This article is part of our Conference Preview series.
The top headline for the Pac-12 in the offseason involved the imminent departures of USC and UCLA to the Big 10, thus putting the long-term future of the conference in doubt. At present, the dawn of the Lincoln Riley era at USC commands the most preseason hype. The Trojans' revamped offense should prove to be stiff competition for 2021 champion Utah, a team that retained most of its offensive talent from its stellar 2021 season. The All-Conference teams are littered with Trojans and Utes, but the lesser teams in the conference also possess their share of fantasy gems.
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PAC-12 All-Conference Teams
QB: Caleb Williams, USC (7)
RB: Zach Charbonnet, UCLA (10)
RB: Travis Dye, USC (12)
WR: Jordan Addison, USC (2)
WR: Jacob Cowing, Arizona (28)
WR: De'zhaun Stribling, Washington State (37)
TE: Benjamin Yurosek, Stanford (3)
QB: Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA) (12)
RB: Tavion Thomas, Utah (18)
RB: E.J. Smith, Stanford (50)
WR: Mario Williams, USC (52)
WR: Rome Odunze, Washington (75)
WR: Jeremiah Hunter, California (80)
TE: Brant Kuithe, Utah (5)
QB: Cameron Rising, Utah (13)
RB: Damien Martinez, Oregon State (51)
RB: Xazavian Valladay, Arizona State (64)
WR: Renard Bell, Washington State (84)
WR: Gary Bryant, USC (112)
WR: Jake Bobo, UCLA (127)
TE: Dalton Kincaid, Utah (22)
Jayden de Laura, Quarterback, Arizona
De Laura was practically coronated as the Wildcats' starter under center when he announced his transfer from Washington State. It's hard to hype up a player from Arizona given their deficiencies in the win column over the past several years, but de Laura provides much-needed stability at the helm. The Wildcats have revolved through a cavalcade of quarterbacks over the past couple of years, and although the conference's Freshman of the Year still has a lot to learn, he's a vast upgrade from his predecessors at the position and is bound to flourish under coach Jedd Fisch's pro-style system. Should he need to improvise and escape the pocket, De Laura has the footwork to do it - he ran for 209 yards with nine carries going for 10 yards or more. After leading the conference in passing offense with the Cougars, he would have been a more obvious choice behind a better offensive line. De Laura may have a harder time in Tuscon, but he possesses all the raw skills necessary for a successful 2022 campaign.
Honorable mention sleeper: Bo Nix, Oregon
E.J. Smith, Running Back, Stanford
Emmitt Smith's son has had a rough road with Stanford, but his offensive woes are directly tied to a poor offensive line that couldn't open up many lanes for any of their runners. Still, the Cardinal have produced a long line of NFL-ready running backs. Is Smith the next Christian McCaffrey? Probably not, but even modest improvement at the offensive line could put him on the fast track to a 1,000-yard season. The junior's patience and tackle-breaking ability are huge assets, and he's also an apt route-runner who can open up the passing game. It's wise to look past the stat lines for Smith in previous seasons, as this could be the year where he puts it all together.
Seven McGee, WR/RB, Oregon
The departure of Travis Dye would have opened up a big opportunity for McGee, who failed to make much of an impact in 2021 as a reserve running back. The Ducks have flipped the script for McGee, however. He's now a potential starter at wide receiver, although we should expect more than a few jet sweeps for the talented sophomore. Early reports from camp indicate that McGee is adapting seamlessly into his new role, and new OC Kenny Dillingham should have some nifty plays lined up for him. He can find the end zone via a variety of different spots on the field.
D'onte Thornton, Wide Receiver, Oregon
Like McGee, Thornton will benefit from the changing of the guard in Eugene, Jaylon Redd, Johnny Johnson and Devon Williams are gone, leaving a gaping hole in the wideout room. Although his freshman campaign started out slowly, the Ducks' abysmal showings toward the end of last season emptied the bench often, giving Thornton a chance to shine. With the aforementioned trio of receivers taking a seat for the Alamo Bowl, we saw a glimpse of that Thronton could do with less competition for touches, compiling 90 yeards and a touchdown.
Brendon Lewis, Colorado
J.T. Shrout was in a dead heat with Lewis for the starting job last season, but his season-ending injury made Lewis the starter by default. The Buffaloes are likely to be cellar-dwellers in the conference in 2022, and the team is still reeling from several departures through the transfer portal. Despite efforts to find lightning in a bottle with a capable signal-caller in the portal, the team is left with Lewis and Shrout. I'd be wary of either quarterback in this underwhelming offense, and it's possible that Shrout could overtake Lewis as the incumbent quarterback before camp concludes.
Austin Jones, Running Back, USC
There's no denying that Jones distinguished himself as a decent rusher in the conference during his tenure with Stanford, but the Trojans have stacked the deck in the backfield, with Travis Dye the likely the three-down option at running back. We saw what Keyontay Ingram did with the pecking order at running back during his one-year stint with the Trojans, relegating former standouts like Vavae Malepeai to offensive afterthoughts. The arrival of Dye should have the same effect. Ingram also limited Darwin Barlow's impact, but he excelled as a change-of-pace back when needed. Barlow will compete for the RB2 job against Jones, and new RB coach Kiel McDonald pursued Barlow heavily while at Utah. Add four-star prospect and Mater Dei product Raleek Brown to an already-crowded running back room, and the result is a potentially frustrating outlook for Jones in his new home.
Damien Moore, Running Back, California
New signal-caller Jack Plummer has his work cut out for him this season, as the Golden Bears lost their four top receiving options in the offseason. To make matters worse, the offensive line returns only two starters. With many new faces in the offense and a new quarterback under center, it's likely that opposing defenses will attempt to key in on Moore, who showed some promise in 2021 but only accumulated 518 yards last season. Moore also faces competition from Jaydn Ott, a talented freshman who turned heads in spring camp and is almost certain to see touches this season. The running back room is crowded with potential, as Marcel Dancy, Ashton Hayes and Ashton Stredick are also capable backs who had good spring practices. If Moore falters early, Ott would be the favorite to pick up the slack, and he has the talent to hold on to the job.
Cam Johnson, Wide Receiver, Arizona State
Johnson came over from Vanderbilt to join the Sun Devils, who have a trifecta of issues plaguing them as they enter the 2022 season. Not only are they under investigation by the NCAA, but the team also lost several key players to the transfer portal and almost completely overhauled their coaching staff. The loss of Jayden Daniels has left them with a tight QB competition between Florida transfer Emory Jones and Paul Tyson, who joins the team from Alabama. Although Jones appears to have the inside track for the job, the competition could continue well into August, leaving little time for the first-team offense Tho to acclimate. Johnson could have an incredible year if all the pieces come together, but it's more likely that the Sun Devils will have some growing pains out of the gate. Former UNLV OC Glenn Thomas will now call the offensive plays, which hints at a pass-focused offense, but they will need to produce a lot of points to offset a defense that lost most of its secondary. Johnson's success depends on how quickly he can jell with his new quarterback.