Pac-12 football: 12 newcomers making an impact around the league

Washington State upset a Top-25 Wisconsin squad. Oregon and Utah went to Texas and both came away with road wins. Colorado kept it rolling against Nebraska. Overall, the Pac-12 continued its hot start to the 2023 season with another productive weekend.

There are plenty of familiar faces leading the way, especially at the quarterback position, but there are several fresh faces making an impact as well. Here’s a look at one key newcomer — a freshman, transfer or even a coach — for each program in the league.

1. UCLA’s quarterback battle reached its inevitable conclusion Saturday: True freshman Dante Moore was named the starter and led the Bruins to an impressive 35-10 road win over San Diego State. Moore completed 17-of-27 passes for 290 yards, three TDs and no picks. Moore, who is averaging a whopping 11.1 yards per attempt, has raised UCLA’s offensive ceiling. There may be some growing pains, but it’s difficult not to be excited about his long-term potential. Moore’s first true test is in two weeks at Utah.

2. Travis Hunter and Shedeur Sanders have received most of the headlines at Colorado, and understandably so. But receiver Xavier Weaver’s contributions shouldn’t be overlooked. The USF transfer caught 10 passes for 170 yards and a TD against Nebraska a week after posting 118 receiving yards against TCU. Through two weeks, Weaver is the Pac-12’s receiving leader with 288 yards, and he’s been a critical piece to the Buffaloes’ shocking 2-0 start — which should be 3-0 after playing Colorado State next week.


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3. USC hasn’t had a presence on the inside of its defensive line like Bear Alexander in quite a while. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Georgia transfer has seven tackles (and one TFL) this season, but the box score doesn’t tell the story — Alexander has been a disruptive force. His pressure on Stanford QB Ashton Daniels led to a first-quarter interception in USC’s dominant win over the Cardinal on Saturday. If the Trojans defense takes a step forward this season — and there are some positive early signs — Alexander will likely play a big role.

4. On the other end of that USC result was first-year Stanford coach Troy Taylor, whose team was trailing at the half by 46 points on Saturday. The vibes were good for the Cardinal in Week 1 after they soundly beat Hawaii, which pushed Vanderbilt to the limit the week prior. But Saturday was a harsh reminder that Stanford was picked last in the Pac-12 in the preseason poll. The Cardinal should pick up win No. 2 next week against Sacramento State, but the remaining schedule features seven dates against current Top-25 teams in the final nine games.

5. First-year Washington State offensive coordinator Ben Arbuckle is tasked with maximizing Cam Ward’s immense potential. Through two weeks, Ward has been very good, and Washington State now finds itself in the Top 25 after he threw for 212 yards and two TDs and rushed for 43 yards in an upset victory over Wisconsin. Washington State should be 3-0 after a matchup with Northern Colorado next week, but Arbuckle will have a major challenge the following week against a stout Oregon State defense.

6. There are several members of Utah’s 2023 recruiting class — the best in school history — who are already contributing. Spencer Fano has earned the starting left tackle spot. Receiver Mikey Matthews leads the team with eight receptions through two games, including four for 48 yards in last week’s win over Baylor. The 5-8, 180-pound Matthews isn’t physically imposing but always impressed at 7-on-7 tournaments in high school. He is a no-nonsense receiver who consistently makes plays. He fits well at Utah and should be even more productive when QB Cam Rising returns.

7. Oregon State dominated UC Davis with its ground game on Saturday — the Beavers rushed for 269 yards — so quarterback DJ Uiagalelei wasn’t asked to do much. Still, the Clemson transfer accounted for three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing). Uiagalelei has looked comfortable through two weeks, but the Beavers have faced overmatched opponents. The tests will increase in difficulty over the next few weeks when Oregon State faces San Diego State, Washington State and Utah. We’ll soon get a good measure of Uiagalelei’s improvement.

8. Uiagalelei’s younger brother, Matayo Uiagalelei, has found a spot in Oregon’s rotation at defensive end. The Ducks beat out USC for the younger Uiagalelei in the most recent recruiting cycle, an important win in Southern California for coach Dan Lanning. So far Uiagalelei has recorded six tackles, the most among the Ducks D-linemen. Oregon’s edge rushers — Uiagalelei, Jordan Burch and Brandon Dorlus — should provide a major test for Colorado in what will be an extremely hyped matchup in two weeks.

9. Like Uiagalelei, quarterback Jaden Rashada was a top-100 prospect in the 2023 recruiting cycle. The NIL-filled drama with Rashada’s recruiting process was well documented, but it sure seems as though he’s found a good landing spot at Arizona State. Like any true freshman, Rashada is a work in progress, but he’s displayed some promise and has thrown for 403 yards and three touchdowns in two games. Having Kenny Dillingham, a former offensive coordinator, as his head coach should aid Rashada’s development.

10. Washington’s secondary had its issues last season, which is why Oklahoma State transfer Jabbar Muhammad was a significant addition. In a 43-10 win over Tulsa on Saturday, Muhammad notched four tackles, a sack and a pass breakup. With Arizona’s receivers and quarterbacks Caleb Williams, Bo Nix and Rising still left on the schedule, Washington will need strong play from Muhammad and fellow corner Davon Banks for the rest of the season.

11. Cal offensive coordinator Jake Spavital had a great first game back when the Bears broke the 50-point plateau for the first time in Justin Wilcox’s tenure. The Week 2 loss to Auburn was defined by sloppy play and missed opportunities. Cal outgained Auburn, 273-230, but the passing game never clicked as neither Sam Jackson V nor Ben Finley found a rhythm. Settling on a QB will likely be high on Spavital’s to-do list as will finding ways to put standout running Jaydn Ott, who was limited to 78 yards on 20 carries against Auburn, in a position to succeed.

12. Through two games, Arizona is allowing 4.53 yards per play, which ranks 33rd nationally. Yes, one of the opponents was Northern Arizona, an FCS program. But this is still a very positive development. For context, Arizona allowed 6.59 yards per play last season (126th nationally). Jedd Fisch and his staff hit the portal to upgrade the talent level, and one of the additions was 6-6, 325-pound Georgia transfer Bill Norton, a defensive lineman who possesses the size the Wildcats simply didn’t have a year ago. So far, Norton has six tackles and one TFL. If the Wildcats can maintain some level of this defensive improvement, they could be an interesting wild card in the Pac-12 this season.

(Photo of Dante Moore: Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)

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