Posted on August 30, 2021
The first Pac-12 football game of 2021 is in the books, and UCLA’s impressive victory over Hawaii has already shaken up our Power Rankings.
Keep in mind that last week’s rankings were mine alone, so some of the shifting you see below—indicated by up, down, and sideways arrows—simply reflects the consensus voting of our senior football writers.
Our individual votes appear in a table at the bottom of the page.
How diverse were our views? Three different teams (Oregon, USC, and UCLA) received first-place votes, while Washington was voted as high as third and as low as sixth.
This much is certain: The rankings are sure to change each week. So don’t fret if your team isn’t ranked where you think it should be.
But feel free to share your views with us on Twitter, and be sure to check out our individual game picks in my weekly previews, published each Thursday.
1. Oregon (0-0, 0-0) ◄►
Anthony Brown has been named the starting quarterback in Eugene as the Ducks begin preparations for Fresno State.
The Bulldogs walloped UConn 45-0 in Week Zero, but have lost seven-straight to Oregon dating back to 1996.
Mario Cristobal reinstated defensive backs Jamal Hill and DJ James, but both will miss the opener against Fresno State. And running back Sean Dollars is reported to be out several more weeks as he continues to recover from a leg injury.
2. USC (0-0, 0-0) ◄►
The Trojans enter Week One with an eye toward improving their rushing attack on the back of Texas transfer Keaontay Ingram.
USC’s 97.3 yards rushing per game was 8th-worst in the country last season, while its red zone efficiency was 85th.
The two numbers arguably go hand-in-hand, but San Jose State presents an opportunity to set the tone for the 2021 season. An improved ground game should do wonders for a line that gave up 2.5 sacks per night last year.
3. UCLA (1-0, 0-0) ▲ 4
Jerry Azzinaro’s defense had its strongest game of the Chip Kelly Era in UCLA’s 44-10 route of Hawaii.
Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet made a statement with three touchdowns and 106 yards on the ground in his first game as a Bruin.
But Dorian Thompson-Robinson struggled, missing open receivers and passing for just 130 yards. Still, UCLA has the firepower to take down LSU this Saturday.
4. Utah (0-0, 0-0) ◄►
Charlie Brewer won the quarterback battle in Salt Lake City, as the Utes enter the 2021 campaign with arguably the top defense in the Conference of Champions.
The leadership and experience Brewer brings to the table could be the spark to a South Division championship, but a running back must emerge early for Kyle Whittingham’s offense to reach its potential.
Facing FCS opponent Weber State on Thursday, playing time will abound for those seeking to move up on the depth chart.
5. Washington (0-0, 0-0) ◄►
The Dawgs face Montana on Saturday as Dylan Morris enters his second season as the starter in Seattle.
With the game in Ann Arbor just around the corner, it’s important for the Husky offense to get into a rhythm early against the Grizzlies.
And if the game goes as expected, Sam Huard should play most of the second half as he continues to develop behind Morris. But walking away healthy is arguably the top priority against the FCS opponent.
6. ASU (0-0, 0-0) ▼4
Herm Edwards and the Sun Devils open the year against FCS opponent Southern Utah, after the Thunderbirds were dominated by San Jose State in Week Zero.
Arizona State led the Pac-12 in rushing last year, a feat that should be repeated with Jayden Daniels, Rachaad White, and Chip Trayanum chomping at the bit.
But with two cupcakes in Week One and Two, staying healthy is the primary objective on Thursday.
7. Stanford (0-0, 0-0) ▼ 1
Facing Kansas State in the opener, David Shaw and the Cardinal figure to return to their traditional run game dominance.
Austin Jones is primed for a breakout season behind Stanford’s strongest offensive line in years, even as the battle for the starting quarterback role rages on.
With a decision to make, and the kickoff just days away, Shaw must chose between Jack West and Tanner McKee.
8. Cal (1-0, 0-0) ▲ 1
It may just be Week One against Nevada, but the Bears arguably face a “can’t lose” matchup in their march to bowl eligibility.
Running back Christopher Brooks is healthy and ready to go after missing most of last season with an injury.
And despite losing defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter to Oregon, the California defense figures to continue to be the face of the program. But as always, Cal’s success projects to ride on the production of Chase Garbers.
9. Colorado (0-0, 0-0) ▼1
Once again overlooked, the Buffs enter the season with something to prove. Brendon Lewis leads the way under center with Dimitri Stanley his primary option on the edge.
The returning-freshman will be aided by defending Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Jarek Broussard, as the CU offense figures to pick up where it left off.
FCS opponent Northern Colorado presents a warm-up game in Week One for Lewis to get his feet wet.
10. Oregon State (1-0, 0-0) ▲ 1
The Beavers open the season on the road against Purdue.
The departure of Jermar Jefferson to the NFL leaves big shoes to fill on the OSU offense, arguably turning the attention to Jonathan Smith’s passing attack.
Colorado transfer Sam Noyer is in the mix for the starting role, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see multiple quarterbacks play against the Boilermakers. Regardless, a playmaker must emerge.
11. Washington State (0-0, 0-0) ▼1
Football is finally back in Pullman, and it arguably couldn’t come sooner for Nick Rolovich.
Hounded by questions over the State of Washington’s vaccine mandate, nothing could be more welcomed than playing an actual football game.
And with one of the Pac-12’s top backfields, the “Run” in Rolovich’s Run-and-Shoot should be in full force all year. The key to WSU’s success, however, rests on its defensive improvement.
12. Arizona (0-0,0-0) ◄►
Jedd Fisch has built momentum in Tucson without having played a game.
That’s unusual for a coaching staff to pull off, but the expectations could exponentially multiply with a victory over BYU in Las Vegas.
The Arizona wide receivers are its strength, yet the primary focus is on UA’s defense. Led by former Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown, the success of the Wildcats’ season will likely ride on the implementation of his blitzing schemes.