Ranking 2021 Pac-12 Football

David Marsh Editorials 47 Comments

The Pac-12 in 2021 is remarkably difficult to rank. It is probably the most competitive conference in all the Power Five — that is “competitive,” not “best.” Trying to accurately rank the Pac-12, especially in the off-season, is an absolute nightmare, as any team can beat anyone in any given week. There is a reason why Pac-12 After Dark is one of the few draws for college football fans outside of the conference’s footprint.

However, one of the few joys of the off-season is the opportunity to rank teams using what little knowledge we have available.


Oregon – Oregon is the most talented team in the entire conference. In addition, the team has been able to have a complete off-season, which has allowed Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead and Defensive Coordinator Tim DeRuyter to fully install their systems — something that didn’t happen last year.

Stanford – Stanford takes time to get going and the Cardinal usually depends on a highly veteran team. They will have a more veteran team than what they have had the past few years, which is exactly how a David Shaw Stanford team likes to operate.

Tom Corno

Cyrus Habibi-Likio had his best game at Oregon against Washington in 2019.

Washington – As Oregon fans, we love to talk about Washington’s demise, but they will still have a good team. Not good enough to win the Pac-12 North, though.

Oregon State – Is Oregon State is perhaps the biggest wild card in the entire conference? I expect the Beavers to make a bowl game this year, but I’m not sure they are physically gifted enough to beat those ranked above them — especially after a full off-season.

California – Cal could be much better than this ranking, but they are going to have to prove they are more than just a defense. There are also some question marks surrounding the Cal defense this year as DeRuyter is now at Oregon. Though a strong defense is to be expected at Cal as long as Justin Wilcox is in charge.

Washington State – There have been some difficulties in Pullman this off-season — the big one being starting quarterback Jayden de Laura being arrested for DUI. Washington State is a program that is rebuilding, whether or not the fans or administration want to admit it.

Kevin Cline

The Oregon running game has been dominant against the Cougars all through Verdell’s Oregon career, rebuild or no rebuild.


USC – USC is here more by default than anything else. USC has doubled down on the air raid and has really neglected the trenches. However, USC is the second most talented team in the conference in terms of their recruiting record and that alone will propel them to the upper half of the Southern Division.

Utah – Utah is going to be a good team. They struggled to get going last year after they missed the first two weeks of the season due to COVID-19. They will also have to replace their running back, Ty Jordan, who tragically died at the end of the season.


Tom Corno

CJ Verdell and the Oregon offense gutted Utah’s vaunted run defense in the 2019 Pac-12 Championship Game.

UCLA Chip Kelly is starting to show some results at UCLA. Next year he will get the Bruins into a bowl game, but the biggest problem facing the program is Kelly’s inability to recruit a top tier class in Southern California.

Colorado – Colorado was the only other Pac-12 team, besides Oregon, to participate in a bowl game last year. Colorado will continue to improve under second-year head coach Karl Dorrell, though they will need some lucky breaks in order to beat those above them in their division.

Arizona State – Arizona State’s Athletic Department and football head coach Herm Edwards are facing an investigation into some serious recruiting violations. These allegations of bringing recruits on campus during the recruiting dead period during the pandemic are serious enough to bring down the entire coaching staff and maybe even the Athletic Department. If that holds true, this Arizona State team is going to be fighting to stay out of the Pac-12’s basement.

Arizona – Despite Arizona State’s problems, Arizona is probably the worst team in the Pac-12. Jedd Fisch is the new face of the program and he is going to have to build this program from the ground up. This is going to be a multi-year project. However, if Arizona State’s position deteriorates enough then Arizona may sneak ahead of them.

UO Athletics

USC was out matched in 2020 by Oregon and that should continue in 2021.

Championship Game

The championship game based off my current rankings would be between Oregon and USC. If this is the case then Oregon would have the advantage as USC is not Oregon’s equal. Oregon could be the first team in the Pac-12 era to notch three consecutive conference championships.

How would you rank the Pac-12 for the 2021 season?

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By: UO Athletics

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Hello, David…..Thank you for boldly assessing the pecking order for the PAC-12 in the upcoming season. It is indeed a challenging task in a competitive conference.

The Ducks may have the talent and staff to prevail, but the reward (esp. a playoff berth) may be less than satisfying in a league that essentially amounts to two conferences: The Monopolistic-3 (Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State) and the Also-Ran.

Go, Ducks…….

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

He heard the Justin Flowe footsteps behind him, and while I understand how he wants to go somewhere to play every game for certain–it sure hurts our depth of experienced linebackers. Darn.

Jon Joseph

OK. But what happened to competing and being a member of a team?


This is going to be commonplace. It’ll be interesting to see who jumps ship at ASU.


Pac 12 North
1. Oregon

With some luck the Beavs beat out Stan.
The Cardinal have the toughest non- conference schedule. Lucky to get 1 win.

Pac 12 South

This is the year Chip beats USC and Utah.
Also upsets LSU at home. ASU is last because of sanctions. They will lose coaches and AD.

Oregon will win 3rd Pac 12 title due to super strong defense cuz we land JT!


Btw I’m giving Chip a lot of credit due to them almost beating us last year.
With less than a week of notice, not planning to play us last year, and without their starting QB. He is still a great game coach, lousy recruiter, great coach.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Great observation about the ASU impact, as it will only be minor on Oregon and USC, but I have to think ASU and UCLA battle for recruits more often.

Jon Joseph

I see ND as an L for Stanford but K St in Dallas and at Vandy, I think, are winnable?


On the road is always tough though.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

I give you big credit for going with Chip, but I feel that his underperformance in recruiting is going to become more and more evident over the years.

Noah Sewell creates fumble and TD_Tom Corno.jpg

The transfer portal has been a boon for UCLA – Michigan RB Zac Charbonnet, UW QB Garbers, and USC DT Toia. They have more talent than what people realize and have a veteran squad. If they get any help on defense they are going to be tough to beat.


Agreed, but I think he may be one to gain from new transfer rules. Chip gets more excited about proven commodities.

ps like my new helmet avatar?!


I think your rankings seem fair. I also would like to wait and see who arrives on the different schools campuses over the summer as many schools will often have one to two players who committed that don’t make the trek.

Here are my rankings.


Oregon — they could drop pretty quickly depending on qb play but top to bottom they are the most talented team

Stanford — I am not personally sure what has been going on recruiting wise for stanford but overall shaw is probably the best coach in the division and has the best development

Oregon State — Best Gameday coach in the division, OSU has a lot of issues I don’t think they will ever be able to overcome but Smith is the best offensive play caller in the conference and is improving his team through the transfer portal every year.

Washington — Lake is a good defensive coach which will probably get him a win UW shouldn’t this year and they have good roster but frankly his coaching staff is poor and with that I don’t think they can get it done.

Cal — Wilcox is a good coach but unless the team can improve recruiting they will be nothing more than a spoiler. They’ve also lost 4 defensive players to the draft the last two years and I think that becomes a bigger issue in a full season

washington state — I agree with the sentiment that they are in a rebuild mode but I also think they DeLaura starts in 2021. The issue is that their best game in 2020 was against oregon and the more tape other teams had on them they worse they did. The roster just isn’t built(at this time) for the run and shoot. add in that most teams that implement the R&S struggle for 2-3 years and I think they have a hard time in 2021. Also the loss of hector and ross will hurt their defense significantly


USC — just like oregon the depth of this team should put them in first but this hodgepodge offense really needs to develop more of an identity or they probably won’t be able to close out some games.

ASU — second best roster with a talented qb. Will drop quickly depending on the ncaa investigations and what happens with the coaching staff

Utah — Whittingham is the best developer in the conference but they don’t have enough talent two win. I’d probably put them above ASU no matter what if Ludwig weren’t their OC.

UCLA — I don’t know what chip is doing at UCLA and frankly if he were doing this in almost any other p5 conference he would be ranked lower but the south is really weak.

COL — I personally think their 2020 season was a fluke add in that they are recruiting poorly and outside of AZ I just don’t think this team is in a great trajectory.

AZ — new coaching staff on a team that just hasn’t been good. hopefully the staff gets some time to really try and flip the program because this team is probably worse than most g5 teams.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Wow, great post. Putting the Beavers ahead of Washington would make heads explode in Seattle, and I love the thought of that.

When will Husky fans admit their, “Mistake-by-the-Lake?”

(Credit to Annie for that one!)

Carl N

In the realm of the Pac 12 North, I think it is unwise to underestimate any team. Although I fully agree that the Cougs appear to be in total rebuild mode. I like the direction of the Beavs, and no matter the talent gap, no one can ever predict the results of the game formerly known as the Civil War.

I agree with the assessment of Stanford, it seems to me that allowing another year of eligibility due to Covid can only help them. I have the utmost respect for Shaw. As I do for Wilcox at Cal.

In the end it still comes down to the Ducks. The talent gap is real and meaningful. With a full off season to complete the implementation of Moorhead’s offense, along with DeRuyter at the helm of a very talented defense, it does feel like this is a year where they should put things together. Regardless of questions at quarterback.

Crossing my fingers on the JTT recruitment. I would like more insight into his Oregon visit this week.

Frankly, this is all just a fantasy come true for an old timer like me. Go Ducks!

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Amen, my Greybeard-age Duck Brother. All the winning across so many sports, and the recruiting?

I would have regarded this a fantasy not that many years ago…

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

David, I love how you shook things up with the Stanford pick, and frankly upon reflection–they do have higher upside than the Huskies. But I did not think it through until your article and I thank you for that.

In the end….whether Oregon wins the conference is going to depend upon….OREGON. (Will they play to their potential?)

Jon Joseph

Good points. However, UW is far more settled at QB than is the Cardinal. But, the game is at Stanford.

Jon Joseph

David, David Cobb of CBS Sports, Pac-12 projections follow.

AZ – 1-11
ASU – 6-6
CAL – 7-5
CU – 4-8
OREGON – 10-2 – Ls at Ohio State and at UW
OSU – 4-8
Stanford – 6-6 – W over UW
UCLA – 9-3, including a W over LSU!
USC – 10-2
Utah – 9-3
UW – 10-2
WSU – 3-9

Accordingly, Cobb sees UW vs USC for the title. This means the Pac-12 champ would finish 11-2 and likely out of the Playoff?

Santa Rosa Duck

Breaking News:J.T. Tuimoloau just cancelled his Alabama visit and they are out. Down to USC, Ohio State, Washington and the DUCKS!

Thank you David, fine article. I keep looking at our schedule and our away games and I think this could be a more difficult season than I have hoped for.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Well,…maybe. Or maybe he had it confirmed in his mind that he is going to Ohio State when he left Columbus, and made the trip to Oregon for a variety of reasons–the biggest perhaps was to see if anyone could talk him out of the Buckeyes?

And we didn’t.

In that case, no need to visit Alabama if your mind is made up to go to Ohio State.

Sorry for the cold water, and here’s to hoping I read that wrong!

I agree Charles. He has been projected as a Buckeye all along and I see this happening.

Jon Joseph

Great news. The most likely means Oregon or TOSU.

Yes, the away schedule is a witch.


I just read this too, to me that means it’s down to tOSU and Oregon. Crossing my fingers that we can get JT and then Cyrus Moss for 2022…that’d be an insanely talented DL if it happens.

Duck Phan Phil

Thanks David. You’re a little out on a limb with Stanford, but with the conference’s best HC leading a team of veteran nimble-wits I see the justification.

The Beavs and Bears have established themselves as thorns in the Ducks’ sides, and with both teams improved over last year both games will be far from gimmes. Add in a trifecta of tough road games, and I’m seeing a third consecutive league title as a very positive outcome.

Our boys bring a W back from the Shoe and I start pumping sunshine faster than a Venetian store owner pumps water at high tide.

Jon Joseph

Amen. But a BIG IF.

Jon Joseph

According to The Athletic, subscription required, it looks like Bill Moos time as the Nebraska AD is over.

Jon Joseph

Clarification – Bill is retiring, not being terminated.

Jon Joseph

Lots of Stanford love here, David. Most preseason polls have Stanford at 4 or 5 in the north. Stanford in 2021 will be playing 12 Power 5 opponents. Including playing K State in Dallas with a 9 AM Pacific kickoff time.

Washington has the 2nd best roster in the north with a 49% Blue Chip Ratio compared to Oregon’s 53% BCR. Playing at UW will be a witch. As will playing at UCLA and Utah.

USC? SC won most of its games last season by the-skin-of-its-teeth. USC’s 2020 Trojan Heel, the O line, is not likely to improve from 2020’s Ole pass blocking and the inability to block for the run.

I think Utah is the team that will come out of the south in 2021. Great pick-ups in QB Brewer and 2 RB transfers; one from Oklahoma and the other from the SEC where both had success. But Utah does have to find a way to finally defeat SC in LA. Other than for this game, the Utes schedule sets up perfectly, including getting the Ducks in SLC late in the year.

Love these prediction ponders, David. Thank you.

Spot on in noting that the conference is competitive, but not very good.

The conference has to come through in its OOC games in 2021. Below are some of the biggies.

Oregon at Ohio State
UW at Michigan
CU vs A+M
Stanford vs K St. ND
OR ST at Purdue

The Pac-12 team will likely be the underdog in all of these games! That in itself says a lot about the state of the conference. And of course, with a 9 game conference slate the conference will likely have 5 or 6 more Ls than any 8 conference game, ACC/SEC team.

The conference schedulers also do not help by sending a team to play on the road Saturday and then scheduling it to play the following Friday night. You do not see this in the SEC.

And please, do not take Ls vs Mountain West opponents and other G5 opponents.


The South is much stronger in terms of QBs, Daniels, DTR, Klovis and Brewer are better than any QB in the North. Three or four teams could win that division although there’s a cloud hanging over ASU.

We should be the favorite to win the North. I would put Washington at second but I have a hard time understanding the the rest of the teams. I wouldn’t underestimate Oregon State. Jonathan Smith is a creative offensive mind and the Beavs did hang 41 on us last year. Cal has a senior QB and a beastly RB. It’ll be interesting to see what Musgrave whips up on offense and I expect Wilcox to have a salty D.

Once the Phil Steele magazine comes out, we’ll know a lot more about these teams.

Jon Joseph

Phil Steele, Wednesday, on Paul Finebaum show –

“My 2021 surprise team [team ranked outside top 10 with great chance to make the final 4] is Washington.

Washington’s got a big OL, outstanding TEs, a veteran team throughout and Jimmy Lake does a good job with the D every year.

UW avoids SC and Utah from the south and gets Oregon in Seattle.

I think UW has a good chance to run the table.”

Steele’s surprise team in 2019, Utah. In but for the champ game loss to the Ducks.

Surprise team in 2020 – Texas A+M. Finished at 5 in the rankings. Probably in if Lawrence is able to play in the game at Notre Dame.


UW doesn’t have a proven QB and you have to score to go far these days. QB is a big question mark for us as well.

Jon Joseph

The returning QB started all 4 games for UW last season. So, he has some seasoning.

Jon Joseph

TE Otton, best in the Pac-12, looked good in the spring game.

I was surprised by this pick by Steele but Phil does have a heck of a track record.


I love the early riser articles here on Fishduck. I have a 7:40 tee time this morning. Back in my old stomping grounds in central Oregon. It will be a hot one today.

David I honestly can’t figure out the Pac12 and I’ve followed the conference since it was the PAC 8.

The Ducks have the talent – do they have the coaching? Stanford and UCLA have the coaching- do they have enough talent?

Utah and Oregon State added veteran QBs to go with solid core players and have under valued head coaches. These two programs make me nervous – we play them both.

I can’t figure all the hype for ASU and it appears the program is self destructing.

USC may succeed in spite of itself.

Colorado, Cal, Washington State, Arizona, coin flip.
Washington- Lake is still a question mark and no matter how the dogs spin it, they did not recruit well.

Jon Joseph

7:40 AM! Sorry, but I’m a dew sleeper and not a dew sweeper.

Have a great round.

Jon Joseph

David. I agree. On paper, it’s hard not to take Oregon in the north and overall.

Man, I just hope the 2020 lack of effort + no shows were COVID related and not further evidence of Cristobal not having the team ready to play on gameday.

Efforts like the 2020 efforts vs CAL, OR ST and Iowa ST, most likely = Ls at Ohio ST, UW, Utah and UCLA and an upset L at home.

In order to be a consistent contender for the Playoff, Cristobal’s teams cannot continue to play down to the level of the competition.

IMO this is a big prove-it year for Cristobal. Can he recruit and coach or simply recruit?

Oregon should be blowing out most of its conference opponents as does Bama and Ohio State.