The Pac-12 didn’t finish the 2017 season particularly well, having all but one of its bowl-eligible teams — go Utah! — lose in bowl matchups. That was followed by a significant exodus of talent, both from graduation and early NFL entry.
But the reloading has begun. National Signing Day on Wednesday marked the end of the 2018 recruiting cycle and serves as a good place to evaluate where every team in the Pac-12 stands. Soon, spring practice will begin and not long after that the 2018 season will be here.
Below is how DieHards ranks the league’s 12 schools, factoring in who is gone, who is coming on board and any other changes that are pertinent.
12. Oregon State Beavers
Key losses: QB Darell Garretson, RB Ryan Nall, WR Jordan Villamin, LB Manase Hungalu
Top newcomers: LB Matthew Tago, RB Jermar Jefferson, DT Jeromy Reichner
2018 signing class rank: 69 th
Oregon State is starting over in 2018 after coach Gary Andersen quit on the Beavers midway through last season. Former Beavers quarterback Jonathan Smith takes over the program and he doesn’t have much to work with, so the rebuilding process won’t be a quick one.
11. California Golden Bears
Key losses: RB Vic Enwere, WR Jordan Veasy, DL James Looney, LB Devante Downs, DB Darius Allensworth
Top newcomers: OL Will Craig, RB Johnny Adams, S Monroe Young
2018 signing class rank: 43 rd
Coach Justin Wilcox’s first season had the good and the bad, but how he does in his second year will depend on how California’s many young contributors from 2017 improve. The Golden Bears also must replace a handful of notable standouts either through backups or the Pac-12’s eighth-best recruiting classes.
10. Colorado Buffaloes
Key losses: RB Phillip Lindsay, WR Shay Fields, WR Bryce Bobo, DL Leo Jackson III, LB Derek McCartney, DB Isaiah Oliver
Top newcomers: LB Davion Taylor, TE Darrion Jones, CB Delrick Abrams
2018 signing class rank: 51 st
In Phillip Lindsay, Bryce Bobo and Shay Fields, Colorado has said goodbye to more than half its yardage and 23 of 36 offensive touchdowns. If not for the return of quarterback Steven Montez, the Buffaloes would be more or less starting over on offense.
Key departures on defense will also be tough to fill, meaning Colorado could be headed for a second straight sub-.500 season after reaching the Pac-12 title game in 2016.
9. Washington State Cougars
Key losses: QB Luke Falk, QB Tyler Hilinski, RB Jamal Morrow, WR Tavares Martin Jr., WR Isaiah Johnson-Mack, OL Cody O’Connell, DL Hercules Mata’afa
Top newcomers: DL Jonathan Lolohea, WR Rodrick Fisher, QB Cammon Cooper
2018 signing class rank: 45 th
Washington State was already headed for a rebuilding year in 2018 even before quarterback Tyler Hilinski died in mid-January. Hilinski was expected to take over the Cougars’ prolific pass offense from Pac-12 career passing leader Luke Falk but now that job might go to true freshman Cammon Cooper.
The Cougars also have to replace their best defensive player in Hercules Mata’afa, who turned pro early. Mike Leach faces a tough test this offseason trying to piece this team back together.
8. Utah Utes
Key losses: WR Darren Carrington, OL Salesi Uhatafe, DL Kylie Fitts, DL Lowell Lotulelei, LB Kavika Luafatasaga, DB Boobie Hobbs
Top newcomers: QB Jack Tuttle, WR Solomon Enis, CB Vonte Davis, OL Hunter Lotulelei
2018 signing class rank: 34 th
Utah is the Pac-12 team that always seems to be good but rarely gets noticed, and 2018 figures to be more of the same. Kyle Whittingham, the longest-tenured coach in the conference, will have another solid team that will be built around returning quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss.
Retooling the defense will be the Utes’ biggest concern, particularly the front seven, which loses four starters.
7. Arizona State Sun Devils
Key losses: RB Demario Richard, RB Kalen Ballage, OL Sam Jones, DL Jojo Wicker, LB Christian Sam
Top newcomers: LB Merlin Robertson, S Aashari Crosswell, OL Jarrett Bell, LB Reggie Hughes
2018 signing class rank: 36 th
New coach Herm Edwards makes his return to the college ranks after nearly 30 years in the NFL (or on TV) and the possibilities are endless for what he’ll be able to accomplish with Arizona State. A strong National Signing Day helped fill many of the Sun Devils’ most immediate needs, a strong sign that Edwards has what it takes to succeed.
Quarterback Manny Wilkins Jr. is the top returning Pac-12 quarterback in terms of 2017 yardage while receiver N’Keal Harry led the conference in receiving yards. Assuming Arizona State can replace the production of its top two running backs, that offense will be potent.
6. UCLA Bruins
Key losses: QB Josh Rosen, WR Jordan Lasley, WR Darren Andrews, LB Kenny Young, S Jaleel Wadood
Top newcomers: QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, WR Bryan Addison, WR Chase Cota, LB Bo Calvert
2018 signing class rank: 28 th
Out with Jim Mora and quarterback Josh Rosen, in with Chip Kelly and either Devon Modster or freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson. UCLA is going to look vastly different from the 2017 team that went 6-7, since Kelly’s system is far different from what Mora ran.
The key to how the Bruins fare in 2018, though, will be how their defense improves. They were last in the Pac-12 overall and had the worst rushing defense in the country.
5. Arizona Wildcats
Key losses: RB Nick Wilson, OL Jacob Alsadek, DB Dane Cruikshank
Top newcomers: QB Kevin Doyle, DE Adam Plant, S Dayven Coleman
2018 signing class rank: 58 th
Arizona had one of the youngest starting lineups in the Pac-12 last year, which means it has among the fewest holes to fill for 2018. That makes new coach Kevin Sumlin’s transition from the SEC to the Pac-12 a lot easier, particularly since he didn’t come on until mid-January after Rich Rodriguez was abruptly fired.
It also helps that Sumlin has one of the most exciting players in the country, quarterback Khalil Tate. Throw in a number of promising receivers and a defense that can only get better, and the Wildcats could be on the rise.
4. Oregon Ducks
Key losses: RB Royce Freeman, WR Charles Nelson, OL Tyrell Crosby, CB Arrion Springs, S Tyree Robinson
Top newcomers: OL Penei Sewell, WR Jalen Hall, S Steve Stephens, S Jevon Holland
2018 signing class rank: 16 th
After a few months of near-constant change, Oregon heads into the spring with some much-needed stability. New coach Mario Cristobal and his staff managed to put together a strong 2018 recruiting class despite numerous de-commitments stemming from Willie Taggart’s departure, and now the Ducks can start looking ahead to the upcoming season.
They’ll be doing so with a fully healthy Justin Herbert at quarterback, and the junior will be tasked with bringing together a promising but unproven receiving corps that includes some nice signees.
3. Stanford Cardinal
Key losses: TE Dalton Schultz, OL David Bright, DT Harrison Phillips, LB Peter Kalambayi, S Justin Reid
Top newcomers: QB Tanner McKee, QB Jack West, DE Thomas Booker, CB Kendall Williamson
2018 signing class rank: 39 th
Stanford has to replace nine starters from last year’s team, but it’s the one starting spot it doesn’t have to fill that is the bigger factor on its ranking. Heisman Trophy runner-up Bryce Love passed up a chance at the NFL draft to come back for his senior year, meaning the Cardinal will once again have the nation’s most explosive running back.
Love, quarterback K.J. Costello and receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside will make for a potent offensive trio but Stanford has to retool its offensive line and much of the defense. The incoming freshman class leans more toward 2019-2020 impact than this fall.
2. Washington Huskies
Key losses: WR Dante Pettis, TE Will Dissly, OL Coleman Shelton, DL Vita Vea, LB Keishawn Bierria
Top newcomers: QB Colson Yankoff, QB Jacob Sirmon, WR Marquis Spiker, DT Tuli Letuligasenoa, LB Brandon Kaho, S Julius Irvin
2018 signing class rank: 13 th
Washington’s 10-win team from 2017 returns mostly intact and brings back its two most important players in quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin. The most prolific backfield duo in school history will be seniors and if some injured players — tackle Trey Adams, receiver Chico McClatcher and tight end Hunter Bryant — come back like their former selves, the Huskies should be in the Pac-12 title game.
The Huskies signed 11 4-star prospects, three ranked in the top 100 nationally. Several have a chance to be instant contributors to fill the few open spots in the starting lineup.
1. USC Trojans
Key losses: QB Sam Darnold, RB Ronald Jones II, WR Deontay Burnett, DE Uchenna Nwosu, S Chris Hawkins
Top newcomers: QB J.T. Daniels, WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, LB Palaie Gaoteote, CB Olaijah Griffin
2018 signing class rank: Fourth
USC is the poster boy for reloading over rebuilding. The Trojans lost some big pieces from their Pac-12 championship team but the prospects they just added could be even better. Their four 5-star signees were four more than the rest of the conference and they added a total of eight top-100 recruits, most of whom figure to be on the field this fall.
Coach Clay Helton just got a contract extension through 2023, so USC appears set up for another long run at the top of the Pac-12.
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