Dane Miller’s Pac-12 Football Post-Spring Power Rankings

With football season less than 100 days away, the time is ripe for an early assessment

Posted on May 30, 2021

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

Spring football is over and less than 100 days remain until the start of the 2021 Pac-12 football season.

That’s music to the ears of most fans, who haven’t been able to attend any home games since 2019. And with fall camp nearly around the corner, the time is ripe for my first Power Ranking of the new season.

Now, I know Monday Morning Quarterbacks love to screenshot my rankings and jump in my mentions several months later.

But let’s all remember what the great Bill Walton loves to say, “The only thing more meaningless than the score at halftime is the final score of an exhibition game.”

These post-spring guesses may prove worthless come August, but we’ve got to start somewhere. Between now and then, I’ll preview each Conference team, and then revisit my rankings before the season begins.

So, without further ado, here are my initial Power Rankings of 2021. 

1. Oregon

The Ducks exit spring camp with a clear heir apparent at quarterback, and a roster itching to prove last year was nothing more than a COVID-induced anomaly.

After a somewhat disappointing 2020 campaign, first-year defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter has the talent at his disposal to return the UO defense to its expected form.


And offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead appears to have a quarterback better suited for his system in Anthony Brown.

But taking a step back, when a Pac-12 Championship and a defeat in the Fiesta Bowl feels like a down year in Eugene: It’s clear who leads the Conference of Champions on the gridiron.  

2. USC

usc logoEvery season expectations are high in Los Angeles, and every season the Trojans seem to fall short.


Forget the three South Division championships during the Pac-12 Era—and don’t even mention the fourth that was technically awarded to UCLA due to NCAA sanctions.

The perception remains that SC has underperformed, given the talent on its roster.

But with the promotion of renowned recruiter Donté Williams to associate head coach and the return of Kedon Slovis for his third season, it’s not out of the question to expect a New Year’s Six run in the City of Angels. 

3. Arizona State

If ever there was a year for Arizona State to win the South, this is it.


Jayden Daniels is arguably the best quarterback in the Conference, and he is surrounded by talent.

The Sun Devils have young skill at wide receiver and proven running backs, along with a capable defense that has improved year-over-year under the tutelage of Antonio Pierce.

And with questions in Salt Lake City, nothing new in Los Angeles, and a moderate threat in Boulder, there’s little reason to doubt Arizona State’s ability to contend for its first South Division title since 2013.

4. Stanford 

The starting quarterback on the Farm is arguably the biggest concern heading into the 2021 season, but David Shaw appears to have found some momentum.


The Tree held the North’s best intra-divisional record in last year’s modified schedule, setting the table for another run at the title.

Three starters on the offensive line return, and running back Austin Jones might be primed for a breakout season. And while Simi Fehoko moved on to the NFL, the Cardinal return three of their four leading receivers.

If the question under center is solved early in the season, Stanford could make a run for its fifth divisional title since 2011. 

5. Utah

Another year, another quarterback battle.


The revolving door under center in the valley of the Wasatch Mountains has put somewhat of a damper on expectations, despite the two South Division championships over the past three seasons.

Transfers Charlie Brewer and Ja-Quinden Jackson will battle it out with Cameron Rising and four-star freshman Peter Costelli, but there’s no telling who will emerge as the leader.

Still, Kyle Whittingham is the pillar of consistency in the Pac-12, and it would be shocking if Utah didn’t finish within striking distance of another divisional championship. 

6. Washington

Transfers, decomittments, and coaching changes appear to have been the headlines in Seattle this offseason.

Who will lead the Dawgs under center? Is Jimmy Lake the right man for the job? Those are questions that remain open as the weeks creep by until the first test of the season on the road against Michigan.


Long gone are the days when the residents of the Emerald City can blame Jake Locker for throwing an untimely interception, or Chris Petersen for failing to win a New Year’s Six bowl game.

That said, the Dawgs made some key acquisitions through the transfer portal themselves, and clearly have the talent to win the North. 

7. Colorado 

There’s no denying the culture Karl Dorrell built in his first season in the Rocky Mountains. Jarek Broussard, Sam Noyer, and Nate Landman formed the core of the reborn Buffs, and each return in 2021.


The doubt and lack of respect Colorado received throughout its run to the Alamo Bowl is likely to carry over into this season, providing a motivational tool that is arguably unmatched in the Pac-12.

Opponents and certain members of the media likely continue to overlook CU, ignoring what Dorrell accomplished, and instead chalking it up to COVID.

For the three leaders of the Buffs, that’s like throwing gasoline on the fire. 

8. Washington State

Legal issues and transfers were the attention-grabbers in Pullman during the winter and spring months of Nick Rolovich’s first full offseason.


Jayden de Laura won the starting job in his true freshman season, and figures to be the de-facto leader as Week One approaches. Yet, the word coming out of Washington State is that the job is up for grabs.

That may be nothing more than talk designed to keep de Laura humble and focused, but it’s something to watch moving forward.

Fortunately, Max Borghi returns in the backfield along with Deon McIntosh, creating what might be the strongest one-two punch in Conference. 


The Bruins have treaded water during the Chip Kelly Era, stuck in a rut of mediocrity.


But in Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s fourth season, expectations may finally match reality. Demetric Felton moved on to the NFL, yet Greg Dulcich and Kyle Philips return to provide weapons for DTR to utilize.

And with COVID concerns unlikely to effect availability this year, there’s no excuses for failing to get the job done.

Perhaps most importantly, all five starting linemen return, which should make the Bruins one of the more potent offenses in the Pac-12. 

10. California 

Last year was a strange season in Berkeley. The only victory of the four-game campaign came in the last matchup of the season—and against Oregon, of all teams.


Yet, the blowout defeat to UCLA to start the season and the heartbreaking loss in the Big Game combined for a year to forget.

Chase Garbers returns to lead the team, but the defensive identity that has been the hallmark of the program might be absent with Tim DeRuyter’s move to Eugene.

Still, defense is Justin Wilcox’s bread and butter, leading most to believe that the Bears will be just fine on that side of the ball. 

11. Oregon State

Tristan Gebbia might not look like a Power-5 starting quarterback, but the leader of the Beavers provides that rare, intangible spark that rallies a team.


Coming off a season with victories over Oregon and California, Jonathan Smith and his leader under center want nothing more than to prove things have officially turned around in Corvallis.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Smith’s fourth season might be a bellwether for how long it’s going to take.

With an overall record of 9-22, this year might be what jumpstarts a full-blown renaissance in the Heart of the Valley.

12. Arizona

First-year head coach Jedd Fisch is tasked with implementing his offensive and defensive systems with players recruited by Kevin Sumlin.


The current roster’s fit within the new schemes and philosophies will arguably make-or-break the Wildcats’ season, though the focus is clearly on the years ahead.

Tayvian Cunningham leads a wide receiver group that should prove potent for whoever ends up as the starting quarterback, while Michael Wiley and Northwestern transfer Drake Anderson head up the backfield.

But defensive coordinator Don Brown’s press-coverage and emphasis on blitzing might be the key to Arizona surprising some teams this season. 

2021 Divisional Predictions Based on Dane’s Power Rankings

1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. WSU
5. Cal
6. OSU

1. USC
2. ASU
3. Utah
4. Colorado
6. Arizona

—More from Dane Miller—