Who doesn’t love themselves some good, ole-fashioned Pac-12 after dark? As Alabama All-American Forrest Gump said, “You never know what you’re gonna get.” Whether it’s Mike Leach rocking a fake mustache or playing witness to an improbable comeback, the unpredictability of the Pac-12 has been a cause of bedlam on late Saturday nights, or even early Sunday mornings.
Some may be hesitant to place the Pac-12 in the same conversation as other Power 5 conferences such as the SEC or Big Ten. However, the Pac-12 has a chance to be the most competitive of them all this season. Without a clear front runner for the conference crown, teams such as Oregon, Utah, Washington and Stanford, among others will battle for the title. The uncertainty and level playing field are sure to cause even more excitement this season.
The Pac-12 features a plethora of studs on the offensive side of the ball this season. Justin Herbert could be the #1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Eno Benjamin has a chance to lead the nation in rushing. Laviska Shenault is a prime Biletnikoff Award contender. The list goes on.
In this week’s installment, we’ll take a look at my projected All-Pac-12 offensive squad. Next week, we’ll move to defense. Keep in mind a variety of factors went into these decisions, including projected/past production, team success and role, and more.
Who missed the cut? Let us know in the comments and on social media who deserves a spot on this list if they didn’t make it.
- QB – Justin Herbert, Oregon
- RB – Eno Benjamin, Arizona State
- RB – Jermar Jefferson, Oregon State
- WR – Laviska Shenault, Colorado
- WR – Aaron Fuller, Washington
- TE – Colby Parkinson, Stanford
- OT – Walker Little, Stanford
- OT – Penei Sewell, Oregon
- OG – Shane Lemieux, Oregon
- OG – Gus Lavaka, Oregon State
- C – Nick Harris, Washington
QB: Justin Herbert (Oregon)
The obvious answer here is potential #1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Justin Herbert. Even though the Pac-12 showcases respectable quarterback prospects such as K.J. Costello, Jacob Eason, and Steven Montez, among others, Herbert is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. Behind arguably the best offensive line in the nation, Herbert is primed for a career year in his final season in Eugene.
With a plethora of playmakers at his disposal, the supporting cast doesn’t end upfront. Oregon’s offense features the best running back tandem in the Pac-12. Plus, they field a loaded receiving corps which now features Penn State transfer, Juwan Johnson. All the pieces are in place for Herbert to have a monstrous season as he looks to play his way atop the 2020 NFL Draft board.
RB: Eno Benjamin (Arizona State)
It didn’t take long for Herm Edwards to recognize the key to his offense’s success: feeding Eno. Benjamin came out of nowhere last season to lead the Pac-12 in rushing attempts (300), yards (1,642) and touchdowns (16). With freshman quarterback, Jayden Daniels named the starter; the Sun Devils may lean on Benjamin and the run game, even more, this year.
The clear cut top back in the conference, Benjamin has an accessible path to repeating as First-team All-Pac-12. The volume is sure to be there, and we enjoyed his talent on full display last season. Benjamin is one of the top draft prospects in the conference and looks to solidify his stock with another stellar season. In what’s expected to be a historical draft class for running backs, Benjamin will have plenty of opportunities to stand out in 2019.
RB: Jermar Jefferson (Oregon State)
As the Oregon State Beavers have emerged as the doormat of the Pac-12, it hasn’t been all negative. Jermar Jefferson broke out monumentally last season for the Beavers. The true freshman ranked third in the conference with 1,380 rushing yards and scored 12 touchdowns as well. He ran his way to being named Second-Team All-Conference despite Oregon State’s two-win season.
Jefferson is the key to Oregon State football. Luckily for them, he has three seasons of eligibility remaining. He touched the ball 264 times last season but expect that number to be even closer to 300 in 2019. An insanely talented runner, Jefferson is the best back in the conference behind Benjamin, and the production should reflect that this season for the workhorse.
WR: Laviska Shenault (Colorado)
One of four wide receivers to eclipse 1,000 yards in the Pac-12 last season, Laviska Shenault soon became a household name. Whether he was burning defenses deep or making a handful of guys miss in the open field, Shenault cemented himself as the top playmaker in the conference. Despite missing a few games, he still ended up First-Team All-Conference. Along with that, Shenault was the only receiver in the conference who averaged over 100 receiving yards per game.
Returning with senior quarterback Steven Montez, the duo should pick up right where they left off. The offense revolves around Shenault. Even though shifting to a more pro-style offense under Mel Tucker changes the way he racks up receptions, the manufactured touches should still be there for the superstar. Shenault is as dynamic as they come and the best the Pac-12 has to offer at the position. He’s on a mission to solidify himself as a first-round draft pick.
WR: Aaron Fuller (Washington)
Projecting the WR2 for the All-Conference Pac-12 team was the toughest spot to name on this list. There are a bunch of under the radar players primed for breakout seasons. Plus, Penn State transfer Juwan Johnson figures to pick up where Dillon Mitchell left off and replicate that type of production as Herbert’s #1. Then there’s USC’s Michael Pittman, who forms arguably the best receiving tandem in the conference with Tyler Vaughns.
While I’m not as high on him as a prospect as most, Aaron Fuller has all the makings of a tremendous season. He returns for his senior season as the third leading receiver from last season. With Jacob Eason incoming and Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin out, this could be a much different offensive attack than we’ve seen in years past from the Huskies. Fuller should be the primary beneficiary. Between his highlight catches and anticipated production, Fuller’s draft stock could skyrocket.
TE: Colby Parkinson (Stanford)
The departures of J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Trenton Irwin and Kaden Smith catapult Colby Parkinson as the top weapon in Stanford’s passing attack. The team’s leading returning receiver, Parkinson presents a massive mismatch with his 6’7”, 240-pound frame. The rapport is already there with senior quarterback K.J. Costello. In an offense full of new, unproven faces, Parkinson is sure to be the security blanket. It wouldn’t be surprising if he led the team in targets. Stanford has produced seven drafted tight ends over this decade, and Parkinson is the next in a strong lineage.
OT: Walker Little (Stanford)
The blue-chip left tackle for the Cardinal, Walker Little has been a standout since arriving on campus. Little was named Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Co-Player of the Year in 2017. An incredibly impressive feat for an offensive lineman. He followed that up by being named First-Team All-Conference as a sophomore this past year. Little has the traits, athleticism, and size to warrant a first-round pick this spring. He’ll be a major contributor as Stanford challenges for a Pac-12 championship.
G: Shane Lemieux (Oregon)
Starting since his redshirt freshman season, Shane Lemieux is the intimidator on one of college football’s most prestigious lines. Lemieux enjoyed one of the best seasons from an Oregon lineman in the history of the program. He graded out as the top guard in the conference and #3 in the nation, according to Pro Football Focus. Entering the season with 38 consecutive starts, Lemieux has a chance to start every single game of his college career, which would put him over 50. That alone is an incredibly impressive feat. Lemieux is likely to repeat as a First-Team All-Conference player as he leads an imposing unit for the Ducks.
C: Nick Harris (Washington)
The reigning First-Team All-Pac-12 center, Nick Harris is the nastiest linemen in the conference. He sets the tone up front with his violent play. In an offense with so much turnover, Harris will be the catalyst for competence, and cohesion will stem from him. He leads UW’s offensive line as they have admirations to repeat as conference champions. Look for him to be one of the top centers selected in the 2020 NFL Draft.
G: Gus Lavaka (Oregon State)
What are the odds Oregon State produces two First-Team All-Pac-12 players? Not very strong, but there’s a chance. Despite the turmoil of Oregon State over recent years, Gus Lavaka has been a mainstay. He served as a critical component in Jefferson’s stellar freshman season as Lavaka established himself as a dominant run blocker. Lavaka joins the aforementioned Little, Lemieux and Harris on the Outland Trophy Watch List.
OT: Penei Sewell (Oregon)
He may not be draft-eligible, but Penei Sewell is arguably the most talented tackle in the Pac-12. Last season he became the first Oregon offensive linemen ever to receive First-Team All-Conference honors. Following this upcoming season, Sewell will enter 2020 as the most pivotal piece on Oregon’s offense with Herbert on to the NFL. A future first-round pick, Sewell is still a fairly unknown, blossoming star.
Jonathan Valencia is a writer for PFN covering the NFL Draft, Pac-12 Football and the Houston Texans. You can follow him @JonValenciaPFN on Twitter.