One of the few certainties in this Pac-12 football season — in any Pac-12 football season — is the impact made by newcomers.
The newbies could be players, either transfers or freshmen.
They could be assistants, coordinators or strength coaches.
They could even be conference executives.
The best recent example is former Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew, who arrived in the spring of 2018 and became a sensation several months later.
Last year’s collection didn’t have a newcomer of such singular impact but, rather, an array of influential players and coaches, including Oregon defensive coordinator Andy Avalos and Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels.
With two days until the season openers — and working on little sleep (as are many readers, I’m sure) — we have compiled our list of the top newcomers for 2020.
First, a note on our framing:
— Only players who haven’t set foot on the field for a Pac-12 program were considered (i.e., transfers, true freshmen and redshirt freshmen).
— We also considered assistant coaches, coordinators and staff members but not head coaches.
The projected impact level of each candidate was based on a subjective assessment of team needs and team potential, if those needs are filled.
1. USC defensive coordinator Todd Orlando
Newbie qualifications: Spent the past three years at Texas and was fired following the 2019 season
Comment: Easy call. The Trojans are loaded on offense and return most of the starting unit from a defense that has underachieved for several years. If they get halfway to dominant on Orlando’s side of the ball — it starts with becoming tougher and more resilient — the Trojans have a shot at 7-0 and a playoff run.
2. Utah quarterbacks Cameron Rising and Jake Bentley
Newbie qualifications: Rising left Texas in 2018 and sat out last season; Bentley is a grad transfer from South Carolina
Comment: We’re not sure which player will start, but we know their impact could loom large in the South race. Utah has a rebuilt defense, so quarterback production will be vital. Rising has spent more time in the system; Bentley has spent more time on the field on Saturdays.
3. Cal offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave
Newbie qualifications: Worked in the NFL for years but was out of coaching in 2019
Comment: This selection is similar to the Todd Orlando pick, although on the other side of scrimmage and without the potential impact on the playoff race. The Bears need a bit more creativity and quick-strike success, along with next-level production from quarterback Chase Garbers. If Musgrave succeeds, the division title should follow.
4. Washington quarterbacks Dylan Morris and Kevin Thomson
Newbie qualifications: Morris is a redshirt freshman, Thomson a graduate transfer from Sacramento State
Comment: We’re not sure who’s starting for the Huskies, but we’re fairly confident — based on ominous comments by coach Jimmy Lake — that the Week 1 starter won’t play well enough to take every meaningful snap for seven games. Nor would we be surprised if a third quarterback (Jacob Sirmon or Ethan Garbers) is called upon.
5. Arizona State offensive tackles Kellen Diesch and Henry Hattis
Newbie qualifications: Both are grad transfers: Diesch from Texas A&M, Hattis from Stanford
Comment: Veterans tackles joining an offensive line in need of reliable starting tackles? A sophomore quarterback in need of solid play from his line? A potential division contender in need of an offense that pulls its weight? That all adds up to impact potential for ASU’s new tackles.
6. Pac-12 chief of football operations Merton Hanks
Newbie qualifications: Hired this fall from Conference USA, where he held a similar post
Comment: Hanks takes over for Woodie Dixon, who ran Pac-12 football for years despite having no football playing or coaching experience. The challenge for Hanks is considerable: It starts with officiating — every facet must improve — but includes all aspects of the football operation in a season like no other.
7. Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead
Newbie qualifications: Fired last fall after two seasons as Mississippi State’s head coach
Comment: Moorhead is well-regarded as a playcaller from his days at Penn State and should have an immediate impact in the post-Justin Herbert era. We slotted Moorhead below fellow coordinators Orlando and Musgrave because they’re taking over veteran units that simply need a final push — they have a shorter path to high impact.
8. Washington State quarterback Jayden de Laura
Newbie qualifications: de Laura graduated this spring from St. Louis High School in Honolulu
Comment: The rookie was recruited by Nick Rolovich during his tenure at Hawaii and fits the run-and-shoot style. We’re not sure about the value-add that de Laura brings — the Cougars don’t seem like they are one piece from contention. But anytime a true freshman starts the opener, it clears the bar for impact.
9. UCLA secondary coach Brian Norwood
Newbie qualifications: Arrived in January after a season at Navy
Comment: Norwood is also UCLA’s defensive passing game coordinator and the assistant head coach. But forget the titles: His job is to help solidify a leaky defense — the Bruins were atrocious against the pass in 2019 — and help fuel a turnaround season that could, perhaps, impact coach Chip Kelly’s future.
10. USC receiver Bru McCoy
Newbie qualifications: Transferred to Texas, then back to USC, and redshirted in 2019
Comment: The Trojans are stocked at receiver, as usual, and McCoy’s opportunities might be limited. His potential, on the other hand, is unlimited: In 2019, he was the No. 1 rated athlete in the country and a top-10 overall player. Runs like a wideout, built like a linebacker. We want to see what all the fuss is about.