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30-Day Countdown: Day 28 - Pac-12 OPOY

Who are the leading candidates to take home the hardware on the offensive side of the ball?

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Southern California vs Iowa Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Day 28 as we take a look around the Pac-12 this weekend to get a sense for who the most likely candidates are to win the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year award in 2020. Unlike the Heisman, this isn’t automatically given to the best quarterback on the best team. Last season Zack Moss for Utah won the award after compiling 1,416 rushing yards and 15 TDs on the ground. In the past 30 years there have been only 3 WRs to bring home the honor (including UW’s Mario Bailey in 1991) but otherwise it’s a reasonable split between quarterbacks and running backs.

Only 1 of the 5 leaders in both passing and rushing yards are back from last year which means the eventual winner could come out of nowhere. Let’s look at some of the candidates.

QB Kedon Slovis- USC

Slovis wasn’t expected to see the field last year after J.T Daniels started in the opener against Fresno State and promptly tore his ACL, ceding the job to Slovis. Kedon responded by putting up huge numbers against Stanford but ended up having an up and down year finishing with 3,502 passing yards (2nd in Pac-12), 30 passing TDs (3rd), and 9 interceptions (5th most). He particularly struggled in losses against BYU and Oregon with 3 picks in each of those games.

Despite some of those issues, Slovis has to be viewed as a potential favorite. The top two returners in the Pac-12 in receiving yards from last year are both at USC and that firepower plus frontrunner status in the South division will give him a boost (St. Brown and Vaughns likely cancel each other out from having a chance as his receivers). A fully healthy season (he missed the UW game due to injury) would seemingly put him in a good spot.

RB C.J Verdell- Oregon

Slovis was the top returning passer in the Pac-12 and Verdell gets on this list by being the leading rusher coming back. Last year he led Oregon with over 1,300 yards from scrimmage and had 8 total TDs. He’s also the only QB/RB/WR from the conference’s 1st or 2nd team last year who is returning. I’m somewhat skeptical though. Verdell only had 2 games last season with more than 18 carries. He absolutely dominated Utah and Washington State (465 yards and 6 TDs) but also had 4 games where he averaged under 4.0 yards per carry. He has to be on the list but if Oregon spreads out their carries among their running backs like they did last year then he may not get enough playing time.

RB Max Borghi- Washington State

The caveat of course for Borghi is that he’s getting a new coach with a new offensive system that won’t feature him so prominently as a pass catcher. Still, last year Borghi finished with 817 yards with 11 TDs on the ground and another 597 yards and 5 TDs through the air. Plus he tied for the 2nd most receptions in the conference. Put it all together and that’s more yards from scrimmage or TDs than Verdell. If you have a weapon like Borghi in the passing game then you make sure he gets touches through the air and I expect we’ll still plenty of dump-offs to Borghi in Pullman. And by some strange coincidence, a dump-off is exactly the kind of competition you would expect Pullman to win.

QB- Jayden Daniels- Arizona State

Slovis is the leading returning passer in the conference but Daniels is #2 as another true sophomore. As of right now the Sun Devils are my pick for the Pac-12 South champs and a win over USC in the season opener would flip the script from a Slovis-centric view in the voters’ minds. Outside of an absolutely abysmal showing against Utah (4/18 for 25 yards and an INT, blech) he was incredibly efficient. Daniels threw for nearly 3,000 yards (8.7 YPA) and a 17/2 TD/INT ratio as a true freshman. He lost Brandon Aiyuk and Eno Benjamin as weapons but the Sun Devils have brought in a lot of offensive talent in recent classes and Daniels looks like a special talent himself.

Bay Area Quarterback (QB Davis Mills- Stanford, QB Ethan Garbers- California)

Ok, I’m cheating here. You got me. I couldn’t decide between Garbers and Mills for the last spot. The Golden Bears went 7-0 in the games in which Garbers threw more than 10 pass attempts in 2019. However, the raw numbers don’t exactly scream player of the year. If you pro-rate those 7 games to account for a 13-game normal season then he would’ve had 3,012 rushing yards, 24 TDs to 5 INTs, and another 420 yards on the ground. Those are good stats but they’re nowhere close to what you generally need from someone who can win OPOY.

Meanwhile, Mills also played a partial season but has a stronger pedigree and put up better numbers in his limited season. The big difference is the Cardinal were just 2-4 in the 6 full games he played. Still, pro-rate those 6 games into a full 13 game season and it comes out to almost 4,000 yards with 24 TDs (and 11 INTs). Stanford has to play the 3 Pac-12 North favorites all on the road and if they were to go 2-1 with some monster games for Mills then he’d have a serious chance.

Other potential candidates:

TE Brant Kuithe- Utah

WR Amon-Ra St. Brown- USC

WR Tyler Vaughns- USC


Who will win Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year?

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    QB Kedon Slovis- USC
    (67 votes)
  • 6%
    RB C.J Verdell- Oregon
    (19 votes)
  • 4%
    RB Max Borghi- Washington State
    (13 votes)
  • 21%
    QB Jayden Daniels- Arizona State
    (65 votes)
  • 0%
    QB Davis MIlls- Stanford
    (1 vote)
  • 8%
    QB Chase Garbers- California
    (24 votes)
  • 37%
    (111 votes)
300 votes total Vote Now

My Pick: Other

This just feels a like a year where someone comes out of nowhere to win the award a la Gardner Minshew a few years ago. There are a lot of new QBs starting in the conference and in a year with so few total games I could see someone we aren’t expecting play out of his mind for a few games without the opportunity to show that was a mirage.

Since this is a Husky website I should point out that it wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world for a UW player to win this award. But the reality is we don’t know for sure who the starting running back or starting quarterback are going to be and there’s a new head coach and offensive coordinator. Maybe a Husky has a superlative season but there’s a whole lot of extra information we need before pinpointing a specific guy.