Posted on August 23, 2021
Starting next week, our senior writers will submit their picks, which will be compiled into a composite ranking, with the individual rankings appearing in a table at the bottom.
But the initial Power Rankings are solely my own after I previewed all 12 teams over the past three months. Back in May, my Post-Spring Power Rankings were released to the chagrin of some, and these opening week rankings are sure to generate further discussion.
I remain high on USC, Arizona State, and Stanford, while refusing to overlook Colorado. At the same time, I can’t shake my gut feeling on Washington and I am in Wait-and-See mode on Utah.
As always, the rankings are sure to change every week, and you can check my individual game picks in our weekly previews, published each Thursday.
But enough talk, here are my Week 0 Power Rankings.
The Ducks are the highest-ranked Pac-12 team in the AP Poll, sitting at No. 11 in the country.
True freshman Ty Thompson is reportedly making the starting quarterback choice difficult for Mario Cristobal, but Anthony Brown is more than capable of leading the way.
Yet, new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter must prove that UO’s 2020 defensive performance was nothing more than a COVID-anomaly. And if he gets the job done, the Ducks should have a shot at the Playoff.
At No. 15 in the AP Poll, the Trojans enter the season with open questions along the offensive line and in the backfield.
Graham Harrell’s Air Raid isn’t friendly to running backs, arguably limiting the effectiveness of SC’s offense, but Kedon Slovis returns for his third season with true freshman Jaxson Dart right on his heels.
And with weapons like Drake London, K.D. Nixon, and freshmen Kyron Ware-Hudson to pass to, the USC offense should propel it to a strong season.
3. Arizona State
Coaches continue to be put on leave amid the NCAA investigation into alleged recruiting violations, but the Sun Devils are No. 25 in the initial preseason media poll.
Jayden Daniels is one of the frontrunners for the Pac-12’s Offensive Player of the Year honor, and the ASU defense is loaded.
Yet, perhaps most importantly, the Sun Devil rushing attack is set to repeat as the top ground game in the Pac-12. Chip Trayanum and Rachaad White lead the way, while returner D.J. Taylor is primed to change the game on special teams.
Ranked No. 24 in the AP Poll, Utah’s defense should once again be its strongpoint.
Clark Phillips III is a projected All-Conference corner who should have a breakout year, and star linebacker Devin Lloyd is back to wreak havoc on opposing offenses.
Mix in true freshman linebacker and potential Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Ethan Calvert, with junior linebacker Nephi Sewell and defensive lineman Mika Tafua, and the Utes arguably have the top defense in the Conference of Champions.
The Dawgs are No. 20 in the media poll, but lost seven-year defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski to Texas over the offseason.
Dylan Morris returns under center for his second year, as five-star freshman Sam Huard was unable to win the starting role in training camp.
Yet, hovering over the program is a slew of de-commitments over the past few weeks and a questionable quote from Jimmy Lake appearing to blame the recruits for their decisions.
Still, the Huskies have a mostly complete roster with the only questions coming from the wide receiver unit.
The Conference is sleeping on the Cardinal. David Shaw must replace his starting quarterback and leading receiver after Davis Mills and Semi Fehoko left to chase their professional dreams.
But everyone seems to have forgotten that the Tree ended the season on a four-game winning streak and had the best intra-divisional record in the North.
Had the Pac-12 utilized a proper mechanism to determine each divisional champion, the storyline would have been: “How Stanford will defend its North Title.”
Look for the Tree to have their strongest ground game in years on the back of Austin Jones behind linemen Walter Rouse, Branson Bragg, and Myles Hinton.
Chip Kelly and the Bruins return 19 starters on a roster that lost all four of its games in 2020 by less than a touchdown. The entire offensive line is back after it propelled UCLA to the nation’s 12th-best rushing attack and put up 35.4 points per game.
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson enters his fourth season in Westwood with deadly weapons to throw to in Greg Dulcich and Kyle Philips.
But the Bruin defense has given up 40 points or more 19 times since the start of the 2016 season, including three times last year, and no earth-shattering changes have been made.
Sam Noyer transferred to Oregon State and Tennessee transfer J.T. Shrout suffered an injury earlier this month, setting the starting quarterback role right on Brendon Lewis’s plate.
The returning freshman played well in the Alamo Bowl against the threes and fours of Texas, but it remains to be seen how Lewis does in a traditional matchup.
Fortunately, defending Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Jarek Broussard is back to set the tone on the ground, and All-Conference linebacker Nate Landman returns to lead the defense.
Bill Musgrave enters his second season as the offensive coordinator in Berkeley, this time with a standard offseason to implement his system.
The Bears were arguably the team most effected by COVID restrictions in 2020, limiting the introduction of Musgrave’s new offensive scheme.
Chase Garbers remains the leader of the program and head coach Justin Wilcox has the Pac-12’s third-best recruiting class to work with.
But most importantly, a healthy Christopher Brooks (formerly Christopher Brown Jr.) in the backfield should produce a much different 2021 season than last year’s forgettable 1-3 campaign.
10. Washington State
Off the field storylines have dominated the headlines coming out of Pullman. From the vaccine mandate implemented by the State of Washington to Jayden de Laura’s DUI arrest, the hits just keep coming on the Palouse.
But that doesn’t take away from what should be a team bound for a bowl game.
Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh are one of the most potent running back duos on the West Coast, and Nick Rolovich’s system affords them the opportunities to create chunk plays.
If the Cougs shore up their defensive issues in the second season of coordinator Jake Dickert, WSU should end the year with a winning record.
11. Oregon State
Jermar Jefferson left for the NFL at the end of last season, creating a substantial void in production for Jonathan Smith to fill.
The departure of the star running back figures to put a greater emphasis on the passing game this year, with returning starter Tristan Gebbia attempting to fend off CU transfer Sam Noyer and last year’s backup Chance Nolan for the starting role.
But after the OSU defense gave up more points per game in 2020 than the previous season, Smith’s focus may be geared towards the defense.
Improvements on both sides of the ball will be needed for the Beavs to make a bowl game for the first time since 2013.
Jedd Fisch is building something in the desert. Having already landed two four-star recruits in the Class of ‘22, the future looks bright in Tucson.
A quarterback battle has been the focus of the offense over the summer, with Washington State transfer Gunner Cruz projected to start over returning-freshman Will Plummer.
The implementation of the Pro-Style offense has looked smooth in the practices open to the public, displaying an acumen for converting short-yardage plays in both the run and passing game.
And with one of the South’s best wide receiver corps, UA should be able to score enough points to pull off upsets.
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