Which Pac-12 Program is the early projected favorite?
Photo: Oregon Athletics
Article by WestCoastCFB
The Ducks are coming off two straight Pac-12 Titles and it's really just the beginning of the Duck Dynasty under Cristobal. Oregon has had the #1 recruiting class in the conference for 3 straight years and Oregon returns the 9th most production in the nation next season. The Ducks were young in 2020 and the increased experience for their young talented roster should lead to a 3rd straight conference title.
The Huskies bring back nearly every starter from the best defense in the conference last year. Even with the departure of Pete Kwiatkowski, expect UW to have the top defensive unit once again in 2021. The question mark comes on offense for the Huskies. The run heavy scheme that Lake wants to run on offense is an effective plan if you have a dominant tailback to lean on but at the moment it doesn't appear the Huskies have that. With that said, Oregon has to come to Seattle in 2021 and if the Huskies win that game they will have a chance to win the Pac-12 North Title for the 2nd straight season.
3. Arizona State
ASU, Utah and USC are all very equal entering 2021. Any of the 3 could win the South but we give a slight edge to the Sun Devils for how they ended the 2020 season in dominant fashion. ASU led the Pac-12 in scoring offense at 40.3 PPG and also led the conference in scoring defense. The Sun Devils boast a top tier QB in Jayden Daniels and an outstanding rushing attack with Rachaad White (10 Yards Per Carry) and Chip Trayanum (5.92 YPC). The non-conference schedule for ASU should be relatively easy with games against Southern Utah, UNLV and a rebuilding BYU squad. The toughest tests will be a home game against USC and then road games in Seattle and Salt Lake City.
Kedon Slovis remains the top QB in the conference and that alone will keep the Trojans in contention. The Trojans lost a ton of major contributors with Talanoa Hufanga, Alijah-Vera Tucker, Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Olaijah Griffin, and Marlon Tuipulotu off to the NFL. 2020 was the Trojans best chance to win the conference with the talent they had and next year they will likely slightly regress. USC still has a talented roster and Slovis will have Drake London, Gary Bryant and Bru McCoy to throw to. Expect USC to score in bunches but the defense will likely remain average and that could prevent the Trojans from winning the South. The positive for the Trojans is they avoid UW and Oregon in conference play and that could give USC the edge in the South race.
Utah has made some big time moves in the transfer portal with the additions of QB Charlie Brewer from Baylor and RB's TJ Pledger (Oklahoma) and Chris Curry (LSU). The Utes have an excellent chance of winning the Pac-12 in 2021 while returning the 8th most production in the country. The defense should be stellar once again with Devin Lloyd, Mika Tafua and Clark Phillips leading the unit. Most seasons, a team as stacked as Utah would be the projected favorite to win the conference but 2021 will be the most talented the Pac-12 has been since 2013 when 5 Pac-12 teams won 10 or more games.
UCLA made major strides in Chip Kelly's 3rd season with a high flying offense that scored at will. The Bruins are beginning to feel more like the Chip Kelly Oregon teams but the defense is still a liability. UCLA has the 2nd most returning production in the nation and should be able to win 6-8 games but they still aren't yet in a place to contend for the Pac-12 South Title.
The Golden Bears were a dark horse pick to win the North in 2020 but fell flat while going 1-3. Still, Cal returns a stacked defense in 2021 and will be tough to score against. The offense, however, held the team back in 2020 while scoring just 20.3 PPG.
Stanford ended the 2020 campaign on a 4 game win streak and in a 12 game season they may have been a contender for the conference title. Unfortunately, they didn't get a chance to live up to their full potential and now must replace talented weapons with Davis Mills, Simi Fehoko and others off to the NFL. The Cardinal return the least production in the Pac-12, ranking 111th nationally. 2021 could be a rebuilding season for the Cardinal but expect them to still win 6-7 games.
Colorado was the surprise team in the Pac-12 this past season as they surged to a 4-2 record in year 1 under Karl Dorrell. The Buffs have a star running back in Jarek Broussard to lead the offense and have Carson Wells and Nate Landman to lead the defense. The Buffs will likely be in the 5-6 win range but that is due to how strong the Pac-12 is projected to be next year and not an indictment on Colorado. In many years, a Colorado team this strong could have been capable of winning 7-8 games.
Wazzu is full of offensive weapons with Max Borghi, Jayden de Laura, Travell Harris and Renard Bell leading the offense. The Cougs should have an excellent OL to help pave the way but the defense didn't show well in 2020 and will need to improve this coming season if the Cougs are to reach a Bowl.
11. Oregon State
The Beavers were better than their record in 2020 but losing Jermar Jefferson to the NFL is a major blow to an offensive attack that completely relied on his production. OSU continues to struggle on defense and it's hard to envision the Beavers making major noise in the conference title chase. With that said, the Beavers will continue to be a tough out and Jonathan Smith will eventually get OSU to a Bowl.
I'm a huge fan of what Jedd Fisch is building in Tucson. He has made all the right moves since becoming the HC of the Wildcats and has the program on the right track. Arizona will simply not have enough talent next season but should be more competitive than they were last season.