2023 NCAAF: Pac-12 Conference Preview

August 26, 2023


In one year’s time, the Pac-12 Conference will not look anything like it does today. Off to the Big Ten will be the league’s historic moneymakers Southern Cal and UCLA, an indication that nationally situated super-conferences are no longer something far out on the horizon, but a reality of the near present. Following suit, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah will join the ranks of the Big 12.

In the league’s final days of national relevance, several teams look poised to contend for a CFP berth, something that has more or less alluded the conference (with the exception of Washington in 2016). This hasn’t been due to quality, but rather the cruel act of cannibalism in which evenly matched programs have effectively taken each other out of contention due to what would otherwise be lauded as incredibly balanced competition across the conference.

This season, the stage is set for the same thing to happen. The conference appears fairly even split between the haves and the have-nots, with any of the haves capable of running the table and setting itself up for assured CFP inclusion.

Time will tell if we see the same old story, or the final chapter of the Pac-12 as we know it penned with an intriguing twist.

Teams I Like


The Huskies were much closer than many people realize to running the table in the Pac-12 last season as they avoided a date with Southern Cal. In 2023, no such luck with regards to missing the Trojans exists, but Washington is set up to engage in an epic matchup with whomever emerges as a title contender in the Conference of Champions.

The offense should again be one of the most potent in the country behind Michael Penix Jr. and a dangerous cast of receivers, and defensively a slight improvement against the pass will go a long way. The Huskies have College Football Playoff potential written all over them if they can navigate a tough conference slate that sees them traveling to both Southern Cal and Oregon State in November.

Oregon State

Possibly the biggest surprise amongst Power 5 conference teams last season, the Beavers look to run it back in 2023 in terms of a double-digit win campaign and possibly more (think: conference title). The cause for heavy optimism: Oregon State landed former Clemson quarterback DJ Ulagalelei to orchestrate an offense that seemingly only needed a decent passing game to be one of the most balanced in the country in 2022.

If Ulagalelei can soften up defensive fronts with his skills, the Beavers should be even more dangerous on the ground than they were a year ago. This type of offensive balance should allow for the defense to find its footing as it replaces key pieces at linebacker and in the secondary.


The maturation of Bo Nix in 2022 was tremendous, though somewhat overlooked due to the talent elsewhere in the conference. How well Nix builds on the success of last season will be interesting to watch, as former OC Kenny Dillingham has left for the head coaching job at Arizona State. Any regression will be detrimental to the Ducks’ conference title hopes, as the offensive line is being rebuilt and Nix will be leaned on quite heavily.

The end of the regular season isn’t quite the gauntlet in 2023 that Oregon faced last season, but instead that level of test has been moved up slightly. The Ducks travel to both Washington and Utah in October, a stretch that will likely define their season.

Not High On

Southern Cal

Yes, Caleb Williams is an extremely talented quarterback. Yes, the offense as a whole is full of extremely talented skill position players. Yes, Lincoln Riley is an extremely talented and innovative offensive mind. And yes, it feels like the Trojans will yet again come short of qualifying for the College Football Playoff in 2023.

Despite all the positives, Southern Cal is going to be placed in precarious positions throughout the season because of its porous defense. And for as talented as he is, Caleb Williams has shown instances of weak mental character when his team has its back against the wall. This has to change, because with games against Notre Dame, Utah, Washington and Oregon, there will be points where the Trojans will trail and need a true leader to step up.


The expectations aren’t nearly as high for the other team in Los Angeles, but it will still be difficult for the Bruins to reach their ceiling without massive improvements on the defensive side of the ball and immediate contributions from a bevy of unproven assets on the offensive side.

A step back in the passing game would not be a surprise with the loss of Dorian Thompson-Robinson to the NFL, and there just simply isn’t an avenue for Pac-12 teams to thrive in the conference without a weapon at the quarterback position.

Players to Watch

Caleb Williams, Southern Cal quarterback

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner will be looking to become just the second two-time winner of the award, and there’s optimism amongst both local and national outlets that he has the chops to do it. Playing in Lincoln Riley’s high-octane offense affords Williams an opportunity to post plenty of highlight reel worthy performances, which is really what the award is all about these days.

The potential things stopping a repeat? Perhaps his own attitude, and maybe a few players in his own conference that play the same position…

Michael Penix Jr., Washington quarterback

Speaking of Heisman contenders in the Pac-12 not named ‘Caleb’, the senior Penix Jr. decided to return to school to take care of some unfinished business; undoubtedly, he was speaking in regards to the postseason rather than individual accolades.

Penix Jr. is an incredibly polished passer and has the calm demeanor in the pocket to put the rest of his offense at ease in tense situations. He’ll have an array of talented wideouts to throw to, including fellow NFL prospect Rome Odunza, who racked up over 1,100 yards receiving in 2022. Topping the FBS in average passing yards per game for a second straight season is not out of the question.

Cameron Rising, Utah quarterback

An overused but apt description of Rising is that the senior signal-caller is quite simply, a ‘gamer’. He’s not the flashiest, most athletic or talked about quarterback in the conference, but he gets the job done time and time again and has the full support of his huddle. He’s also willing to put his body on the line.

Unfortunately, that last point has cost Rising a number of games over his career at Utah, which has hurt the Utes tremendously when he is absent. Hopefully the football gods will look favorably upon Rising and his health will not rob him of playing time in his final season in Salt Lake City.

Damien Martinez, Oregon State running back

The sophomore and reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year is not the only dynamic feature back in the conference, but he’s the only one that will enjoy all five starters from his offensive line returning for another season. Martinez is both strong and smart, and should benefit from the addition of DJ Uiagalelei behind center to soften up the middle of opposing defenses.

While Oregon State may be more apt to put the ball in the air this season, a 1,000 yard rushing campaign still seems well within reach for one of the Pac-12’s most talented underclassmen.

Games to Watch (Non-Conference)

Florida at Utah (August 31, 8 PM ET)

The Utes narrowly missed out on a victory in The Swamp to kick off last season, but will welcome the Gators to Rice-Eccles Stadium, one of the most hostile venues West of the Mississippi, for a rematch.

Wisconsin at Washington State (September 9, 7:30 PM ET)

The Cougars will employ an Air Raid attack that was brought by OC Ben Arbuckle from Western Kentucky, one of the most potent offenses in the country in 2022. It will be interesting to see how Luke Fickell’s defense handles it in Wisconsin’s first real test of the season.

Games to Watch (Conference)

Utah at Southern Cal (October 21, TBA time)

The Utes were the Achilles’ heel for Southern Call last season, ending all hopes of a CFP berth for the Trojans with a whipping in the Pac-12 title game after having beaten Lincoln Riley’s squad earlier in the year. Revenge will be on the minds of the men of Troy.

Oregon at Utah (October 28, TBA time)

Week two of a four week span in which Utah faces three preseason Top 25 foes takes place at the end of October.

Washington at Southern Cal (November 4, TBA time)

This game has all the makings of a Pac-12 title game preview, with both teams hoping to earn a CFP berth this year. This is also the type of game that can serve as a launch pad for a Heisman Trophy winner…

Washington at Oregon State (November 18, TBA time)

Yet another late season Pac-12 matchup that feels as though it will have title game implications. Oregon State took Washington to the wire in Seattle last season.

Oregon State at Oregon (November 24, 8:30 PM ET)

Hey, a confirmed start time! The rivalry formerly known as the Civil War had its fireworks last season, with Oregon State mounting an improbable comeback from 21-points down to stun the Ducks. We’re in for a treat if this year’s edition is anything like that.


  1. Washington (11-1, [8-1])
  2. Southern Cal (10-2, [8-1])
  3. Oregon State (10-2, [7-2])
  4. Utah (9-3, [6-3])
  5. Oregon (9-3, [6-3])
  6. Arizona (7-5, [5-4])
  7. UCLA (8-4, [5-4])
  8. Washington State (5-7, [4-5])
  9. Arizona State (4-8, [3-6])
  10. California (3-9, [1-8])
  11. Stanford (3-9, [1-8])
  12. Colorado (0-12, [0-9])

Conference Title Game

Southern Cal at Washington

Conference Champion: Washington

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