PAC-12 teams played the fewest number of total games among all the Power 5 conferences a year ago and, thus, provide the most unreliable data to work with for creating a preseason forecast for 2021. So it only makes sense that the computer sees USC as the No. 1 team in the country.
ACC teams led all Power 5 conferences with 13 teams managing to complete at least 10 games, followed by the SEC with 10 teams playing a minimum of 10 games, and the Big 12 with 6 teams completing at least 10 games. Six of the Big Ten's 14 teams were able to squeeze in at least 8 games, but only 5 PAC-12 teams were able to complete a minimum of 6 contests. Oregon State and UCLA played 7, but Cal, Washington and Washington State only played 4 each.
Washington had to bow out of the conference championship game, paving the way for Oregon to face-off with USC and ultimately score a 31-24 upset victory to secure a second straight title.
Washington also opted out of the bowl season and the only two PAC-12 teams that accepted bids were blown out in their respective matchups. Oregon fell 34-17 to Iowa State in the Fiesta Bowl, and Texas pounded Colorado 55-23 in the Alamo Bowl.
In the offseason, just one PAC-12 team made a change at the top with Arizona firing Kevin Sumlin and hiring Jedd Fisch. Sumlin was summarily canned on December 12, the day after a 70-7 beatdown was administered by rival Arizona State in the season finale to give the Wildcats' a 12th straight loss. His record was a miserable 9-20 in 3 seasons and he went 0-3 against the Sun Devils. On December 23, Fisch was announced as Sumlin's replacement. Fisch is a 24-year career assistant whose career includes stints with the New Jersey Red Dogs of the Arena League before moving on to multiple NFL stops. He spent last season as the QB coach for the New England Patriots. Periodically, his career also involved stops at some of the premier college programs in the nation, including UCLA, Miami and Michigan..
That brings us to the 2021 forecast, based on the Congrove Computer Rankings at CollegeFootballPoll.com. Now in its 29th season, the rankings managed to pick the exact records of Utah and USC last season and miss on five other teams by just 1 game.
This year, the computer tabs USC to plow through a weak south division, and then crush Washington in the championship game as a 10.99-point favorite. A conference championship for the Trojans would be their first since 2017 and just the third since 2008. But the run doesn't stop there. As mentioned at the top of this article, the computer picks USC to win the national championship, as well.
Indiana (Big Ten) champs, Miami (ACC Champs) and LSU (SEC Champs) are expected to round out the Final Four. The semis would see USC eliminate LSU, and Indiana edge Miami. The Trojans are preseason favorites by 5.39 points over the Hoosiers.
Other teams that are definitely in the mix are Iowa State, Oklahoma, Clemson, Texas A&M, Washington and North Carolina. Surprisingly, Alabama is considered an outlier with 2 losses expected to spell the Tide's doom, along with Wisconsin. Even more surprisingly, Ohio State is projected to lose 4 games.
That makes the Chick-fil-A kick-off hugely important for the both the Tide and the 'Canes as the winner would be seen as having an inside path to the Final Four.
The Trojans begin the year more than 9 power points clear of projected runner-up Utah and get the Utes at home on October 9. USC's cross-over schedule omits Washington and Oregon, the two best teams in the north.
Arizona State checks in more than 5 full points behind the Utes to take 3rd in a close battle with UCLA and Colorado. Herm Edwards' 4th season in Tempe sees 20 starters back on campus and the No. 1 team in the conference in returning production. Chip Kelly also has 20 starters returning to the Bruins.
For that matter, Utah has 19 starters back, as does Oregon State.
Returning talent is one of the biggest issues across the country since everyone who played in 2020 got a free pass to play another season.
With 18 starters returning, Washington seems to be heavily favored in the north - if you only glance at the predicted won-loss record. The power ratings tell a different story with Oregon trailing the Huskies by a mere 1.34 points. The difference lies in the luck of the draw as the Huskies were handed road games against Oregon State, Arizona, Colorado and Stanford. Meanwhile, the Ducks have to travel to Stanford, UCLA, Washington and Utah and are expected to lose all four.
|** - Southern California by 10.99 over Washington|