“Unpack the Pac Offseason Edition” is a column by Jacob Hare that discusses offseason football news in the Pac-12 conference.
The last season in the Pac-12 was one that no one expected. Between USC shattering expectations in year one of the Lincoln Riley era and barely missing the college football playoffs, Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and Oregon quarterback Bo Nix’s out-of-nowhere career resurrections and many other crazy events, the Pac-12 season was one for the ages. It took a lot of work to predict any top storylines in the Pac-12 last season, but despite that, I will do my best to give my bold takes for next season. I would love to see these receipts in my Twitter mentions next season, but hopefully, I can handle myself. So here are my three bold takes for next season.
3. Deion Sanders and Colorado finish with a winning record and play in a bowl game.
When you go 1-11, you can only go up from that point. Deion Sanders will shatter expectations in his first year at Colorado. The team will be better than .500 and will make an appearance in a bowl game. Sanders was at Jackson State the previous three seasons and won his conference the past two years. He had a record of 27-6 and was also the Southwestern Athletic Conference Coach of the Year the previous two years. Coach Prime knows how to win at every level, and he will excel as a coach at Colorado. It also helps that his son Shedur Sanders is coming over from Jackson State to play quarterback and has already generated some Heisman buzz. Yes, his presence on social media, as he has a million followers on Instagram, makes him create more buzz than he probably should. However, he is an absolute stud with enough talent to succeed at Colorado. In addition to his son, Coach Prime is also getting the 2022 No. 1 overall recruit Travis Hunter to follow him from Jackson State. Hunter is a rare talent as he plays both wide receiver and cornerback. Sanders turned him into one of the best players in the FCS as a freshman, and he should soar in year two. Despite being a sophomore, Hunter may be the best cornerback in the Pac-12 next season, and a shutdown corner at the college level is a rare yet treasured piece to a winning formula. It also helps that they have the number one cornerback in the 2023 class, Cormani McClain, playing alongside Hunter this season. Colorado still has a lot of work to do, but I believe that Sanders will find a way to win and put Colorado back on the map in 2023.
2. Oregon State has a disappointing season and fails to reach a bowl game.
No matter what I say for the rest of this article, I know this will be the take that fans are the most upset over. Look, I get it. Oregon State had a great season last year and shocked the whole country when they ended the season 10-3 with a bowl win over Florida. However, they have transfer quarterback DJ Uiagalelei coming over from Clemson, and he is expected to be the starter for the beavers next year. If you watched Uiagalelei at Clemson, you witnessed his extremely inconsistent play for the past two seasons. Uiagalelei had the perfect system around him at Clemson: one of the most incredible head coaches ever alongside a great defense and solid weapons. And he couldn’t find a way to keep his job. I don’t see how he can rebound at Oregon State, which is coming off its first bowl win since 2013. I could be wrong; Uiagalelei could be an absolute star at Oregon State, and Clemson just wasn’t the right fit. However, I don’t see what Oregon State can offer that Clemson couldn’t give him. If you are looking to fix a struggling quarterback, who would you instead work with? Dabo Swinney, who has produced Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence, or Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith, who doesn’t have a track record of anything close to Swinney? Uiagalelei needs to gain the talent to be successful at the college level.
1. USC wins the Pac-12 and wins a playoff game.
As long as USC can secure a few more starters on defense, the sky is the limit for the Trojans. Heisman-winning quarterback Caleb Williams is returning, and USC has many more weapons returning. While they do lose running back Travis Dye and wide receiver Jordan Addison, they have brought in wide receiver Dorian Singer and running back Marshawn Lloyd to replace them. Singer led the Pac-12 in receiving last year with 1,105 yards for Arizona, while Lloyd had nine rushing touchdowns for South Carolina last year. Dye and Addison were critical pieces of last year’s offense, but I am confident these two guys can replace their production. And for defense, while USC is losing defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu and cornerback Mehki Blackmon to the NFL draft, they have added defensive lineman Anthony Lucas from Texas A&M and defensive lineman Jack Sullivan from Purdue. I don’t know if they can replicate or be anything close to Tuipulotu, who led the FBS in sacks with 13.5 sacks, but I am expecting former top-3 overall recruit Korey Foreman to make huge strides and anchor the USC defense. USC should cruise through the Pac-12, and I firmly believe they are in the top three teams that can win the next national championship next season.
“Unpack, the Pac Offseason Edition” runs every Wednesday.