Position Groups with the Biggest Question Marks in the PAC-12 in 2022
Arizona State Wide Receiver
The Sun Devils lose their top four receivers from last year's squad now that Ricky Pearsall has transferred to Florida. To be fair, it was a rather modest passing attack, and that's putting it nicely. No one in the group had more than 580 yards and four touchdowns. The top returning player at the position is redshirt junior Andre Johnson, who has just over 200 yards in his young career. He is expected to be joined by former Vanderbilt wide receiver Cam Johnson and redshirt sophomore Elijhah Badger in the starting lineup. The rest of the group has had little to no impact on a college field.
Arizona State Defense
ASU is also getting gutted on the defensive side of the ball-- losing a number of defensive linemen like DJ Davidson and Jermayne Lole, middle linebacker Darien Butler, and both starting corners in Chase Lucas and Jack Jones. The good news is that versatile linebacker Merlin Robertson returns for a fifth year, and DT Nesta Jade Silvera has transferred from Miami after two years as a starter.
Oregon Running Back
The Ducks have had a steady line of star running backs come through the program, so there really is no reason to think they won't figure this one out quickly. However, there is a big hole here to start the season as leading rusher Travis Dye has transferred to USC and RB2 CJ Verdell is now in the NFL. The two were one of the top duos in the country and finished their Oregon careers ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, in program history in rushing yards. How can Oregon follow that?
Oregon Wide Receiver
The Oregon offense will also have to move on from five of its top eight receivers from a year ago. We'll have to see what kind of offense new head coach Dan Lanning wants to implement, but recent history with the Ducks has leaned toward the running game. Therefore, any holes here may be able to be masked. Troy Franklin and Kris Hutson return from last year's squad, and the group should get a jolt from UCLA transfer Chase Cota.
Oregon Defensive End
Kayvon Thibodeaux's presence on the front line will be difficult to imitate. The three-year starter burst onto the scene as one of the more potent pass-rushers in college football and was considered a candidate for the first overall pick in the NFL Draft for his entire career. He finished his time in Eugene with the seventh-most sacks in school history. His assumed replacement, DJ Johnson, has just three.
While flying under the radar due to the program's lack of success on the field, Chase Garbers quietly had one of the greatest careers (statistically) in Cal history. In 34 starts, he threw for over 6,500 yards with 50 touchdowns and 24 interceptions and finished among the program leaders in total offense, touchdown passes, and passing efficiency. Purdue transfer Jack Plummer will take the reins this year, and, while he's been impressive in spurts, he has yet to take firm control of a starting job at the collegiate level.
Cal Wide Receiver
Jeremiah Hunter is the only returning player to have caught more than 10 passes from Garbers. In some ways, starting basically from scratch like that can bring out the best in the players because they know there are jobs to be won. Someone will have to step up.
Colorado Wide Receiver
The addition of Baylor transfer RJ Sneed should help this group immensely. Sneed has more than 1,500 receiving yards in his career, and the Buffaloes' leading receiver last season was tight end Brady Russell. WR Brendan Rice also transferred from the program, which left Daniel Arias as the defacto WR1. Arias is a very capable player, but using him as a number one would have caused issues. Honestly, I still don't see a true WR1 in this receiving corps, but there are some players there to make it respectable.
Stanford Running Back
The Cardinal had a season to forget last year with a 3-9 record that included going 1-7 in conference play. During that time, the running game was absolutely brutal--with no one topping 500 yards. To make things worse, the top two rushers from that team have both transferred. In their place will be junior EJ Smith, son of NFL legend Emmitt Smith. EJ has had some solid production with the few touches he's had in his career, so we'll see if he can keep that going with an increased workload. The Stanford offense works best when it has a dominant back (Christian McCaffrey, Tyler Gaffney, Bryce Love, Toby Gerhart), and the 2022 team desperately needs to someone to emerge.
Stanford Defensive Line
The Stanford defense has to deal with the departures of OLB/DE Gabe Reid and DE/DT Thomas Booker on the front line. Both are massive losses, especially in pass-rushing. In their places will be freshman David Bailey and seldom used redshirt junior Stephen Herron.
Utah Wide Receiver
The tight ends do much of the work in the passing game, and the offense has both running back Tavion Thomas and quarterback Cameron Rising returning, so this might not be a huge issue. However, the big loss here is sixth-year senior Britain Covey, who was a savvy slot receiver and a game-changer as a punt returner. His speed will definitely be missed even though the returning players are more than capable of contributing to the offense.
Utah Offensive Line
The Utes were the top rushing team in the PAC-12 last season, and much of that can be attributed to stellar offensive line play. However, not everyone returns for 2022. Utah will have to replace three-time All-Conference lineman Nick Ford and one of last season's pleasant surprises, offensive tackle Bam Olaseni.
Washington State Running Back
Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh combined for over 1,400 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns last season, yet both were seniors and need to be replaced in 2022. Borghi, specifically, had an illustrious career with over 2,000 rushing yards, over 1,000 receiving yards, three All-Pac 12 selections, and the most total touchdowns in WSU history. Redshirt junior and former Wisconsin transfer Nakia Watson is now the most likely candidate to start in the backfield for the Cougars.