ASU Football: Assessing the current state of the Pac-12

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 03: Quarterback Tyler Huntley #1 of the Utah Utes scrambles with the football during the first half of the college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on November 3, 2018 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 03: Quarterback Tyler Huntley #1 of the Utah Utes scrambles with the football during the first half of the college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on November 3, 2018 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Another college football season has come and gone with the Pac-12 not lifting the trophy. Where does ASU football fit in current state of the Pac-12?

On Monday, Clemson routed Alabama 44-16 in the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship. It marked the 14th season in a row that a Pac-12 school did not win the national title.

Maybe next year?

Not only did the conference fail to win the title, it didn’t qualify for the College Football Playoff for the second year in a row.

Despite the “Conference of Champions” mantra, the Pac-12 was regarded as the weakest of the Power Five conferences for the majority of the season. In fact, only one member school — Washington — reached a New Year’s Six bowl. And that didn’t go too well.

There were a few good showings in bowl season from the league, however. Washington State, Oregon and Stanford each took down quality opponents in their respective bowl games, helping the conference fall just one game under .500 in its seven postseason matchups.

Even so, the Pac-12 finished with the worst record of the major conferences at 3-4. But there is certainly hope for the league going forward.

Washington — this year’s conference champion — isn’t going anywhere. Despite losing four-year starting quarterback Jake Browning to graduation, the Huskies have a solid and experienced replacement: Jacob Eason.

Prior to arriving in Seattle, Eason started 13 games for Georgia in 2016 before being replaced by Jake Fromm. Eason led UGA to an 8-5 record and threw for 2,430 yards and 16 touchdowns in the process.

Washington also returns Chris Petersen, who is widely regarded as the Pac-12’s most prolific head coach.

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Not only is Washington expected to be a force in the national scene, schools like Oregon and USC should have the talent to compete in the near future.

Oregon’s Justin Herbert passed on the NFL Draft and will return for his senior season, which should help keep the Ducks relevant. Even though he struggled in the bowl game against Michigan State, Herbert could be a sneaky Heisman candidate next year.

Even though USC was the conference’s (maybe even the nation’s) most disappointing team in 2018, the Trojans are always in the mix with their star-studded lineups year in and year out.

Freshman receiver standout Amon-Ra St. Brown and quarterback JT Daniels will be a year more experienced in 2019, which should be incredibly valuable.

But the Pac-12’s future success is built on more than just talented rosters. It can rocket into relevance because of the league’s coaches.

Of course, Petersen is the Pac-12’s most proven coach, but it isn’t a one-man show.

Mike Leach has turned Washington State — who was once the conference’s bottom feeder — into a legitimate football school. Yes, only one year of Gardner Minshew is devastating, but Leach doesn’t have trouble finding success in the air.

Along with Leach, Arizona State’s Herm Edwards and Oregon’s Mario Cristobal were both successful in their respective first seasons. The duo of first-year coaches combined for a 16-10 record.

For ASU, life after Manny Wilkins and N’Keal Harry could be a tough transition. But the combination of Eno Benjamin, stellar game management from Edwards and an experienced defense should keep the Sun Devils dangerous for the seasons ahead.

Also in the league is Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, USC’s Todd Helton and Stanford’s David Shaw, all of whom have won their divisions at least once.

Even some of the less-known coaches have are promising. Colorado may have found a gem in former Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. The Buffaloes’ defense was practically nonexistent in the final seven games, so it can only go up from there.

Kevin Sumlin got off to a rocky start in 2018, but the second half of the season should be a sign of good things to come for the Wildcats.

Arizona defeated Cal and absolutely stomped Oregon in two separate displays of solid defense. Arizona should be revamped on defense in 2019, plus, Khalil Tate and J.J. Taylor return with another year of experience under their belts.

Similarly, Chip Kelly limped through his first season at the helm in Westwood. The Bruins finished a dismal 3-9, but much of that was the result of a daunting non-conference schedule. UCLA should be a much-improved squad in 2019 when running back Joshua Kelley attempts to build on a solid 2018 campaign.

While the majority of the conference seems to be trending favorably, there will likely be a few lagging behind.

Oregon State has been irrelevant since Sean Mannion graduated, and based on the Beavers’ last two seasons, they could be in the basement for a while. While Tucker was a good hire for Colorado, previous head coach Mike MacIntyre left the program in bad shape.

Cal looked like a JV squad in the Cheez-It Bowl against TCU, and without Patrick Laird in the backfield, that likely won’t change next season.

But take away those three teams, and this should be a solid conference for the next couple of years. Oregon and Washington very well could be in the CFP conversation if their quarterbacks excel as they previously have. Some teams, such as ASU and Utah, could come from under the radar and make statements.

Next. ASU Football: With perception reversed, expectations rise for young defense. dark

There’s enough talent and experienced coaching for the Pac-12 to at least stay on par with the Big 12, Big 10 and ACC for the next couple of years.