2021 Pac-12 Rankings: South Pre-Spring
1. Utah Utes
Why To Be Happy: All of a sudden, the quarterback situation is interesting with Baylor veteran Charlie Brewer coming in with a shot to take over right away. With the return of Nick Ford and Orlando Umana, all five starters are expected to return on the offensive front. The D line is deeper – and very big – LB Devin Lloyd coming back is huge, and all four starters should be back in the secondary.
What To Work On: The defense has to go back to form. It was okay in 2020, but it wasn’t the killer of the previous two seasons that helped lead the way to Pac-12 Championship appearances. There’s a whole lot of experience returning, but now the line has to rock again, the pass rush has to be great, and …
Bottom Line: The Utes will be more than fine on the lines. Throw in the addition of a high-level starter in Brewer to go along with the power up front, and all the makings are there for a run to a third Pac-12 title game in four years.
2. USC Trojans
Why To Be Happy: There’s still a whole lot of really, really good parts starting with Kedon Slovis back at quarterback and with Texas RB Keontay Ingram and WR KD Nixon transferring in. Even with Amon-Ra St. Brown taking off early for the NFL, the receiving corps is fantastic. But …
What To Work On: There are a whole slew of parts missing. Six underclassmen left early to the NFL as part of a wee bit of an overhaul. The offensive line has to be stronger, the team has to be far more consistent, and …
Bottom Line: This is still a talented enough team to get back to the Pac-12 Championship and actually win it this time. Last year’s version was loaded for a massive campaign after building things up, and if this one can replace the early parts right away, look out.
3. Arizona State Sun Devils
Why To Be Happy: This is when it should all kick in under Herm Edwards. He’s got the quarterback in Jayden Daniels, the receiving corps should be fine, and the defensive front and secondary have the potential to rise up to be among the Pac-12’s best.
What To Work On: The passing attack has to do even more even with Daniels back. The Sun Devils had the second-worst air attack in the Pac-12 – averaging fewer than 200 yards
Bottom Line: There’s a Prove It factor with the Sun Devils under Edwards, and there are plenty of holes to fill, but the starting 22 should be good enough to push for the South title with the right breaks.
4. UCLA Bruins
Why To Be Happy: There weren’t any underclassmen lost to the NFL, the losses in the transfer portal were minimal – and a net positive talent-wise with what’s coming in – and now there’s a real, live offensive line along with QB dorian Thompson-Robinson and plenty of skill stars. At least nine starters are expected to return on the defensive side.
What To Work On: The Bruins were 3-0 when allowing fewer than 20 points, and 0-4 when giving up more – it starts with the secondary. The pass rush was great the defense overall wasn’t all that bad, and the team was better, but there were too many issues on third downs.
Bottom Line: Can the Bruins finally break through and start winning all the close games? They battled well in a fun 2020, but they didn’t have the D to hold up in key moments. If the experience comes through, this could be the surprise team in the South.
5. Colorado Buffaloes
Why To Be Happy: This was a young team that returns a whole slew of key parts, starting with star RB Jarek Broussard behind four veteran offensive linemen. DT Mustafa Johnson is off to the NFL, but LB Nate Landman is back for a defense loaded with experience.
What To Work On: The passing game has to be more efficient and a whole lot stronger. WR KD Nixon is off to USC, but Tennessee transfer JT Shrout is coming in to battle with better Sam Noyer to do more to take the head off of Broussard.
Bottom Line: This was one of the bigger surprises of 2020 in Karl Dorrell’s first year, and the experience is there to potentially be even better. However, remember, the Buffs didn’t play USC, Oregon, or Arizona State and lost to Utah by 17.
6. Arizona Wildcats
Why To Be Happy: It’s a whole new era with Jedd Fisch taking over and making a big push for … defense? Arizona might quickly have a real, live D with four transfers coming in so far for that side – watch out for Western Michigan LB Treshaun Hayward. Fisch did a good job of keeping a slew of receivers from leaving, the O line is expected to be back, and …
What To Work On: Quarterback. Grant Gunnell is gone to Memphis and it’s going to be a battle to see who can make a push with Washington State transfer Gunner Cruz and USF’s Jordan McCloud each giving it a run.
Bottom Line: Give it a little bit, but Fisch could quickly appear to be a home run hire. The offense needs playmakers to emerge, but Step One is to make the defense totally miserable, and Fisch and his staff should be able to do that.