Posted on August 27, 2021
Always controversial, predictions made before a season begins are arguably meaningless. But they are fun to discuss and a joy to make, even if they inevitably come with Twitter attacks from disgruntled fan bases.
Agree or disagree, we appreciate hearing from you.
Below, I project the records for each team and give my assessment of the games they’re likely to lose along with a brief season outlook.
At the bottom of the page you’ll find mock divisional results based on my projected win-loss totals. But enough introduction, let’s just jump right in.
Oregon (10-2, 8-1)
Losses: at Ohio State, at Utah
The Ducks have recruiting momentum unmatched in the Pac-12 and rivaling the elite teams in the SEC. True freshman quarterback Ty Thompson reportedly made a serious run at the starting role, but returning grad transfer Anthony Brown will be the guy against Fresno State.
I have UO winning every game but their road tests in Columbus and Salt Lake City. The road games at Stanford, UCLA, and Washington are the others that could result in losses.
USC (10-2, 8-1)
Losses: at Norte Dame, at Arizona State
Struggles along the offensive line and questions in the backfield are the primary concerns for the Trojans this year. But Graham Harrell’s offense puts up points, and true freshman Jaxson Dart is ready to step in if Kedon Slovis suffers an injury.
Look for USC to handle their business at home and stumble on the road in South Bend and Tempe. The matchup with Stanford at the Coliseum in Week Two is one to keep an eye on, as is the test in Boulder against Colorado.
Utah (10-2, 7-2)
Losses: at USC, at Stanford
Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer has been named the starter in Salt Lake City. But the Utah defense figures to take the spotlight and return to its 2019 prowess behind Clark Phillips III, Devin Lloyd, and Mika Tafua.
Despite the arguably open question in the backfield and the absence of a proven wide receiver threat outside of Britain Covey, Utah should defend Rice-Eccles Stadium all year.
But winning on the road is difficult, and I think the Utes get caught out in LA and on the Farm.
Arizona State (9-3, 6-3)
Losses: at Washington, at Utah, at UCLA
Off-the-field storylines have dominated the discussion surrounding Arizona State, but the Sun Devils have their strongest roster in years.
Jayden Daniels is a front runner for the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year honor, and Herm Edwards returns all three of his running backs who paved the way for the top rushing attack in the Conference of Champions.
I have the Sun Devils beating USC and Stanford at home, and then falling short in Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Pasadena.
Washington (9-3, 7-2)
Losses: at Michigan, at Stanford, Oregon
Jimmy Lake is sticking with Dylan Morris as his starting quarterback after the returning freshman shined in training camp. A star wide receiver must emerge, but the Huskies are set for a strong season with an arguably soft schedule.
I expect the UW defense to carry the day at Husky Stadium in each matchup except for the Ducks, and I think Michigan pulls out a fourth quarter victory in Ann Arbor.
But without a win on the farm since 2007 and an 0-6 record over the stretch, I have the Tree with the upset in Palo Alto.
Stanford (7-5, 5-4)
Losses: at USC, Oregon, at Arizona State, at Washington State, Norte Dame
The Cardinal project to finally return to their run game dominance. Austin Jones is set for a breakout year behind an offensive line led by Walter Rouse and Branson Bragg.
I am prepared to eat my hat over my optimism on Stanford, but David Shaw has something cooking on the recruiting trail.
That generally doesn’t happen unless something is brewing on the field, and I have the Tree taking down Utah, UW, and UCLA on the Farm. Yet, the Cougars are Stanford’s bugaboo, with the Cardinal 0-4 against WSU over the past four years.
UCLA (6-6, 4-5)
Losses: LSU, at Stanford, at Washington, Oregon, at Utah, at USC
Dorian Thompson-Robinson enters his fourth season in Westwood with arguably the strongest roster of the Chip Kelly Era.
A potent ground game figures to propel the Bruins to a bowl game, with DTR once again exploiting defenses on the ground.
I’ll take UCLA over Arizona State at the Rose Bowl, with the Bruins otherwise winning the games they should and losing the games they aren’t favored in. As for the battle in Palo Alto, UCLA is 1-12 against Stanford dating back to 2009.
Washington State (6-6, 3-6)
Losses: USC, at Utah, at California, at Arizona State, at Oregon, at Washington
A battle for the starting quarterback role rages on in Pullman, with Tennessee transfer Jarrett Guarantano giving returning-freshman Jayden de Laura a run for his money.
But with one of the Pac-12’s top backfields, Nick Rolovich’s Run-and-Shoot should guide the program to a bowl game. Winning on the road is always a challenge, and the Cougars have a brutal stretch to end their season.
Yet, I’ll take the Cougs over Oregon State, Stanford, and BYU on the Palouse in the middle of the year.
California (5-7, 2-7)
Losses: at Washington, at Oregon, Colorado, at Arizona, USC, at Stanford, at UCLA
The Bears lost three-year defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter to Oregon over the offseason, a potentially substantial blow to the bread and butter of the California program: its defense.
But Chase Garbers returns under center along with a healthy Christopher Brooks in the backfield. The games against Colorado and Arizona are my upset picks that keep Cal out of a bowl game.
The Buffs have a potent run game, weapons on the edges, and a serviceable defense. And California hasn’t beaten the Wildcats since 2009 with the Bears managing just two wins in Tucson since 1991.
Colorado (5-7, 3-6)
Losses: Texas A&M, at Arizona State, USC, at Oregon, at UCLA, Washington, at Utah
Brendon Lewis was likely the starter heading into training camp, but the injury to Tennessee transfer J.T. Shrout probably sealed the deal.
Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Jarek Broussard returns along with All-Conference linebacker Nate Landman, but the transfer of former starter Sam Noyer to Oregon State leaves a question under center.
I have CU beating Minnesota and California in an upset, but the Buffs’ tough road slate makes a bowl game just out of reach. Although, a victory over Washington in Boulder or UCLA in Pasadena isn’t out of the question.
Oregon State (3-9, 0-9)
Losses: at USC, Washington, at Washington State, Utah, at California, at Colorado, Stanford, Arizona State, at Oregon
The Beavers lost the heart and soul of their offense in Jermar Jefferson. His running prowess led the way for Oregon State and arguably covered up middle-of-the-road quarterback play.
But the addition of Sam Noyer to the mix is a compelling storyline that could cause me to regret this projection. And if Noyer is the guy, I’d expect a few more wins than I list, perhaps at California and Colorado.
But for now, I have OSU upsetting Purdue on the road, winning it’s first three games, and then going winless the remainder of the year.
Arizona (3-9, 2-7)
Losses: BYU, at Oregon, UCLA, at Colorado, Washington, at USC, Utah, at Washington State, at Arizona State
First-year coach Jedd Fisch has announced a dual quarterback system to start the year. In the two scrimmages open to the public, Washington State transfer Gunner Cruz looked slightly better than returning-freshman Will Plummer.
But Fisch is giving them both a shot until a front runner emerges. The lack of a decisive decision arguably hurts the wide receivers the most, ironically the Wildcats’ strongest position group.
I have the Cats upsetting San Diego State in front of a raucous home crowd in the first home game of the Fisch Era, along with UA victories over Northern Arizona and California.
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