Miller: Postseason Pac-12 Football Power Rankings

For the second-straight year, the Oregon Ducks are Pac-12 Champions

Posted on December 22, 2020

Dane Miller
  By Dane Miller, SportsPac12

As oddly as the 2020 Pac-12 football season began, few could have anticipated the way it would end, with all but two teams opting out of the bowl season, and a second-place North Division team winning the Conference title.


But after the fact, even that seems in keeping with the new normal, and the focus now turns to the two teams that remain.

Colorado will face Texas in the the Alamo Bowl on December 29th, and Oregon will square off against Iowa State in the Fiesta Bowl on January 2nd.

Before previewing those games, we bring you our postseason Power Rankings. As always, you’ll find our senior football writers’ votes tabulated at the bottom of the page.

1. Oregon (4-2)

For the second-straight year, the Oregon Ducks are Pac-12 Champions.

Despite gaining just 243 total yards, UO secured a seven-point victory over the Trojans thanks to three forced interceptions and a stifling run defense. Andy Avalos’ unit limited the USC offense to just 38 yards on the ground, while the Oregon secondary generated two interceptions in the first six minutes of the game.

Backup quarterback Anthony Brown connected with Jaylon Redd to convert the first pick into seven points, and Tyler Shough found Hunter Kampmoyer to put the Ducks up two scores at the midway point in the first quarter.

The fast start was arguably the difference in the game, but the Oregon secondary stepped up late in the fourth quarter to seal the win. Safety Jamal Hill snagged his second interception of the night with three minutes to go, halting a USC drive that could have tied the game.

But with questions surrounding the legitimacy of UO’s championship, the showdown with Iowa State in the Fiesta Bowl presents an opportunity to silence the doubters.

2. USC (5-1)

The magic ran out.

usc logoAfter putting together three fourth-quarter comebacks this season, Clay Helton and the Trojans were unable to get it done on Friday night.

In Oregon territory with the momentum behind them, all Kedon Slovis needed to do was throw the ball out of bounds. But the pass was well under-thrown, and UO safety Jamal Hill made a spectacular play. The interception was Slovis’ third of the night, effectively ending the USC comeback.

But turnovers and penalties doomed the Trojans from the start. Slovis threw an interception on the first drive, and the Men of Troy were undisciplined throughout. USC converted nine more first downs than the Ducks and held the Oregon offense to just 243 total yards, yet Helton’s team committed nine penalties for 98 yards.

The defeat ruined the once-perfect season, and the loss to the Ducks is likely the only thing that USC fans will remember about this year.

In a legacy-defining moment, Slovis and Helton fell short.


3. Washington (3-1)

Like most teams in the Pac-12, the Huskies declined to participate in a bowl.

Finishing the year at 3-1 and the technical North Division champion, the first season under Jimmy Lake was a success. The throwaway year allowed freshman Dylan Morris to gain vital experience and Lake to get his feet wet in his new role.

The lessons learned should make UW a threat to repeat in 2021, and the cloud over its North Division crown should do nothing but motivate the team heading into next season.

4. Utah (3-2)

Down 28 to 7 at halftime, Kyle Whittingham must have given one hell of a speech.

Whatever was said, it worked.

The Utes stormed out of the gates in the final thirty minutes, blanking the Cougs and scoring 38 points. The turnaround was built on the back of the Utah defense that forced four second-half turnovers and limited Washington State to just 108 total yards over the final two quarters.

Game, set, match.

Still, at 3-2 the Utes left something to be desired. The collapse to Washington earlier in the season was shocking, and the defeat in Seattle casts a different spin on the season. Though the comeback against WSU will be remembered—as will the victory in Boulder—the tingling feeling that something was left on the table can’t be ignored.

But it’s on to the next one, even if the next one isn’t for another nine months.

5. Colorado (4-1)

As one of only two Pac-12 teams to accept a bowl invitation, the Colorado Buffaloes’ season has yet to be truly defined.

The Alamo Bowl matchup with Texas provides the program the opportunity to turn an unexpectedly good season into one of the best of the past 25 years. A win over Texas would not only catch the eyes of the national media and recruits, but Athletic Directors contemplating their next coaching hire.

That’s not to say that Karl Dorrell would bolt the way Mel Tucker did, but it would put Dorrell’s name on the minds of several SEC and Big 10 athletic departments during next year’s “silly season.”

And with a week off to recoup, the preparation for the matchup in San Antonio begins now.


6. Stanford (4-2)

It took double overtime, but the Cardinal pulled out the victory.

In the end, it was the Stanford defense that stuffed a Bruin two-point conversion attempt in the second OT to seal the win, but Simi Fehoko was arguably the reason the Tree won. The junior wideout caught 16 balls for 230 yards and three touchdowns, a jaw-dropping stat line that propelled the Stanford offense to its highest point total of the season.

For David Shaw and the Cardinal, this wild year will likely be remembered as the stepping stone to 2021. After an 0-2 start, Shaw and Company rattled off four-straight victories to finish the season with more momentum than any other program in the Pac-12.

And with the emergence of running back Austin Jones, the Tree are a legitimate threat to win the North next season.

7. UCLA (3-4)

On third down at the Stanford 25 yard line with just under two minutes remaining in the game, the one thing UCLA couldn’t do was turn the ball over.

But Chase Griffin mishandled a read-option, and the Cardinal recovered the fumble. The Tree seized the opportunity, marched down the field, and tied the game to force overtime. And after a failed two-point conversion in the second OT, UCLA’s first winning season since 2015 fell by the wayside.

Chip Kelly’s seat was already hot coming into 2020, but the finale to this year may have ratcheted up the temperature even higher. The collapse against Stanford, after engineering a comeback without Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Demetric Felton, was eerily reminiscent of the defeat to USC just one week prior.

It’s not just that the Bruins lost the two games, it’s the way they were lost.

Still, there’s no denying that things are slowly but surely beginning to turn around in Westwood.

8. Arizona State (2-2)

What could have been.

The 2020 season will undoubtedly go down as the strangest in Arizona State history. After opening the year against USC in a game that slipped through their fingers, the Sun Devils were forced out of commission for nearly a month due to COVID-19.

In their return game against UCLA, the ASU players didn’t look themselves and dropped another heartbreaker. But the year turned around with a beat down of Arizona and a respectable victory over Oregon State on a rainy night in Corvallis.

Herm Edwards’ team put up 514 yards in the Beaver State, including 375 on the ground. Rachaad White went off for 158 yards and two touchdowns, while Jayden Daniels added a 53 yard touchdown run in the early part of the third quarter.

With the preseason questions about the Arizona State run game resoundingly answered, 2021 may turn out to be the year ASU reclaims the South Division.

9. Oregon State (2-5)

Seven games.

In a season that resulted in multiple cancelled matchups almost every week, the Beavers dodged bullets like Neo from The Matrix. The full slate that Oregon State managed to play should do wonders for the team heading into 2021.

And it gave Jonathan Smith the luxury of knowing what his players are made of.

On a cold night against the Sun Devils, Jermar Jefferson was once again mostly stymied for the second consecutive week. But the Beavs showed the type of fight that could win them a few games next year.

Chance Nolan struggled in the rain, but Jack Colletto ran the Wildcat effectively when given the opportunity in the red zone. And even though it was a moral accomplishment for an individual player, true freshman Ben Gulbranson threw his first touchdown on the last play of the game.

Though close is never good enough, this season Oregon State lost to Stanford by three, Washington by six, and Utah by six.

Looking at the big picture, OSU is not that far off from truly competing in the North.

10. Washington State (1-3)

It was a tale of two halves in Salt Lake City.

Through the first thirty minutes, the Cougars looked unbeatable. Jayden de Laura had two touchdowns to his name, Max Borghi scored his first points of the year, and Deon McIntosh tacked on another one on the ground.

Heading into the locker room, Washington State was up 28-7.

What happened over the final thirty minutes won’t be forgotten anytime soon. The WSU offense was shut down, and the Utes put up 38 unanswered points. In many ways, the final two quarters were similar to the first half of the game against USC.

Nothing was working, and the defense couldn’t get stops.

Still, Nick Rolovich’s offense proved to be effective in the Pac-12, if inconsistent. And with the emergence of Jayden de Laura, though hampered by injury, there is reason for hope in Pullman heading into next year.

11. California (1-3)

When analysts look back at this season a decade or so from now, the primary talking point when discussing California figures to be its win over Oregon. And that’s not merely because it was Cal’s lone victory on the year, but because it proved the shortcomings of the Bears’ season.

Coming into 2020, most were expecting California to compete for the North title. Things turned south quickly, in part due to the strongest Coronavirus restrictions in the nation implemented by the City of Berkeley and Alameda County.

But the four-point defeat to Oregon State and the one-point loss to Stanford in the Big Game were matchups the Bears should have won, and Justin Wilcox is faced with finding a way to revitalize his offense over the summer.

Still, the victory over the Ducks provides a launching point into next season and ensures Cal is riding the momentum from a quality win as Spring Camp approaches.

12. Arizona (0-5)

Athletic Director Dave Heeke continues his search for the next coach to take over the reins in Tucson.

Rumors are swirling that San Jose State’s Brent Brennan has interviewed for the position along with Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, but some rumblings are linking New England Patriot’s quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch to the role as well as Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.

In the meantime, Grant Gunnell has entered his name into the transfer portal along with wide receivers Boobie Curry and Jamarye Joiner.

But with Brennan and San Jose State scheduled to be in Tucson for the Arizona Bowl on New Year’s Eve, its unclear if Heeke’s choice will be announced before the year ends. Regardless of the pick, the rebuild in the desert will be a multi-year process marked by incremental steps and setbacks.

It can be done, but it will require a patient coach with a defined plan.

How Our Senior Football Writers Voted


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