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Looking back and looking ahead 2019 Pac-12 preseason: Oregon and Washington winning the off-season

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A new regular column looking back on what happened and what will happen in the Pac-12.

NCAA Football: Washington at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Replacing The Good, The Bad, and The Unknown, each week during the season, and periodically during the off-season, I am going to be putting out this column, looking back at what happened in the Pac-12, and what’s ahead.

Let’s look back at the 2019 off-season and the season that’s just a few weeks away now.

Washington and Chris Petersen are building a monster - We all know about Washington going to three-straight NY6 bowls and winning the Pac-12 two of the past three years, but this off-season has solidified that the Huskies are so close to reaching where they were at the peak of Don James era. They signed their best recruiting class since the James era for the second-straight season, are building another elite recruiting class for 2020, and sent eight players to the NFL in April. Plus, it looks like they might have an heir apparent for Petersen set up with defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake.

Oregon won the off-season - One of the big reasons Washington has to keep stepping up their game is their rival to the South is absolutely cooking. It started with Justin Herbert coming back for his senior season and then Troy Dye and some other standouts following his lead. The Ducks then roped in an elite recruiting class and are building another one.

Oh, and the media is mostly picking them to win the Pac-12. It’s been a good run for the Ducks since the Redbox Bowl ended.

USC in ruins - All is not well in Troy. The Trojans are just two seasons removed from back-to-back NY6 bowls and a Pac-12 championship, but the program feels like it’s on fire. The Trojans aren’t recruiting at USC level (even though getting Bru McCoy and Chris Steele back shows how strong their pull is in Southern California) and getting passed by Oregon and Washington, and no one is picking them to even win the South this season.

I know hiring Urban Meyer or some other big name when they almost-assuredly fire Clay Helton almost-assuredly very soon, but keep in mind, the big name hire who fixes everything at USC seems to have been talked about since Pete Carroll left for Seattle.

A conference in turmoil - The Pac-12 is kind of the USC of conferences right now. A borderline laughing stock that’s slipping down the hill of power in college football with a struggling leader who seems doomed. The conference closed another underwhelming season in 2018 and is projected to be even softer in 2019. The conference takes a back seat to the other four power conferences right now and there isn’t a whole lot of reasons to assume it’s going to turn it around any time soon.

A lack of a 2019 power - One of the most-concerning parts of looking at the Pac-12 in 2019 is the conference’s lack of a true power. Washington is rebuilding. Oregon has a lot to prove after underwhelming with an easy schedule, the same personnel and coach in 2018. USC is a disaster with a nightmare schedule. Stanford has to replace their bell cows on offense. Utah has yet to show they have the offense to become a Pac-12 champion. There’s a big hole at the top of the conference going into 2019.

West Coast exodus - The rest of the power conferences are raiding Pac-12 region recruiting talent. Power schools from out East have long recruited the fertile grounds of California and the other major markets out in Pac-12 country, but they’ve never been so successful in luring away top West Coast recruits. The conference is going to have a very hard time competing on an elite national level if they can’t find a way to better fight off programs like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and so on.

Looking Ahead

Utah’s step-by-step - It’s been a long, slow grind, but Kyle Whittingham has the Utes to where they are expected to win the Pac-12 in 2019. The Utes have climbed the ladder from Mountain West program who many thought couldn’t compete in the Pac-12, to perennial bowl team, to division champion, and now to the official preseason favorite.

Are the Utes ready to enter the season as a favorite, blow past a very weak South, and take down a North power in the Championship Game?

All eyes on Jacob Eason - Washington fans and the entire conference has chattered about the blue chip Georgia transfer since he announced he was heading back to his home state. Now it’s time for him to step in for the Huskies. Will he take the Huskies beyond what they could do with the physically-limited Jake Browning? Or, will he be rusty after sitting out for two seasons and be closer to the talented, but above average at best true freshman starter he was at Georgia in 2016?

Do we know Justin Herbert? The national media has pegged Herbert as a legit Heisman candidate and a first round pick at quarterback in 2020, if not the first pick overall, and the leader of the best team in the Pac-12. However, hardcore Pac-12 fans, many Oregon fans included, are skeptical. Herbert has been good, but not great in three years as a starter in Eugene, and while no one is questioning his NFL Draft potential, I think most of us wonder if he is anything but a solid starter for a decent team. Will be prove otherwise and put it all together in 2019?

Washington State lurks - The Cougars have been picked by literally no one to be a Pac-12 championship contender the past few seasons, yet they’ve almost won the North every year in recent history. The Cougars have to find a new starting quarterback again, but Mike Leach has shown the ability to do that time and time again. The Cougs could be a surprise Pac-12 power come October, yet again.

Stanford on the edge - David Shaw has been able to silence the doubters who always assume Stanford is going to slide back into the lower-middle of the conference once they have one “down year” over and over again. With that said, it certainly feels like their might be a downward transition taking place at Stanford, particularly because they’ve struggled so hard in recent seasons to maintain their mainstays - the offensive line and their defensive front. We might find out this year if Stanford is finally, and truly regressing back to their original form.