We go west next, as one team who features a Heisman candidate and has been a staple in this division will get a challenge from a rival, here’s my breakdown of the Pac 12 North.
Palo Alto’s our first top, where the Cardinal have won at least a share of the division title four out of the five years in head coach David Shaw’s tenure. Preseason All-American and Heisman favorite running back Christian McCaffrey set the NCAA single-season record for all-purpose yards last season. Michael Rector and tight end Dalton Schultz lead a capable receiving corps to help take the pressure off McCaffrey. Ryan Burns will be the new signal caller as three-year starter Kevin Hogan has graduated.
Preseason all-Pac 12 defensive lineman Solomon Thomas can play either end or tackle but the coaches want him to rush the passer. Cornerback Alijah Holder and nickel back Quentin Meeks also lead a defense where there’s a solid mix of youth and veteran players.
They host Kansas State, USC and Washington State They have a tough road schedule as they must go to UCLA, Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona, Oregon and California.
There’s buzz in Seattle where some are picking the Huskies to win the division. Head coach Chris Peterson is putting his stamp on the program. Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning started 12 of the 13 games as a true freshman last year. Myles Gaston rushed for over 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman and did that only playing in six games last season. Versatile wide receiver John Ross missed all of last year due to a knee injury, but when healthy, he’s one of the best in the conference.
Last season, the Huskies’ defense finished at or near the top of the conference in multiple categories, and this was with mostly freshmen and sophomores. Preseason all-American free safety Bubba Baker and cornerback Sidney Jones lead a quick and disruptive secondary. Nose tackle Elijah Qualls’ leads a powerful group up front.
They host Stanford, USC and Arizona State. They must face Arizona, Oregon, Utah, Washington State and California on the road.
To Eugene we go next, where the Ducks just missed having double digit wins for the eighth straight year. No worries, Ducks fans, they may be able to challenge in the division. For the second season in a row, the Ducks might be starting a FCS graduate transfer, Dakota Prukop. He rushed for over 1,700 yards and 24 touchdowns while at Montana State. Preseason all-American running back Royce Freeman doesn’t seem to get the same pub as Fournette, Cook, and McCaffrey, but he does have a chance to pass 5,000 career rushing yards. Darren Carrington and Charles Nelson (who’s switching to wide receiver after playing safety last season) lead a dynamic corps.
New defensive coordinator Brady Hoke is switching the Ducks to a 4-3, and he wants them to be more aggressive. Though no more Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, defensive end T.J. Daniel and tackle Henry Mondeaux have the speed to play under the new scheme. While the secondary must rebound after allowing more than 300 passing yards a game last season.
They host Washington, Arizona State and Stanford. They must go to Nebraska, Washington State, California, USC and Utah.
The Rest of the Pac 12 North
In Pullman, a few people are saying that the Washington State Cougars could be a dark horse in the division. Quarterback Luke Falk threw for 38 touchdowns and just eight interceptions, he could push for a Heisman campaign. Preseason all-Pac 12 receiver Gabe Marks lead a terrific corps that’s perfect for head coach Mike Leach’s offense. Despite key departures on defense, safety Shalom Luani, linebacker Peyton Pelluer, and cornerback Darrien Molton must make stops if the Cougars want to challenge in the division.
To Berkley, where the California Golden Bears have a new quarterback to replace Jared Goff. A lot of you, Big 12 fans remember the name Davis Webb, well in less than three months, he went from a new graduate transfer at Cal to new starting quarterback and captain.. He’ll have to work with a new group of talented but young receivers. Tre Watson and Khalifani Muhammad lead a speedy backfield. Tackle James Looney, cornerback Darius Allensworth and end Davante Wilson lead the way on defense.
Finally in Corvallis, the Oregon State Beavers will try to improve from their two win total last season. The Beavers finished at or near the bottom nationally in multiple offensive categories last season. Running back Ryan Nall, receiver Victor Bolden and cornerback Dwayne Williams lead an intriguing group of playmakers that just might make the Beavers better this season.
That’s it for the North, next we’ll talk about the Pac 12 South.