The Pac-12 landscape is changing quickly, Oregon State received an AP top 25 vote, Utah has yet to win, but one thing remains evident; the Pac-12 won’t be represented in the College Football Playoffs and the conference’s refs still suck. Where is this conference going? Who will be the next CFP Pac-12 team? Which teams have the brightest futures? Here is what we expect from the Pac-12 going forward.
The future of the Pac-12 is based quite a bit on recruiting. While a large number of Pac-12 schools are based in, or draw most of their players from the rich recruiting area of California, other Power 5 schools are grabbing some of the better talents in the area. Of the 4 and 5 star recruits in California in 2020, just under 70% of them went on to commit to a Pac-12 school. In 2021, of the currently committed 4 and 5 star recruits in California, 72% are planning to go to Pac-12 schools (as per 247 sports).
California is the only one of the top recruiting hotspots (Florida, Texas, California) that has only one Power 5 conference with schools in it. This could be a major factor to the Pac-12 if they take advantage of it. If they manage to lock out some of the bigger schools, such as ‘Bama and Clemson, they would greatly limit the number of recruits that look to go out of conference thus increasing the talent in the conference.
The improvement in recruiting, even if it is minor, indicates good things for the Pac-12 conference but there are other indicators. The former laughing stock of Pac-12 football, Oregon State, has turned it around in recent years. Last year they finished the season 5-7 with some incredibly close losses. This year they are 2-2 (would be 3-1 and tied for the top of the north if not for an egregious call during the Washington game) following a stunning upset of the Ducks and have the tools to come back in force next year.
In addition, UCLA and Colorado, who have been bottom feeders in the Pac-12 south the past few years, have put up a strong showing to this point in 2020. The weaker teams showing improvement is great for the Pac-12 as it means more competitive conference games which in turn means larger TV deals for all the teams benefit. Also, the more competitive conference could mean higher standings in CFP polls for the teams that excel in the division.
The top of the Pac-12 is strong, but it may be a while before anyone sees a CFP bid. USC doesn’t seem to be able to win convincingly enough to rise up poll rankings and Kedon Slovis has not taken the steps that most people expected him too. Washington clearly has the best defense going forward, Zion Tupuola-Fetui (RS So), Edefuan Ulofoshio (RS So), and Trent McDuffie (So) all have incredible playmaking instincts and change the game on nearly every play and should be there for at least another year. However, the Washington offense has not been great this season. If they can develop the offense a bit, there is a solid chance this team could compete for the CFP next year but it will be tough.
Washington State has an intriguing window to make the playoffs as well. If players get an extra year of eligibility, Jayden DeLaura, the Cougs standout freshman QB, would be a freshman going into their 2021 campaign. If they can add some legitimate pieces to the defense I believe the Cougs high flying offense could very easily be in contention for a CFP spot within the next 4 years. Oregon, who seems to always be in the mix of teams competing for a playoff spot, seems like a long shot to me. They have some solid pieces and a defense that has good potential, but their struggles in stopping the run have been devastating for them this season. In addition, Shough has been up and down in his time as a starter which will keep their opponents in games the Ducks should be easily winning. As such, I worry, not that Oregon doesn’t have the talent to compete for the CFP as they will be in too many close games to be considered a top contender.
There are several reasons to be excited about the Pac-12 going forward and they appear to be trending the right direction, but they absolutely need to capitalize on the treasure trove of recruits that is California. In 2022, I hope to see a highly competitive Pac-12 with aggressive defenses and volatile offenses. And more importantly, I believe we could see a Pac-12 team make its way to the largest college football stage of all, the College Football Playoffs.
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