Pac 12 College Football Previewby Mason Thompson August 17, 2021 2 comments
The Pac-12 had a wild 2020 football season. With Covid-19 running rampant through the country, officials stressed the situation at hand, and as a result, the conference had one of the most confusing seasons in recent memory. Every team didn’t play more than seven games, and some only played in four. The conference had three players go in the first round, with Penei Sewell, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and Joe Tryon. Oregon was depleted in the secondary in the draft as they lost Jevon Holland, Deommodore Lenoir, Brady Breeze, and Thomas Graham in the secondary.
Many questions need to be answered following a Covid-plagued year, where there were a ton of games canceled and moved around. With many moving pieces and a conference with big-name players, the Pac-12 will be a division well worth watching this season.
Make sure to check out all of our other College Football Conference Previews.
Top Conference Players
Even with the departure of a multitude of players in the secondary, the Ducks still have one of the best cornerbacks in the country with Mykael Wright returning. Continuing in the secondary, Trent McDuffie is one of the best cornerbacks in the nation for Washington. He will now team up with Brendan Radley-Hiles, who recently transferred from Oklahoma.
At Colorado, the Buffaloes have two of the best linebackers, not only in the conference but in the nation, with Nate Landman and Carson Wells. Continuing with the linebacker trend, the Pac 12 has multiple great linebackers in the conference, including Edefuan Ulofoshio and Devin Lloyd, and that doesn’t include players like Kuony Deng. Arizona State cornerback Chase Lucas opted to return to school instead of declaring for the NFL Draft last season, hoping to improve his draft stock for the 2022 draft. The cream of the crop defensively is Drake Jackson from USC and Kayvon Thibodeaux from Oregon.
Offensively, things don’t take a massive drop-off either. At the quarterback spot, Kedon Slovis and Jayden Daniels headline the conference. Slovis is a hot topic on Twitter right now heading into the 2022 draft cycle and will look to keep USC afloat for a playoff spot. Running backs Max Borghi, Jarek Broussard, and Rachaad White headline their backfields, and CJ Verdell and Travis Dye are one of the best two-headed monsters in all of college football from Oregon. The top receivers in the conference are Drake London, Britain Covey, and Kyle Philips, and Cade Otton is one of the best tight ends in the country out of Washington. Abraham Lucas, Jaxson Kirkland, and Sean Rhyan are all getting first-round hype for the 2022 class as some of the best tackles in the nation.
Coaches on the Hot Seat
While Chip Kelly did turn around an Oregon program before moving to the NFL level with the Eagles and 49ers, he hasn’t been able to turn around the Bruins. In three years at UCLA, Kelly is a measly 10-21. If the Bruins don’t improve this season, Kelly could be shown the door. The Oregon State program hasn’t reached a bowl game since Jonathan Smith was named the head coach. With Smith entering his fourth season as the lead man, it is now or never. After two consecutive great seasons, Herm Edwards was on the rise at Arizona State. Unfortunately, a 2-2 finish last year coupled with the alleged recruiting violations is a cause for concern for the Arizona State program. If the team doesn’t finish well, it could signal a time to make a change at the head coaching spot.
Three Conference Games to Watch
Arizona State vs. Utah
The two best teams in the south conference meet on October 16th, with both teams potentially being undefeated and in the top 15 in the polls. Utah will be coming off of a game against the Trojans and will be looking to make a case to take the South against Arizona State. It will be a match of ASU’s explosive offense against Utah’s insane defense. If he wants to keep his job, Edwards will need to have Arizona State armed and ready for this contest.
Oregon vs. Washington
While Arizona State and Utah are the favorites in the south, Oregon and Washington are the favorites in the North. The matchup on November 6th will be an exciting one being so late in the year, and the winner of the game will have an edge to be in the title game and the college football playoff bracket.
Utah vs. USC
As stated earlier, Utah will play USC on October 9th before playing the Sun Devils the following week. Following an up-and-down 2020 season, Slovis will need to play well in this game to secure his draft stock, and more importantly, a win for the Trojans against the Utes. Expect a lot of targets for London, who is looking to improve his draft stock too. The game will be pivotal for both teams as the two are competing with ASU for the south title.
One Bold Prediction
Since 2016, no team from the Pac 12 has made the college football playoff. Even worse, the conference has only had a playoff team twice, which is the least of any of the Power five conferences. This year, that streak could come to an end. Five teams in the conference are in the AP Top 25 poll that was released yesterday with Oregon coming in 10th, USC 15th, Washington 20th, Utah 24th, and Arizona State 25th. While it may be a surprise, the bold prediction is that their will be a team from this conference in the CFP.
Dark Horse Teams
Colorado has many intriguing players on the defensive side of the ball with their linebackers and an elite running back in the conference. The Buffaloes went 4-2 last year, including a 3-1 record in the conference. Unfortunately, they started 4-0 but lost their final two games, or they could have been in play for the conference championship game. While many expect Colorado to finish fifth in the South Division, the unknown surrounding UCLA and Arizona State could prompt the Buffaloes to surprise this season.
Pac 12 North
- Oregon State
- Washington State
Pac 12 South
- Arizona State
The conference title will come down to Oregon and USC. They share the most firepower in the conference in terms of skill positions across the offense. In the south, both Arizona State and UCLA crumble with the surrounding circumstances around the recruiting situation at ASU and the fact that Kelly is firmly placed on the hot seat. As a result, Colorado moves up.
Conference Championship Matchup
A lot is on the line when both USC and Oregon play in the Pac 12 championship. Both teams will likely be in the playoff format or on the bubble. It will be a great test for both teams, and Oregon will need to figure out the quarterback position between Anthony Brown and five-star recruit Ty Thompson. The Ducks are much better defensively, with the best defensive player in the nation and the emergence of Noah Sewell being a bright spot at the second level.
For USC, Slovis needs to stay consistent, and if he doesn’t, the Championship game could be the one where they desperately need him, and he comes up short in the big game. It will be close, and Slovis will have his hands on the ball for a potential game-winning drive but ultimately comes up short, leading to Oregon putting their hands on the Conference Championship while hoping for a bid to the College Football Playoffs.