The next college football season contains clarity in a lot of division races. You know that Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia and other prominent teams are the obvious favorites in their respective divisions. In the Pac-12 South, it isn’t that clear. Let’s look at a very intriguing Pac-12 South in which any of several teams could rise to the forefront.
Odds To Win National Championship: +3600
The Trojans lose offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker, safety Talanoa Hufanga, defensive lineman Jay Tufele, receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, defensive lineman Marlon Tuipulotu, cornerback Olaijah Griffin and receiver Tyler Vaughns from last year’s team, which won the Pac-12 South Division but lost to the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Another significant offseason change was the loss of offensive line coach Tim Drevno, who was fired. In his place is Clay McGuire, who was hired specifically because he has had experience teaching the Air Raid offensive system, which is used by USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. Drevno was not an Air Raid-style coach, so USC realized it had to change its coaching staff to fit its personnel and approach.
The Trojans hope to benefit from the arrival of defensive lineman Korey Foreman, one of the most highly touted recruits in the country, and from Jamar Sekona, a defensive lineman who has shown a lot of promise in offseason practice. They really need their defense to step up, because their offensive line is a real weak spot due to the transition of offensive line coaches and the overall lack of player development with that particular position group. USC has a very favorable schedule, but there are legitimate questions surrounding the ability of this team to take full advantage, given the limitations on the offensive line and the uncertainties attached to that unit’s ability to evolve. USC will probably win nine or 10 games, but Oregon should be viewed as the true favorite to win the Pac-12 title.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Odds To Win National Championship: +10000
The Sun Devils return all their significant players from 2020. Quarterback Jayden Daniels is back at the helm of an offense which should be explosive. He’s on the board for the Heisman Trophy odds and his case should be helped a lot by the fact that four offensive linemen return. The secondary is entirely intact. This team has a great chance to throw the ball well and defend well against the pass. Key needs for this team are depth at wide receiver and sufficient linebacker play.
The secondary will be fine, but linebackers might get into problematic matchups covering running backs out of the backfield and tight ends on downfield routes. It is widely agreed upon in the Pac-12 that if coach Herm Edwards is going to make a move with Arizona State and win a Pac-12 South championship, this is the year. The Sun Devils get USC at home and might have the best quarterback in the division with Daniels. If ASU doesn’t take advantage of a favorable situation, people who follow the program will wonder if the Sun Devils are ever going to fulfill their potential under Edwards.
Odds To Win National Championship: +10000
The Bruins’ offense finally came alive last season. Head coach Chip Kelly seemed to have a program which was stagnant and going nowhere in 2019, but last season’s strong showings against California, Oregon and USC offered real encouragement that the Bruins might be capable of challenging for the division championship.
One key loss for UCLA is running back Demetric Felton, who could carry the ball between the tackles but was also effective at catching passes out of the backfield. He was very good at making the first defender miss in open space. The Bruins will have to find an adequate replacement for him. However, they still have quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and tight end Greg Dulcich. That combination wore out USC’s defense last year and will be a problem for opposing Pac-12 defenses.
UCLA’s defense is the bigger concern than the offense. The Bruins got shredded several times last year and were very poor on defense in fourth quarters and overtimes. Getting a significant improvement from their pass rush is a central key in 2021.
The Utes hit the transfer portal hard in the offseason. They got linebacker Josh Calvert and safety Brandon McKinney from Pac-12 rival Washington, receiver Theo Howard from Oklahoma and picked up running backs Chris Curry and T.J. Pledger in the transfer portal. They got dual-threat quarterback Ja’Quinden Jackson in the portal. Most of all, they plucked quarterback Charlie Brewer in the portal, a transfer from Baylor who led the Bears to the Big 12 Championship Game and within one win of the College Football Playoff in 2019. Brewer completed all 15 passes he threw in the Utes’ spring game several weeks ago. He established a strong rapport with his wide receivers and has given the team a real belief that it can have a strong passing game.
Utah tried South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley last season after Cam Rising got injured, but Bentley didn’t work out. He left the program. Receiver Cameron Gardner left the program as well. So did linebacker Graham Faloona. A lot of roster churn has greeted Utah this offseason, raising questions about this team’s cohesiveness and preparedness for the season. It could be a case in which so many new players are arriving at the program and will have to learn a lot in a short period of time at August training camp. If Brewer is as good as his spring game performance suggests, however, this team could have a much higher ceiling than many people currently think.
Odds To Win National Championship: +25000
The Buffaloes were surprisingly good under first-year head coach Karl Dorrell last year. They will now try to prove that 2020 was not a fluke. However, they will be dealing with a few key losses, the main one being linebacker Akil Jones, who transferred out of the program. Another key point of concern is that linebacker Nate Landman tore his Achilles in spring practice and might not be ready for Week 1. Dorrell felt his defensive staff needed to be reshaped. He reshuffled roles and responsibilities within the staff, moving Chris Wilson up from a position coach to defensive coordinator. Colorado faces a lot of questions, and the Buffaloes will face a lot of skepticism in their push toward a division title.
Odds To Win National Championship: +30000
The Wildcats’ biggest change was at head coach when Kevin Sumlin got fired. Jedd Fisch, who has worked for Jim Harbaugh and Michigan and Chip Kelly and UCLA in recent years, among other stops as an offensive assistant coach, was hired as Arizona’s new boss. How Fisch handles a true rebuilding situation, after Arizona’s disastrous 2020 campaign, is anyone’s guess. This program has hit rock bottom and will hit the reset button this season.