This article concludes my Duck Dive series with news and updates since publication of each Pac-12 team’s preview article. I’ll give what I think the main obstacles are that each team needs to overcome, and a prediction of how successful they’ll be.
The media continues to treat Wazzu transfer #7 QB de Laura as the de facto starter, although there’s been no official word yet. Camp reports indicate true freshman #11 QB Fifita is the likely backup, passing the trio of last year’s quarterbacks. I think everybody in this room has a substantial knock on them and nothing in de Laura’s film the past two seasons makes me think he’s going to develop the consistency he needs to in head coach Fisch’s offense to be more than a dangerous quarterback who can hit a hot streak, and late camp reports that “it’s finally clicking” for him strike me as saying more than allied media thinks.
Since publishing my preview back in May, WR Ma’jon Wright has entered the portal yet again, but between several very talented additions and returning the best couple receivers from last year, that shouldn’t be a problem. Unbelievably, the Wildcats have taken another transfer running back, DJ Williams previously of Auburn and Florida St, bringing that room to eight scholarship backs. I have no idea why Fisch is collecting so many of them but I have a hard time believing it’s because nobody can carry the ball, so I don’t think this has an immediate impact (though it may have future roster balance implications). #45 LB I. Johnson is back on the defense after moonlighting as a tight end in Spring; I continue to think this room doesn’t have the depth or size to field real blocking TEs to do interesting stuff schematically, but as long as they have 4-star freshman #89 TE Burnett (who’s at just 235 lbs at the Fall roster update) they’ll at least have a gifted big Y-receiver and that’s more than Arizona had last year. Two offensive linemen are no longer listed on the roster, both of whom played in the Spring game and I thought could in contention for starting or backup jobs - Jack Buford and Davis DiVall, who had transferred in from Mizzou and Baylor, respectively. That makes the o-line even more precarious than before and it’s likely to counteract a lot of the progress Fisch has made with the skill players.
On defense, LB Jabar Triplett has transferred out and d-linemen Nahe Sulunga and Ugochukwu Nosike are no longer listed on the roster. All three were basically unused last year and I don’t think affect the 2022 defense much. USC transfer #31 DE Echols has been re-classified as a d-lineman (he was an OLB with the Trojans), a signal that new DC Nansen is indeed moving to a 4-down front as I speculated back in May. I think building a front around Echols is a decent idea but the overall talent level here is just so poor that I can’t see it mattering much.
Arizona misses Stanford and Oregon St out of the North, gets ASU for its last game (and therefore has the highest odds of playing a coachless squad of any of ASU’s opponents) and gets comparably talented teams Colorado and Wazzu at home. They should be better than last year’s 1-11 team. But I think a bowl is out of reach, between a ridiculous non-con (at San Diego St, Mississippi St, and North Dakota St) and road trips to some of their toughest opponents like Utah. Fisch has made a lot of progress but the residual talent problems, especially on the lines, are going to take more than one good recruiting class and some promising transfers to overcome.
The Sun Devils named Florida transfer #5 QB E. Jones the starter, as expected. They seem to have lost #18 TE Ray from the roster, media reports indicate it’s health related. Those are the only offensive updates since publication. The offense looks like it’s in real depth trouble at every position with so many departures, though they still have the talent to fill out a first-string (if not a two-deep) of an actually dangerous team.
The defense got some good news right after publication of my preview in May when #55 DT Norman-Lott decided to get out of the portal and return to Tempe. They’ve also added an unrated Juco named Brandon McElroy. That’s the end of the good news though, as six more defensive players will be unavailable: DE Michael Matus has an ACL injury and is out for the season, DE Stanley Lambert is no longer on the roster after his DUI arrest, DL Amiri Johnson and DB T Lee are also not on the roster, LB Jaydon Williams was arrested on an outstanding Texas warrant, and LB Rodney Groce got in the portal. I wouldn’t have thought any of these players would be essential given how little playing time each got in 2021, but depth is getting thin at so many positions they may well be.
Most in the media think ASU is dead in the water, but I have a hard time predicting this team because the sword of Damocles hasn’t fallen yet – head coach Edwards still has his job, incredibly. All the warning signs were there for UW and USC’s collapses last year despite being the 2nd and 3rd most talented teams in the conference, but they didn’t actually collapse until their coaches got fired and those teams quit on the interim guy. Since we don’t know when or even if that’ll happen for Edwards, and they still have some solid mid-conference talent, there’s a wide range of outcomes for the Sun Devils. They include muddling through to yet another 7- or 8-win season and year six for Edwards in 2023 … or Oklahoma St could brutalize them in week 2, get Edwards tarmac’d, and they finish struggling to get a single win.
The Bears seem pretty set on Purdue transfer #13 QB Plummer, as predicted back in May. The rest of the offensive updates since then look like a wash to me – they got a Juco addition at wideout, #37 WR K. Robinson, who caught an apparently exciting touchdown in Fall camp, and they’ve converted a linebacker to tight end, #34 TE Alfieri, but are losing freshman recruit Nick Morrow who might have been an OL or TE.
On defense, they’ve lost linemen Derek Wilkins and Stanley McKenzie for the season. (LATE EDIT: On August 27th, Cal announced that the Bears’ best d-lineman, Brett Johnson, will miss the 2022 season due to a lower body injury suffered in practice.) Wilkins redshirted last year and Johnson missed 2021 with a different injury, but both were borderline 4-stars and the most talented guys in the unit. McKenzie at 350 lbs was one of only three guys on the roster big enough to play nose tackle for the Bears, the recurring issue for the last three seasons of defensive decline. They may recover from those losses just fine, but it puts a lot of pressure on just a handful of linemen like #91 NT Correia and #99 DE Saunders. At this point I think all these injuries derailing the front and tanking Cal’s season for the third straight year is an unfortunately strong possibility.
Cal fans believe they’ll have a resurgent defense this season, and there’s certainly a scenario that that still happens given a lot of returning production and a very assignment-sound coaching staff, if they don’t get any more bad news and some new players work out. Even so, I have a very hard time believing it would overcome what’s likely to be another painful-to-watch offensive performance from OC Musgrave’s antiquated scheme and inadequate talent at the spots he needs it most – OL and TE. The schedule’s relatively kind – missing Utah and whatever ASU turns out to be, two of three non-con games are cakewalks, and road games against three of the least talented teams in the conference. That should add up to a bowl season, but then they should have gone bowling last year too.
The QB battle between last year’s starter, #12 QB B. Lewis, and Tennessee transfer who missed last season with injury, #5 QB Shrout, is apparently still ongoing. I think Shrout should have the advantage given new OC Sanford’s scheme so the fact that he hasn’t named a starter yet might mean some lingering injury issues or Lewis having taken a big step … or head coach Dorrell might just be problematically indecisive. From comments at yesterday’s media availability, it seemed like the major issue keeping Shrout from winning the job is that he’s not elusive enough in the pocket, which makes sense to me because CU’s o-line is likely to be atrocious next year. I think that problem swamps everything else given how run-heavy Sanford’s scheme is, and I’m worried for the health of a lot of players on the Buffs’ offense.
The only update on defense is the defensive line lost a couple of backups: Juco d-lineman Jeremiah Doss has graduated and left the team, and Janaz Jordan was dismissed from the team this week for an unspecified rules violation. Doss didn’t play last year and I wasn’t expecting him to get much time in 2022, but Jordan I figured for a rotational lineman in May’s article. Moving to a two-down front should minimize the impact of those losses. I think DC Wilson should be able to get the most of the talent he’s got with an appropriate scheme for the roster and a lot of returning experience. But they’ve lost the best guy at every position and the talent is among the lowest in the league, so it’s hard to think that’ll leverage them to more than maybe a single, turnover-heavy upset win (like the one over UW last year). The non-con is ridiculous, likely three losses there, and they miss Wazzu and Stanford out of the North which I’d have given them decent odds of beating. I think CU will be lucky to get three wins.
The Ducks haven’t named a starter among their three bluechip options, though I still expect #10 QB Nix to win simply on having vastly more experience and previously working with new OC Dillingham while they were both at Auburn in 2019.
My preview article was published just after we learned of tight end Spencer Webb’s untimely death. Since then, likely starter #4 DB B. Williams has changed his jersey number from #15 to Webb’s #4 to honor him, and #12 TE Tilmon has converted from linebacker to bolster depth in the unit. Webb will be missed, naturally, but between two excellent true sophomore returners and #88 TE Herbert’s positive injury recovery news I think depth in the unit will be fine.
On defense, Adrian Jackson has left the team after being converted from a rush end to an ILB – I figured he would be reserved for situational blitz packages only so I don’t think that affects much. In my article I wondered what the official weight #48 DE Ma’ae would be since his last weigh-in was way under what it needed to be but the Ducks were very slow to post an update … they’ve since done so and he’s up to 272 lbs, pretty much exactly what he needs to be for the position and in line with my guess of his weight after watching the Spring game.
The Ducks are the most talented team in the conference, and indeed extended their lead with a slight bump in the 2022 class while second place USC fell off a bit and third place UW fell off considerably. With the awful exception of Webb’s passing, they haven’t gotten any offseason news that cuts against a prediction of a good season. The non-conference is a pretty tough one with defending champion Georgia, perennial FCS power Eastern Washington, and a ranked BYU team that was 5-0 against Pac-12 teams last year. But the conference schedule sets up pretty favorably, missing USC and wild-card ASU, getting all five road games against the five least talented teams in the league, and every tough game in Autzen (including two opportunities for revenge from last year) where the Ducks are 28-2 in the last five seasons. There are two big difficulty spikes in Georgia and Utah, which I’ll predict they’ll split, and because this is a new staff facing the always absurd Pac-12 competition they’ll probably drop a game they shouldn’t somewhere, so I’ll go with the usually safe 10-2 prediction as I did in 2019 and 2021.
The Beavs should repeat as a top-25 offense, with coaching stability, a returning starter at QB, and continuing strength at offensive line. They still need to show they’ve sorted their vital running back and tight end questions, but head coach Smith has given no reason to think they won’t and they’ve gotten no bad news in the offseason. The only thing close is that reserve o-lineman Henry Buckles isn’t listed on the updated roster, but I didn’t think the redshirt freshman was going to play anyway.
I haven’t seen any news or changes at all on the defense, which I suppose is good news since when I published my preview in June I was cautiously optimistic that they’ve gotten enough d-linemen back from injury to re-establish their 3-down front. The inability to do so was I think some bad luck that the previous DC ran into and ultimately got him fired, but I don’t think new DC Bray has to do anything different except keep his linemen healthy. I don’t think this will be a great defense since the overall talent level is so poor and unlike the offense there’s very little a defensive coach can do to scheme around that. But if they continue to stay healthy it should be a defense that doesn’t actively cause them to lose games they should win (like last year’s one-score losses to Wazzu and Colorado).
The Beavs face a mixed bag in terms of the schedule. No Power-5 teams in the non-con, but Boise St, Fresno St, and Montana St aren’t pushovers either. They miss Arizona and UCLA from the South, two teams that are in weird spots right now. They get two of their three ranked opponents at home (where they were 6-0 last year), but it’s still hard to imagine beating any of USC, Utah, or Oregon. The Beavs should be a pretty steady team in 2022 that’s better than about eight teams on their schedule, but they face so many wildcard teams that it seems their record is going to be much more about how their opponents shape up than how they do.
The only news I could find at all about Stanford since publishing my preview at the end of May is that former DB Zahran Manley, whom I thought would return in 2022, is now at NYU where he has some gripes about his residence hall’s lack of air conditioning.
Other than better injury luck at wide receiver, nothing has happened that’s made me think Stanford is going to reverse the several-year slide they’ve been on. Their coaching staff is unchanged and produces severe underperformance from their talent, the fourth best in the conference. They need substantial help in their defensive line in order to improve from one of the worst defenses in FBS and they haven’t gotten it.
The Bruins finally released an official roster on August 4th, three months after everyone else. It appears that starting blocking TE Mike Martinez has left the team. Two offensive linemen that were in question as to still being on the team have indeed left, Thomas Cole and Patrick Selna, the former for mental health reasons that he was courageous to discuss. They’ve added a transfer from USC, #78 OL Douglass, who is better as a guard than a tackle but I expect will be required to fill in at tackle given how precarious that position is for UCLA.
On defense, 4-star linebacker Damian Sellers, who’s discussed in my preview as a potential starter, isn’t listed on the roster. They’ve added a low 3-star walk-on freshman, Jaxon Harley, to their mess of a defensive backs room.
I continue to think that UCLA’s defensive scheme transition is going to be a disaster (and it’s not like it’s been a great defense the last several years) and that the offensive line uncertainty imperils head coach Kelly’s mad genius offense with its highly demanding and ever-changing blocking schemes. They face a cupcake non-con (including their first FCS opponent ever) but no clear advantage or disadvantage to their conference schedule. I thought this team was pretty average last year, winning eight games against bad teams with a 35-65 record, and losing four to teams that were 38-16. I suspect they’ll be just as chimerical in 2022.
Not a lot of news for the Trojans since publication in late June. A sophomore o-lineman, Maximus Gibbs, has transferred out, and they’ve taken unrated Juco #71 OL Lovelace. I think USC’s offensive line will be the make-or-break unit for new head coach Riley’s offense (which has far more demanding blocking schemes than the previous staff’s), but if bad injury luck had gotten them down to playing Gibbs or Lovelace then they’d have already been in serious trouble so I don’t think this sort-of swap affects anything.
There has been some interesting offseason news on the defense but my article was published late enough in June to have caught all of it. The lack of proven producers on the defensive front, particularly the edge rush and the tumultuous linebackers unit, is the significant question here. There’s been a lot of speculation about guys who may be coming along on the front, but the signal-to-noise ratio with LA reporters and USC’s comically credulous allied media is so low that I don’t put stock in any of it.
It’s tough to imagine USC not having a substantially better record than last year, since any team with this much talent should at least cruise to a bowl game barring the team quitting on an interim coach. They miss the two most talented teams in the North and massively out-talent all but one team on the schedule. Their first six weeks are a nice steady ramp up in difficulty leading up to the critical road game against Utah in week 7. With the new Pac-12 rule eliminating the divisional win requirement for the championship game, it would take a pretty astonishing set of failures to not make it to Las Vegas.
The Utes added a couple of minor pieces to their offense since publication – mid 3-star Juco #15 WR Gilmore, and two defensive linemen switched to the offense in #72 OL Harrell and #73 OL Togiai. I don’t think any of that news affects the offense much, and to me there’s really just one question which is how they sort out the pieces from the departures of longtime starters tight end Cole Fotheringham and receiver Britain Covey. I’m something of an outlier in the media for even noting that Utah has some questions to answer at all, but I’m sticking with my prediction that this is actually going to be kind of tricky for the Utes and it’s possible OC Ludwig simply captured lightning in a bottle last year.
On defense, other than the two linemen who switched to offense, there are two absences from the roster: tackle Dallas Vakalahi and linebacker Sire Woods. I wasn’t expecting much playing time for any of those four. All three levels of the defense have significant departures and it remains to be seen how they’ll be replaced; Utah operates at a much lower talent level than its peers at this point and the best answer I’ve heard to those questions is “have faith!” What I think of such a demand is left as an exercise for the reader.
The schedule sets up well for Utah to make it back to Las Vegas. They open at Florida, a team in a bit of crisis, and they get potential revenge games against San Diego St and Oregon St at home. The new Pac-12 rule means that even if they lose their toughest home game – to USC – they can still wind up in the conference championship game, but it would require beating the Ducks for the third straight time, with this one being in Autzen.
The Huskies’ offseason was fairly quiet, and my article was published late enough that it captured most of the relevant news. #9 QB Penix was recently named starter, and it’s looking like #5 QB Morris has the backup spot with #7 QB Huard coming in third, which was exactly as I predicted. Returning starter #51 LT Kirkland will have to sit out the opener against Kent St for NCAA reasons; it shouldn’t affect the outcome of that game. Converted lineman #68 DL Ale was hurt in practice and will miss most of Fall camp but his coaches say he’ll be back for the opener; I wasn’t counting on him much due to obvious technique deficiencies in the Spring game (and his poor footwork when he was on offense) and while I’m happy for the news of his recovery I don’t think this improves the likelihood that he meaningfully contributes.
The most interesting development is that new head coach DeBoer has given defensive playcalling duties to his safeties coach Morrell, with whom he coached at the NAIA level. Morrell had been the head coach at Montana Tech before accepting the job with the Huskies. At Fresno St, DeBoer had LB coach Inge calling the defense, with whom he coached at Indiana in 2019. I’m not sure what this signifies (other than that DeBoer’s rolodex is pretty thin), but I did think that Inge’s defense had a very difficult time stopping running quarterbacks and there’s a possibility this is a move to try and correct that. I have no film on what type of defense Morrell runs but there’s no indication they plan on changing it from the 4-2-5 this staff was using at Fresno St. A late change like this in duties is highly unusual and merits more investigation from Seattle media; predictably none has been forthcoming.
The Huskies face a very soft schedule, missing USC and Utah from the South and getting three teams that they out-talent but often struggle with at home: Stanford, Oregon St, and Colorado. I suspect, given the massive damage the previous staff did to their secondary talent, that they’ll have a hard time stopping the pass, but it remains to be seen if opposing OCs in the Pac-12 realize that in time to make a 180 degree adjustment in the best way to attack this defense.
All the news I can find on Wazzu’s offseason has been on the offense. The most significant among the skill players is that Oklahoma St transfer #35 WR Moore will likely miss the season with an injury. He’d been strangely unproductive given his clear talent on film with the last staff, so I don’t think that affects the bottom line. 2-star receiver Mitchell Quinn, who got a couple catches last year, has transferred out, but unrated Juco #82 TE C. Johnson has transferred in. That’s probably a net positive, since they have plenty of wide receivers but I suspect they’ll struggle to get the brand new TE unit operational this year.
However, it also appears #57 OL Tialavea will miss the season. He looked to be the new starting left guard from the Spring game and the backup situation looked precarious to me when I wrote about this team in June. Wazzu is going back to the Air Raid and that doesn’t require as much out of their line as some offenses, but the Cougs are working with such thin numbers and talent that this could be pretty significant.
Wazzu looks like it’s more of a dangerous spoiler than a contender to me, with home games against both Utah and Oregon, as well as other teams looking to rebuild like Cal, ASU, and UW. In the first year with a new staff, the Cougs probably don’t have the talent to sniff the title game and will probably be in a fight to make it back to a bowl game, but a bunch of teams’ seasons could be in danger during trips to the Palouse.