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2021 Pac-12 Preview


(image credit: Kirby Lee - USA Today Sports)


Written by: Joseph Yun


The Pac-12 is was the first Power 5 conference to open the 2021 season. In another first, it will be the first season under the stewardship of new Commissioner George Klivavkoff. He’s already been active on the trail despite being on the job for all of three months, which is more than his predecessor can say, even if it's all talk at this point. The conference desperately needs a reputation makeover and Mr. K is well on his way to making it happen.


Speaking of conference makeovers, the country’s western contingent definitely needs to step it up on the field with a dormant USC struggling, UCLA + Washington middling, and Oregon, Utah along with inconsistent ASU carrying the load. The conference as result has suffered from a major talent drain to the eastern population centers from its crown jewel hotbed state of California. Can USC rise up under the perplexingly coaching malfeasance called Clay Helton? Oregon is a consistently perennial national contender with a powerful brand but they alone can’t carry the water. No one expects the conference to become remotely close to the SEC in terms of depth but three or four consistent to occasional rising contenders would be nice. A Pac-12 comparable to the Big Ten is its ideal zenith. Is 2021 the year that it rises up from the ashes to finally get a CFP participant worth hollering about?


If you missed the previous editions in the series, they can be found below



North


Cal


Sept 4 HOME vs. Nevada (W)

Sept 11 AWAY @ TCU (L)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Sacramento State (W)

Sept 25 AWAY @ Washington (L)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Washington State (W)

Oct 9 BYE

Oct 15 (Fri.) AWAY @ Oregon (L)

Oct 23 HOME vs. Colorado (W)

Oct 30 HOME vs. Oregon State (L)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Arizona (W)

Nov 13 HOME vs. USC (L)

Nov 20 AWAY The Game (W)

Nov 27 AWAY @ UCLA (L)


Predicted Record: 6-6


- Cal has an interestingly balanced schedule that features a game against a fast-rising quarterback prospect in the opener, a manageable October, and a tough November. The Golden Bears have a fun offensive roster with QB Chase Garbers, RB Marcel Dancy, receivers Kekoa Crawford and Nikko Remigio. As usual, the defense will be the bread and butter for Justin Wilcox’s charges. They return star linebackers Kuony Deng and Cameron Goode, extra super senior defensive lineman Luc Bequette (he transferred to BC in 2020 only to transfer back in 2021), and a veteran secondary. November will be a tough slog as they host USC, and close with road trips to bitter rival Stanford and UCLA. The schedule and the pedigree of the coaching staff should have them get to bowl eligibility. Road trips to Oregon and Washington will have to be managed.


Oregon


Sept 4 HOME vs. Fresno State (W)

Sept 11 AWAY @ Ohio State (L)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Stony Brook (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Arizona (W)

Oct 2 AWAY @ Stanford (W)

Oct 9 BYE

Oct 15 (Fri.) HOME vs. Cal (W)

Oct 23 AWAY @ UCLA (W)

Oct 30 HOME vs. Colorado (W)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Washington (W)

Nov 13 HOME vs. Washington State (W)

Nov 20 AWAY @ Utah (L)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Oregon State (W)


Predicted Record: 10-2


- The Ducks have been the monsters of the Pac-12 lately, winning back-to-backdont conference titles, a Rose Bowl, and a Fiesta Bowl appearance. 2020 was a bit of a transition year as Justin Herbert was off to the Chargers, Penei Sewell opting out along with a gaggle of projected starters. Head coach Mario Cristobal has recruited to a similar level that of the big boy programs in the east and the gems are starting to show. 2021 Oregon will be led by projected starter Anthony Brown who transferred in from Boston College last season. He will be flanked by star backs Travis Dye (younger brother of former Ducks standout Troy) and CJ Verdell. The receiver room is loaded to the gills with several freshmen (Dont’e Thorton, Troy Franklin, et al) pushing starters Devon Williams (USC ‘19), Mycah Pittman (Former USC WR Michael’s brother), Johnny Johnson III. The offensive line should be better in year two of the minus Penei Sewell era. Defensively, 2022 EDGE1 Kayvon Thibodeaux is there along with a star linebacker duo Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe (both highly rated recruits). The line is populated with highly recruited/rated guys like Kristian Williams and Brandon Dorlus. Mase Funa and Treven Ma’ae make up what could be a monstrous linebacker room this side of Alabama. Oregon’s secondary could be special when DJ James and Jamal Hill return from suspension for an airsoft gun incident. Both players were projected starters. In their absence, Mykael Wright leads a secondary that has a former five-star (Dontae Manning), emerging threat Verone McKinley III, and capable backup Bennett Williams along with Trikweze Bridges. And oh the coaching staff is pretty good too with OC Joe Moorhead and DC Tim DeRuyter taking over for Boise State HC Andy Avalos. Somehow Cristobal managed to add highly accomplished receivers coach Bryan McClendon without ceding the OC title from Moorhead. Obviously, the headliner in the schedule is the road trip to the Horseshoe. November will likely decide the North division with trips to Washington and Utah. The Ducks avoid USC and Arizona State this go around. Oregon should be the favorite to win the conference and a contender to make it to the playoff.


Oregon State


Sept 4 AWAY @ Purdue (L)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Hawai’i (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs Idaho (W)

Sept 25 AWAY @ USC (L)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Washington (L)

Oct 9 AWAY @ Washington State (W)

Oct 16 (Fri.) BYE

Oct 23 HOME vs. Utah (L)

Oct 30 AWAY @ Cal (W)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Colorado (L)

Nov 13 HOME vs. Stanford (L)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Arizona State (L)

Nov 27 AWAY @ Oregon (L)


Predicted Record: 4-8


- There’s an interesting quarterback battle ongoing in Corvallis with incumbent Tristan Gebbia trying to hold off Colorado transfer Sam Noyer. Jonathan Smith is one of the most underrated coaches in America for his progression in developing the Beavers from historical doormats to respectable mediocrity. The schedule is really tough with trips to LA, Boulder, Pullman, and Eugene looming. Not to mention getting conference favorites Washington and Utah at home. It will be a long season but as long as the Beavers display signs of competitiveness, 2022 looks bright. They have a ton of pieces to replace on both sides of the ball with Jermar Jefferson and Hamilcar Rashed off to the pros. Receiver Treven Bradford returns though along with South Carolina transfer back Deshaun Fenwick. Pairing USC, Washington, Arizona State, and Oregon in a couple of back-to-backs should be a crime somewhere. That’s just unfair.


Stanford


Sept 4 Neutral vs. Kansas State (AT&T Stadium) (L)

Sept 11 AWAY @ USC (L)

Sept 18 AWAY @ Vanderbilt (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. UCLA (W)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Oregon (L)

Oct 8 (Fri.) AWAY @ Arizona State (W)

Oct 16 AWAY @ Washington State (W)

Oct 23 BYE

Oct 30 HOME vs. Washington (W)

Nov 5 (Fri.) HOME vs. Utah (W)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Oregon State (W)

Nov 20 HOME The Game (L)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Notre Dame (L)


Predicted Record: 7-5


- The Trees are back in business to winning seven to eight games as usual. They ain’t scared with 0 FCS games, that’s for sure. September opens with a tough neutral game against Kansas State at Jerry World and then USC in LA. Even though Vanderbilt isn’t the toughest competition in the world, it is still a road game in the SEC and in the Southern humidity that melts even the toughest. October is brutal with all four games being losable but winnable at the same time if it goes right. November is bookended by tough Utah and a power Notre Dame. Gone are Davis Mills (who’s trying to keep sane during the Houston Texans saga), Simi Fehoko, and tackle Walker Little (who existed in the hearts and minds of fans but not really on the field much). In their stead, Jack West enters with much hype. Walter Rouse is probably the next standout tackle and Brycen Tremayne is the leading returning receiver. Defensively, it’s a veteran-laden one. Head coach David Shaw seemingly has a lifetime contract as he’s turned down multiple NFL jobs.


Washington


Sept 4 HOME vs. Montana (W)

Sept 11 AWAY @ Michigan (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Arkansas State (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Cal (W)

Oct 2 AWAY @ Oregon State (W)

Oct 9 BYE

Oct 16 HOME vs. UCLA (W)

Oct 23 AWAY @ Arizona (W)

Oct 30 AWAY @ Stanford (L)

Nov 6 HOME vs. Oregon (L)

Nov 13 HOME vs. Arizona State (L)

Nov 20 AWAY @ Colorado (W)

Nov 26 (Fri.) HOME vs. APPLE CUP (W)


Predicted Record: 9-3


- Believe it or not, it was Washington that won the North last season but could not participate in the title game due to COVID. They are once again the co-favorites to win the division with the sheer amount of talent they have and a manageable schedule that comes down to one game at home. Provided that they don’t trip up elsewhere, the Huskies get their Super Bowl against the hated Ducks at Montlake. Offensively, they are led by incumbent QB Dylan Morris. The running back room will be led by Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant. Where the concerns are is at receiver due to attrition and injury as Jalen McMillian is injured and both Puka Nacua + Ty Jones transferred out. Giles Jackson (Michigan) and Ja’Lynn Polk (Texas Tech) will have to step up their games to help star tight end Cade Otton. Washington has one of the best offensive lines in the conference if not nationally, especially with highly-rated tackle Jaxon Kirkland in the picture. I just don’t have any faith in OC John Donovan to put it together after years of inconsistency. Defensively, they have to replace Elijah Molden and Joe Tryon (who are making their marks already in the NFL). Fortunately, the secondary is loaded with Asa Turner, Brendan Radley-Hiles, and Trent McDuffie all returning to leadership roles. They have a lot of beef up front in Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Sam Taimani, and Tuli Letuligasenoa. Recruiting has had a downward trajectory under Jimmy Lake as several big-time instate prospects went elsewhere. 2021 will be a crucial season for him to arrest the trend and get it going again.


Washington State


Sept 4 HOME vs. Utah State (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Portland State (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. USC (L)

Sept 25 AWAY @ Utah (W)

Oct 2 AWAY @ Cal (L)

Oct 9 HOME vs. Oregon State (L)

Oct 16 HOME vs. Stanford (L)

Oct 23 HOME vs. BYU (W)

Oct 30 AWAY @ Arizona State (L)

Nov 6 BYE

Nov 13 AWAY @ Oregon (L)

Nov 19 (Fri.) HOME vs. Arizona (W)

Nov 27 AWAY @ APPLE CUP (L)


Predicted Record: 5-7


- Nick Rolovich’s second season in Pullman should be interesting. The Palouse is always good for an upset or two every year. September is loaded with the two South favorites to close the month out while October is manageable. November brings two away dates against the North favorites, including the Apple Cup. Wazzu has had Oregon’s number the past several years so that game isn’t exactly cemented as a Ducks win. Rising sophomore quarterback Jayden De Laura had a good freshman campaign in spurts last season but he has competition in the form of Tennessee transfer Jarrett Guarantano. Running back Max Borghi returns as well. Travell Harris might be the most underrated receiver in the nation and should put up monster numbers. Defensively they return linebacker Jahad Woods for a super senior year. As long as they don’t Coug It, fighting to go bowling should be in the cards for them.


South


Arizona


Sept 4 Neutral vs. BYU (Las Vegas) (L)

Sept 11 HOME vs. San Diego State (W)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Northern Arizona (W)

Sept 25 AWAY @ Oregon (L)

Oct 2 BYE

Oct 9 HOME vs. UCLA (L)

Oct 16 AWAY @ Colorado (L)

Oct 22 (Fri.) HOME vs. Washington (L)

Oct 30 AWAY @ USC (L)

Nov 6 HOME vs. Cal (W)

Nov 13 HOME vs. Utah (L)

Nov 19 (Fri.) AWAY @ Washington State (L)

Nov 27 AWAY Territorial Cup (L)


Predicted Record: 3-9


- It might be a long year for the Wildcats as they rebuild from the failed Kevin Sumlin era with new head coach Jedd Fisch. He comes with a mixed college and NFL offensive background and will lean on every bit of it with a dearth of playmakers. Former quarterback starter Grant Gunnell transferred to Memphis so the derby has been heating up in a three-way battle between Jordan McCloud (USF), Gunner Cruz (Wazzu), and incumbent Will Plummer. Defensively, the Cats were a predictable mess and it’s going to take new DC Don Brown a minute to clean it up. Brown is well renowned as a defensive mind but his last Michigan defense was an abject disaster and got him relieved. It’s a true year 0 situation in Tucson with a brutal schedule. Opening against what seems like honorary Pac-12 member BYU in Vegas might be fun. There’s just not a lot of wins on the docket but with a few breaks, they can eke out five wins.


Arizona State


Sept 4 HOME vs. Southern Utah (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. UNLV (W)

Sept 18 AWAY @ BYU (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Colorado (W)

Oct 2 AWAY @ UCLA (L)

Oct 8 (Fri.) HOME vs. Stanford (L)

Oct 16 AWAY @ Utah (L)

Oct 23 BYE

Oct 30 HOME vs. Washington State (W)

Nov 6 HOME vs. USC (W)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Washington (W)

Nov 20 AWAY @ Oregon State (W)

Nov 27 HOME Territorial Cup (W)


Predicted Record: 9-3


- How will the scandalous Sun Devils respond to some serious allegations levied against it? In short, ASU was alleged to have hosted recruits last season when the NCAA mandated a dead period due to the pandemic. What makes it spicy is that there has been serious internal strife that resulted in the program being turned in by a former staffer. Already multiple coaches have been “placed on leave” prior to fall camp. Will any of the current Herm Edwards era personnel survive the coming storm? Against that backdrop lies a talent-laden team led by emerging star QB Jayden Daniels with a fleet of receivers in tow. Defensive coordinator and ongoing saga star Antonio Pierce has some key pieces like DL Jeremiah Lole, LB Merlin Robertson, CB Chase Lucas, and CB Jack Jones all returning in 2021. The schedule is manageable but they do have to travel to Salt Lake City and host USC in the span of a month in what could decide the South. Herm’s bunch has an overwhelming penchant for keeping every game close so don’t be surprised if they drop one or two unexpected games. Going to LA and hosting Stanford then traveling to Utah in three weeks might be too tough of a stretch to come out of it unscathed. USC and Washington back to back won’t be a picnic, either.


Colorado


Sept 3 (Fri.) HOME vs. Northern Colorado (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Texas A&M (Denver, CO) (L)

Sept 18 HOME vs. Minnesota (L)

Sept 25 AWAY @ Arizona State (L)

Oct 2 HOME vs. USC (L)

Oct 9 BYE

Oct 16 HOME VS Arizona (W)

Oct 23 AWAY @ Cal (L)

Oct 30 AWAY @ Oregon (L)

Nov 6 HOME VS Oregon State (W)

Nov 13 AWAY @ UCLA (L)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Washington (L)

Nov 27 AWAY @ Utah (L)


Predicted Record: 3-9


- The Buffaloes were the surprise team of the season after they stormed out to an undefeated record before ultimately falling towards the pack. Their hire of Karl Dorrell was much derided and laughed at by nearly everyone in the football world but he managed to keep them competitive. While Colorado won’t be as good as their record will probably indicate, they are on an upward trajectory. September is a brutal month for Ralphie as they host A&M in Denver (who will be competitive in the SEC), a tough Minnesota squad, and travel to Tempe to take on South favorite ASU. After all that, USC awaits as October begins. The schedule just doesn’t ease up but with some luck, they can pull off an upset or two to fight for bowl eligibility. Safety turned all-conference quarterback Sam Noyer transferred to Oregon State so that leaves a gaping hole at QB. Defensively, they return DL Terrance Lang, LB Nate Landman, and a veteran secondary. Any other schedule, they could be bowling.


UCLA


Aug 28 HOME vs. Hawai’i (W) 44-10

Sept 4 HOME vs LSU (L)

Sept 11 BYE

Sept 18 HOME vs. Fresno State (W)

Sept 25 AWAY @ Stanford (L)

Oct 2 HOME vs. Arizona State (W)

Oct 9 AWAY @ Arizona (W)

Oct 16 AWAY @ Washington (L)

Oct 23 HOME vs. Oregon (L)

Oct 30 AWAY @ Utah (L)

Nov 6 BYE

Nov 13 HOME vs. Colorado (W)

Nov 20 AWAY Battle for the Victory Bell (L)

Nov 27 HOME vs. Cal (W)


Predicted Record: 6-6


- The Bruins enter the 2021 season with some moderate hype about making some noise in the South. They return a lot of their offensive skill players including a Michigan transfer back Zach Charbonnet to help the load on incumbent Brittain Brown. Receivers Kyle Phillips and Chase Cota return but they do have to replace the dynamic Demetric Felton. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson returns as a senior who could get drafted on Day 2 with some breaks. He has all the potential, just not healthy. If healthy, DTR has the potential to be a discounted version of what Kyler Murray was in college. Defensively, they have to replace the only respectable DL they had in Osa Odighizuwa. I’m not sure if they have one on the current roster. UCLA does have a veteran secondary, anchored by senior Quentin Lake. Tight end Greg Dulchich is a contender for the Mackey along with star tackle Sean Rhyan in for line honors. The schedule is just brutally harsh with virtually no let up. October will be especially tough with four of the conference’s top contenders on it. They do get Oregon at home where the Ducks have traditionally struggled in the desert. We will know about this Bruins team fairly quickly as September ain’t a walk in the park either with LSU, Hawaii, and a tough Fresno State team coming to Westwood. Bowl eligibility seems like the ceiling.


USC


Sept 4 HOME vs. San Jose State (W)

Sept 11 HOME vs. Stanford (W)

Sept 18 AWAY @ Washington State (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Oregon State (W)

Oct 2 AWAY @ Colorado (W)

Oct 9 HOME vs. Utah (W)

Oct 16 BYE

Oct 23 AWAY @ Notre Dame (L)

Oct 30 HOME vs. Arizona (W)

Nov 6 AWAY @ Arizona State (L)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Cal (W)

Nov 20 HOME Battle for the Victory Bell (W)

Nov 27 HOME vs. BYU (W)


Predicted Record: 10-2


- The Trojans enter 2021 as the heavy favorites to win the South and probably the conference. They have the talent from top to bottom to compete with the conference favorites but the coaching remains suspect. USC has a favorable schedule as they miss Oregon. A trip to South Bend looms after a bye week, which comes after a date with fellow South contender Utah. November is easily manageable outside of the trip to Tempe. They probably have the best quarterback in conference with Kedon Slovis and the best skill position group. Receivers such as Drake London, Bru McCoy (if he is beyond his legal problems), Jake Smith, Gary Bryant, and KD Nixon. The running back room is led by Texas transfer Keontay Ingram and returning star Vavae Malapeai. Defensively, they are led by EDGE Drake Jackson who will likely compete for EDGE2 honors. The secondary is veteran with Chris Steele, Isaac Taylor-Stuart, and star safety Isaiah Pola-mao. Unfortunately linebacker Jordan Iosefa had to medically retire so the linebacker room will take a hit. Expectations will be extremely high for Clay Helton to finally deliver a conference championship and ultimately a playoff berth. The coaching will have to dramatically improve for that to happen, though.


Utah


Sept 2 (Thurs.) HOME vs. Dame Time (W)

Sept 11 AWAY HOLY WAR (L)

Sept 18 AWAY @ San Diego State (W)

Sept 25 HOME vs. Washington State (W)

Oct 2 BYE

Oct 9 AWAY @ USC (L)

Oct 16 HOME vs. Arizona State (W)

Oct 23 AWAY @ Oregon State (W)

Oct 30 HOME vs. UCLA (W)

Nov 5 (Fri.) AWAY @ Stanford (L)

Nov 13 AWAY @ Arizona (W)

Nov 20 HOME vs. Oregon (W)

Nov 26 (Fri.) HOME vs. Colorado (W)


Predicted Record: 9-3


- Utah competing for the South division. Rinse. Repeat. Head Coach Kyle Whittingham leads one of the best development programs in the nation every year. The Utes open the season against Dame Lillard’s beloved Weber State before making the short trip to enemy territory for the Holy War. The game against SDSU might not be easy either as the Aztecs are perennial MWC contenders and usually have a couple draft prospects. October brings consecutive weeks against fellow South contenders USC and ASU so that will be the key contests that could swing the season. Utah will be out for revenge against Oregon for the conference title game loss two years ago in November and it will be at home. They have a QB battle that Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer is reportedly leading Texas transfer Ja’Quinden Jackson for. Offensively, a majority of the line returns but the skill positions are relatively new with transfers TJ Pledger, Theo Howard and Dalton Kincaid coming in. Defensively, a lot returns as well from last season like Nephi Sewell, Mika Tufua, Maxs Tupai, and safeties RJ Hubert + Vonte Davis. As always, expect the Utes to be highly competitive in all its games and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they won the South again after allowing USC their turn last year.


North Champion: Oregon


South Champion: USC


Conference Champion: OREGON


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