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The Bear Insider 2021 Pac-12 Football Preview

August 25, 2021

The often wrong but never in doubt preseason prognostications are back.

This year provides some challenges as there is little to go on from the past season. A year where P12 teams played at best a small handful of games and were often limited in personnel, practice, and preparation as a result of COVID restrictions. Thus extrapolating anything meaningful is difficult at best and more likely more misleading than insightful.

We also now have the addition of super seniors and an unprecedented amount of starters and overall experience returning across almost all of the Pac-12 programs.  The one glaring area where that’s not the case is at the all-important position of QB where Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, Stanford, Utah, and perhaps Washington State and Oregon State will welcome new signal-callers.  

With that said, let’s get to the predictions:

Pac-12 South:

1.)  Utah (7-2):


  • Consistent winning program with a strong culture and improving recruiting
  • An OL that should go from a weakness in 2019 to a strength in 2021 behind five returning starters and good depth
  • Charlie Brewer was named the starting QB over Cameron Rising after both impressed in camp and the Utes should see solid QB play for the first in a while


  • Eighth nationally in terms of returning production on offense and defense combined
  • A very easy schedule, with the only challenging road game at USC (ASU, UCLA and Oregon at home) while they miss UW and Cal


  • The USC road game 
  • Offensive talent is solid but not spectacular, especially at WR


  • Can they overcome a history of losing big games late in the season?
  • The defense is young, with only two seniors in the projected starting lineup
  • Fewer obvious NFL-ready players than recent vintage Utah teams

2. (Tie) USC (6-3):


  • An elite returning QB and WR form the backbone of an explosive passing offense
  • A roster with more elite talent than any team in the conference (other than perhaps Oregon)
  • Upgrades in the coaching staff have seen improved recruiting results and much-needed optimism emanating from the Trojans’ Fall Camp
  • NFL-caliber players at all three levels of the defense
  • A favorable schedule that misses Oregon and Washington and gets Utah at home


  • The offense line has experience, depth, and strong recruiting resumes but have not performed consistently well under the new Air Raid offense
  • Can they create enough of a running attack to keep defenses honest?
  • It’s among the youngest rosters in a veteran-dominated Pac-12, especially on the DL
  • Depth will be a concern at WR, DL, and LB if the injury bug hits
  • Clay Helton still has to prove he can get consistent performance that’s in line with his talent

2.) (Tie) Arizona State (6-3):


  • Talented QB with a solid run game and an elite RB to support him
  • Overall depth of talent is in the top quartile of the Pac-12


  • 11 returning starters from an athletic if not yet consistent defense
  • An experienced and deep secondary
  • The program has good on-the-field momentum heading into the season after a promising 2019 season


  • Suspended coaches and the specter of NCAA violations has to impact morale and focus
  • WR and TE units are mostly unproven
  • Only two seniors in the offensive starting lineup and none in the front seven of the defense
  • Pass protection is a question mark for the OL
  • Tough schedule, with road games at Utah, Washington, and UCLA

4.) UCLA (5-4):


  • Dynamic offensive system with strong RB and TE rooms
  • Top tier OL returns all five starters
  • Experienced and dynamic dual-threat QB
  • Blitzing style of defense fits Bruins’ offensive approach
  • Transfer portal filled key holes on DL


  • Lack of pass rush without blitzing and a non-elite secondary make pass defense suspect
  • Questions about the quality of the defensive coaching staff and sustainability of blitzing style
  • WR room below average in Pac-12
  • Overall depth is in bottom half of the Pac-12
  • Chip Kelly has struggled to create a strong cultural foundation for this program and is squarely on the hot seat

5.)  Colorado (2-7):


  • Even with a COVID boulder of salt, the Buffaloes went 4-2 last year after being predicted to be a last-place team
  • They return 16 starters, including four of five offensive linemen and five of their front seven on defense
  • Colorado has a very deep and talented RB corps which will be the centerpiece of their offense


  • An elite MLB leads one of the P12’s stronger LB units
  • Last year, they were a hard team to sack and very good at rushing the opposing QB


  • Their starting QB from last year transferred to Oregon State. Then a former starter from Tennessee transferred in and blew out his knee, leaving a freshman QB as their starter
  • Depth of talent is near the bottom of the Pac-12
  • Stopping the run will be a big problem as they lose their best DL after giving up 5.4 ypc in 2020
  • A brutal schedule that has them playing the top three teams from the North - UW, Oregon, and Cal and road games at ASU and Utah

6.)  Arizona (1-8):


  • Head Coach Jedd Fisch seems to have hired a strong staff and is generating good recruiting momentum for the 2022 class
  • They return 17 starters including five seniors
  • New DC Dan Brown brings a proven system that should improve what's been an anemic unit the last few seasons
  • A proven PK and a top-flight punter recruit may make STs the strongest unit on the team


  • This is the weakest roster talent-wise in the Pac-12
  • Getting the team to buy in after losing 13 of their last 15 Pac-12 games won’t happen instantly
  • The one potential elite talent they had was QB Grant Gunnell and he transferred out
  • The schedule is ugly, as they get Cal, UW, and Oregon from the North to go along with road tilts against ASU and USC

Pac-12 North

1.) Oregon (7-2):


  • Along with USC, the top overall depth of talent in the Pac-12
  • Elite pass rushing front seven led by All American Thibodeaux
  • Starting LBs and CBs are future NFL players


  • OL group returns all five starters, boasting strong recruiting resumes
  • Both the OC and DC are proven leaders who can offset some of Cristobal’s challenges


  • Very young two-deep depth chart with seven underclassmen starters on defense and only three projected senior starters across both sides
  • Anthony Brown at QB is athletic but not a consistent passer
  • The safety position is a major question mark with no standout returners
  • DT/NG talent is good but young and mostly unproven
  • Expectations are sky-high for the youngest team in the conference

2.) (Tie) UW (6-3)


  • A favorable schedule that misses Utah and USC and gets Cal, Oregon, and ASU at home
  • One of the nation’s best and biggest offensive lines returns five starters
  • An elite secondary led by potential All-American Trent McDuffie
  • All American TE in Jake Otton and a solid stable of RBs will be the lynchpins of this offense
  • Strong depth of talent throughout roster


  • WR corps looks below average for P12
  • QB Morris is a game manager, not a difference maker 
  • Depth and experience along the DL are not up to their usual standards
  • Generating a pass rush may be a challenge with the loss of potential All American Zion Fetui-Tupuola
  • New DC, OC, and HC in the past 18 months creates question marks on culture and player development

2.) (Tie) Cal (6-3):


  • A good combination of depth and experience including five super senior starters
  • Improved skill-position talent on offense, with solid RB and TE rooms
  • NFL-level talent at OLB and along the DL could make defense nationally elite this season
  • Secondary has consistently been among the Pac-12’s best and returns four starters


  • A well-coached team with a winning culture, and a tough and physical style


  • No proven elite level offensive talent
  • The offensive line could potentially be in the bottom third of the Pac-12 based on recent struggles and the retirement of their best lineman
  • Many of the top players have significant injury history:  Cam Goode, Kekoa Crawford, Will Craig, etc
  • The schedule is not favorable with Oregon and UW both road games

4.) (Tie) Stanford (3-6):


  • A good sprinkling of talent throughout the roster
  • An underrated but very good WR group and solid RB room
  • Their offensive line unit is young but talented and reports suggest they had a strong camp
  • A forgiving schedule with Oregon, UW, and Cal all visiting Palo Alto
  • Strong winning culture and a team that plays smart and physically tough


  • Depth is an issue, especially at linebacker and along the defensive line
  • The talent level in the secondary is below average in the Pac-12
  • Their TE group is not up to historical standards
  • An unproven freshman QB


  • The recent trend line on the field and with the transfer portal may signal some cultural problems

4.) (Tie) Oregon State (3-6):


  • One of the conference's best run-blocking offensive lines returns all five starters
  • They return their starting QB and add in Colorado’s 2020 starter to a deep QB room
  • 19 returning starters, including five seniors 
  • A very strong WR unit that features good speed and YAC potential
  • HC Jonathan Smith seemingly has this program on the rise and has the team playing with increased confidence and toughness


  • Overall depth of talent clearly in the bottom quartile in the Pac-12
  • The defense has been anemic against the run and is undersized along the defensive line
  • The Beavers lost their stud tailback and that position is a major question mark
  • Pass protection for the offensive line has been inconsistent, despite a strong run game
  • Schedule features Utah and USC from the South and road games at Cal and Oregon

6.) WSU (2-7):


  • 19 returning starters including six senior starters
  • A strong RB room featuring Max Borghi
  • Five returning starters from a strong 2020 offensive line that had three honors winners
  • An offensive system that is difficult to prepare for and slow down with a lot of explosive plays


  • Bottom quartile overall talent and depth
  • The QB competition in camp has yet to have a strong option emerge
  • For a run and shoot team, this is a below-average WR corps
  • HC Rolovich’s COVID-19 vaccination PR has been a major distraction
  • A tough schedule, with Utah and USC from P12 South and road games vs. Oregon, UW, and Cal

Stay tuned for more on the Pac-12 season with our Bear Insider Ultimate Insider Pac-12 South addition coming up this week.

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The Bear Insider 2021 Pac-12 Football Preview

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