Three Story-Lines To Watch
1. What Role Do Opt-Outs Play In Changing The Overall Conference Picture?
The Pac-12 will be the last of the power conferences to return to football and with that decision at the final hour to hop into the 2020 season, the number of players opting-out across the league became more of a focal point than the preparations by those actually suiting up on the field. The teams hit hardest by these decisions will undoubtedly be Oregon and Stanford, who both lost a crucial piece of their offensive line and a member of their secondary to opting-out.
The Ducks won’t have the services of consensus top three NFL Draft pick Penei Sewell at the offensive tackle spot and safety Jevon Holland also chose not to anchor their secondary in 2020. For the Cardinal, massive offensive lineman Walker Little will essentially miss his second straight season due to opting-out, while cornerback Paulson Adebo’s decisions leaves a rebuilding Stanford team with some huge voids.
Across the league though, it won’t be the massive losses of star players but the immeasurable issues, the depth concerns, the lack of serviceable reserves and the reshuffling of players which will both impact games and make coaches lose sleep at night. If the Conference of Champions has anything to prove in 2020, it’s that they can find a way to thrive with some of their most talented pieces off the field.
2. Is There Any Team Who Can Compete With Oregon & USC At The Top?
On paper, any team who can knock off the likes of Oregon or USC with some sort of regularity probably doesn’t have a Pac-12 logo crest stitched anywhere on their uniforms. The Ducks and Trojans just look to be a step above the rest of the herd and almost sitting on a collision course to meet in a conference title game. That’s the good news for the league.
The bad news is that the apparent lack of depth in this conference might severely hamper Oregon and USC’s chances at being considered for a coveted College Football Playoff spot, especially in a season where resumes around the country will be filled with unique win-loss totals and some even more confounding list of opponents (ahem, BYU).
Overall though, there’s three teams lurking right outside the top two that could affect some things, beginning with the fourth go-round for Justin Wilcox at California. The Golden Bears think Chase Garbers can bring them to their third-straight bowl game and maybe give the Ducks a run for their money in the North Division. It’s also worth noting to not count out fan-favorites Arizona State in the South Division, where Herm Edwards has rebooted a dormant Sun Devils group, yet will be surrounded by some tall tasks in the Trojans and Utah.
3. How Will Three New Head Coaches Change The Landscape Of The League?
The Conference of Champions welcomes three new head coaches to the mix, including Karl Dorrell at Colorado, Jimmy Lake at Washington and Nick Rolovich at Washington State, who all stepped into their positions during one of the wildest college football off-seasons ever.
Dorrell takes over a Buffs program that finished 5-7 in 2019, after spoiling a strong 3-1 to the year under then-head coach Mel Tucker, who bolted for Michigan State after just one year in Boulder. The college and NFL veteran coach will likely have his work cut out for him as well, as Colorado was picked to finish 5th in the South Division in the Pac-12’s Preseason Media Poll, in front of only Arizona.
As for Lake up at Washington, the job of filling the shoes of the suddenly-retired Chris Petersen will be a tall task, but the Huskies have a bit more pieces in tow to make the a new direction work. Washington received the third-most points in North Division in the Pac-12’s Preseason Media Poll and are already being pegged as one of the sleeper teams in the whole country in 2020.
For Rolovich, Oregon State’s old friend, the former Hawaii head coach takes over for Mike Leach as the Cougars transition from an air-raid to a run-and-shoot style. Washington State has questions to answer at quarterback and in their receiving core, but were slated in the Pac-12’s Preseason Media Poll to hold the cellar in the North Division.
The Pac-12 teams will play a six-game regular season, which will operate starting on Saturday, November 7th and culminating on Saturday, December 12th. The next week (December 18th and 19th) will be reserved for “Championship Week”, which will not only feature the conference title game, but a to be determined contest for every team in the Pac-12 as well. Each program will play one match-up against each of their five Divisional opponents and one cross-over contest against a team from the opposite Division.