Since the start of the College Football Playoff in the 2014-15 season, the Pac-12 conference has been a participant just twice. Oregon won the first ever College Football Playoff game with a 59-20 thrashing of Florida State in the 2015 Rose Bowl. Two years later, the Washington Huskies faced Alabama in the No. 1 vs No. 4 match-up, but lost 24-7 in a game which wasn’t all that competitive.
It’s now been two seasons without a Pac-12 school in the playoff. Will the 2019-20 season bring an end to the Pac-12’s recent mediocrity? Which Pac-12 teams have the best shot to reach the playoff this season? Here are my thoughts on the three Pac-12 teams with the best chance to make the 2020 CFP.
I’m very high on the Utes this upcoming season. They have the best defensive line and secondary in the conference, a manageable schedule and return their injured offensive stars. The defense might just be one of the best and most experienced in the country — eight of 11 defensive starters are seniors, remaining three are juniors. Additionally, the Utes don’t have to play Stanford or Oregon and play just five road games (at BYU, at USC, at Oregon State, at Washington and at Arizona). The home game lineup doesn’t pose much of a threat either with contests against Northern Illinois, Idaho State, Washington State, Arizona State, Cal, UCLA and Colorado. The potential of this squad will come down to the offensive backfield. If quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss remain healthy and consistent, watch out for the Utes this season.
The Huskies have had a knack for stockpiling talent over the last few seasons helping ease the transition of roster changes. While the loss of several key defensive players calls for a worsened defense, UW has often exceeded expectations as of late. Georgia transfer Jacob Eason is the expected replacement to four-year starter Jake Browning. Despite practice reports indicating lackluster performances from Eason and the offense, an early-season stretch of games against Eastern Washington, Cal, Hawaii and BYU gives the offense time to figure things out — something they’ll have to do quickly before a tough middle-of-season schedule (USC, at Stanford, at Arizona, Oregon). This Washington team isn’t elite, but displays no major roster weaknesses and has a more balanced offense than they ever had with Browning behind center. If Eason can be all that he is chalked up to be, the Huskies could find their way back into the College Football Playoff.
It’s pretty simple for the Ducks — live up to expectations and this could be a pretty special season. Justin Herbert — an expected top-five 2020 NFL draft pick — returns for his senior season to lead an offense which should be improved. The offensive line returns all five starters and has been tabbed as one of the best in the nation. Despite losing receiver Dillon Mitchell, the receiver unit should be improved with talented true freshman thrown into the mix in addition to Penn State transfer Juwan Johnson. The running back group adds experience and depth. The offense has no excuses and should be the best in the Pac-12. The defense loses several key starters, but the best signed recruiting class in school history will help supplement the losses. What stands in Oregon’s way? Inconsistency and the schedule. At times last season, the Ducks looked unstoppable. Then there were moments where they couldn’t move the ball and the defense couldn’t get a stop. Consistency has always been the key to making a run to the CFP. The schedule is one of the most difficult in the country as well. The Ducks play Auburn to start the season and play road games at Stanford, Washington, USC and Arizona State. If Oregon beats Auburn, they’ll most likely be able to afford a loss in conference. But if the Ducks start the season 0-1, they’ll have to run the table in the Pac-12 to have a chance at the playoff.