Washington in the opener and continue the streak, but drop the road trip to Tempe to a more talented team.

Projected record: 4-2, with losses to ASU on the road and Oregon at home but an upset over UW in the opener


NCAA Football: Southern California at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Washington unavailabilities since August 11th, 2020

TE Jacob Kizer opt-out DL Levi Onwuzurike opt-out
WR Taj Davis opt-out OLB Joe Tryon opt-out
DB Isaiah Gilchrist opt-out

The offensive losses aren’t too significant, I didn’t expect Kizer or Davis to get much playing time. At receiver UW is stacked with talent, albeit mostly unproven, and at tight end they still have one of the best in the league in #87 TE Otton and several good-looking recruits.

There were a number of puzzles in the depth chart released this week; so many that I almost buy the story coming out of the UW fanbase that it’s rife with disinformation. All four QBs are listed and it’s anybody’s guess who if any has actually won the job at press time. By far the least talented running back is listed on top (in fact Gabey expected him to be passed up by freshmen for third string). The second TE listed is not any of their prominent recruits but a walk-on. A 4-star receiver who caught several passes for them last year isn’t listed at all.

Defensively, there’s another puzzle: one of their 4-star DBs who played extensively isn’t listed, but I can’t find any indication he’s unavailable; meanwhile four other DBs who have practically zero time on the field are listed. It’s such a deep secondary that I don’t think their performance will be affected, even including Gilchrist’s opt-out, but it’s still odd.

On the other hand, losing both Onwuzurike and Tryon is a very big deal, since they constituted virtually all of their returning disruption at the line of scrimmage. Those two alone combined for 18.5 TFLs and 10 sacks, which were a quarter and a third of the entire team’s production, respectively. Between losing them, DB Myles Bryant, and DE Benning Potoa’e, they’re only bringing back about half their TFLs and 40% of their sacks.

As predicted in the original article, the depth chart seems to indicate that UW will start three former walk-ons in their defensive front, and the pair of 4-star 2019 ILBs contemplated therein as difference-makers are low on the depth chart.

Washington predictions

This is one of the most talented teams in the league, and has a great DC in Kwiatkowski on a defense-led team, and that defense is led by its strongest unit in the DBs. I think that’s sufficient to cruise through the majority of their games. But UW has a brand new head coach who’s made some questionable moves throughout the coaching staff - I’m not impressed with certain retentions (LB Gregory, OL Huff) or new hires (OC/QB Donovan, TE Cato, DB Brown). I think the quarterback situation is troubling, and Donovan hasn’t coached QBs in 13 years. Coach Lake has to make choices at a bunch of spots between experience but a lower ceiling and inexperienced young hotshots, and I think this team blew it last year when presented this choice at WR. I like Cal’s high returning production (albeit a low ceiling) to catch them while they’re still piecing things together in the opener in Berkeley. I think Oregon has managed their roster better and has made better hires, so I like the Ducks in that game at home at the end of the season after the OL has gelled.

Projected record: 4-2, with losses at Cal and Oregon


NCAA Football: Oregon State at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

OSU unavailabilities since August 17th, 2020

OL Onesimus Clarke opt-out DL Jordan Whittley medical

The Beavs’ recent depth chart release had no surprises, just about everything went as Travis and I discussed back in August.

Clarke was probably going to be a starter on a line that has little depth or talent, and they needed all the experience they could get. They’ve replaced him with #70 LG Levengood, who is highest rated of the rest of their roster (.8431), and Portland St transfer #63 LG Sorensen as backup, which is just what we figured.

Whittley is a huge loss. He’s unavailable due to a tumor discovered in his heart, and that is possibly the most awful thing I’ve heard in a truly awful offseason. Even though I think they have some good options and depth at the defensive line in general, the nose tackle in a three-down front is vital and irreplaceable - you need a big body who can two-gap, or the whole defensive structure falls apart. And Whittley is the only non-OL on the team over 300 lbs.

OSU predictions

In my preview back in August, I was higher on the Beavs than a lot of writers, because I think Coach Smith managed his roster better than almost anyone else in the league and was in a position to deal with the personnel losses at the end of last season. But these are probably the worst two additional losses they possibly could have taken. I think they’re worth at least one fewer win on the season.

Projected record: 2-4, with a win against Wazzu at home and splitting road games against Utah and Stanford


NCAA Football: Washington State at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Wazzu unavailabilities since July 28th, 2020

QB John Bledsoe transfer DB Skyler Thomas transfer
WR Davontavean Martin transfer DB Trey Davis transfer
WR Kassidy Woods transfer DL Cosmas Kwete transfer
WR Mike Pettway transfer DL Lamonte McDougle transfer
OL Jon Denny transfer

Despite the WR losses, the Cougs still have the core of a good WR group in four returners with over 4,000 career receiving yards between them, and all four are listed as starters in this week’s depth chart. I do find it curious that the promising and very tall outside receiver #83 WR Gray whom Jeff and I discussed isn’t listed, and two of the four backups are 2020 recruits that new Coach Rolovich brought in rather than the other 3-stars who met Leach’s seal of approval.

True freshman #4 QB de Laura was named the starter, which we contemplated back in July. Since we haven’t seen any of their quarterback options take a snap in college it’s impossible to evaluate that choice, though it should be mentioned he played in a fairly similar offense in Honolulu.

I think McDougle is the biggest loss this Fall, since as we discussed he was poised to recapture his freshman disruption numbers at WVU as new DC Dickert appears to be switching to a 4-down front.

The secondary has had some pretty weird changes. Thomas has now gotten in the transfer portal twice, this time for good it would appear, and Davis would have been valuable depth. Former starter #0 DB Nunn announced he was opting out, then appeared on twitter modeling new uniforms and the zero jersey number and is currently listed on the roster but apparently didn’t make the two-deep. They’ve also chosen to accept 4-star #36 CB Hector as a true freshman walk-on; Stanford pulled his scholarship offer after the Eastlake Catholic scandal … but again, he doesn’t appear on the two-deep.

Wazzu predictions

I think this is the wrong year for a scheme change on both sides of the ball and with this little talent to paper it over. This will probably be a dangerous team again in a year or two, but in 2020 it’s going to be too tough a transition with all these personnel losses. The schedule does them no favors either - playing in the tougher division and drawing the best team from the South.

Projected record: 1-5, with a win at Stanford and a bizarre loss at home to Cal


NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Stanford unavailabilities since July 2nd, 2020

OT Walker Little opt-out DT Dylan Boles transfer
RB Dorian Maddox injury ILB Andrew Pryts left team
ILB Jacob Mangum-Farrar injury
ILB Tristan Sinclair injury
OLB Gabe Reid injury
CB Paulson Adebo opt-out
CB Kyu Blu Kelly injury
DB Stuart Head transfer

Little’s departure and the wave of OL transfers out of the program means that Stanford only returns six linemen with any experience from last year. For most schools I’d say that’s adequate depth given how well they’ve recruited the bench, but the Cardinal have been malfunctioning in this unit ever since former OL coach Bloomgren left. They brought in five highly recruited linemen in the 2020 class but it’s not Coach Shaw’s style to play true freshmen unless he’s forced to, so I think instead backup duty will go to a couple of 2019 3-stars.

Maddox has been a mainstay backup at Stanford for years and has 57 career rushes, but his yardage has never been great and I think they have multiple good options ahead of him, so I don’t think his loss is too significant.

Stanford hasn’t released a defensive depth chart but I’d be scared to read it if I were a Cardinal fan. They’ve lost four would-be defensive back starters and the recruiting of this unit has been the worst on the team, meaning they will likely be playing multiple walk-ons in the secondary.

Inside linebacker has been hit hard by injuries. They’re left with just two players: #2 ILB Cu. Robinson, a converted 4-star safety who struck me as constantly out of position in 2019; and #45 ILB Miezan, a low 3-star who was injured for most of last year. I have no idea what the depth will be.

Reid was Stanford’s best outside linebacker and most productive havoc player with 16.5 TFLs and 7.5 sacks in his career. They still have some good options in this unit, however.

Boles was a walk-on, but he might have gotten play given serious depth problems at DT discussed in the original article.

Stanford predictions

This team lacks talent at many positions and is underperforming the talent they have at the rest due to poor development and an offensive scheme mismatch. While I think there is, hypothetically, a good version of Stanford’s offense (and some nice pieces on defense), I very much doubt that a complete and effective team actually hits the field, and they’ve only gotten weaker since I wrote my already pretty pessimistic preview in early July. One schedule kindness: their three weakest opponents are all on the Farm, which is accustomed to crowd silence.

Projected record: 1-5, splitting home games against Colorado and Oregon St


Who will win the Pac-12 North?

This poll is closed

  • 92%
    (170 votes)
  • 1%
    Oregon State
    (2 votes)
  • 1%
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Washington State
    (1 vote)
  • 3%
    (7 votes)
183 votes total Vote Now