2023 College Fantasy Football PAC-12 Preview

Pacific Coast Conference

by Corey Pieper
2023 College Fantasy Football PAC-12 Preview

The 2023 college fantasy football preview for the PAC-12 is full of offensive talent to know for your fantasy teams. If you live in the central or eastern time zones, it's entirely possible that you've missed a lot of the fun having already gone to sleep. I live in the central time zone myself so I know the struggle.

If you make it to the games though, the payoff is often well worth it to see the offensive fireworks. The fireworks will still be there this season, but that could be changing shortly as the conference deals with impending realignment.

This is the last season before two Pac-12 juggernauts in UCLA and USC each move to the Big Ten conference. With those two stalwarts of the conference on the way out, new teams will inevitably be on the way in. In the past couple of weeks alone, rumors of San Diego State moving from the Mountain West conference to the Pac-12 have begun running rampant. For now, our fantasy teams can reap the college fantasy football benefits of the Pac-12 as it is currently aligned with great offenses and some shaky defenses.

Let's go more in-depth with some of the names that can be relied upon in the Pac-12 conference!

2023 College Fantasy Football Pac-12 Preview

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Jacob Cowing, WR, Arizona Wildcats

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In Jedd Fisch's second season as the Arizona football head coach, the team was aggressive in the transfer portal. The Wildcats were able to land skill position players in quarterback Jayden de Laura and wide receiver Jacob Cowing. Both players found instant success, leading to a quick turnaround in Tuscon. The team won five games last season, after winning the same number in the previous three seasons combined!

Jacob Cowing had a fantastic 2021 season when he was still at UTEP. He had 69 receptions for 1,354 receiving yards and seven receiving touchdowns. Based on those numbers, he should have been an easy early-round selection last season in college fantasy football drafts. However, there was doubt about him repeating those numbers after transferring to a more challenging conference. It wasn't quite a repeat, but it was still a fantastic first season. Cowing's season included 85 receptions for 1,034 receiving yards and seven receiving touchdowns. I actually think he can improve upon those numbers this season with the team's leading receiver in yardage last season, Dorian Singer, transferring to USC. Treat Cowing as a top-ten wide receiver option in your college fantasy football drafts.

Jalin Conyers, TE, Arizona State Sun Devils

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Arizona State pressed the reset switch this offseason. The team brought in a new offensive and defensive coordinators, as well as a new head coach in Kenny Dillingham. He has brought in a lot of new players which makes predicting this offense very difficult. I went to the spring game report to check to see who was stepping up in the new system. Tight end Jalin Conyers ended the season strong last season and it carried over to the spring game.

Conyers is a top-10 college fantasy football option at tight end. He was once an Oklahoma recruit who has spent the last two seasons at Arizona State. It took a while, but the last month or so of last season the team began to lean on him. Over the last five games of last season, Conyers would accumulate 30 receptions, 346 receiving yards, and five touchdowns. Those are fantastic numbers for a tight end in college fantasy football. His dominance at the catch point and in the open field is likely to carry over again this season in Tempe.

Jaydn Ott, RB, California Golden Bears

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A few months ago this would have been an easy recommendation for Jaydn Ott. He came into the California program and had a true freshman season that saw him finish as a top-30 running back option in PPR leagues. That season included almost 900 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. He would also add an additional 46 receptions for 321 more yards and three more receiving touchdowns. Add it all together and he had over 1,200 total yards and 11 touchdowns as a true freshman. Those seem like numbers that would indicate that Ott should be a popular early fantasy pick this year.

The issue is that the offseason wasn't kind to Ott's fantasy value. California head coach Justin Wilcox was extremely aggressive in the transfer portal adding running backs. He brought in four new runnings back: Byron Cardwell from Oregon, King Doerue from Purdue,  Isaiah Ifanse from Montana State, and Justin Williams-Thomas from Tennessee. Even with all the newcomers, I still expect Ott to lead the stable of running backs. However, the additional competition also seems to make it unlikely that he'll repeat his freshman season numbers when he dominated the backfield touches.

Shedeur Sanders, QB, Colorado Buffaloes

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Anyone who tells you with confidence that they know what is going to happen this season with Colorado is lying to you. This program has undergone arguably the greatest change from one season to the next ever. Deion Sanders has become the new head coach after a successful three seasons at the lower-FCS level at Jackson State. His first act was to completely remake the roster. The latest update that I found has the roster at over 70 new players from last season including 51 transfers in! One of those transfers was his son quarterback Shedeur Sanders.

Shedeur Sanders was a highly desired quarterback recruit in the 2021 recruiting class. He had his choice of prestigious programs but chose to play for his dad at Jackson State. Sanders has been able to display his talent at that level. Last season, he threw for over 3,700 yards with 40 touchdowns to only six interceptions. He also offers a bit of rushing upside with 173 more rushing yards and six additional touchdowns. Selecting Sanders for your fantasy team is the ultimate wildcard. I believe that the Colorado team will struggle, but that Sanders will have fantasy success as the team has to use Sanders' talent to stay competitive.

Bo Nix, QB, Oregon Ducks

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After three disappointing seasons at the University of Auburn, Bo Nix transferred to the University of Oregon. It was a relatively unheralded move given his history. In fact, it wasn't even a given that he would be the starting quarterback. In hindsight, that's hard to believe when you look at the year that Nix would go on to have.

Nix finished as a top-five overall scorer in all of college fantasy football last season. Between both passing and rushing, he was able to accumulate 43 total touchdowns. He also had over 4,100 total yards including over 500 rushing yards. After a season like that, it was believed that Nix may take his talents to the NFL. Instead, he chose to return for a final season at Oregon. For fantasy purposes, I expect that Nix is once again a top-ten fantasy quarterback who you can feel safe selecting as early as the first round.

Damien Martinez, RB, Oregon State Beavers

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What a freshman season that Damien Martinez had as the primary ball carrier for the Oregon State offense. It was a slow start to the season as he became accustomed to the college game. The first five games of the season never had more than 11 carries or 50 rushing yards. Week six is when everything started to come together for Martinez. That week against Stanford, he only received three carries but turned those into 83 rushing yards and a touchdown. From that point forward, the team leaned into Martinez and he delivered like a star.

Over the next six games, Martinez would receive at least 15 carries in each game. With those carries, he was able to rush for over 100 yards each game. The team would also go on to all of those games except for one. When the most talented player on a team starts getting the ball more often and it leads to team wins you have to expect that to happen more often. Draft Martinez in the first few rounds and reap the benefits.

E.J. Smith, RB, Stanford Cardinal

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You have likely heard of E.J. Smith's famous father. That would be the all-time leader in NFL rushing yards, Emmitt Smith. E.J. may not have those accolades yet, but he was off to a great start of his own last season before injuries got in the way. Smith only played in two games but generated over 270 total yards and four total touchdowns. Part of that dominance can be attributed to the competition in those games being FCS opponent Colgate and USC which was defensively challenged throughout the season.

Unfortunately, during that USC game Smith would suffer a season-ending injury. Unbeknownst at the time, it would be the last game that Smith would play under head coach David Shaw. Shaw was replaced in the offseason by new head coach Troy Taylor. Taylor has put together an impressive offensive coaching resume most recently at Sacramento State. I do believe that as he adjusts to a new program Taylor will lean on his most talented player in E.J. Smith. Draft Smith in the mid-rounds with substantial upside as both a runner and a receiver.

Carson Steele, RB, UCLA Bruins

Carson Steele put together an epic season at Ball State last season. Steele finished eighth nationally in rushing yardage with 1,556 yards (second amongst those still in college football). He also showed that he can catch the football with an additional 29 receptions. He should be an easy early-round selection as a replacement option to Zach Charbonnet. Before Charbonnet was a second-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks, he had almost 1,600 total yards and 14 touchdowns as the UCLA running back last season.

So why am I not all in on Steele as a top 25 overall pick? That reason would be running back Tomarian (TJ) Harden. Harden was the backup running back to Charbonnet last season at UCLA, but when given the chance was able to show off his immense talent as well. After Charbonnet opted out of the Sun Bowl last season, Harden stepped up with 111 yards rushing and a touchdown on just 11 carries. Harden proved he is a talented enough running back to take carries from Steele. Steele should still be selected in the top 100 picks, but I wouldn't expect a repeat of the season we just saw from Charbonnet.

Caleb Williams, QB, USC Trojans

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In most leagues, Caleb Williams will be the first selection in college fantasy football drafts. He is the defending Heisman trophy winner. He is the odds-on favorite to be the first pick in the 2024 NFL draft and would have almost undoubtedly have been the first choice this season if eligible. It's easy to see why with plays such as this.

Caleb Williams' talent is undeniable and we get one more season from him in college at USC. Head coach Lincoln Riley's system is perfect to showcase Williams' dual-threat ability. For fantasy purposes, his passing and rushing create an extremely safe floor but a massive ceiling every week. He had only one week last season where he scored under 20 fantasy points. He had 11 games where he scored over 34 fantasy points including his last nine games last season! If you get the first pick in your college fantasy football draft, don't overthink taking Williams.

Ja'Quinden Jackson, RB, Utah Utes

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Kyle Whittingham has been the head coach of the Utah Utes for the past 18 seasons. That makes him one of the three longest-tenured head coaches in all of college football. Consistency like that is hard to find, and what we search for in fantasy football. In all of those 18 seasons, there have been only five seasons when Utah didn't have a 1,000-yard running back. Strangely, one of those seasons was last year but I think we'll return to the norm again this season.

Last year, Utah split carries between three different backs. Tavion Thomas took the most carries last season, but has since moved on. Micah Bernard finished second on the team in rushing and is back for another season. Ja'Quinden Jackson was the most effective on a per-carry basis averaging 6.8 yards per carry and leading the team with 9 rushing touchdowns. Jackson also finished the year strongly. Over the last five weeks, Jackson received 52 carries for 423 yards and 7 rushing touchdowns. A finish like that sets up Jackson to be a top 50 pick in fantasy drafts.

Rome Odunze, WR, Washington Huskies

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Choosing just one option from this offense to recommend is a difficult task. In most fantasy drafts, Washington will have three different players selected in the first two rounds of fantasy drafts. All of those players are aspects of the passing offense-quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and wide receivers Jalen McMillan and Rome Odunze. I'm going to focus on Odunze, but realize that all three will be valuable for fantasy.

Odunze was among the most consistent performers at the receiver position in all of college football last season. He played in 12 games last season. He caught at least five passes in ten of those games showing that he has extra value in a league that includes a PPR aspect. For receiving yards, he went over 50 yards in ten games as well, and over 100 yards in six games. The touchdowns were a bit erratic, but predicting touchdowns is always difficult. With the talent around him, Odunze is as safe a bet as any player in all of college football to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards again.

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Cam Ward, QB, Washington State Cougars

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Much like their in-state counterparts at the University of Washington, Washington State also boasts multiple quality fantasy options. The team added multiple transfer wide receivers including  DT Sheffield who was the star of the spring game. You can see some of the dominance here.

With all the receiving talent being added, I am back in on quarterback Cameron Ward this season. He was a popular early selection in fantasy drafts last season after transferring in from Incarnate Word where he had put together a dominant season. Part of the belief in Ward last season was that he was following his offensive coordinator Eric Morris from Incarnate Word to Washington State. Morris has since moved on to a head coaching position, but he has been replaced by another Air Raid offense disciple in Ben Arbuckle. I wouldn't be surprised if Ward approached 600 passing attempts in the current offense. I think the volume will make him a safe option as a top 20 quarterback.


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