Posted on August 22, 2019 by: Kyle Risko
The 2019 College Football season is upon us and I couldn’t be more excited. With one year of experience doing the Power Rankings under my belt, I’m like a freshman quarterback going into his second season: more confident and looking to boost my production and efficiency. Most likely though, I’ll hit my Sophomore slump. Oh well. Half of you will always love me and half of you will always hate me — kind of like my three kids.
Without further ado, here are my 2019 Preseason Power Rankings.
12. Oregon State
I don’t think this is a surprise to anyone. Jonathan Smith was clearly in a rebuilding year in 2018 and is looking to take the program to the next level; even if that means winning 3 games instead of 2. The Beavers offense was a bright spot in 2018 and OSU returns most of its playmakers, including: QB Jake Luton, wide receivers Isaiah Hodgins and Trevon Bradford, and running back Jermar Jefferson, who had a tremendous breakout freshman year. The problem is that even if the offense is decent, the defense last year could not have been any worse. The Beavers will need to improve drastically on the defensive side of the ball or else it will be more to the same for Smith and OSU.
Offensively, “Montez to Shenault” is going to be a common phrase in every household in America again this year. But what does Colorado have outside of that? The Buffs lose 3 offensive linemen and their top two running backs from last year. In addition, new head coach Mel Tucker is a defensive mind, most recently as the defensive coordinator at Georgia. The Buffs defense is young and inexperienced. Mustafa Johnson is a wrecking ball, but is also the eldest and most experienced- as a junior. Lastly, Colorado’s schedule is tough. Two of their three non-conferences games will be difficult (Nebraska and Air Force). Plus, they travel back-to-back weekends in October to Oregon and Washington State. The Buffs then close the year out with Stanford, Washington and @Utah. Hard to see them as a Bowl team.
The Golden Bears defense was one of the best in the Pac-12 last year- and will be again this year. Linebackers Evan Weaver and Cameron Good are probably the best tandem in the conference. Luc Bequette was tremendous on the defensive line and looks to be a game changer again this year. Plus, safeties Jaylin Hawkins and Ashtyn Davis and cornerbacks Cam Bynum and Elijah Hicks seem like they have been at CAL for 15 years. CAL’s 21 interceptions in 2018 were 2nd most in the country. While I’m pretty excited about the defense, the offense is a huge question mark. Last year the Golden Bears won 7 games and almost won a Bowl game despite the offense being less than mediocre. A QB battle is brewing between Chase Garbers and UCLA transfer Devon Modster, but the wide receiver position is thin and their star running back, Patrick Laird, graduated. The offense will have to drastically improve or else the Golden Bears will find themselves 5th in the North division again.
This is where things get interesting and I might hurt some feelings. Rankings #3 through #9 are a complete jumble. And with the Pac-12’s propensity for “death by parody”, who knows what will happen. I digress.
The main question regarding Arizona is which Khalil Tate are we going to get: 2017 Heisman hopeful or 2018 immobile and inaccurate? Tate is such an explosive player and maybe the single most dangerous QB in the conference. Pair him with running back JJ Taylor and the Wildcats have a pretty terrifying duo. But, all offensive production will have to come from these two- and is that really sustainable? I think not. Combine that with the fact that Arizona’s defense was below average- giving up 32.6 points per game in 2018- and things don’t look pretty for the Wildcats.
8. Arizona State
Trust me, I was on the Herm Edwards-is-a-dumpster-fire bandwagon last year. But, he definitely righted the ship and by the end of the year I was on (and even rooting for) the Herm Train. In 2018, the Sundevil defense showed great potential. The defensive line has some turnover, but Jermayne Lole and Tyler Johnson are back and a force to be reckoned with. Linebackers Merlin Robertson and Darien Butler were ball hawks and will only continue to get more comfortable in the scheme. Both cornerbacks return and the addition of former 5 star and USC transfer, Jack Jones, will only boost the secondary. The defense will have to be rock solid while ASU tries to figure out the offense. As of right now the offense will be giving the ball to Eno Benjamin AS MANY TIMES AS POSSIBLE. He was tremendous last year, leading the conference with 1,642 yards on the season. The offensive line is experienced, but thin, so they will have to avoid injuries. While the run game will be in good hands, the passing game will undoubtedly hit some speed bumps. Freshman Jayden Daniels was named the starting quarterback and, while he will be good in the future, Daniels needs a year to gain a better understanding of college speed and defensive schemes and blitzes. He will also be throwing to a wide receiver core that doesn’t have a true #1 target like N’Keal Harry.
The Bruin defense is going to be a liability…again. Last year UCLA gave up a ton of points on the road and they continue to have questions -especially on the defensive line. BUT, I don’t think that will really matter if Chip Kelly can get his offense going. I know I am putting a ton of stock in the offense, but do you remember the Oregon Ducks from 2009-2012?! It’s terrifyingly burned into my memory. Last year QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson was erratic, but with one year under his belt, he’s ready to take a leap forward. He has great potential and a good supporting cast. Four offensive linemen as well as most of the wide receivers return, which is a positive. Running back Joshua Kelley exploded onto the scene last year and will be a great safety net for the Bruin offense. The one thing that keeps UCLA from making a big leap (aside from the defense): an extremely tough schedule. Their non-conference is brutal with games against Cincinnati, San Diego State, and Oklahoma. Most of their could-win conference games are at home against Oregon State, CAL, and Colorado. That means the road games are unrelenting, including: @Washington State, @Arizona, @Stanford, @Utah, and @USC. Good news is that they avoid Oregon and UW.
6. Washington State
Listen, last year in Pullman was one of the greatest stories in college football. For Pete’s sake, Gardner Minshew had me trying to grow out a mustache! And let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty. But, Mustache Minshew is gone. The Cougs have another QB grad-transfer in Gage Gubrud, who was stellar at Eastern Washington. But realistically, what are the odds that Leach can be that successful in back-to-back years with a new QB at the helm? I’m betting Not Likely. Gubrud will pass for 4500 yards and 30 touchdowns because he’ll throw 40 times a game, the receiver core returns 4 of the top 5 pass catchers, and Max Borghi will be a tremendous option out of the backfield. BUT, the reason Wazzu was so good last year was because the defense played way better than expected. Last year, Wazzu had a stellar pass defense, but a less than mediocre run defense. The run defense will only get worse with the loss of leading tackler Peyton Pelluer. And I expect a drop in the pass defense as well with major turnover at the corner and safety positions, including losses like Jalen Thompson, Hunter Dale, and Darrien Molton.
The Cardinal have some lingering questions at running back, offensive line (aside from Walker Little), and defense. Last year they were underwhelming in all those areas. Over the last few years, the offense has been built on premiere running backs like Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love. But last year, as Love and the run game struggled, KJ Costello showed how good he actually is. He’s big. He’s smart. And he has good arm talent. This is probably the first time since Andrew Luck that David Shaw will build the offense around his QB and not the ground and pound. The only problem is that Stanford’s wide receivers are mostly inexperienced. Connor Wedington, Osiris St. Brown, and tight end Colby Parkinson will have to fill the holes left by the exits of JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Trenton Irwin, and tight end Kaden Smith. Also, Stanford’s schedule is a major concern. The first 4 weeks of the season will determine how good the Cardinal really are, with a brutal non-conference of Northwestern and @UCF, plus conference games @USC and home against Oregon. Oh yeah, that’s not even including UW, Washington State, or a late non-conference game against Notre Dame.
This one is going to get me in some trouble. But hear me out. This is probably the first time that Utah has actually been THE FAVORITE. The Utes have always been a team to worry about, but there have always been other teams projected to win the division and/or conference. This year, the script is flipped and now the Utes will get everyone’s best performance because they are “top dog”. For that reason, I’m predicting a couple losses that most might not.
The Utes, for all intents and purposes, are a very good team. The defensive line is frightening and projected to be one of the best fronts in the country – lead by Bradlee Anae and Leki Fotu. The return of Tyler Huntley, Zack Moss, and most of the receivers will make the offense very good if they can pick up where they left off before Huntley and Moss’ injuries. My concerns with the Utes are with the offensive line and at linebacker and safety. The offensive line has holes to fill and with new faces comes the need for cohesion. Defensively, the Utes lost all-everything tandem Cody Barton and Chase Hansen at linebacker as well as Marquise Blair and Corrion Ballard in the secondary. Julian Blackmon plans to move from corner to safety, which will help, but replacing those two playmakers won’t be easy.
Utah seems to have everything in place to win the conference, but it feels like too much pressure.
I know. I know. Call me a homer, but just let me finish. Everyone knows the offense needs to change. EVERYONE. But, with Graham Harrell’s new air raid attack, a year of experience under JT Daniels’ belt, a healthy offensive line, and one of the best wide receiver groups in the country, the USC offense is going to be hard to stop. Michael Pittman Jr, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns, Velus Jones, and Devon Williams will get plenty more opportunities to catch the ball and make plays in space. Defensively is where there are a lot of questions. The loss of Cameron Smith, Porter Gustin, Marvell Tell, and Iman Marshall is huge. But remember, all of those guy missed games last year due to injury, which lead to young guys like Talanoa Hufanga, Palaie Gaoteote, and Isaiah Pola Mao getting experience. The defense also has great leadership in redshirt seniors John Houston and Christian Rector and those guys will need to step up to help a young secondary. USC will have to create more turnovers and pressure on opposing QBs if they want to be be better than last year.
USC’s biggest problem? Their schedule is tough. And I mean TOUGH-especially the first 6 games. In non-conference play, the Trojans face tricky Fresno State and BYU as well as powerhouse Notre Dame. Then, their first three conference games are against Stanford and Utah at home, and Washington on the road. If they can make it through that brutal first half of the schedule, they might be in good shape.
The Huskies are trying to win their 3rd Pac-12 title in 4 years. Chris Peterson has showed that he can recruit well, develop his players, and win the big time games. But, Washington has some questions that need to be answered. The Huskies lose 9 on defense. That seems like a lot to reload, but UW has lost multiple players each year to graduation and the NFL and they’ve continued to be the best defense in the conference for THE LAST 4 YEARS. I’m not concerned because I know Pete Kwiatkowski and Jimmy Lake will have the defense clicking on all cylinders again. Offensively, Jacob Eason transferred from Georgia and he will be a step up from Jake Browning. Browning was a good game manager who made smart decisions. Eason will be more of that but with better deep ball ability, which will lead to more big plays. Eason will be throwing to an experienced and athletic wide receiver corps, including Ty Jones, Aaron Fuller, and Andre Baccellia. In addition, Salvon Ahmed, who is explosive, will take over the running back duties with Myles Gaskin gone. UW will also have one of the best offensive lines in the conference. While they will need to answer some questions defensively, offensively they will be just fine.
The Huskies’ schedule also sets up very nicely for them. Washington has an easy preseason and all of the top dogs in the conference (USC, Oregon, WSU, Utah) come to Seattle. The only tough road game is @Stanford.
Oregon has A LOT going for it heading into the 2019 season. Offensively they return QB Justin Herbert, running backs CJ Verdelland Travis Dye (who combined for 1700 yards, 14 TDs as freshman), four of their top 5 receivers from last year, and an experienced offensive line that have a combined 153 career starts. Herbert is the star of the offense and is currently on the Heisman watch. He needs to play more consistently, be more accurate, and lead his team to big wins. Last year the Ducks had a big win against Washgington, but then faltered against WSU, Utah, and Arizona, struggling to move the ball. Herbert will have to elevate his performance to win those types of games this year. But, I think he will.
Defensively, the Ducks have great talent and experience retuning, including linebacker Troy Dye, defensive tackle Jordon Scott, and safeties Nick Pickett and Jevon Holland. Oregon will have to fill some gaps at linebacker, but for the most part the defense should take a step forward, especially under new defensive coordinator Andy Avalos from Boise State. Avalos builds aggressive, disruptive defenses that keep offenses off balance with multiple fronts and coverages. The Ducks have great personnel to match that scheme. Last, the schedule won’t be easy. The Ducks open in the national spotlight with a matchup against Auburn. A win would immediately put them on the map and in the conversation for the college football playoffs–if they can escape a tough road schedule of games at Stanford, Washington, and USC.
Kyle Risko is a contributor for The Pac-12 Checkdown both as a journalist and a host of The Checkdown Podcast.