The pre-spring version of the CFN 2021 rankings with a first look at all the Pac-12 teams.
2021 Pac-12 Rankings: North Pre-Spring
1. Oregon Ducks
Why To Be Happy: The team was supposed to need a year of seasoning, and it got it – and still won the Pac-12 title. Tyler Shough is gone, but Anthony Brown are back at quarterback, RB CJ Verdell and WR Jaylon Redd are returning, and the defense is loaded with DE Kayvon Thibodeaux and LB Noah Sewell leading the way.
What To Work On: The talent is there, the pieces are in place, and everything is set up to be amazing. Now the team has to play like it, and that means it has to lift the turnovers, generate a better pass rush, and be more consistent.
Bottom Line: It’s strange to win the Pac-12 Championship and be a disappointment, but that’s exactly what Oregon was. Years of recruiting upped the talent level, Mario Cristobal is locked into place, and everything is there to not just win another title, but to go to the CFP.
2. Washington Huskies
Why To Be Happy: Just about everyone is back on offense. WR Ty Jones is leaving for Fresno State, and a few quarterback options are done, but the attack is loaded with veterans. With the return of LB Ryan Bowman for another year, all of the defensive starters are projected to be back, too.
What To Work On: Can the Huskies generate more of a pass rush? They were able to get to the quarterback enough to be a bother, but they didn’t come up with a whole slew of tackles for loss. The veterans are there to do more, and …
Bottom Line: Jimmy Lake has a fantastic team returning after a solid first run – even if it was just four games. As long as Dylan Morris or Colorado State transfer Patrick O’Brien can shine at quarterback, the Dawgs have everything in place to win the North.
3. Stanford Cardinal
Why To Be Happy: After a fun and sneaky-good season, enough talent returns on offense to be okay. The quarterback situation has to be settled, and the O line needs to come up with a few replacements, but it’ll be fine. Most of the starters are back on the defensive back seven, DE Thomas Booker is back at one end, and there’s enough in place to make a push for the North.
What To Work On: The quarterback play has to be strong from the start. The defense has to get into the backfield more and the run D has to be a whole lot better, but it comes down to the QBs with Jack West and Tanner McKee battling it out to replace Davis Mills.
Bottom Line: David Shaw has another good team that will be even more competitive than the 2020 version as long as there aren’t any major injuries on the lines. However, there’s just enough missing to be a step behind Oregon and Washington.
4. Cal Golden Bears
Why To Be Happy: QB Chase Garbers is back for yet another year, the offensive line should be almost all back – depending on the configuration – and the skill spots should be a plus. Just enough experience is back on defense – helped by the return of LB Kuony Deng and S Elijah Hicks – to be even better.
What To Work On: The offensive line has to be a whole lot stronger. It allowed way too many plays in the backfield and the running game didn’t work for the Pac-12’s worst overall offense. There has to be more explosion.
Bottom Line: There aren’t a slew of major stars, but with Garbers returning along with the best skill parts yet in the Justin Wilcox era, there’s a chance to a big boost after a rough and disjointed year.
5. Oregon State Beavers
Why To Be Happy: If the Beavers can get the quarterback play right, there’s a whole lot to like about the offense. The line should be good, the receiving corps will be solid, and the defense is full of veterans even without CB Nahshon Wright and OLB Hamilcar Rashed.
What To Work On: The pass rush has to be better. The quarterback play will be front and center with the hope that Tristan Gebbia can be stronger, but the Beavers have to get into the backfield on a more consistent basis.
Bottom Line: There are just enough key parts gone to be a problem, and losing RB Jermar Jefferson is an issue, but head coach Jonathan Smith is putting together a solid program that should keep improving.
6. Washington State Cougars
Why To Be Happy: Did Nick Rolovich get his quarterback? Jarrett Guarantano is a veteran coming in from Tennessee with the skills to potentially take over right away in an already decent situation. With OTs Abraham Lucas and Liam Ryan returning for another year, Wazzu has a solid pair of bookends to work around.
What To Work On: The pass defense has to be a whole lot better. It was a small sample size, but the Cougars were last in the Pac-12 against the pass and didn’t come up with nearly enough third down stops.
Bottom Line: Throw in the return of RB Max Borghi and WR Renard Bell, and there are plenty of skill parts to make the O go. In a strong North, though, the defensive improvements this offseason are everything.