Pac-12 power rankings: Washington State, USC get post-spring bumps
Back in January, shortly after the national championship game and well before the start of spring ball, we gave our first Pac-12 power ranking of the new year.
With the spring period now over, it’s time to update that power ranking.
Reminder: a power ranking is not an end-of-year prediction, it’s a snapshot at the moment.
No. 12: Colorado Buffaloes (Previous Rank: 12)
2021 record: 4-8, 3-6 Pac-12
A few reasons to not yet be sold on Colorado next season (all in spite of my legitimate appreciation for head coach Karl Dorrell): the fourth-toughest schedule among Pac-12 teams, the worst team in the league against winning teams, and the least-inspiring quarterback situation in the league. Colorado’s offense struggled to do much of anything last year and though there’s optimism surrounding incumbent quarterback Brendon Lewis and his budding chemistry with Baylor transfer wideout RJ Sneed, not enough has changed this spring to move the Buffs up.
No. 11: Arizona State (6)
2021 record: 8-5, 6-3 Pac-12
Since putting the Sun Devils sixth back on Jan. 18, Arizona State has lost just about everyone of consequence. So far this offseason, Arizona State has seen five of its top seven offensive linemen exit the program, its top quarterback transfer, four of the seven wideouts who saw a target last season leave, its top two running backs leave, and seven of its top 10 tacklers leave. Prior to the spring period, ASU saw Jayden Daniels leave for a quarterback competition and an uncertain role at LSU. After spring ball, it saw its top offensive playmaker in wideout Ricky Pearsall leave and a Freshman All-American linebacker in Eric Gentry leave for USC. The addition of Emory Jones this past week, a starting quarterback from Florida, should help to stabilize the program a bit moving forward, but this is in no way, shape, or form the team that won eight games last season. Instead, it looks like a group that has been passed over by most in the South.
No. 10: Arizona (10)
2021 record: 1-11, 1-8 Pac-12
Perhaps I’m higher on Arizona than anyone else. That’s fine. Head coach Jedd Fisch and his staff have completely remade the Wildcats’ offense with an exciting concoction of experience and potential. We got to see them move through spring ball and work everyone in. The mid-year enrollee freshmen—wideout Tetairoa McMillan, tight end Keyan Burnett, running back Jonah Coleman, and offensive lineman Jonah Savaiinaea—all appear to be in line for some kind of significant role in the fall. They all look more than capable.
No. 9: Stanford (11)
2021 record: 3-9, 2-7 Pac-12
Still firmly in wait-and-see mode with Stanford. The Cardinal should see quarterback Tanner McKee take another step in his development. But Stanford has to figure out its run game. That question can’t be answered until the rubber meets the road this fall. Thank Herm Edwards for the one-spot bump.
No. 8: California (8)
2021 record: 5-7, 4-5 Pac-12
Cal should have gone bowling, but it lost five games by seven points or less. That would point to a team that’ll improve the following season. However, there’s a new quarterback in town in Purdue transfer Jack Plummer. Another wait-and-see team here, as Cal needs to prove competence on offense before we can believe in it as a North contender.
No. 7: Washington (9)
2021 record: 4-8, 3-6 Pac-12
Washington’s defense was statistically strong last year and stout against the pass. The problem was teams didn’t have to throw it on Washington. Teams that could run the football well ran the Husky front seven over. That defense supposedly surprised the Washington coaching staff this spring with the progress it made. The quarterback spot still needs to be settled and UW needs to get healthy at running back. I like Sam Huard to emerge as the Huskies’ best option at quarterback.
No. 6: Oregon State (4)
2021 record: 7-6, 5-4 Pac-12
Oregon State falls two spots not really because of anything it didn’t do during the spring, more because of what Washington State and USC did. The offensive line should be among the league’s better units again. The ground game should be strong. Chance Nolan (2,677 yards; 19 touchdowns to 10 picks; 64% completion rate) is a more than capable quarterback. Nothing to be worried about with Oregon State at this point. This group should be in the league’s upper half.
No. 5: Washington State (7)
2021 record: 7-6, 6-3 Pac-12
Cameron Ward is a top-four quarterback in the Pac-12. Already. As has been stated before, I’m all in on the Cougars in 2022, specifically the offense. The partnership of offensive coordinator Eric Morris and Ward—both together last season at Incarnate Word—looked more than effective when the Cougs kinda-sorta-unveiled things during the team’s spring game. Ward went 21-for-30 on his pass attempts for 246 yards and four scores in that scrimmage. Given the play of the other WSU quarterbacks in that same environment, it feels pretty safe to say there is no one coming to take Ward’s job. Washington State will go as far as Ward can take it. Given the talent at the skill positions, that might be pretty far.
No. 4: UCLA (3)
2021 record: 8-4, 6-3 Pac-12
Since that mid-January update, UCLA has lost Mitchell Agude, Caleb Johnson, and Odua Isibor to the transfer portal, three players expected to be significant pieces of the defense. But Chip Kelly has made a habit of striking gold in the portal and that trend might continue into the 2022 season. The Bruins have remade the defensive coaching staff, brought in North Texas edge rushers Grayson and Gabriel Murphy, and brought in former Oregon corner and 4-star Jaylin Davies. That’s in addition to the earlier portal additions of Hawaii linebacker Darius Muasau and Wyoming corner Azizi Hearn. There aren’t any dire questions on offense given the return of Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Zach Charbonnet. How quickly can the defense look the way new DC Bill McGovern wants it to?
No. 3 USC (5)
2021 record: 4-8, 3-6 Pac-12
I was hesitant four months ago to place a 4-8 team in the top third of the league. There is no justification strong enough to leave the Trojans outside the top four now. USC has addressed major holes all over the roster with significant transfer additions. Quarterback? Check. Skill talent? Lincoln Riley punched a hole through that box. Linebacker? Check. Secondary? Check. The offensive line should be strong. The defensive front… we’ll see. Concerns about the defense are valid, but the fact of the matter is USC has quickly become a team few in the Pac-12 look capable of keeping pace with on a scoreboard. Caleb Williams reinforced that with his play during the spring.
No. 2: Oregon (2)
2021 record: 10-4, 7-2 Pac-12
Dan Lanning is recruiting at a high, high level. The offensive line will be great and got better with the addition of 5-star 2022 signee Josh Conerly Jr. The defense will be great and got better with the emergence of DJ Johnson. The skill talent looks promising. The swing piece will be Oregon’s quarterback play, but with a group that includes Bo Nix and Ty Thompson, the floor is as high as any team in the league and the ceiling appears to be College Football Playoff contender. No reason to move the Ducks.
No. 1: Utah (1)
2021 record: 10-4, 8-1 Pac-12
And no reason to move the Utes, who showed in just six plays during the spring game that quarterback Cameron Rising is very, very talented. Wideout Devaughn Vele had an outstanding spring by most accounts, a step toward a potential breakout season as a No. 1 option after averaging 17 yards a catch in more of a limited role last year. Tight end Brant Kuithe spent most of his time out wide playing as a receiver, making an already versatile matchup weapon for Utah even more of a problem. The running back room looks loaded again. And Rising looks like one of the best quarterbacks in the country. I won’t doubt head coach Kyle Whittingham or defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley’s ability to push the right buttons on defense until given a reason to. The defending champs are still on top.