In most years the Pac-12 feels like the forgotten conference due to limited coverage and the lack of an elite team but they have been in the headlines to start this off-season. Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma to become the head coach at USC while Mario Cristobal left Oregon for South Beach. Washington and Washington State also fired their coaches but for very different reasons. Utah made their first Rose Bowl appearance while schools like UCLA and Oregon State made significant improvements to become bowl eligible. 2022 will be a big year for the Pac-12 in terms of national perception.
How will Lincoln Riley Fare in Year 1? – One of the most surprising hires of the offseason was Lincoln Riley taking the USC job. Most fans across college football expected Lincoln Riley to be at Oklahoma long term or look at the NFL. Riley should be in position to find immediate success at USC because the Trojans do have talent on the team. USC signed five star defensive lineman, Korey Foreman, in the 2020 class who should be in line for a larger role this fall. Jaxson Dart is in line to start at quarterback this fall after Kedon Slovis transferred to Pitt. Caleb Williams is also in the transfer portal and could look to join Riley at USC. Tahj Washington and Gary Bryant Jr should provide the next quarterback reliable options at wide receiver. USC may not win the Pac-12 next fall but a minimum of eight wins should be the expectation.
Who Will Take Control of the North? – The Pac-12 North saw three different schools change their head coaches this fall. Oregon hired Dan Lanning who will be tasked with keeping the Ducks at a high level. Washington State had one of the strangest seasons after firing Nick Rolovich midseason due to his vaccination status but they finished 7-6. The Cougars stomped arch-rival Washington and played close games against Oregon, Utah, and BYU. New coach Dickert will look to build off success from Jayden De Laura after he threw for 23 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. Washington hired Kalen DeBoer who will be looking to bring the offense to life. The Huskies have struggled to find consistency in their offense under Jimmy Lake. Stanford has been down over the past few years but David Shaw has been one of the better coaches over the past decade. Can Shaw help Stanford regain their form from a few years ago. Oregon State made their first bowl game since 2013 and appear to be a program on the rise. Cal also extended Justin Wilcox after he flirted with the idea of the Oregon job. The Ducks will likely be the favorite to win the Pac-12 North but the division is open for the taking.
Can Dan Lanning Keep Oregon on its Current Trajectory? – The Oregon Ducks are surprisingly on their fifth coach since the start of the 2009 season. The Ducks only have one losing season in that time frame while winning at least 10 games in eight different seasons. Oregon has also participated in two national championship games. The Ducks have become a consistent participant in the Pac-12 championship and Lanning will be expected to continue the trend. Oregon is loaded with talent on the defensive side of the ball headlined by Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe. The biggest question for Lanning will be the quarterback position. Bo Nix transferred from Auburn to Oregon and he will compete with Ty Thompson to start this fall. Nix struggled at times during his career at Auburn but he is the most experienced quarterback on the roster. Thompson has only attempted 15 passes in his career for a total of 87 yards. The Ducks offense could see a major boost if C.J. Verdell returns to lead the rushing attack.
Does Arizona State put Herm Edwards on the Hot Seat? – In November Arizona State announced Herm Edwards would return for the 2022 season. The Sun Devils have been the source of an NCAA investigation which includes hosting recruits during the dead period and illegal contact of recruits. Arizona State placed three staff members on administrative leave prior to the season. On top of the NCAA investigation, the Sun Devils have underwhelmed over the past two seasons. Arizona State was expected to compete for the Pac-12 South title and they finished 8-4 in the regular season. Jayden Daniels will be entering his fourth season as the Sun Devils quarterback and his development has been lackluster. One more down season for Herm Edwards and Arizona State could be looking to find a new head coach. The Sun Devils travel to Oklahoma State in week 2 next season which could set the tone for the season early.
Will Utah Repeat at Pac-12 Champions? – Utah won the Pac-12 and made their first appearance in the Rose Bowl after an underwhelming start to the 2021 season. Cameron Rising has one of the most underrated quarterback performances of the season finishing with 20 touchdowns to only six interceptions. Rising showed the ability to use his legs after he rushed for 488 yards and six touchdowns. The Utes had one of the best rushing attacks in the country led by Tavion Thomas, T.J. Pledger, and Micah Bernard. All three running backs are eligible for the NFL draft which may result in at least one of the running backs departing. The Utes also lose Devin Lloyd from their defense who tallied four interceptions, seven sacks and 22 tackles for loss. Replacing Lloyd’s production will be vital to Utah’s success on defense in 2022. Utah will likely be favored to win the Pac-12 once again and as long as Kyle Whittingham is their coach, they will likely contend for the title.