2020 Players to watch in the PAC-12
The PAC-12 lost several of last year's quarterbacks to the NFL/graduation. With so many new signal callers, there should be a great benefit to the few returning starters and experienced transfers. 3 of the top 5 QBs in terms of passing yards return (UCLA's Dorian Thompson-Robinson, USC's Kedon Slovis, and Arizona State's Jayden Daniels). Slovis gets the most national publicity out of the three, but the other two were highly recruited and possess the dual-threat ability we're seeing emerge in today's QBs. Stanford lost K.J. Costello via the transfer portal and will likely replace him with Davis Mills. Mills started 6 games for the Cardinal in 2019. Utah lost Tyler Huntley to graduation and brings in an experienced replacement. Jake Bentley enters the fold as a graduate transfer from South Carolina after an injury-filled 2019. He ranks highly in several career QB marks in Gamecock history and will make a great addition for the Utes. Boston College transfer Anthony Brown is the most likely candidate to replace Justin Herbert at Oregon.
Oregon returns 1000-yard-rusher C.J. Verdell along with 600-yard-rusher Travis Dye. Washington State's Max Borghi is a threat to eclipse the 1000 yard mark and is a great asset in the passing game. It will be interesting to see what his role is after the departure of head coach Mike Leach. Colorado brings back the tandem on Alex Fontenot and Jared Mangham, who combined for over 1200 yards in 2019. Cal's Christopher Brown Jr. also returns after finishing 6th in the conference in rushing yards. Other running backs to keep an eye on are Oregon State's Jermar Jefferson, USC's Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr, and UCLA's Demetric Felton.
Even after losing stars like Michael Pittman Jr, the Pac-12 still has some talented receivers. Pittman's former teammates at USC, Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown, are both back after stellar seasons. They are joined by highly rated recruit Bru McCoy, who has had an unconventional recruiting path. Oregon returns an excellent duo in Mycah Pittman and Jaylen Redd. Colorado's 2nd leading receiver KD Nixon is also returning. Frank Darby assumes the number 1 receiver role for Arizona State, replacing Brandon Aiyuk. Utah's Britain Covey has been a difference maker and will be attempting to make his 3rd all conference team. Others who could break out include Washington State's Davontavean Martin and Renard Bell, Cal's Kekoa Crawford, and Stanford's Osiris St. Brown.
Most of the good tight ends from this conference have moved on. The best remaining is Utah's Brant Kuithe. Kuithe earned All-Conference and All-American honors last season while being the team's leading receiver. Washington's Cade Otton is on several preseason award watch lists and will have more opportunities with Hunter Bryant departing for the NFL.
There are a few returning offensive linemen I should mention. Oregon tackle Penei Sewell is regarded as one of the best in the country and could possibly be the first one off the board in the 2021 NFL Draft. Stanford's Walker Little could also be a high selection, although the reports on him have much more variation. The Cardinal will also bring back All-Pac12 performer Drew Dalman along the o-line. Washington State's Abe Lucas and USC's Alijah Vera-Tucker are also back after All-Conference seasons.
The defensive line is highlighted by Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux, who burst onto the scene last year and won just about every award imaginable as a freshman. The Ducks also have a good DT in Jordon Scott. USC returns two All-Conference defensive linemen in Jay Tufele and Drake Jackson. They also have a productive senior in Brandon Pili. Washington returns 3 All-Conference performers from a year a go: DE Joe Tryon and DTs Ryan Bowman and Levi Onwuzurike. The Huskies will also see more of Tuli Letuligasenoa. Plenty of eyes will be on Utah, as they try to replace 4 All-Conference players on the d-line. Mufi Hill-Hunt, Maxs Tupai, and Mika Tafua will be relied on heavily. At UCLA, the d-line will lean on Osa Odighizuwa and Otito Ogbonnia. Also watch Colorado's Mustafa Johnson and Stanford's Dalyn Wade-Perry and Thomas Booker.
Not deep, but there is some good talent in this conference. Oregon State's Hamilcar Rashed has earned All- American honors as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker with a great pass rushing ability. He earned 2nd team All-Conference last year. Colorado gets back 1st team All-Conference linebacker Nate Landman. Landman had the 4th most tackles in the conference. Washington State's Jahad Woods is the leading returning tackler. Arizona State has a pair of Linebackers worth watching in Darien Butler and Merlin Robertson. Also watch Stanford's Jordan Fox, USC's Palaie Gaoteote, and Utah's Devin Lloyd.
Stanford's Paulson Adebo and Washington's Elijah Molden return after earning 1st team All-Conference in 2019, as do 2nd teamers Cam Byrum (Cal) and Talanoa Hufanga (USC). Molden is joined by Keith Taylor in the Huskies secondary. Another duo to watch is Oregon's Thomas Graham and Deommodore Lenoir, who each earned honorable mention from the conference last year. The Ducks also have Brady Breeze and Jevon Holland as safeties, making a good argument for the conference's best secondary group. Arizona State's secondary set a school record for pass break ups and returns CB Chase Lucas and S Aashari Crosswell. Also look out for Stanford's Malik Antoine, Colorado's Derrion Rakestraw, and UCLA's Quentin Lake.