Preseason Power Rankings: Pac 12

Please note that power rankings are meant to rank teams based on current team strength on a neutral field. It is not necessarily a projection of where I think teams will finish or who has a better resume. It is forward thinking but does not factor in strength of schedule, schedule breakdown, etc.

ICYMI Other Conference Preseason Power Rankings:

Mountain West
Sun Belt
Conference USA
FBS Independents

2022 Pac 12 Preseason Power Rankings

  1. Utah: Utah got over the hump last year to win the Pac 12 and earn a trip to the Rose Bowl. This Pac 12 championship season included two wins over preseason conference favorite Oregon by a combined score of 76-17. They got rolling once they made the switch in game #4 from Charlie Brewer to Cam Rising at QB. The offense looked completely different under Rising and they put up huge numbers down the stretch scoring 39.4 ppg & gaining 456.8 ypg in their last 10 games. They finished the season +125 ypg in Pac 12 play (#1 in the conference) and were one of the most balanced offensive teams in the Nation, averaging 217 rush yards & 214 pass yards per game. They return 14 starters this year. The offense is pretty stacked with Rising coming back at QB, along with RB Tavion Thomas who rushed for over 1,00 yards and scored 21 TD last year, and 5 of the 6 top pass catchers from 2021. The OLine looks like it will be a strength again this unit as HC Kyle Whittingham prides himself on playing strong, physical football. They were one of the few teams that hit in their spring game. That’s representative of the kind of program Whittingham runs. The defense returns 6 starters but will need to replace LB Devin Lloyd & Nephi Sewell who they lost to the NFL. Under Whittingham Utah is typically near the top in all player development rankings (comparing recruiting rankings to on field success and exceeding expectations) so you would think they would be able to fill those gaps. They added LB Diabate in the transfer portal who was 2nd in tackles for Florida last year and was a former Top 100 recruit. Overall I think Utah has a great team this year and is the Pac 12’s best chance at a playoff appearance in 2022.
  2. Oregon: Oregon beat Ohio State early in the season and reached a #3 ranking in November, before kind of falling apart late… getting crushed by Utah in the regular season, and then again in the P12 championship game before losing their bowl game to Oklahoma in a game in which they trailed 30-3 at half-time. They lost HC Mario Cristobal to Miami, as well as up and down QB Anthony Brown, and quality RBs CJ Verdell & Travis Dye. They’ve brought in Dan Lanning as the new head coach. He was previously the DC at Georgia who just had one of the best college defenses of all-time. Back when Chip Kelly was the head coach, Oregon was fast-paced offensive focused team. Then when Mario Cristobal came on board they got a little more conservative. Now with Dan Lanning hired as head coach, the pendulum may have completely shifted from offensive minded under Kelly to defensive minded under Lanning. Oregon has been the best recruiting program in the conference for the last 5 years, so the cupboard certainly isn’t bare for Lanning. The offense returns 8 starters from a unit that averaged 31.4 ppg & gained 424 ypg last year. The offensive line will be the strength of the offense. They lose only 1 guy from their 2021 2-deep and return 53 total starts from a unit that was Top 10 in OL Run Push & Top 40 in Pass Protection Sack Rate in 2021. They have brought in transfer QB Bo Nix from Auburn, who was a very highly touted recruit but has had an up and down career to this point. It sounds like he has the edge over former 5-star recruit Ty Thompson for the starting QB position. The defense lost DC Andy Avalos to the HC position at Boise State prior to the 2021 season and their sack rate dropped to 1.64 sacks per game (the fewest they’ve had since 2000). They also lost 1st round EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux to the NFL & 6 of their top 8 tacklers from last year. But Dan Lanning knows defense and he knows how to pressure the QB without putting his secondary in dangerous positions. He is known for being able to disguise his pressure and confuse the opposing QB’s pre snap reads. Even with the loss of Thibodeaux, I expect the pass rush to improve under Lanning. They do return 5-star LB Noah Sewell who earned 1st team all-league honors as a freshman and is the Pac 12 returning leader in tackles.
  1. USC: USC finally moved on from Clay Helton, firing him just two games into the 2021 season after a surprising loss to Stanford. They went just 3-7 with the interim head coach to finish a very disappointing 4-8. They we’re actually +38 in ypg in the Pac 12 (#4 in the conference), but still managed to lose twice as many games as they won. Under Helton, USC had started to get out-recruited in their own backyard of Southern California by Oregon and Mario Cristobal. Not only that, but they also ranked very low in player development metrics. But they knocked it out of the park with the hire of HC Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma. In 5 year’s at OU, Riley’s offenses averaged an astounding 525 yards per game. Riley quickly added an insane amount of skill position talent via the transfer portal adding stud QB Caleb Williams (Oklahoma), 5 star WR Mario Williams (Oklahoma), Biletnikoff award winner Jordan Addison (Pittsburgh), WR Terrell Bynum (Washington), WR Brendan Rice (Jerry’s Son, Colorado), RB Travis Dye (Oregon) & RB Austin Jones (Stanford). The skill talent is very impressive, but depth on the OL is still a concern. The defense really struggled last year, allowing 31.8 ppg and 409 ypg. They return only 3 starters but did add 10 defensive players via the transfer portal. Riley brought DC Alex Grinch with him from Oklahoma. Grinch has a strong reputation, but honestly his defenses still struggled some at Oklahoma the last few years. I think USC might find themselves in plenty of shootout games in 2022 as I’m not sold on the defense yet. Another thing to keep an eye on is the unconfirmed internet reports that Jordan Addison is furious that USC overpromised and under delivered in terms on NIL money that was promised to him when he decided to transfer. Nick Saban recently made comments at SEC media day that some teams are “making promises they can’t keep.” This could end up being nothing, but it could be something. With lots of high profile transfers coming in and money being promised, it’s worth keeping an eye on the culture of that locker room as the season goes on. Overall, I think USC knocked it out of the park with the Lincoln Riley hire. In this transfer portal era, turnarounds can be much faster than they used to be for new coaches. There is no question Riley is a great offensive coach and they have plenty of offensive weapons. But I think the 2021 expectations are a little higher than they should be right now. This is still a team that was 4-8 last season and I worry about their defense and physicality at both lines of scrimmage. Utah & Oregon both play really physical football. I don’t think USC is there yet, so I’ve got them behind those teams in 2022.
  1. UCLA: While the results under Chip Kelly haven’t been as strong and as fast as UCLA fans would like, the Bruins have been improving lately. They finished 2021 8-4 but weren’t able to play in their bowl game. The offense has improved every year under Kelly and is one of the better rushing attacks in the nation, finishing in the Top 20 in scoring offense, rushing yards/game, OLine Push & explosive runs. While they lose their top 3 WR & 3 OL they do return key pieces in 5th-year, all Pac 12 starting QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson & RB Zach Charbonnet (1,137 rush yards, 13 TD in 2021). The offense averaged 36.5 ppg & 441 ypg in 2021. The defense was terrible the first couple seasons under Kelly, but have improved lately allowing only 384 ypg last year. They lose 10 of their top 15 tacklers from last season however. They are counting on the transfer portal to keep this unit from falling back, having added the talent Murphy brothers at DT from North Texas, Hawaii’s top tackler at LB & a 3-year starting DB from Wyoming. I’m picking UCLA #4 because I like the idea of having a 5th year starting QB (who has improved every season) with an offensive minded coach. But this team appears to have it flaws, much like most of the teams in this conference.
  1. Washington: Washington was a huge disappointment in 2021. They opened the season ranked in the Top 25 but started the season with a loss to FCS Montana and limped their way to a 4-8 season that concluded with a loss in the Apple Cup. They fired HC Jimmy Lake with 3 games left in the season. They brought in Kalen DeBoer as the new head coach and have tasked him with fixing a brutal offense. The offense averaged just 21.5 ppg & gained just 323 ypg in 2021. The running game was a huge problem ranking dead last in the Pac 12 in yards per carry (and that was with 5 returning linemen). DeBoer knows offense. Last season at Fresno State they scored 33.4 ppg & gained 464.8 yards per game. He brings both of his coordinators with him from Fresno to Washington. The Huskies return 13 starters in 2022. They have added Indiana QB Michael Penix. Penix has had an up and down season, but he had his best season in 2019 when DeBoer was on the coaching staff. Obviously DeBoer hopes he can get the best out of him. If Penix doesn’t end up winning the job, it will go to last year’s starter Dylan Morris or former 5 star recruit Sam Huard. It sounds like Penix is the favorite though and it’s one of the rare situations where the transfer is further ahead than the incumbents at learning the system since he has played for DeBoer in the past. Regardless of who the QB is, a big key will be getting the running game going again. The defense at Washington has been strong for a long time. Last year they only surrendered 22.7 ppg & 337 ypg despite having a bad offense that forced them on the field a lot. They return 5 starters and will be switching from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5 base defense that will be more of an attacking style. It will lead to more sacks & TFLs but the tradeoff is that is will lead to more explosive plays as well.
  1. Oregon St: Oregon St continued their positive trajectory in 2021. In four seasons they went from 1 win, to 2 wins, to 5 wins, to 7 wins and a trip to a bowl last season. While they lost their bowl game to Utah St, 2021 is still considered a success for the Beavers considering their steady improvement. There is a reason for optimism in Jonathan Smith’s 5th season as head coach. Smith seems to be taking a similar approach to Utah in terms of building a program. The offensive line is a strength of the team. They ranked #2 (behind Utah) in Power 5 run push metrics. They are one of just three teams to have back-to-back Top 20 rush offenses by yards per carry and we’re top 15 in pass protection sack rate last year. They return 3 starters from that unit. Overall the offense averaged 31.2 ppg in 2021 and we’re #1 in the Pac 12 in Brett Ciancia’s opponent-adjusted per play percentiles. They return 6 starters on offense. They have 3 possible starters at QB but last year’s starter Chance Nolan is most likely to win the job thanks to his dual threat ability in the amount of games he started for them last year. On defense, the Beavers fired their defense coordinator after 9 games last season and replaced him with former OSU all-conference LB Trent Bray. The defense improved in their last 4 games under Bray and he figures to bring a more aggressive, attacking style to the defensive play calling.
  1. California: There was a surprising offseason report that Cal HC Justin Wilcox turned down the Oregon job. Later news came in that Cal had extended him through the 2027 season. This caught me off guard (both the Oregon interest & the Cal extension) because the results haven’t been too impressive for Wilcox at Cal thus far. The Golden Bears were 5-7 last year, but to their credit they did finish the year on a 4-2 run and were actually +30 yards per game in Pac 12 play. What killed them were the close games, finishing 0-5 in one-score games. This year they return only 8 total starters. The offense averaged just 23.8 ppg in 2021 and plays at a very slow tempo. They had the 5th fewest plays in the power 5 last year. Every skill position starter from their season finale vs USC is gone. They’ve brought in Jack Plummer from Purdue to take over the QB job now that Chase Garbers is gone. Plummer has experience at Purdue and is more of a pocket passer but has less mobility than Garbers. This will be a defensive minded team. Last year they allowed only 22.3 ppg & 367 ypg. While they do lose 6 of their top 8 tacklers, Wilcox is optimistic that he has another strong defensive unit.
  1. Stanford: 2021 was a really weird year for Stanford. They started the year 3-2 with wins over USC & Oregon, but lost their last 7 games to finish with a 3-9 record. They lost their last 4 games by 32.3 ppg and finished the season -157 ypg in Pac 12 play. Stanford had built an identity under David Shaw has a team that would run the ball and stop the run and would always end up in a bowl game. But the last 3 years that hasn’t been the case. Last year their offensive yards per carry was 3.2 (#118 in FBS) and their defensive yards per carry was 5.7 (#119 in FBS). You simply can’t win that way. This year they return a Pac 12 best 17 starters. The offense returns 10 starters including QB Tanner McKee who has NFL potential. The offense scored 29 ppg in their first 5 games last year, but only 14.2 in their last 7. Hopefully with so many guys returning they can be more consistent and play more like that first half offense. The defense has 7 returning starters, but needs to figure out a way to stop the run. In this transfer portal era, Stanford is being left behind a little bit with their tough academic standards. The acceptance rate is preventing transfers from getting in and even causing home grown players to have to leave before their 5th year because grad school is so hard to get into there.
  1. Arizona: Believe it or not there is reason to be optimistic if you are an Arizona fan. Yes, they are coming off a 1-11 season in Jedd Fisch’s 1st year as a head coach but they weren’t as bad as their record indicated. They lost 4 games by 8 points or less and actually outgained 5 opponents including Oregon & BYU. In fact, they were only -17 in ypg in Pac 12 play despite winning only 1 game. Then Fisch hit the recruiting and transfer portal hard. He put together the #1 2022 recruiting class in the Pac 12 according to Rivals. That’s pretty unheard of coming off a 1-11 season. Not only that, but he brought in several key transfers. Overall he projects about 60% roster turnover when the season starts. One of those transfers is Pac 12 Freshmen of the Year in Washington State QB Jayden de Laura. It’s pretty impressive to poach a player like that within your conference with 3 years of eligibility left. He also added UTEP WR Jacob Cowing who is coming off a 1,300 receiving yard season. Arizona was crippled last season by poor redzone play finishing dead last in red zone scoring. These two additions should really help improve that. They lost their defensive coordinator, Dob Brown, to the head coaching job at UMass. So new DC Johnny Nansen will be their 7th DC in 11 years. He knows the Pac 12 well and engineered a very big turnaround at UCLA from where that unit was during the early Chip Kelly years to where it was last year. This team played really hard for Fisch last season and now they have improved talent to go with it. They will continue to improve in 2022.
  1. Arizona St: Morale is low in Tempe. Arizona State had a lot of talent returning last season and started the season 5-1 but limped to the finish line and ended up 8-5. There is a big black cloud over the program right now due to an ongoing NCAA investigation of recruiting violations. After the season 5 coaches (including both coordinators) either resigned or were fired and an astonishing 17 players (16 starters!) transferred out… many of whom were the team’s best players. This roster is pretty gutted right now with only 7 returning starters. Honestly, I’m pretty surprised that HC Herm Edwards still has his job. The offense loses their QB, top 3 RB, and top 4 WR. Under the new OC they will run a more NFL like system than they previously did with more huddles and snaps under center. They did bring in former highly touted recruit in QB Emory Jones from Florida, who showed flashes in Gainesville but eventually was beat out by AR15. They also added transfer RB Xazavien Valladay from Wyoming, who was one of the better RBs in the Mountain West. On defense they lose 7 of their top 10 tacklers. I worry about the state of this roster and the state of morale in the locker room. I could see things snow balling for the Sun Devils this season. 2022 doesn’t look promising.
  1. Washington St: Let me start by getting something off my chest. I’ve heard so many National CFB guys talk about how Washington State adding transfer QB Cameron Ward from FCS Incarnate Word is the “Sleeper transfer of the year.” I promise you that hardly any of those people saying that have seen Cameron Ward play a snap. I have. I was on the Cameron Ward train before any of those guys had heard of him. I bet on Incarnate Word 5 times in 2022. He was a great FCS Quarterback and we won money off him (Thanks, Cameron). But the jump from the FCS Southland to a Power 5 conference is a huge one for a QB to make. Ward’s stats were insane at UIW but they were inflated by the system that he played in (think Bailey Zappe at Western Kentucky) and how weak all of the defenses were in the Southland conference. I think losing Jayden de Laura to Arizona and replacing him with Ward is a downgrade, despite what the National guys that never seen him play tell you. Okay, now that that’s over we can talk about Washington State…. They are coming off a crazy season where they fired head coach Nick Rolovich and several assistants during the season for not getting the Covid vaccine. Defensive Coordinator Jake Dickert got the interim coaching position and kept the locker room together amid the chaos and finished the year 3-2. This performance earned Dickert the head coaching job moving forward. It will be a bit of a rebuilding year for Dickert, however, as they return only 10 starters. The offense returns only 4 starters from a unit that averaged 27.8 ppg & 379 ypg in 2021. As I stated earlier, they lost P12 freshmen of the year QB Jayden de Laura to Arizona and replaced him with Incarnate Ward transfer Cameron Ward. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Ward. I think he’s very talented and I love they brought over his coach from UIW so that the system will be similar for him. I just worry about the jump from a weak FCS conference to the Pac 12 conference. It would be one thing if he had talent all around him on offense, but the skill players aren’t very impressive and the OL lost 3 starters. On defense, the Cougars return 6 starters but lose 4 of their top 6 tacklers. Dickert will run a 4-2-5 base scheme that is really focused on takeaways. He gambles more than most. Sometimes it results in takeaways, but sometimes it results in explosive plays. Either way, it makes for entertaining football. Overall I think Dickert was a good hire for Washington State but it’s going to take him a little time to get things going.
  1. Colorado: 2021 was a rough year for the Buffs. They finished 4-8 and we’re -187 in ypg. Then things got worse when 22 players (6 starters) transferred out and 6 of the 10 coaches on staff we’re replaced. It doesn’t look like there is a quick fix here. The team returns only 12 starters and the offense was brutal last season, gaining only 257.4 ypg (129th, dead last in FBS) & scoring only 18.8 ppg (#121 in FBS). They return Brendon Lewis at QB who started all 12 games as a freshmen last year. Hopefully he grows from that experience. The defense was solid, but wore down as the season went on due to brutal injuries and a bad offense. They gave up 26.7 ppg & 421 ypg but only allowed 20.7 ppg before the terrible injury luck started. They return 5 starters from that 2021 unit.

4 thoughts on “Preseason Power Rankings: Pac 12

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