Posted on January 9, 2021
The Ducks won the Pac-12 Championship Game last year after losing a ton of talent and experience from their 2019 Pac-12 Champion squad, including their highly underrated (in retrospect) former quarterback Justin Herbert, and after getting hit with some of the most-devastating opt outs in the nation, namely Penei Sewell and Jevon Holland.
The Ducks did not impress consistently, though, dropping their last two regular-season games to teams whose combined record was 3-8, and then getting thoroughly punished by non-Big 12 champion Iowa State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Still, the Ducks probably deserve the top spot going into 2021 as they have a young roster that proved they could win a championship game last year, but they will really want to get some progression at QB to solidify this spot as starter Tyler Shough faded as the season went on.
After opt outs, I thought the line between Oregon and Washington for the top team in the conference in 2020 was razor thin, and I think the games played showed that. I give Oregon the slightest of edges going in because their staff proved they could win the conference in 2019 and 2020, but Washington could easily be seen as the favorite.
The Huskies flashed a lot to like in 2020 as they went 3-1 and their offense looked improved with freshman QB Dylan Morris quietly becoming one of the most-efficient in the Conference. The Huskies also get a boost from getting a handful of key players back who considered declaring for the Draft.
Whether Washington can win the conference in 2021 likely comes down to whether Jimmy Lake and his staff can prove themselves in their first true season, and whether or not their defense can return to its usual stingy form under defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski or if their semi-struggles in 2020 show some cracks in their armor.
I’m giving the Trojans a lot of credit here given how much they are losing early to the NFL Draft, regardless of how underwhelming they looked in the Pac-12 Championship Game and Clay Helton’s track record. USC gets this standing because of Kedon Slovis, Drake London, and my confidence in their passing game to usually be able to put up points.
Though, Slovis didn’t look as good in 2020 as he did in 2019 that may have been due to an underlying injury. The Trojans also have talent but most of their talent that I think was at a higher level than Oregon or Washington is now off to the NFL.
The Trojans are still the slight favorite to at least win a wide open South division and they still have some nice talented pieces, especially around Slovis on offense.
The Bruins were damn close to having a big season in 2020, losing four games by a combined 15 points, and all of them they easily could have won, including a close loss to champion Oregon while severely limited due to COVID issues.
Chip Kelly might be breaking through in his fourth season at UCLA. Dorian Thompson-Robinson looked improved at quarterback; playmakers emerged at just about every spot on the field; their offense was never stopped and rarely slowed; and their defense was good at times, especially in picking off passes and getting sacks.
The Bruins could be a fun wild card to watch going into 2021.
The Utes found their footing in 2020 after a rocky 0-2 start and a long, long COVID delay. They looked like the same old Kyle Whittingham Utes for the most part and were about the only team in the nation that could defend the run.
Utah looks like their typical tough defense, run-the-ball team that should be a borderline Top 25 squad and could easily win the South in 2021 with just a huge question at quarterback. South Carolina transfer Jake Bentley didn’t seem like the level of QB who could lead Utah back to a Pac-12 Championship Game, and has since transferred. The Utes will need to find a new answer, and it could come from two recent transfers, one from Baylor and the other from Texas..
Overall, I still really like the Utes, and if someone can step up at QB, there’s no reason why they can’t at least win the South.
6. Arizona State
The Sun Devils dealt with a COVID outbreak that put a hole in their season, but overall they were solid. Outside of their final game, their defense actually looked fairly strong under DC Antonio Pierce. Their offense flashed, though Jayden Daniels didn’t have the breakout season I think most thought he would.
All the pieces are there to be right in the thick of the South race in 2021, especially if Daniels can progress the way I think most thought he would. They have some nice pieces on defense, including three veteran All-Pac-12 defensive backs who are turning down the NFL.
It’s not too complicated with the Sun Devils: They need to keep going the way they are with Herm Edwards and company, get progression from Daniels, and there’s nothing they can’t accomplish in the Pac-12 in 2021.
Stanford was sneaky-good as the season went on, and I think they could have beaten anyone in the Conference at the end of year. I thought the Cardinal might be a sneaky pick to win the conference in 2021, given how a lot of their young talent developed in 2020, but losing Davis Mills early to the NFL was a massive blow.
Mills was quietly the best quarterback in the Conference in 2020, in my opinion. His favorite target, Simi Fehoko, declaring early is also a big stinger as the Cardinal will have to rebuild their passing game.
As it stands, Stanford still looks like a team that I think might outperform expectations in 2021, especially if their young fronts can continue to progress, and if they can find someone to fill Mills’ shoes at QB.
8. Oregon State
The Beavers were much better than their 2-5 record might indicate. Their offense looks like it should be healthy again under Jonathan Smith, but replacing Jermar Jefferson will be a huge task, and they don’t have an answer at quarterback yet. While the Beaver defense also looked like an improvement again, they still struggled to make the plays they needed to win games at times.
The Beavers could be really dangerous in 2021 if a dangerous quarterback emerges, but until that happens, they are a team that can beat anyone but also lose to anyone in the Pac-12.
Another team that was better than their record and lost a lot of close games. Still, the Bears were a preseason dark horse Pac-12 champion candidate and ended up going 1-3.
The Bears lose a lot of underrated veterans and will have to rebuild a lot on defense and on their offensive line. Justin Wilcox and staff will have to quickly develop new starters on defense and get more out of their offense, or they could slip back into being an afterthought in the Conference in 2021.
I respect Karl Dorrell and Colorado a lot for winning almost every game that was in front of them in 2020, but I think they are more the team that lost to Utah by 17, and got pasted by a very limited Texas team, than the one that beat Stanford and UCLA. There’s still a lot to like in Boulder, though, and I think they can build on the success they had in the 2020 season and compete for a bowl game.
11. Washington State
I liked what Washington State and Nick Rolovich showed at the start of the season. The end of the season not so much. I think the Cougars will have some more bumps in the road in 2021 in a strong Pac-12 as they get their footing under Rolovich and with freshman quarterback Jayden de Laura, who I think will ultimately lead the Cougars back to being a Pac-12 contender down the road.
Unfortunately for Arizona, the Wildcats are the clear choice for the bottom team going into 2021. Fortunately for Arizona, the Wildcats have a new coaching staff and a fresh start.
Preseason All-Conference TeamsThere are still some more early entries or non-entries or extra senior seasons to take or not take into account, but here’s how I think my usual four-team All-Pac-12 team will look going into the 2021 season.
We are so far off, and I’ll do one before the season, so I’m going to hold off on doing snippets for the players, just presenting an early guess at the teams.
Kedon Slovis, junior quarterback, USC
Jarek Broussard, junior running back. Colorado
Max Borghi, junior running back, Washington State
Drake London, junior wide receiver, USC
Kyle Phillips, junior wide receiver, UCLA
Cade Otton, senior tight end, Washington
Abraham Lucas, senior offensive lineman, Washington State
Jaxson Kirkland, senior offensive lineman, Washington
Nick Ford, senior offensive lineman, Utah
Dohnovan West, junior offensive lineman, Arizona State
Joshua Gray, sophomore offensive lineman, Oregon State
Zion Tupuola-Fetui, junior defensive lineman, Washington
Kayvon Thibodeaux, junior defensive lineman, Oregon
Jermayne Lole, senior defensive lineman, Arizona State
Mika Tafua, senior defensive linemane, Utah
Devin Lloyd, senior linebacker, Utah
Edefuan Ulofoshio, junior linebacker, Washington
Caleb Johnson, senior linebacker, UCLA
Trent McDuffie, junior defensive back, Washington
Quentin Lake, senior defensive back, UCLA
Chase Lucas, senior defensive back, Arizona State
Evan Fields, senior defensive back, Arizona State
First-Team Special Teams
Jadon Redding, junior kicker, Utah
Michael Turk, senior punter, Arizona State
Britain Covey, senior returner, Utah
Dylan Morris, sophomore quarterback, Washington
Travis Dye, senior running back, Oregon
Austin Jones, junior running back, Stanford
Britain Covey, senior wide receiver, Utah
Michael Wilson, senior wide receiver, Stanford
Brant Kuithe, senior tight end, Utah
Sataoa Laumea, sophomore offensive lineman, Utah
Henry Bainivalu, senior offensive lineman, Washington
Victor Curne, junior offensive lineman, Washington
Alex Forsyth, senior offensive lineman, Oregon
Ryan Walk, senior offensive lineman, Oregon
Thomas Booker, senior defensive lineman, Stanford
Tyler Johnson, senior defensive lineman, Arizona State
Ryan Bowman, senior defensive lineman, Washington
Brett Johnson, junior defensive lineman, Cal
Avery Roberts, senior linebacker, Oregon State
Carson Wells, senior linebacker, Colorado
Mitchell Agude, senior linebacker, UCLA
Isaiah Pola-Mao, senior defensive back, USC
Mykael Wright, junior defensive back, Oregon
Jaydon Grant, senior defensive back, Oregon State
Jamal Hill, junior defensive back, Oregon
Second-Team Special Teams
Nicholas Barr-Mira, sophomore kicker, UCLA
Oscar Draguicevich, senior punter, Washington State
D.J. Taylor, sophomore returner, Arizona State
Jayden Daniels, junior quarterback, Arizona State
Richard White, senior running back, Arizona State
CJ Verdell, senior running back, Oregon
Devon Williams, junior wide receiver, Oregon
Travell Harris, senior wide receiver, Washington State
Greg Dulcich, junior tight end, UCLA
Luke Wattenberg, senior offensive lineman, Washington
Andrew Voorhees, senior offensive lineman, USC
Frank Fillip, junior offensive lineman, Colorado
Casey Roddick, junior offensive lineman, Colorado
Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, senior offensive lineman, Oregon
Terrance Lang, senior defensive lineman, Colorado
Nick Figueroa, senior defensive lineman, USC
Isaac Hodgins, senior defensive lineman, Oregon State
Brennan Jackson, junior defensive lineman, Washington State
Omar Speights, junior linebacker, Oregon State
Kana’i Mauga, senior linebacker, USC
Noah Sewell, sophomore linebacker, Oregon
Stephan Blaylock, senior defensive back, UCLA
Mekhi Blackmon, senior defensive back, Colorado
Isaiah Lewis, senior defensive back, Colorado
Chris Steele, junior defensive back, USC
Third-Team Special Teams
Evan Price, junior kicker, Colorado
Ben Griffiths, junior punter, USC
Jesiah Irish, junior returner, Oregon State
Honorable Mention Offense
Tyler Shough, junior quarterback, Oregon
Deon McIntosh, senior running back, Washington State
Brittain Brown, senior running back, UCLA
Dimitri Stanley, junior wide receiver, Colorado
Bru McCoy, sophomore wide receiver, USC
Spencer Webb, sophomore tight end, Oregon
TJ Bass, senior offensive lineman, Oregon
Walter Rouse, junior offensive lineman, Stanford
Jalen McKenzie, senior offensive lineman, USC
Brett Neilson, senior offensive lineman, USC
Liam Ryan, senior offensive lineman, Washington State
Honorable Mention Defense
Simon Sandberg, senior defensive lineman, Oregon State
Tuli Tuipulotu, sophomore defensive lineman, USC
JH Tevis, junior defensive lineman, Cal
Tuli Letuligasenoa, junior defensive lineman, Washington
Kyle Soelle, senior linebacker, Arizona State
Levani Damuni, junior linebacker, Stanford
Nephi Sewell, senior linebacker, Utah
Quantrezz Knight, senior defensive back, UCLA
Kyu Blu Kelly, junior defensive back, Stanford
JaTravis Broughton, junior defensive back, Utah
Jaylen Watson, senior defensive back, Washington State
Honorable Mention Special Teams
Lucas Havrisik, senior kicker, Arizona State
Tom Snee, junior punter, Oregon
Gary Bryant Jr., sophomore returner, USC
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