Pac 12 Championship: Oregon over USC
Pac 12 North
1. Oregon Ducks
Projected Record: 11-2
Wins: Fresno State, Stony Brook, Arizona, Stanford, Cal, UCLA, Colorado, Washington State, Utah, Oregon State, USC (Pac-12 Championship)
Losses: Ohio State, Washington
Oregon had a rocky season, but still won the Pac-12 Championship despite not winning the Pac-12 North. The offense was decent last year and brings almost everyone back. A key will be who wins the QB competition between Anthony Brown and freshman Jay Butterfield. The defense is led by DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, a definite top ten 2021 NFL Draft pick. Mario Cristobal has done an excellent job recruiting and there is a serious talent on the roster… they just aren’t there yet as an elite team. But expect them to be Pac-12 champions when the season is over.
2. Washington Huskies
Projected Record: 10-2
Wins: Montana, Michigan, Arkansas State, Cal, Oregon State, UCLA, Arizona, Oregon, Arizona State, Colorado
Losses: Stanford, Washington State
The Huskies finished 3-1 in 2020 despite average QB play. This year, QB Dylan Morris will have a five star freshman right behind him with Sam Huard. This team is built to run the ball after returning their entire offensive line, including potential first round pick Jaxson Kirkland, and two good running backs (Sean McGrew and Richard Newton). At receiver, there is a bunch of questions on who will step up. Maybe it will be Texas Tech transfer Ja’Lynn Polk? Washington does have one of the best tight ends in America with Cade Otton though. Defensively, expect this team to be one of the best in the Pac-12 under Jimmy Lake as they added to the group with nickel back Brendan Radley-Hiles (Oklahoma transfer) and DE Jeremiah Martin (Texas A&M transfer). This team has the talent to compete with Oregon for the Pac-12 North.
3. California Golden Bears
Projected Record: 7-5
Wins: Nevada, Sacramento State, Washington State, Oregon State, Arizona, Stanford, UCLA
Losses: TCU, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, USC
Cal played a total of 4 games (1-3) in 2020 so there’s not really much to take from it. The team was led by their defense as the offense was pedestrian. Look for an improvement to the offense with QB Chase Garbers coming back with plenty of experience surrounding him. However, this is still going to be a team led by their defense particularly at OLB with Cameron Goode and Kuony Deng. Expect Cal to have a bounce back year and a tough Pac-12 matchup for opponents.
4. Oregon State Beavers
Projected Record: 6-6
Wins: Hawaii, Idaho, Washington State, Utah, Cal, Arizona State
Losses: Purdue, USC, Washington, Colorado, Stanford, Oregon
Coach Jonathan Smith has made Oregon State into a competitive football team. The offense has made real strides and should be decent in 2021 especially with WR Tre’Shaun Harrison. Defense improvement will be the key, but they have the linebackers to do it. A bowl game would be a fantastic finish and a continued step in the right direction.
5. Stanford Cardinals
Projected Record: 6-6
Wins: Kansas State, Vanderbilt, Washington State, Washington, Oregon State, Cal
Losses: USC, UCLA, Oregon, Arizona State, Utah, Notre Dame
Stanford had a quiet good year last year finishing 4-2 and winning their last four games. It won’t be as easy this year after losing QB Davis Mills and a few good offensive linemen. Look for QB Tanner McKee to take over as a young, former highly rated recruit. As for the negatives, the skill position players lack elite talent and the defense is coming off a not so great year. Expect the Cardinals to be OK in 2021 with a decent secondary and an average offense.
6. Washington State Cougars
Projected Record: 5-7
Wins: Utah State, Portland State, BYU, Arizona, Washington
Losses: USC, Utah, Cal, Oregon State, Stanfrod, Arizona State, Oregon
The Cougars have plenty of weapons at the skill positions, but need to find a consistent quarterback. Jarrett Guarantano (Tennessee transfer) is the most likely to step in, but his college career has been anything but consistent. The offense does feature talented RB Max Borghi. Defensively, they were bad last year. However, they bring back a ton of returning starters to the defense. Overall, it is tough to predict how Washington State will finish with so many unknowns. A bowl game will be nice for Coach Nick Rolovich in his first (full) season.
Pac 12 South
1. USC Trojans
Projected Record: 10-3
Wins: San Jose State, Stanford, Washington State, Oregon State, Colorado, Utah, Notre Dame, Arizona, Cal, BYU
Losses: Arizona State, UCLA, Oregon (Pac-12 Championship)
There is some serious talent on this USC team coming off a 5-1 season. QB Kedon Slovis is one of the best in the Pac-12 and the receivers are crazy talented (Drake London, KD Nixon, Jake Smith and Bru McCoy). A key for the offense will be to improve the offensive line play. The defense also brings back six starters to a top 40 defense. One of those starters is LB Drake Jackson who is highly disruptive. The secondary is experienced and the defensive line includes five-star freshman Korey Foreman… this will be a very good football team in 2021. Overall, expect USC to finish at the top of the Pac-12 South.
2. Arizona State Sun Devils
Projected Record: 9-3
Wins: Southern Utah, UNLV, BYU, Colorado, UCLA, Stanford, Washington State, USC, Arizona
Losses: Utah, Washington, Oregon State
It is unknown if the Sun Devils will even be eligible for post season play following the school’s disregard to recruiting rules during COVID. However, this is a talented team that should be the favorite to win the Pac-12 South. It starts with talented QB Jayden Daniels entering his third season. Combine that with RB Rachaad White who averaged 10 yards per carry and an experienced offensive line… they are going to be good. The development of the wide receivers will be critical on their potential. On defense last year they gave up the least amount of points, but a bunch of yards. Expect an improvement especially with corners Jack Jones and Chase Lucas.
3. UCLA Bruins
Projected Record: 7-5
Wins: Hawaii, Fresno State, Stanford, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, USC
Losses: LSU, Arizona State, Washington, Oregon, Cal
An extremely experienced team that is coming off a 3-4 season where none of their losses were by more than 6 points. QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson finally took a step forward and had a fantastic season down the stretch leading the Bruins to a top 20 offense. Expect the same with almost everyone back except for RB/WR Demetric Felton. Running backs Brittain Brown and Zach Charbonnet (Michigan transfer) will do just fine taking over and running behind an experienced offensive line led by potential first round left tackle Sean Rhyan. The issue will be the defense. Sure the defense returns ten starters from last year, but linebacker remains an issue. Expect former four-star Ale Kaho (Alabama transfer) to compete for a starting role. Overall, this could be a sneaky Pac-12 South wildcard contender.
4. Utah Utes
Projected Record: 8-4
Wins: Weber State, BYU, San Diego State, Washington State, Arizona State, Stanford, Arizona, Colorado
Losses: USC, Oregon State, UCLA, Oregon
Utah will be a flat out solid team again. The defense returns eight starters and the quarterback play gets a major bump from transfer QB Charlie Brewer (Baylor). Look for running backs TJ Pledger (Oklahoma transfer) and Chris Curry (LSU transfer) to lead the offense. One thing that is a huge question mark is can these wide receivers be explosive and not just possession guys. Last year, the Utes won despite Jake Bentley’s shaky play… expect a better season from Utah and a solid team.
5. Colorado Buffaloes
Projected Record: 6-6
Wins: Northern Colorado, Arizona, Cal, Oregon State, Oregon State, Washington, Utah
Losses: UCLA, Stanford, Arizona State, USC, Arizona, Washington State
It is amazing this team went 4-2 in coach Karl Dorrell’s first season. The offense is led by RB Jarek Broussard who had 895 yards in only six games. The quarterback and receivers are a total unknown with young QB Brendon Lewis most likely starting and surrounded by La’Vontae Shenault (Brother Laviska plays for the Jaguars), Brenden Rice (son of Jerry Rice), and Dimitri Stanley. The defense was average in 2020 and should be around the same in 2021 as they are led by their linebackers Nate Landman and Carson Wells. Expect the Buffaloes to be a tough team, but regress closer to reality especially with a tough non-conference schedule.
6. Arizona Wildcats
Projected Record: 2-9
Wins: San Diego State, Northern Arizona
Losses: BYU, Oregon, UCLA, Colorado, Washington, USC, Cal, Utah, Washington State, Arizona State
In former coach Kevin Sumlin’s final 12 games Arizona went 0-12. Now with very little returning talent, a freshman quarterback, no bonified skill players, a terrible defense, and a first year head coach with Jedd Fisch… don’t expect too much. This will be a multi-year rebuild.