2019 Pac-12 Story Lines
I will definitely spend most of the 2019 season talking math and data, but my second favorite part of every college football season is the stories that make up a season. Some of them we have an inkling of before hand; Washington's playoff run in 2016 and others come fully out of the blue; Gardner Minshew in 2018. Of course some of the stories we follow have unhappy endings too; Khalil Tate in 2018.
So here are some Pac-12 stories I am interested in/excited about heading into 2019:
The Year of the Utes Offense
I am not saying the Utes are definitely going to be Pac-12 champs of anything, but like with Washington in 2016, we circled 2019 on the calendar for the Utes because of how their roster was maturing. The Utes rank #19 in Bill Connolly's returning production and #4 in returning production on offense; which is more tightly correlated with Beta_Rank than on defense. The Utes also made a solid OC hire in Andy Ludwig; who is an all or nothing Explosive Drives kind of a playcaller with both his run dominant and pass dominant teams he's had. The Utes project at #29 on offense coming into 2019 and if they hit that it will be a high water mark for the offense.
The Return-ish of the Ducks
People are bullish on the Ducks, the projection model has them at #17 and is also bullish on the Ducks, but I guess I have some questions that I need to see answered before I anoint them North favorite. I need to see the WR's do something with Dillon Mitchell gone, I need to see all the returning starts on the o-line translate into good play, and I need to see the playcalling and scheme work well, because the Ducks were bad on offense last season. That said, there is a lot of young talent that could break out this season. The modified projection model, that accounts for coaching and development, has them at #33. I might shade closer to that than #17 till I see them play at a high level consistently.
The Air Raid comes to Troy
The legend of not-Kliff Kingsbury comes to Los Angeles and I am excited to see the Air Raid get some top talent in the system outside of Oklahoma. If Harrell is wise, and lets assume he's a little wise, he'll incorporate the Air Raid pass concepts with a TE and power running game like Oklahoma. If he does that, then things could really take off because JT Daniels should have fewer concepts to remember, but more options within those concepts that he might actually get to. You combine that with running the power and you have something like an updated one back offense that Joe Tiller and Dennis Erickson made a bunch of hay with. I will be watching with popcorn and yelling about running the counter-trey. Clay Helton is very much on the hot seat, but this was always going to be a tricky two year stretch to manage with the way the roster was maturing. Last year the offense lost everyone, this year it's the defense, next year they could return a lot and be dangerous. Will Helton be around to cash in?
The Conference of Running Backs
It's certainly not the conference of returning QB's this season, but, in no particular order, Eno Benjamin, JJ Taylor, Jemar Jefferson, Joshua Kelley, and Zack Moss are here to make you forget how much you enjoy the passing game. Even if your RB isn't on that list, outside of Cal or Colorado, you probably feel pretty good about who you have and the season they might have. Max Borghi might catch 60 passes this season. It's a fun group and it's going to be tight race to make first team Pac-12.
The Baby Dawgs
Puppy dogs seems kind of redundant, but the Huskies have a lot of young talent hitting this field this season; especially on defense. You should watch not just to see how they do this season, but also to see how they progress because the Huskies should return a lot in 2020. They could be a playoff contender next season so watch for progression down the stretch in addition to how they compete for the North this season.
The Khalil Tate Revenge Tour
I think people over-hyped Arizona last season, for the record I took the under versus their Vegas season win total, but that doesn't mean they over-hyped Tate. In fact I think you saw how dangerous a healthy Tate is in how much Arizona regressed offensively without the threat of him running. So here we come into year two under Mazzone and Sumlin and Tate is arguably unnoticed in Tucson and it seems like everyone forgot about the fact that he's the most dangerous and explosive runner in football when healthy; Arizona was a stunning +35 spots over their offensive projection in Beta_Rank in 2017. If Tate learned some lessons from last season and learned more of the offense then a fully healthy Tate could break the projections again and turn Arizona into a wildcard in the South.
The Golden Defense
The Bears defensive rise is a thing of beauty. In 2016 they finished #119 in Beta_Rank on defense, but last year they finished #15; meanwhile ignore that they have fallen to #119 on offense. The Bears project at #12 coming into this season and if they meet or beat that they could be a dark horse in the North with the offense just improving to the "very bad Power 5 offense levels" around the #70's.
The Early Afternoon Misfits
The Beavers, and this could be faulty memory on my part, seemed to get that early time slot on Pac-12 Network pretty often last season; the slot where you are competing against the SEC on CBS and even family members might not be watching. If you did tune in you got to see a much improved offense under Jonathan Smith and a lousy defense. You should tune in to see the offense this season because the Beavers should be a lot of fun again and I like them to beat out their projection of #69 in the model.
The Mel Tucker Experience
I am pro Mel Tucker and I am excited about the defense, which he indicates that he will call plays for, but I am even more excited about Montez/Shenault under an OC who might have more tricks up their sleeve. Last season the Buffs ran out of answers as defenses made adjustments and Shenault was injured. I am not super high on Jay Johnson, but I expect he has a few more answers than Chiaverini did.
The Other Daniels
Jayden Daniels was the biggest QB recruit signed in the Pac-12 last year and he gets the nod as a true freshman. I like the supporting cast at the skill positions a lot, but there are some questions with O-line depth. Daniels could also make his own life easier if he runs often enough to put the fear of God in defenses, but he won't have the young QB's other friend, tempo, to confuse defenses. Herm Edwards likes to slow down games. The Sun Devils could be interesting if he and Eno Benjamin do enough damage with their feet to make his reads easier.
Yes there are lots of other stories and I'll be excited and following those too.