The Pac-12 is brimming with intrigue as we get closer to the 2020 college football season. Some high profile coaches (like Kevin Sumlin at Arizona, Chip Kelly at UCLA and Clay Helton at USC) could be on the hot seat if things don't get turned around. Plus, some fresh faces have entered the fray (Karl Dorrell at Colorado, Jimmy Lake at Washington and Nick Rolovich at Washington State) to make for a compelling season with some clear-cut contenders as the conference looks to make the College Football Playoff for the first time in four years.
It remains to be seen whether the season will begin on time and be played as expected. But assuming we get a full 12-game slate for each team, CBS Sports has taken a deep dive and come up with preliminary game-by-game predictions for all 12 teams in the league.
Predictions are based on talent returning, coaching turnover and recent recruiting success, among other factors. In some cases, the location of a game played a role in the prediction of who will win.
Check out the breakdown of the likely wins, losses and final record below for each team in the Pac-12 in the 2020 season:
Cal (11-1, 8-1)
- Wins: UNLV, TCU, Cal Poly, Utah, at Washington State, Oregon, at Oregon State, Washington, at Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA
- Losses: at USC
- Analysis: The Bears closed the 2019 season on a three-game winning streak with sophomore quarterback Chase Garbers slinging touchdowns and the defense playing some of its best football of the season. Now after three straight years of improvement under Justin Wilcox, Cal is poised for a breakout year. The Bears return more starters than any other team in the league and are giving an offense that struggled when Garbers was hurt last season a reboot under long-time NFL offense coordinator Bill Musgrave. The schedule is favorable, too, as the Bears play Utah, Oregon and Washington at home. A mid-season home showdown against the Ducks looms large as a potential swing game in the race for a division title.
Oregon (10-2, 8-1)
- Wins: North Dakota State, Hawaii, at Colorado, Washington, Stanford, at Arizona, USC, Arizona State, Washington State, Oregon State
- Losses: Ohio State, at Cal
- Analysis: Sure, the Ducks have to replace star quarterback Justin Herbert and several of top-tier offensive linemen. But when you recruit as well as they do, it's a manageable task. Entering their third season under coach Mario Cristobal, the Ducks have inked the top class in the Pac-12 in back-to-back years. If it can upset Ohio State in Week 2 -- and that's a big if -- then Oregon will immediately enter the conversation for a spot in the College Football Playoff. But even with a loss against the Buckeyes, Oregon will still be the team to beat in the Pac-12. Ultimately, a Cal team returning more starters than anyone in the league gets the nod at home against the Ducks.
Washington (8-4, 6-3)
- Wins: Sacramento State, Utah State, Oregon State, at Utah, Arizona, Stanford, Colorado, at Washington State
- Losses: Michigan, at Oregon, at Cal, at USC
- Analysis: The Huskies are replacing a lot this season, including their head coach, quarterback, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator, although the old one is still around. Jimmy Lake's promotion from directing the defense to head coach should help smooth the transition. So should three consecutive recruiting classes ranked third or better in the Pac-12. The return of most starters from a solid defense is nice, too. Unfortunately for Lake, his first season as coach starts against Michigan and includes road trips to Oregon, Utah, Cal and USC. But even with all the change and a tough schedule, the Huskies are still positioned to improve on their 4-5 league record from last season if first-year offensive coordinator John Donovan can identify a solid quarterback to replace Jacob Eason.
Stanford (6-6, 4-5)
- Wins: William & Mary, at Arizona, at UCLA, Oregon State, Colorado, BYU
- Losses: USC, at Notre Dame, Washington State, at Oregon, at Washington, at Cal
- Analysis: After Utah, Stanford is the Pac-12 program with the most continuity on its staff, and that should be more important than ever as programs enter the season without the benefit of spring practices. The Cardinal are coming off their first losing season in Shaw's ninth years. But quarterback Davis Mills appears poised for a breakout junior season, and the schedule is favorable enough that Stanford should be back bowling again in 2020. Winning a Sept. 26 game against UCLA should give the Cardinal enough leeway to reach six wins even if their misery at the hands of Washington State continues for a fifth consecutive season.
Oregon State (5-7, 3-6)
- Wins: Colorado State, Portland State, Washington State, UCLA, Arizona
- Losses: at Oklahoma State, Arizona State, at Washington, Cal, at Stanford, at Utah, Oregon
- Analysis: With three offensive starters selected in the NFL Draft, the Beavers have a lot to replace from last year's squad that improved its win total from two to five in coach Jonathan Smith's second season. That offensive exodus will make taking another leap a considerable challenge. The defense returns most of its heft, including linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr., who set a school record with 14 sacks last season. Aside from Rashed, the unit wasn't great in 2019. But it's safe to assume the Beavers' defense will pick up enough slack to help Oregon State reach the cusp of bowl eligibility as the offense regroups. A Friday night game at Stanford on Oct. 30 looms large for both teams. But Stanford gets the preliminary nod in that one, thanks to home field advantage.
Washington State (3-9, 1-8)
- Wins: Houston, Idaho, Stanford
- Losses: at Utah State, at Oregon State, Cal, Utah, Arizona State, at Colorado, at UCLA, Oregon, Washington
- Analysis: Buckle up, because while the Air Raid may have departed with Mike Leach, the run and shoot is in under Nick Rolovich. The former Hawaii coach is bringing offensive coordinator Brian Smith with him, and they will be installing a system that rivals Leach's pass-heavy attack in aerial emphasis and entertainment value. But with the Cougars replacing quarterback Anthony Gordon and top receivers Eason Winston and Brandon Arconado, it may take some time for Rolovich to get traction, especially without the benefit of spring practices. Securing some momentum during an opening nonconference stretch against Utah State, Houston and Idaho will be critical for setting the tone in Year 1 of the new regime.
USC (10-2, 8-1)
- Wins: New Mexico, at Stanford, Arizona State, at Utah, Cal, at Arizona, Colorado, Washington, at UCLA, Notre Dame
- Losses: Alabama, at Oregon
- Analysis: Even after the Trojans finished the 2020 recruiting cycle with the 10th-best class in the league, they still have enough talent to win the Pac-12. But a schedule that includes a neutral-site date with Alabama, on the road at Oregon and a regular-season finale against Notre Dame is daunting. Embattled coach Clay Helton is turning to former Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando to help the Trojans correct last season's woes, and there's enough talent back to make a turnaround feasible. Talent hasn't been Helton's problem, however, in his attempt to get USC in the playoff picture, and it's hard to imagine the Trojans making it over the CFP hump this season.
Arizona State (7-5, 5-4)
- Wins: Northern Arizona, at UNLV, Oregon State, UCLA, at Colorado, at Washington State, Utah
- Losses: BYU, at USC, Cal, at Oregon, at Arizona
- Analysis: Herm Edwards is back for Year 3 after proving some doubters wrong by taking the Sun Devils to a pair of bowl games. Now the former Jets and Chiefs coach is putting even more NFL pedigree on his staff by promoting former Bengals coach Marvin Lewis to co-defensive coordinator after Lewis spent last season in an advisory role. Lewis will have plenty to work with as Arizona State returns most of its starters from a decent unit. Offensively, Arizona State is replacing a lot more but does return quarterback Jayden Daniels, who tossed 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions as a freshman. A season-ending loss at Arizona might raise some eyebrows. But two years after after relinquishing a 19-point lead and losing in heartbreaking fashion at home, the Wildcats figure to put forth one of their best efforts of the season in that one.
Utah (8-4, 5-4)
- Wins: BYU, Montana State, at Wyoming, at Washington State, at UCLA Arizona, Oregon State, at Colorado
- Losses: at Cal, USC, Washington, at Arizona State
- Analysis: Utah's continuity is its strength. But while Kyle Whittingham returns for his 16th season as coach and both coordinators are back from last year's 11-3 team, the roster is undergoing a massive overhaul. Just two starters are expected back from one of the best defenses in the country, and big-time playmakers in quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss have graduated as well. The Utes will be back to prominence soon, but this season might be part of the bridge to get them there. If, somehow, they can knock off USC at home on Oct. 2, their odds at another division title will improve dramatically. But for now, that one is penciled in as a win for the Trojans.
UCLA (6-6, 3-6)
- Wins: New Mexico State, at Hawaii, at San Diego State, Arizona, at Colorado, Washington State
- Losses: Stanford, at Arizona State, Utah, at Oregon State, USC, at Cal
- Analysis: The Bruins are fortunate to be facing two programs under first-year coaches during a sneaky challenging nonconference slate in September. Both Hawaii and San Diego State will be under new regimes after winning 10 games a piece in 2019. If the Bruins can take care of business against those foes on the road, there is a clear path to bowl eligibility in Chip Kelly's third season. The Bruins have not recruited to the level that Kelly's track record might suggest. But they have continuity at both coordinator positions, and it would be stunning if that does not translate to some marginal improvement after a disappointing start to Kelly's tenure.
Arizona (4-8, 2-7)
- Wins: Hawaii, Portland State, Colorado, Arizona State
- Losses: Stanford, at UCLA, USC, at Washington, Oregon, at Utah, at Oregon State, Arizona
- Analysis: After losing seven in a row to end the season and signing a class ranked last in the conference, there is nowhere to go but up for Arizona in 2020. Right? Kevin Sumlin is turning to former Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads to coordinate a defense that was bad last season. But after scoring just 27 points in its last three games, the Wildcats' offense needs some work, too. Fortunately for Sumlin, Grant Gunnell put up some good numbers as a freshman and has enough weapons around him to take another big step as the full-time starter. A season-ending win over Arizona State at home would bring some comfort. But who knows if it would be enough to earn Sumlin a fourth year.
Colorado (3-9, 1-8)
- Wins: at Colorado State, Fresno State, Washington State
- Losses: at Texas A&M, Oregon, at Arizona, UCLA, Arizona State, at USC, at Stanford, at Washington, Utah
- Analysis: Mel Tucker's ill-timed departure from Boulder left plenty of questions to be answered for the Buffs. However, keeping both Darrin Chiaverini and Tyson Summers on as coordinators was a huge plus for new coach Karl Dorrell as he faces a tough task in 2020. Fact is, Colorado has gone through 13 losing seasons in the last 14 years, and it's tough to imagine an offense replacing star receivers Laviska Shenault and Tony Brown having the firepower to get bowl eligible this season as the program re-orients after Tucker's departure.