With just about a month until our collective weekends are more occupied by football, tailgating, and explaining why we won’t be at our fourth cousin Walter’s third marriage (Because, Aunt Karen, no one in their right mind plans a wedding on Saturdays in the Fall!) than by mowing the lawn and trimming the hedges, here’s a primer for you covering the 5 power conferences and the top 10 independents.
So, without further ado, here is Score On Air’s 2019 College football preview! We’re starting in the Pac 12 North and working our way around the country, teams are listed in predicted order of finish.
Oregon – 2018 9-4 (5-4) – In what had to be considered a down year for the Ducks, they finished a distant fourth in the Pac 12 North despite a solid 8-4 regular season finish. Fortunately for them, incumbent starter Justin Herbert put off the NFL for one more year and stayed in Eugene to make one more run at a North title. Joined by a talented (and experienced) class of skill position players led by Penn State transfer Juwan Johnson (WR, Sr). On the other side of the ball the Ducks return their entire 3-man defensive line as well as leading tackler Troy Dye (ILB, Sr). Look for last year’s #2 overall recruit Kayvon Thibodeaux lining up at OLB to make some noise as a true freshman.
If everything goes right – The Ducks make the CFP ready to make some noise in Herbert’s last hurrah and Thibodeaux takes over as a starter mid-season providing pressure from the edge that reminds people of Jadeveon Clowney.
If everything goes wrong – The defense doesn’t improve which puts more pressure on the offense, which devolves into Herbert feeling as if he has to be perfect, which turns into too many forced throws and too many INTs. All of this leaves Ducks fans playing an eternal game of “What if…?” with the career of the player being looked at as the #1 pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
Prediction – The Ducks get through their schedule with only one loss (my pick is @Stanford Sept 21, they are 2-5 in last 7 against the Cardinal) and win the Pac 12 CG, narrowly losing out on a playoff berth.
Washington – 2018 10-4 (8-1) – For most teams winning 32 games and a pair of conference titles in three years would seem like a huge success, especially when that team hadn’t won 10 games in a season since Y2K. For the Huskies though, it has to feel like they let some success get away from them. Replacing four year started Jake Browning is Georgia transfer (and Washington state native) Jacob Eason. With Eason taking over the starting role under center and Huskies career rusher Myles Gaskin departing in the draft look for the Huskies to expand their playbook and incorporate more passing plays. It’s good that the offense looks to be in capable hands as the defense will be in very inexperienced ones. Returning just one starter (Sr-DB Myles Bryant), the Huskies’ defense is in rebuild mode, but Chris Peterson’s recruiting should have them in position to, at least, be in contention for a third Pac 12 title in four years.
If everything goes right – Jacob Eason is the QB that reports from 2018 practices made him out to be. The defense gels quickly and the upperclassmen hold things together enough to let the offense do its job. They come out of an October that sees them play @Stanford, @Arizona, Oregon, and Utah with 3 (or 4!) wins.
If everything goes wrong – Eason isn’t who we thought he was, the defense can’t find its feet and that October ends with a Halloween nightmare of a 1-3 record.
Prediction - Washington’s season comes down to the October 19th game at home Vs. Oregon. If they can sink the Ducks, they have an excellent shot at taking the division title.
Stanford – 2018 9-4 (6-3) – David Shaw has been a model of consistency at Stanford since taking over for Jim Harbaugh following the 2010 season. In eight years, Shaw has taken the Cardinal to five ten plus-win seasons, three Pac-12 titles, and never had a season where he won fewer than 8 games. This year might see that streak put to the test with the loss of Heisman Finalist Bryce Love, and the trio of JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Trenton Irwin, and Kaden Smith no longer suiting up for Stanford. Senior QB K.J. Costello is back, however, and returning your signal caller is nothing to sneeze at. True Freshman Austin Jones was a 4-star RB and Top 10 at his position in the country, so replacing Bryce Love may not be THAT far away. The defense returns six starters, and with the talent Shaw has stockpiled on the D-line, getting after the opposition’s QB shouldn’t be a problem.
If everything goes right – The Cardinal get out of September undefeated and head into an October 5 matchup with Washington ready to put the division in a stranglehold.
If everything goes wrong – Stanford can’t replace the firepower they lost to the NFL and graduation, couple that with what has to be one of the tougher schedules in the country (Stanford’s “easiest” game is Sept 14 @ UCF, a team that has lost once in the last two years) and Shaw might be looking at the low point of his tenure.
Prediction – Consistency. The Cardinal manage to make everyone play their “A” game to beat them and pull off an upset that ruins someone’s season, I’m thinking Oct 17 Vs. UCLA. For the 9th season in a row Stanford manages 8 or more wins.
Washington State – 2018 11-2 (7-2) – Mike Leach’s Cougars seemed to have caught lightning in a bottle last year with grad transfer Gardner Minshew who stepped right into the starting role and took the Wazzu faithful on a wild ride that ended with a win over Iowa State at the Alamo Bowl. Can they do it again? Maybe. Returning the bulk of their offensive line and a pair of wideouts, this year they’ll have Eastern Washington transfer Gage Gubrud under center. After running the same type of Air Raid offense at EWU (including beating Wash St in 2016), Gubrud should be ready to step in without missing a beat. The defense lost six starters from last year’s solid unit, that number includes safety Jalen Thompson who was ruled ineligible for his senior season for the purchase of an over-the-counter supplement that was not a steroid. The Cougs did attract a transfer of their own in (former) WVU NT Lamonte McDougle who wanted to prove he could do more than just be a run stuffer.
If everything goes right – The Cougs could be in play for a P12 North title going into the Apple Cup (Nov 29) and looking like a team no one wants to play.
If everything goes wrong – Gubrud finds that playing at the FCS level is something else entirely and the other QBs on the roster (Trey Tinsley, Anthony Gordon) can’t do any better; meanwhile the defense can’t gel OR stop opponents now that they aren’t getting points to play with (Wazzu scored fewer than 20 only twice last season). All that combines for a Cougar team that is out of contention by the end of October.
Prediction – The Cougars go bowling, but come back to earth after last year’s run. Losses to Utah, Oregon, Washington and potentially Stanford push them to fourth place.
California – 2018 7-6 (4-5) – Normally finishing fifth in your division and losing a low(est?)-tier bowl game isn’t cause for a raise/contract extension. Normal schools are not California. After consecutive 5-7 seasons in 2016 and 2017, the Golden Bears turned a defense that was one of the nation’s worst in 2017 into a Top 15 unit in 2018. If the defense, led by a secondary that returns all four starters, can hold that level of play the Bears should go bowling again. The offense, which scored 15 or fewer points in six games, will need to get better for them to move up in the standings. If QB Chase Garbers, who won the job as a freshman, can hold off UCLA transfer Devon Modster and Michigan transfer Kekoa Crawford can become the big play threat on the outside that they need, who knows?
If everything goes right – The Bears improve offensively and manage to equal last year’s regular season. The defense is just as stout as last year and they give the team a place to hang their hat.
If everything goes wrong – The offense regresses and the defense can’t reprise last season’s turnaround leading to a “lost” season, a tougher schedule won’t help things either.
Prediction – I only see 3 “for sure” wins on the schedule (UC-Davis, North Texas, Oregon State), with a couple of “maybe”s. I think the Bears have a worse season than last year, but are a tough out and make someone (Oregon?) sweat out the last minutes of a game.
Oregon State – 2-10 (1-8) – Usually if a team wins twice as many games from one year to the next, they are approaching 10 wins, at the very least, a bowl game. For Oregon State, it meant they won two games. In a season that started off bad (giving up 77 to Ohio State) and got worse (allowing 48 points or more six times), the Beavers, stay with me, may have improved. Returning all of their skill positions on offense, they may be on the right path… if the defense can get better. After a season that saw the Beavers sporting the second worst defense in FBS, the back seven on defense should be improved thanks to Nebraska transfer Avery Roberts and a healthy David Morris (So-S).
If everything goes right – Oregon State see their win total double again to four. The defense makes a leap, stops playing like a doormat, and the offense puts some pressure on teams.
If everything goes wrong – How much more “wrong” can it get for Oregon State? They go winless? This is a team that has only averaged 3 wins a year over the last five.
Prediction - Coach Jonathan Smith is the guy who wants this job, and that’s something not many coaches would say about Oregon State. Give him some time, let him recruit, and he’ll have the Beavers back on top in a bowl game in a few years.