Last week, I summarized UW’s tumultuous off-season so far and determined that things are looking up from the depths into which the program plunged in the last year. Today, let’s look around the rest of the Pacific Northwest teams in the Pac-12 to see where the rest of the division is trending over the winter so far.
The Cougs have had an offseason of almost as much upheaval as their cross-state rivals. Like the Dawgs, they probably didn’t see this much change coming at the start of the season. WSU preserved some measure of continuity by retaining interim coach Jake Dickert, who was the previous DC. Dickert went 3-3 after taking over the team, including an impressive road win against Arizona State and a disappointing loss to Central Michigan in the Sun Bowl. Dickert only coached above FCS for three years (two as a safeties coach at Wyoming and the third as the Cowboys’ DC) before joining WSU in 2020. He appears competent, but there are many unknowns. Dickert was able to build out his own staff this winter. He started with Brian Ward as the DC. Ward led a below-average unit at Nevada, but he does have four years as the Syracuse DC under his belt. Dickert also preserved the Air Raid tradition with Eric Morris as the OC. Morris most recently excelled as the HC at FCS Incarnate Word. Previously, he played for Mike Leach at TTU and served as TTU OC for five seasons.
On the field, the offense will have plenty of personnel changes. Max Borghi is gone to the NFL and Deon McIntosh remains up in the air after missing the Sun Bowl. The Cougs’ top two offensive linemen (Abraham Lucas and Cade Beresford) are gone to the NFL and a transfer, respectively. Starting QB Jayden de Laura is Tucson-bound and Cameron Ward will follow Morris from Incarnate Word to Pullman at QB. Ward threw more TDs, but most of his per-play stats looked similar to what de Laura did last year. The defense was inconsistent in 2021 and it’s hard to see the former Ward reversing that trend immediately, especially with a mediocre incoming recruiting class (10th in the Pac). Two transfers from Nevada and another from Virginia could help on that side. Altogether, it’s a team that went 8-8 over the last two seasons and opted to preserve continuity of that system. Another season around .500 looks probable unless Ward proves to be significantly more dynamic than the combination of de Laura and Borghi.
Market Status – Holding steady (+20,000 to win National Championship. For reference, Alabama has the best odds at +225)
The vibes are good in Corvallis coming off a rare winning season in conference play and returning most of the key coaches and players. Still, the Beavers probably feel like there was meat left on the bone with losses against inferior Cal and Colorado teams and a bowl letdown against Utah State. Chance Nolan returns after establishing himself as the starting QB, plus the formidable backfield of BJ Baylor, Deshaun Fenwick, and Trey Lowe should all return. Jonathan Smith has made strides by nabbing big time players in the transfer portal, though the Beavers haven’t locked down anyone in that venue this winter. The offense remains well ahead of the defense. OSU will hope that the focus on defense in a fairly large recruiting class (6th in the Pac, but more because of volume than individual quality) will help turn the tide. Any immediate progress will require development from returning players.
Market Status – Holding Steady (+30,000)
We have covered the Huskies and the Cougars, so let’s talk about the third team who has undergone fundamental upheaval since the end of the season. Since right around the time Mario Cristobal took over at Oregon, college football insiders whispered about the possibility that he could leave for Miami if the job opened at the right time. Cristobal was undeniably successful at Oregon. He went 35-13 and 23-9 in conference. He technically won the conference twice (the 2020 banner will fly forever, but let’s be serious). The 2019 Rose Bowl victory and #5 postseason ranking were the high-water mark. On the other hand, it often felt like the Ducks were more sizzle than steak during his tenure. Failing to finish in the top 20 in his other three full seasons supports that feeling.
To replace Cristobal, the Ducks swung for the fences. Dan Lanning has only been an on-field coach for six year, but he won big as the DC for the National Champions in 2021. Georgia’s defense was phenomenal under his leadership, but he has never been a head coach and UW learned the hard way how steep the coordinator-to-head coach learning curve can be. Lanning brings with him Kenny Dillingham from Florida State. Dillingham is a 31-year old from Arizona who has learned under Mike Norvell. Dillingham spent a year at Auburn and got the best out of Bo Nix, who will likely start the season under center for the Ducks. His FSU tenure was not highly successful, but he has a reputation as a very strong recruiter. Matt Powledge and the familiar Tosh Lupoi will co-coordinate the defense, two more hires that seem aimed more at recruiting than on-field development.
Oregon has also seen significant talent movement in its players. OT Kingsley Suamataia headlines the outgoing group as a BYU commit. Mycah Pittman, Travis Dye Sean Dollars, and others are either in the portal or have committed elsewhere. In addition to Nix, the Ducks have added Sam Taimani and Colorado S Christian Gonzalez. A recruiting class that looked destined to lead the conference has been obliterated. Oregon has 15 decommits and 10 signed players. Only one signee is on the offensive side of the ball.
Market Status – Stock down. Phil Knight is trying to hire a national championship coach. The ceiling might be higher than it was under Cristobal and Joe Moorhead, but given the lack of experience, the odds of meeting that potential appear longer. (+4,000)