The PAC 12 has been the forgotten man in the Power Five conversation. They have not had an entry in the College Football Playoffs since Washington faced Alabama in 2017. The path is there but with Oregon and USC being the highest-ranked teams in the preseason they would need to be undefeated. But, before that how will the entirety of the PAC 12 shake out? Let’s find out as we unveil our 2021 PAC 12 standings predictions.
6. Oregon State
The Beavers only went 2-5 last year but that included an upset win over Oregon. The good news is that Oregon State returns 19 starters for the upcoming season. But, the loss of running back Jermar Jefferson will hurt. Unless they can spring some upsets, it looks like four or five wins are likely for the Beavers.
5. Washington State
Nick Rolovich had a rough first season in Pullman as the Cougars went 1-3 in the shortened season. However, they do return 18 starters including 10 on defense. Washington State gets transfer quarterback Jaret Guarantano from Tennessee to bolster the offense. They should be much improved on both sides of the but the schedule is brutal late as they face Arizona State, Oregon, and Washington all on the road.
Coming off an uncharacteristically down year in 2019, 2020 saw the Cardinal equal the 2019 win total at four in half as many games. However, Stanford won those four games by a combined 10 points. The schedule is one of the toughest in the country as Stanford is the only team to play 12 Power Five opponents. But, they do get Washington, Oregon, and Arizona State on the farm.
Cal only won one game a year ago, but that was a big one as they defeated Oregon on their final game of the season. The first two games are tough as they host Nevada and travel to TCU. However, the rest of the schedule is manageable. The Bears will rely on nine returning starters and Chase Garbers to improve an offense that only averaged 20 points per game.
Even with a PAC 12 Championship in 2020, it was still a relatively down season for the Ducks as they lose three games. Tyler Shough is gone and this appears to be Boston College transfer Anthony Brown‘s team. The Ducks will likely rely more on the running game with Travis Dye and CJ Verdell back. However, the schedule has them going to Ohio State early on followed by trips to Stanford, UCLA, Washington, and Utah. That will be too much to overcome to repeat as PAC 12 champions.
There’s a lot of signs that point to Washington winning the PAC 12 North division in 2021 and we’ll pick them to do just that. They were 3-1 last year, return 18 starters, and have a schedule where most of their toughest games are at home. Colorado State transfer Patrick O’Brien will battle incumbent starter, Dylan Morris. An early test at Michigan will be fun to watch, but a 9-10 win season is quite likely for the Huskies who will get back to the PAC 12 Championship Game.
The Wildcats are a team in transition as Jedd Fisch enters his first year of the program. They should be fuming to get the bad taste of a 70-7 drubbing by Arizona State to end the 2020 season. Jordan McCloud comes over from South Florida to help the offense that lost Grant Gunnell to a transfer. Patience is key here as a double-digit loss in Fisch’s first year is likely.
Colorado was in the driver’s seat to represent the PAC 12 from the South last year, but a loss to Utah derailed that and was blown out by Texas in the Alamo Bowl. The Buffaloes benefited from an easy schedule in 2020, but will not get the same benefit as they likely face six ranked teams this season. Colorado steps back a little bit and may only get to four wins.
This is the year that UCLA makes the jump under Chip Kelly. The Bruins return 20 starters from a team that is learning how to win. All of UCLA’s losses last year came by a combined 15 points. The offense jumped up nearly 10 points in averaging 35 points a game. The schedule has some opportunities as they host LSU, Arizona State, and Oregon. We call for the Bruins to get back to a bowl for the first time since 2017.
Utah struggled a little early on but won their last three to finish the season. They return 19 starters including some infusion of talent from the transfer portal. Charlie Brewer moves on from Baylor and gives the Utes some much-needed experience. Similarly, TJ Pledger and Chris Curry should be a great 1-2 punch at the running back position which gives Utah one of the best offenses in the PAC 12.
Kedon Slovis comes back as one of the best quarterbacks in the country and a Heisman candidate. They do lose two of their top three receivers from a year ago, but get Texas transfer, Keaontay Ingram, to help the running game. They will likely be 5-0 before they host Utah on October 9th. The PAC 12 South could be decided when Arizona State hosts USC on November 6th.
1. Arizona State
Even though the Sun Devils have the recruiting scandal hanging over their head this season, they are our pick to represent the PAC 12 South. Their offense is dynamic under Jayden Daniels which averaged 40 points per game in 2020. 20 returning starters should not change anything but show improvement on both sides of the ball.
PAC 12 Championship Game
Washington vs Arizona State
Most people expect to see Oregon and USC in this game once again. However, we have Washington taking on Arizona State with the winner taking home a championship. Jimmy Lake’s defense gets just enough stops and Washington takes home the 2021 PAC 12 Championship.