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Looking back & looking ahead regular season wrap: Oregon takes over the Pac-12

Looking back at the entire 2019 season in the Pac-12.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Conference Championship-Oregon vs Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Looking Back

Oregon’s season - I think many people saw the Ducks going 11-2, losing one conference game, losing a close one to Auburn, and beating Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game. I don’t think anyone saw it unfolding the way it did though. The Ducks played a long, almost throwback game, riding a lot of four-year starters who struggled early and eventually came into their own with their third head coach. It’s been a wild ride since the Ducks last won the conference, but they’re back on top in 2019.

Oregon as a program: strategy, effort, and scheme - There’s going to be endless talk about Justin Herbert, Penei Sewell, and Troy Dye, but the truth is the Ducks won the conference in the big and small picture because of the overall program’s dedication to winning, strategy, and in-game schemes. No athletic department in the Pac-12 pushes harder than Oregon. They went out and spent money on assistant hires and as a program they go harder in the recruiting and marketing games than anyone else.

It also carries over to the field. This Ducks team might be the fourth or fifth most talented team in the conference, yet they beat Stanford, USC, and Washington on the road and Utah on a neutral venue mainly because they play really hard. I’m also astounded with Oregon fans’ distaste for offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo. Despite a historically-high amount of hype for Oregon’s offensive line and Justin Herbert, the Ducks really struggled on offense a lot of the time and their staff found a way to scheme screen passes and alignments to give them ways to manufacture points when they really needed it.

Utah, close but no cigar, again - The Utes and Kyle Whittingham DEVELOP and they play tough and they’ve controlled the South while USC has been sleepwalking. Getting bashed by Oregon showed that the Utes still have a long way to go if they’re going to be a truly elite program. It shouldn’t take away from their overall season though. Unlike Oregon, they demolish lesser competition when they had the chance and seniors like Zack Moss, Tyler Huntley, Leki Fotu, Bradlee Anae, John Penisini, and Julian Blackmon put together the best season for Utah since they joined the Pac-12.

USC sleepwalking - Back to USC sleepwalking, they went 8-4 in a year where they easily could have gone 11-1, that’s how talented this program is. I think a lot of high school coaches could get this Trojan team to 8-4 with their schedule and the truth is, if Utah has to play Oregon in the regular season, this team probably wins the South. It was another underwhelming season for the Trojans and it’s really hard for this conference to be taken seriously as long as they are a middling program.

Washington & Chris Petersen resigning - Petersen shocked the college football world by resigning shortly after the Apple Cup. Looking back, the signs were there for a while and the Huskies as a team seemed to throw in the towel on this season from game two, losing to Cal at home.

Stanford in peril - Continuing our theme of Pac-12 powers not living up to their potential...Stanford went 4-8! The Cardinal have way too much talent to go 4-8, even with a very tough schedule. Many have just been waiting for the Cardinal to bottom out and it looks like it finally happened in 2019. The only question now is are they capable of getting back up or have we seen them officially regress to where they probably should be as a program in the grand scheme of things.

The Pac-12 still struggling - We’ll see how the conference does in bowl games, but the fact is the Pac-12 hasn’t sent a team to the CFP since 2016! And hasn’t even been close to sending a team any of those years either. USC and Washington being down this year was really damaging for the conference as Oregon was the only “traditional” power in the conference that was up. The Pac-12 sadly reminded me a lot of the MAC this year as almost every team could beat any team with a lot of 4-5-win teams and 7-8 win teams and then two top teams that grade out above that because they have a lot of seniors. Something needs to change sono or the Pac-12 will continue to be a middling power five conference.

Looking Ahead

Bowl season - The Pac-12 has taken its lump this season, but I have a feeling we’re finally set up for a solid bowl season. There’s only one team in a NY6 and they’re getting a team from a conference whose best team is going to the CFP. The South champ and recent CFP candidate faces a 7-5 in the Alamo Bowl and the Pac-12 team should be favored, or nearly favored in just about every game.

Underclassmen? It’s that time of year again. The Pac-12, North, and South was likely won this time last year when Justin Herbert, Zack Moss and players like Bradlee Anae and Troy Dye decided to return for his senior season. Who are those players this year who could push teams to titles who will have to decide on their future very soon? Keep an eye on Jacob Eason, Thomas Graham/Demmodore Lenoir, Austin Jackson, and Jaylon Johnson.

Rebuilding on the fly? Many, me included, thought there was a good chance that Washington would win the Pac-12 this year. They had good coaches, stability, and talented recent recruiting classes that were actually going to upgrade them from the senior stalwarts who were less raw talented than the youngsters? Well...that didn’t work out and now I’m hearing the same exact narrative from Oregon fans. Can the Ducks do what the Huskies couldn’t do this year and utilize their young talent to rebuild on the fly and immediately replace a massive amount of seniors? Utah as well, but to a less extent?