2020 Pac-12 football spring schedule, storylines and burning questions

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 02: USC Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis #9 throws the ball in the first quarter at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. (Photo by Scott Varley/MediaNews Group/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 02: USC Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis #9 throws the ball in the first quarter at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. (Photo by Scott Varley/MediaNews Group/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images) /

2020 will be a year of transition and change for many Pac-12 football teams but as spring practices get underway, hope comes from Oregon who may represent the best chance at snapping the conference’s playoff drought.

It’s spring practice time. The time of year when players on campus can start building a lead on incoming rivals. When depth charts start to form. When fans get to see what new early enrollees will lead their squad to the promised land in 2020. New systems are installed, as new coaches get a look at their squads. It’s a tantalizing glimpse into what could be.

The Pac-12 failed to put a team in the College Football Playoff in 2019, despite its Champion having a first-round quarterback leading the offense that was complemented by a suffocating defense. This month we will get our first look at what the 2020 season will look like. Here are some of the top stories during Spring Camp.

New quarterbacks take over for Pac-12 title teams

Gone are Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Utah’s Tyler Huntley, two of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football during the 2019 season. Now each defending division champion is left to sort among its depth charts for the next man up.

First, at Oregon, Tyler Shough, who saw some playing time in 2019 during mop-up duty, will need to fend off a red-shirt Freshman and early enrollee Freshman to hold onto the title of first-stringer going into the fall. All of these guys are huge since evidently Oregon prints quarterbacks taller than 6-foot-4

Then there is Utah, which has a pair of transfers duking it out for the number-one spot. First is Jake Bentley (why are so many quarterbacks named Jacob???), the talented transfer from South Carolina. Bentley lost his gig due to injury and is going head-to-head with Cameron Rising, a former Texas Longhorns quarterback. How quickly these quarterbacks fit in will set the stage for the rest of the Pac-12 season.

Does USC really have a quarterback competition?

In 2018, the Trojans started a true freshman at quarterback, former five-star recruit JT Daniels. In 2019, Daniels tore his ACL and Kedon Slovis jumped in to earn Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors. Oh, and a guy named Matt Fink is hanging out as a red-shirt Senior with live game experience. What a problem to have, one that will almost certainly work itself out by the end of 2020, with the loser of Daniels vs. Slovis hitting the transfer portal.

Daniels didn’t have nearly as successful a Freshman year as Slovis, which might give Slovis the edge right now. Especially with Daniels rehabbing his knee. But it seems more than a little unfair to penalize Daniels because Tee Martin is decidedly not Graham Harrell. Whoever doesn’t win the starting job in the spring could be entering the transfer portal. Daniels vs. Slovis might be the most impactful preseason quarterback battle. It could unleash a chain of events that alters the landscape of college football in the 2021 and 2022 seasons.

The Jimmy Lake Era is underway at Washington

In a move that was shocking to almost everyone in the college, Chris Petersen stepped down as head coach of the Washington Huskies and named his defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake his successor. While that will give the Huskies some semblance of continuity, that’s about all that’s staying the same.

There’s a new offensive coordinator leading a new quarterback on offense after Jacob Eason showed some flashes in 2019 but ultimately left a lot to be desired. The new OC is John Donovan, formerly of Penn State and most recently an assistant at Jacksonville (who wouldn’t want to hire away a Jacksonville assistant?) The defense should be stout, but this offensive install needs to go smoothly and Jacob Sirmon needs to get going quickly.

Colorado starts over, again

In 2016, the Buffs finished the season ranked in the top 20. Since then, they’ve been one of the most consistent teams in the country, except not in a good way. They rattled off three straight 5-7 seasons and are now on their third coach in three years. Who would have thought Mark Dantonio would be such an integral part of Colorado’s continuity?

After Mel Tucker, a less than exciting hire itself, left for Michigan State, the Buffs followed up with Karl Dorrell, who found some success at UCLA in the mid-2000s. And that’s a hire that’s…fine? Dorrell has experience wearing the headset, but if the Buffaloes are going to have any success this year (or even finish 5-7) they need stability. What can Dorrell do to get his team ready to finish 5-7 this spring?

Chip Kelly’s seat is as hot as Dorian Thompson-Robinson lets it get

It’s looking like a now or never season for Chip Kelly at the helm of the Bruins. And now with his incumbent quarterback has two years in the system. If Dorian Thompson-Robinson doesn’t make a leap this year, UCLA is set up for another disappointing season.

Sure, 2019 saw the Bruins let teams score at will on them. Who could forget that absurd game against Washington State? But Kelly is supposed to be the super genius who made Nick Foles look like a Hall of Famer. We haven’t seen that yet. If he gets Thompson-Robinson on the right track this spring, UCLA might just hang on to its coach.

Where is Oregon State heading?

On paper, 2019 might not look like a successful season for the Beavers, but when you consider expectations a 5-7 finish is nothing short of miraculous. The over-under for wins was 2.5! Now, in his third year as Head Coach, Jonathan Smith has to replace his quarterback. It looks like the guy is going to be Tristan Gebbia, a former Nebraska transfer who performed admirably well in the Civil War against Oregon.

Gebbia should get some valuable reps as the number one quarterback in the spring. That should be the start of a nice bridge from Oregon State’s surprising 2019 to a brighter future.

Life after Mike Leach at Washington State

After a disappointing 2019 season, Washington State saw its head coach bail to lead a middling SEC team destined to not win its division. Now is the dawn of Nick Rolovich‘s time at the helm, and this is probably a good fit. Rolovich had Hawaii humming, and Washington State feels kind of like the Hawaii of the Pac-12.

Either way, Rolovich’s run-and-shoot style may not be the perfect complement to Mike Leach’s system, but it’s not like it’s the triple option either. Rolovich and the Cougs will need to hit the ground running in Spring ball. His quarterbacks (none of which threw a pass for Washington State last year) need to get on the same page with their receivers quickly in this read-happy offense. Try to see which players transition smoothly to keep the offensive explosion on pace.

Pac-12 football spring practice starts, spring game

  • Arizona – March 2, April 4 – 8 p.m. – Pac-12 AZ
  • Arizona State – Feb. 24, March 28 – 10 p.m.- Pac-12 AZ
  • Colorado – TBA, April 25 – 3 p.m. – Pac-12 MTN
  • UCLA – March 3, April 18 – TBA – Pac-12 LA
  • USC – March 10, April 11 – 3 p.m. – Pac-12 LA
  • Utah- March 2, April 11 – 1 p.m. – Pac-12 MTN
  • California – March 4, April 11- TBA – Pac-12 Bay
  • Oregon – March 5, April 18 – 5 p.m. – Pac-12 Network
  • Oregon State – March 3, April 18 – 3 p.m. – Pac-12 OR
  • Stanford – Feb. 25, April 11 – 4 p.m. – Pac-12 LA
  • Washington – TBA, April 25 – 6 p.m. – Pac-12 WA
  • Washington State – March 27, Saturday, April 25 – 3 p.m. – Pac-12 WA

Next. Way-too-early 2020 rankings: 1-130. dark

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