by Christian Mott
What a year 2020 was for the PAC-12 Conference. It was a shortened six-game season which had its fair share of ups and downs from cancellations to a competitive South. The 2020 season was a year some thought would never come to be. In such a short span of time, it gave fans plenty to talk about.
With the PAC-12 as open as ever entering the 2021 season, the question stands: who comes out on top? The South is particularly interesting. This division race gives those old school vibes. It’s time to take a peek at the schedule to see who will likely come out.
2020 record: 5-1 | Conference record: 5-1 |Coach: Clay Helton
One thing is for sure about the Trojans. These aren’t the Trojans of old who were one a Vince Young touchdown away from a three-peat. Since then, they haven’t been able to re-capture that glory. This Trojans team is still something not to be taken lightly as the narrow victors of the South. Their lone blemish on the year was a heartbreaking 31-24 loss to oregon.
Entering this fall, they’ll have junior quarterback Kedon Slovis at the helm. In his sophomore year, he showed flashes of greatness but also some blunders comparable to that of Ryan Fitzpatrick. However, USC is hoping he can be much more of a Sam Darnold or Matt Leinart than a JT Daniels in year three.
They face a much more daunting schedule that includes the likes of Notre Dame, BYU and Utah. On top of that, they lost major pieces including guard Alija Vera-Tucker, defensive tackle Jay Tufele and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. At the end of the day, Coach Helton and USC will still be a force to reckoned with in the PAC-12 South.
Record prediction: 10-2
2020 record: 4-2 | Conference record: 3-1 |Coach: Karl Dorrell
In his first year for the Buffaloes, Coach Karl Dorrell did something that has only been done one other time for the team since 2005: finish with a winning record. It may only have been a six game sample. However, there’s a new sense of positivity. Entering his second year, Dorrell looks to take the next big step with his team. He will be helped heavily by second year back Jarek Broussard.
Numbers don’t tell the full story, but they give a glimpse into this team. Despite finishing 4-2, the Buffs finished with a middle-of-the-pack offense (they finished literally in the middle at 64th out of 128 teams). Add on top of that a defense that gives just under 32 points-per-game, and that is not quite the winning formula. With a 12-game season and a buzzsaw of opponents that includes juggernauts like Texas A&M, Oregon, USC and Utah, expect a fall back to form for the Buffaloes this fall.
Record Prediction: 4-8
2020 record: 3-2 | Conference record 3-2 |Coach: Kyle Whittingham
The 2020 Utah Utes squad was a team of hope and expectation. The rough and tough Kyle Whittingham team was coming off an AP Top 25 finish to the year in 2019 and even sweeter PAC-12 South champs. The Rocky Balboa of football was going to continue its title defense.
However, this was like Rocky III and USC was their Clubber lang in the opening game. The 33-17 loss was a step backwards for the team. After the season, Whittingham went into overdrive, rebuilding and retooling the team. He signed an impressive recruiting class that finished 33rd in the nation. This class includes players like running back Ricky Parks, linebackers Ethan Calvert and Mason Tufuga, but most importantly quarterback Peter Costelli.
Quarterback will be the burning question entering this season after last year’s starter Jake Bentley graduated. The success of the Utes will heavily depend on this choice. As a team with potential playoff aspirations, Whittingham will have a career-defining decision ahead of him entering year 18.
Record Prediction: 9-3
Arizona State Sun Devils
2020 record: 2-2 | Conference record 2-2 |Coach: Herm Edwards
Three years ago it might have sounded laughable that Herm Edwards would coach the Sun Devils. Three years later, Herm is entering his fourth season with the Sun Devils. This team’s tale of the tapes is quite the opposite from Colorados 2020 season. This was a season where Devils only got to play four games which they split going 2-2. Their record doesn’t tell the story as they played a one-point nail-biter against USC. After not playing for two weeks dnd losing an 8-point game to UCLA, they beat rival Arizona 70-7.
Even though it was a small sample size, the Devils were ranked number 12 in scoring offense and 32 in defense. Edwards also did a solid job in recruiting, He pulled in the 52nd ranked class. Overall, look for Herm Edwards to get this team back on track in 2021. He will add a third team into the mix for the South Division title. .
Record Prediction: 8-4
2020 record: 3-4 | Conference record 3-4 | Coach: Chip Kelly
Its crazy to think that a decade ago, Chip Kelly was one of the brightest coaches in college football, times flies. Nostalgia aside, Kelly is entering his fourth season as the Bruins coach. This is a do-or-die season ahead of him. After having a record of 10-21 in his first three seasons, its very clear a step in the right direction needs to happen.
One of the most important decisions is the role that quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson will play. The senior will be a large part of any success or failure the Bruins will have in 2021. He will need to be more Mariota then Bradford. This team will improve as their number 20 ranked offense last year retained most of its starters. They should improve but it won’t be enough to save Kelly’s job.
Record Prediction: 6-6
2020 record: 0-5 | Conference record 0-5 |Coach: Jedd Fisch
Someone had to be at the bottom. In the 2020 season, it was Arizona. Kevin Sumlin’s tenure in Tucson came to an end after an abysmal 9-20 record in his years. He is replaced with former New England Patriots quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch. There are a lot of unknowns with this team, but they can only go up from here.
After finishing with the number 119 offense and 121 on defense, Fisch will have a lot of work to do to turn it around. It starts with their recruiting class, which was a heavily recruited defense group. The standout signing though was defensive lineman Alex Navarro-Silva. Silva was a top 50 player at his position leaving high school and very well should be their Day 1 starter at the Nose Guard. With that being said, this team will still be bad. However, they will not be as bad as last year.
Record Prediction: 3-9
For fans of high flying competitive football, the PAC-12 South is that kind of lineup. It will be a three-headed race to the finish that will come down to those head-to-head matchups as always. Expect Utah to really push USC this year. Wiyh this division starting to balance out the conference, don’t be surprised if Utah ends up number two in the race. Regardless of outcome, the South looks like some must-watch college football.
Featured image courtesy George Frey / Getty Images