by Judah Newby
Each week this college football season I will use my God-given ability to watch football to formulate a fully subjective opinion on every team in the Pac-12 conference, and throw those opinions to the public. Welcome to Judah’s Pac-12 Power Rankings.
It’s Week One of the college football season, and the Pac-12 is already 0-1 (Thanks, Arizona). There’s plenty of opportunity to make amends this weekend, though. So let’s get after it, moving last to first.
It’s unfair to put a first-year head coach at the bottom, but someone has to be here. Mel Tucker’s Colorado squad has an over-under of four wins, and one of those should come this week vs in-state rival Colorado State. The Good: 5th-year senior QB Steven Montez returns, as does likely first-round pick WR Leviska Shenault. The Bad: The Buffs will be challenged on defense and in the running game, and will undergo some predictable first year struggles under Tucker.
Week 2 JPPR Prediction: No. 10 (+2)
You could argue the Beavers should be in Colorado’s place at 12, but I’m bullish on the Beavs chances to improve from last year’s two-win campaign. So why not get ahead of the curve? They won’t beat Oklahoma State, but a close game should give them the confidence needed to win at Hawaii in Week 2 and come home and beat Cal Poly in Week 3. Then they would only need a single conference win to eclipse their 2-1/2 win total projection set in Vegas. Gimme that over.
Week 2 JPPR Prediction: No. 11 (No Change, cover the +14.5 vs Ok State)
These guys are just disappointing. Arizona rolled into Honolulu as 11-point road favorites, promptly fell behind by two scores, and never had the lead in a 45-38 loss to the Rainbow Warriors last week. So what if they came a yard short of forcing overtime? If you force six turnovers – SIX TURNOVERS – and STILL give up 45 points, that’s a problem. Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates has some early soul-searching to do. Thankfully for the ‘Cats, Khalil Tate looked as healthy as ever (469 total yards), and have a bye week to get themselves ready for Northern Arizona at home (Sept. 7th) and Texas Tech at home (Sept. 14th, 7:30pm, ESPN).
Week 2 JPPR Prediction: No. 12 (-2 because c’mon, you should have beat Hawaii, and you don’t play this week)
Cal should smash UC-Davis and might even keep them under 10 points. Their secondary is loaded with guys like senior safeties Ashtyn Davis and Jaylinn Hawkins and a strong middle linebacker in Evan Weaver. Their over-under win total is set at 5-1/2, and with that kind of defense, Cal should have every chance to make a bowl game this season. But former Oregon Duck and third-year head coach Justin Wilcox will have a pedestrian offense once again, thus handicapping the Golden Bears’ chances of competing for a division title.
Week 2 JPPR Prediction: No. 8 (+1, defense will force 4 turnovers)
Star wide receiver N’Keal Harry is gone (1st Round pick – Patriots) and so is quarterback Manny Wilkins (Packers – undrafted free agent). That duo stabilized what could have otherwise been a turbulent season for first-year head coach Herm Edwards (who is 65, by the way). No shame in a seven-win season (7-6 last year), but this year Edwards will go with a true freshman as his starting quarterback in Jayden Daniels, the first true frosh to start at QB in program history. Running back Eno Benjamin returns after finishing 5th in the nation in rushing yards last year as a sophomore. Defensively the Sun Devils lost nose tackle Renell Wren (4th-Round pick, Bengals) and that unit will likely need to pick up some of the inevitable slack from a dip in offensive production from 2018.
Week 2 JPPR Prediction: No. 9 (-1, because Kent State will cover the +25 spread)
I’m fascinated by Chip Kelly in Year 2. This season opener could dictate whether or not they hit the over in their win total (6). Can’t forget last year’s dismal 26-17 home loss to Cincy that christened Kelly’s debut [UCLA was a 14-point favorite!]. Senior running back Josh Kelly is a fricken bulldog and averaged 5.5 yards a carry last year, and he’s back for more. I’m expecting a jump from sophomore QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson (that’s DTR to you), and returning 10 starters on defense ain’t bad, either. I’ll also never forget the Bruins rolling into Berkeley last year as a touchdown underdog, then blowing out the Bears by thirty points. Point is, UCLA has surprise potential, and I think they flip the Week One script on the Bearcats in this year’s opener.
Week 2 JPPR Prediction: No. 6 (+1 because they get a STATEMENT win in Ohio. Also, Week 2 vs #4 Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl already has me fired up)
David Shaw maximizes talent. It’s what he does. The Cardinal’s disciplined, tactful style might limit their ceiling, but I believe they eclipse their over-under win total of 6-1/2. Quarterback KJ Costello is poised to rise up scouting boards as a 6’5″ 215-pound junior who tossed 14 touchdowns and just 4 picks last year. Portland native Cam Scarlett (Central Catholic ’15) takes over lead backfield duties, replacing Bryce Love (4th Round – Redskins). Oregon fans remember how annoying it is trying to cover the 6’7″ tight end Colby Parkinson, but at least for them, the big-bodied receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside joined Love in going to the pros (2nd Round – Eagles). Solid season-opening test in the Fightin’ Fitzgeralds from Chicago, but I believe Costello gets the Cardinal to a flying start.
Week 2 JPPR Prediction: No. 4 (+2 because Costello will look good in a Stanford win)
Is Clay Helton a good coach, but a bad recruiter? Vice-versa? Did he just accidentally win a Rose Bowl because he had Sam Darnold? Credit to Helton, he muscled up and fired his longtime friend and offensive line coach Neil Callaway last year, and also took play-calling away from then-offensive coordinator Tee Martin, who has since departed for his alma-mater Tennessee Volunteers. Enter Graham Harrell and the air-raid from Texas Tech (where Harrell played under Leach) and North Texas (where he was an OC the last three seasons), and a full off-season of growth for sophomore QB JT Daniels, and the USC offense should see a tick in production. As always, the squad is just loaded at wide receiver with studs like Michael Pittman, Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown. Corvallis native Talanoa Hufanga (Crescent Valley ’18) is one of the league’s most dynamic safeties and is healthy after missing the last four games of his freshman year with injury. USC has some lightning-in-a-bottle potential and could win the Pac-12. Solid start in the JPPR for 2019 at Number five.
Week 2 JPPR Prediction: No. 3 (+2 because they light up the scoreboard vs Tedford’s Bulldogs)
Can’t lie, it hurt to see my fellow McMinnville high school alum Gage Gubrud get beat out for the starting quarterback job with the Cougars. Mike Leach is going with redshirt senior Anthony Gordon to start the opener. Gordon sat behind Luke Falk and Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Gardner Minshew the last few seasons after transferring from City College of San Francisco, and impressively held off Gubrud for the job after the latter transferred to Pullman from FCS Eastern Washington where he was a two-time finalist for national player of the year. Also, the Cougs deserve some respect after ripping off the program’s first-ever 11-win season. This ranking is a nod of respect. Do I think USC and possibly Stanford have better seasons than the Cougs? Yes, I do. But it’s Week One. So hat-tip to you, Coach Leach. Now don’t screw it up.
Week 2 JPPR Prediction: No.5 (-1 because USC and Stanford need to bump up)
Kind of intrigued by the Kalani Sitake-led Cougars trying to stun the Utes right out of the gate, but man, Utah is just loaded. Nasty defense, powerful in the trenches, returning stars at quarterback in Tyler Huntley and running back in Zack Moss, and an offensive coordinator in Andy Ludwig who called plays on the Utes 2008 Sugar Bowl-winning squad. So why are they No.3 and not No.1? The media picked the Utes to win the South and the Pac-12 title game, and in a perfect world they could sniff the outskirts of the College Football Playoff. But: I got to see it to believe it. Pretty much this same team went 0-2 to start conference play last year before turning it on, and still lost Huntley and Moss to season-ending injuries after that. The Utes have to show me the money before they take over a top spot on JPPR.
Week 2 JPPR Prediction: No. 2 (+1 The Utes cover the -6 and get a solid road win in Provo)
How good is Jacob Eason? That is easily the most pressing question facing the Huskies. The Seattle-native turned Georgia QB turned prodigal son has returned to take the reigns of the Dawgs offense after sitting out last year for transfer rules. Clearly a more physically-gifted QB than Jake Browning ever hoped to be, Eason has sneaky Heisman potential. But leadership matters at the college level, and Browning was one of the best examples of QBs who led by attitude and grit that made up for shortcomings with his arm. We’ll see if Eason has the intangibles to match his arm skill. Running back Myles Gaskin is gone and Salvon Ahmed takes over as lead back. And just watch how defensive coordinators Pete Kwiatkowski and Jimmy Lake maximize a defense that returns only two starters. Watch it happen, cuz it will. Oh, and free safety and Portland native Elijah Molden (West Linn ’17) will be a big reason why.
Week 2 JPPR Prediction: No.3 (-1 Only because Utah gets a more quality win)
I’m picking Oregon to win.
I don’t feel confident, I think they have a lot of questions to answer, but with this much time to prepare and that amount of experience up-front, this is the Ducks team to avenge the nightmare of the 2010 National Championship game vs Cam’s Tigers, as well as the 2011 season-opener vs LSU (#3 Oregon lost to #4 LSU 40-27 with critical turnovers playing a deciding role) in the first game every played at Jerry World. Now, the Ducks return to the scene of the crime, and Justin Herbert returns for his senior year. THIS IS WHY JUSTIN HERBERT CAME BACK. To win this game. To dominate the national stage. To bring Oregon back to weekly national relevance. And it starts with a win on Saturday.
Week 2 JPPR Prediction: No.1 (No Change after beating Auburn)
Enjoy the football, everyone. See you next Tuesday, September 5th, for Week Two of Judah’s Pac-12 Power Rankings.