PAC-12 Conference preview: North Division

PAC-12 Conference preview: North Division

by Christian Mott

The Pac-12 North was, like the South, a stiff competition for the title of division champion. This 2020 season told a story of a three team race that went right to the wire. It’s the exact kind of football that fans live for. Will that be the case again? While nobody knows for sure, the PAC-12 will give whoever comes out of the South one tough fight. How do the Utes, who very well can win the south, match up against these teams.

Washington Huskies

2020 Record: 3-1| Conference Record: 3-1 |Coach: Jimmy Lake

Year one for Jimmy Lake is in the books. For Washington Huskies fans, it couldn’t have gone much better. The roster, inherited from former Washington coach Chris Petersen, m had very inconsistent play. Despite this, it was still enough to finish with the best record in the North. Jimmy Lake, with his first true recruiting class, hit it out of the park. His class this offseason ranked 36th in the land, with the major commitment of five star quarterback Sam Haurd.

Expect the strong armed lefty to be the day one starter against Montana. With expectations raising for Lake after a good year one, he’ll be tested several times throughout the season. The matchups that may well decide the north are against Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington State. With a top 40 offense and top 30 defense retaining most of its starters, expect Lake to have the Huskies in prime position to repeat. However, they may get overpowered by some of the other juggernauts in the north.

Record Prediction: 9-3

Oregon Ducks

2020 Record: 4-3 | Conference record: 4-2 |Coach: Mario Cristobal

Nothing says 2020 like looking at the PAC 12 and seeing a second place team win the whole thing. However, that’s exactly what happened for the Oregon Ducks. They were 4-2 come conference championship time and still got the nod. They got the job done and beat USC 31-24 to claim the PAC-12 title. Where do the Ducks go from there?

First and foremost, Cristobal loses a monstrous piece of his offense in Penei Sewell to the draft. That won’t be much of a difficulty though. That is because they replenished and improved their core. Their class is elite, ranking sixth on the 247sports recruiting ranking. A large part to why Oregon has and will be a contender year in and out there is amazing recruiting.

Some names to focus on include offensive lineman Kingsley Suamataia, quarterback Ty Thompson and wide receiver Troy Franklin. The Ducks team is a real knockout threat to everyone in the PAC-12. Don’t be surprised if come bowl season they represent the PAC-12 in the College Football Playoff.

Record Prediction: 11-1 

Stanford Cardinal

2020 Record: 4-2, Conference record 4-2, Con. ranking 3rd, Coach: David Shaw

It’s wild to think how so much can change yet also stay the same. This Stanford team didn’t show the dominance like other David Shaw teams have in the past. He did have Andrew Luck and later Christian McCaffrey in those dominant year.

Last year’s team didn’t show any signs of their normal dominance. Shaw’s team finished with their lowest offensive rating (56) and defensive rating (78) since his time with Stanford began. The recruiting class wasn’t their strongest either, falling from the number 21 class to 50. There are two things that are going for the Cardinals come the fall: David Shaw and a weak out of conference play. This team won’t end up being one of the normally dominant teams of the past, but they will be right in the mix.

Record Prediction; 8-4 

Oregon State Beavers

2020 record: 2-5 | Conference record 2-5 | Coach: Jonathan Smith

Coach Jonathan Smith is on the hot seat. After starting 7-17 in his first two seasons, year three went no different. Their anemic offense had a total of five quarterbacks throw a pass during the season. It took them to subpar number 60 in total offense. With all the woes the Beavers faced, Smith has one more chance to turn it around. He didn’t make it any easier for himself with a brutal number 109 ranked recruiting class. This is definitely one team from the north that the Utes won’t have to worry about come conference championship time.

Record Prediction: 2-10

Washington State Cougars

2020 Record: 1-3 | Conference record 1-3 | Coach: Nick Rolovich

The year at the helm for Coach Nick Rolovich didn’t end as expected. The Cougars finished a measly 1-3 in their first year since Mike Leach departed. The team could only muster four games this year as two of their games were canceled. It may have been for the better though. Their showing in those four games was not inspiring.

A bright spot for the Cougars will have to look forward to is sophomore quarterback Jayden De laura. His campaign was certainly up and down. He showed plenty of potential that Washington State could capitalize on. One thing that will help massively is the massive recruitment of wide receiver CJ Moore. He is the tenth ranked player overall coming out of high school and will be used heavily in this offense.

This team will be on the rise in the coming years, but this is the first year of the rebuilding process. Expectations should be set low. One added intrigue is that they are the only team that has the three FBS schools from the Beehive State on their schedule: Utah, Utah State and BYU.

Record Prediction: 4-8

California Golden Bears

2020 Record: 1-3 | Conference record 1-3 | Coach: Justin Wilcox

The 2020 Golden Bears season could be summarized in one word: bad. The team took a surprising step backwards despite going 8-5 in 2019. One major storyline was their offense which finished a horrid number 111 in the nation. Their defense was a different story as it finished number 48 in the nation.

Wilcox attacked this heavily in his recruiting class as his class came in ranked 19 on the 247 sports list. The biggest signing was adding the sixth ranked tight end in the country in Jermaine Terry. They made multiple additions on offense and retained the team’s leading tackler in Kuony Deng. While this team will be improved, they are still a little too far out to compete for the north yet. Top teams like Oregon and Washington are still lurking around.

Record Prediction: 6-6

How the Utes Stack up to the North

How do these teams affect the Utes this season? The goal for any team in the conference is to win. In order for the Utes to do so, they will have to beat one of these teams in the championship game. Looking at the north this year, it’s going to be just as strong as it has in years past.

The Ducks are the top team the Utes don’t want to see on championship weekend. The Utes will have the coaching edge over almost every other team in the north. However, Oregon has a clear talent advantage while a team like Washington would be a much more favorable matchup. Until then, one can only speculate and strap in for what should be a competitive PAC-12.

Featured image courtesy Tony Avelar / Associated Press

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