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Pac-12 North: Did They Stay or Did They Go?

Part 1 looking at which teams in the Pac-12 did the best job retaining talent from last season

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 12 Washington at Oregon Photo by Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’ve now passed the deadline for players to enter their names into the 2023 NFL Draft. We’ve also passed the deadline for players to enter the transfer portal until May. At this point we have a pretty good idea of what the rosters are going to look like for each team. It may be hard though to evaluate which teams lost more in comparison to others.

That’s where I’m here to help. I tried to come up with a way to evaluate the production for every roster in the Pac-12 last year and then checked to see whether they’re sticking around, graduating, entering the draft early, or transferring. There are definitely going to be a few players I missed somewhere across the conference in particular because determining who still has eligibility is a nightmare with the COVID mulligan plus potential extra injury redshirts.

Nonetheless. I took PFF’s offensive and defensive snaps totals for each team and looked at everyone that played more than 10 snaps. I also recorded their PFF grade from last season. For every player I multiplied their snaps played by their PFF grade and then adjusted so that the high score at each position was 100.0. Defensive linemen play a lot fewer snaps than cornerbacks for instance so I didn’t want to diminish an elite DL in that way.

Another note is that because this methodology is using snap counts, if you play in more games you’re going to have more snaps played. That means USC and Utah may be a little higher than the rest of the bowl-eligible teams who are a little higher than those that finished with fewer than 6 wins. But an extra game against a tough opponent in a bowl has the chance to bring down your PFF grade as well so I didn’t do any additional adjustments to account for the games played differentials.

It’s not the perfect system but it’s a reasonable way to judge overall production. The more you’re on the field and the better you play, the higher your production score. We’ll go through each old Pac-12 North (RIP) school to see how their production from last year got distributed.

California Golden Bears

Total 2022 Production Score: 1,746.4 (10th in Pac-12)

2023 Production Distribution: Early Entry- 0.0%, Graduated- 7.2%, Returning- 70.8%, Transfer- 22.0%

Biggest Losses: S Daniel Scott- 83.2 (Grad), WR J. Michael Sturdivant- 77.2 (Transfer), QB Jack Plummer- 68.7 (Transfer), OL Ben Coleman- 60.3 (Transfer), LB Femi Oladijo (Transfer)

Best Returners: LB Jackson Sirmon- 100.0, RB Jadyn Ott- 91.4, S Craig Woodson- 82.4, WR Jeremiah Hunter- 75.3, CB Jeremiah Earby- 61.2

This was a team without a lot of seniors last year for Cal which should’ve meant that 2023 would provide high expectations. Safety Daniel Scott was really the only essential piece that was for sure not going to be on next year’s team. However, Cal has lost a large chunk of their offense to the transfer portal so far. QB Jack Plummer ended up a one-year rental but his backup Kai Millner also left which decimated the depth chart. Gone as well are their top OL and WR with Ben Coleman and J. Michael Sturdivant (both to Pac-12 South schools).

The cupboard isn’t completely bare. Sirmon and Ott are building blocks on each side of the ball. The middle depth for Cal is mostly coming back. 21 of the 25 players who ranked between 10 and 34 in production are returning so a lot of the #2’s on the depth chart will provide reinforcements. That should help the Bears replace the few big pieces missing. It’s not a focus of this article but Cal has been active bringing in players from the portal to try to get by particularly at RB and CB.

In the end Cal returns the 3rd highest percentage of their overall production of any Pac-12 team. That’s a good foundation for Justin Wilcox to build on but he’s somehow got to get the offense functional with a new QB. We’ll see. The track record makes one skeptical.

Oregon Ducks

Total 2022 Production Score: 2,109.4 (3rd in Pac-12)

2023 Production Distribution: Early Entry- 6.4%, Graduated- 22.4%, Returning- 61.9%, Transfer- 9.4%

Biggest Losses: OL TJ Bass- 84.9 (Grad), OL Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu- 84.4 (Grad), CB Christian Gonzalez- 71.0 (Draft), OL Alex Forsyth- 70.4 (Grad), S Bennett Williams- 73.3 (Grad)

Best Returners: WR Troy Franklin- 90.9, QB Bo Nix- 85.7, Edge Brandon Dorlus- 80.6, RB Bucky Irving- 72.3, DL Casey Rogers- 67.9

There were a few losses to the draft for the Ducks particularly on defense. Starters CB Christian Gonzalez and LB Noah Sewell both declared and Gonzalez is expected to go in the 1st round. Overall though it was mostly good news for the Ducks. They are 6th in the Pac-12 in returning production percentage as most of the players making early entry decisions chose to come back. There have been a lot of absolute number of players that headed to the portal but none that ranked in the top-28 in production for them last year (2 of their top-3 tight ends and their 4th WR were the biggest losses there).

Where Oregon is hurting is along their offensive line where 4 of their starters from last year graduated on a unit that was right next to Washington as one of the best in the country. The Ducks brought in multiple experienced starters at that spot from the transfer portal to help make up for the losses but we’ll see how that unit gels.

Overall, Oregon lost 5 of their top-9 in production but the returners include their quarterback, top wide receiver, and top running back. The skill positions should be loaded for the Ducks which may help offset any regression from the new offensive line. The defensive front is also going to be a strength as the Ducks return 7 of their top-8 in production from the defensive tackle and edge rusher spots.

Oregon State Beavers

Total 2022 Production Score: 2,065.0 (5th in Pac-12)

2023 Production Distribution: Early Entry- 5.9%, Graduated- 23.6%, Returning- 65.2%, Transfer- 5.4%

Biggest Losses: DL Simon Sandberg- 87.7 (Grad), S Jaydon Grant- 84.9 (Grad), LB Omar Speights- 79.7 (Transfer), OL Brandon Kipper- 78.2 (Grad), WR Tre’Shaun Harrison- 69.5 (Grad)

Best Returners: DL James Rawls- 100.0, S Kitan Oladapo- 90.1, OL Joshua Gray- 81.7, OL Taliese Fuaga- 79.1, OL Jake Levengood- 77.7

It has been a relatively quiet offseason for the Beavers as they look to be in strong position to show they can also be a top-20 team next season. Starting defenders CB Alex Austin (Draft) and Omar Speights (Transfer) decided to move on and an additional 4 of OSU’s top-11 defenders in production on that side of the ball graduated. The good news for the Beavers is that 10 of the next 11 are back so there will be opportunities for 2nd stringers from last year to step into bigger roles.

The 5.4% of production lost to transfer is the 4th lowest of any Pac-12 school and they would’ve eclipsed USC if not for the portal entry of Speights. One of OSU’s biggest strengths last year was their offensive line and they bring back everyone at that spot but right guard Brandon Kipper. Expect the combination of their blocking plus returning freshman RB Damien Martinez to be a dominant combination.

OSU decided to bring in Clemson transfer QB DJ Uiagelelei after Oregon State had the 10th ranked total QB production in the conference last year ahead of just ASU and WSU. End of year starter Ben Gulbranson returns but Chance Nolan (uncommitted) and Tristan Gebbia (Ohio State) both transferred out.

Stanford Cardinal

Total 2022 Production Score: 1,696.6 (11th in Pac-12)

2023 Production Distribution: Early Entry- 10.3%, Graduated- 12.5%, Returning- 48.8%, Transfer- 28.3%

Biggest Losses: OL Drake Nugent- 80.4 (Transfer), Edge Stephen Herron- 67.7 (Transfer), Tanner McKee- 65.5 (Draft), Brycen Tremayne- 63.6 (Draft), Jonathan McGill- 61.5 (Transfer)

Best Returners: WR Elijah Higgins- 68.2, TE Ben Yurosek- 66.1, DL Tobin Phillips- 61.9, OL Levi Rogers- 50.2, Edge David Bailey- 50.1

With Stanford finally moving on from David Shaw we saw a bit of an exodus from Palo Alto. No Pac-12 squad lost a higher percentage of its production from 2022 to the transfer portal than Stanford and that’s after a few players chose to withdraw. Combined with the loss of a couple players to the draft it means that the Cardinal are 11th in returning production.

Stanford was known as an offensive line factory ror years under Shaw and without him it will be a big challenge to put together an above average unit. 4 of Stanford’s starters from last year chose to transfer to other power conference programs (2x Michigan, Duke, Oklahoma) leaving only Puyallup grad and RG Levi Rogers.

Of those coming back the strength appears to be at the skill positions and defensive line. The top 2 returners are both pass catchers while 4 of the next 5 are either edge rushers or defensive tackles. Running back EJ Smith looked like a future star before getting hurt early in the season and he plus Casey Filkins mean the RB duo is also coming back. The question is who is going to be playing quarterback and can the Cardinal survive losing almost their entire secondary (top-5 from 2022 now gone)?

Washington Huskies

Total 2022 Production Score: 2,044.4 (6th in Pac-12)

2023 Production Distribution: Early Entry- 0.0%, Graduated- 26.0%, Returning- 72.8%, Transfer- 1.2%

Biggest Losses: Edge Jeremiah Martin- 82.7 (Grad), OL Corey Luciano- 80.4 (Grad), S Alex Cook- 75.2 (Grad), OL Henry Bainivalu- 73.4 (Grad), OL Jaxson Kirkland- 67.6 (Grad)

Best Returners: WR Rome Odunze- 91.0, QB Michael Penix Jr.- 86.0, OL Roger Rosengarten- 84.6, OL Troy Fautanu- 83.5, Edge Bralen Trice- 81.6

For those getting caught up on the total production score being 6th in the conference, don’t be. The Huskies have the lowest percentage of their 2022 production transferring out of any team in the conference. None of their top-46 players in production from last year decided to transfer. 9 of the top-32 have graduated with 3 leaving along the offensive line and 4 on the back 7 of the defense.

Even with those losses the lack of anyone leaving early to the draft means that the Huskies are returning a higher percentage of last year’s production than any Pac-12 team (although Utah is very close behind). That’s supported primarily by the offense. The Dawgs return their starting QB, top 2 receivers, and starting offensive tackles who rank as 5 of the best 6 in production. Throw in that all the other receivers and tight ends are back and that’s up there with any program in the country.

The lone returning defender in that first group of 6 at the top is 1st team All-Pac-12 edge rusher Bralen Trice. He’s then followed by DL Tuli Letuligasenoa (72.8), LB Alphonzo Tuputala (52.8), DL Faatui Tuitele (52.7), and S Asa Turner (51.6). The loss of Jeremiah Martin to graduation is big as he ended up finishing ahead of Bralen Trice by virtue of playing more snaps but between Trice, Tuli, Tuitele, Tunuufi, and ZTF (there’s got to be a killer T’s marketing opportunity in there) the defensive line should be a strength.

Washington State Cougars

Total 2022 Production Score: 1,935.6 (7th in Pac-12)

2023 Production Distribution: Early Entry- 0.0%, Graduated- 29.8%, Returning- 56.2%, Transfer- 14.0%

Biggest Losses: LB Daiyan Henley- 72.1 (Grad), WR De’Zhaun Stribling- 68.1 (Transfer), CB Armani Marsh- 70.5 (Grad), DL Amir Mujahid- 62.2 (Grad), OL Grant Stephens- 59.6 (Grad)

Best Returners: CB Chau Smith-Wade- 79.3, S Jaden Hicks- 71.8, RB Nakia Watson- 70.7, Edge Ron Stone Jr.- 68.8, Edge Brennan Jackson- 68.2

Unsurprisingly the Cougars didn’t lose anyone early to the draft mainly because there aren’t many if any projected high picks on the roster. However they certainly got hit in other places. They have the 4th highest percentage of production graduating in the Pac-12 as well as the 5th highest percentage of production leaving in the portal. That was felt most acutely at the receiver spot where their #1 and #2 in production both transferred (one to Oklahoma State, one to Cincinnati) and the 3rd and 6th graduated.

On defense it’s a mixed bag. Every edge rusher who played any real time is back which should help but the top-3 in production on the interior of the defensive line are gone. The 2 most productive players in the secondary are back but numbers 3 through 5 have departed. Meanwhile, the linebacker spot is barren with Henley graduating and their 2nd and 3rd most productive LBs transferring to other power conference schools.

4 of the 6 offensive linemen who saw serious time return although the one with by far the best PFF grade (Jarrett Kingston) transferred to USC. Running back is the one spot that returns entirely intact after a nice season from Nakia Watson plus the return of their 2nd and 3rd stringers.