The Pac-12 might have the most wide-open battle of any Power 5 conference in the 2021 college football season, as a handful of teams could make a claim to front-runner status. Washington and Oregon have combined to win the last three North Division titles and these two programs will enter ’21 as the favorites to claim the crown once again. A strong case could be made for either team here. The Huskies should have a standout defense despite the loss of linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui to a season-ending injury. However, question marks remain about the offense and how far the passing attack will develop under quarterback Dylan Morris this fall. The Ducks aren’t hurting for talent on either side of the ball, but the defense needs to get back on track after regressing from the ’19 season last fall. Also, while Anthony Brown is the front-runner under center and has starting experience from Boston College, his development in Oregon’s offense is crucial to its hopes of a Pac-12 title.
Oregon or Washington: Which Team Will Win the Pac-12 North in 2021?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Due to the abbreviated schedule and players in and out of the lineup last season, the Pac-12 is the toughest Power 5 conference to get a read on in 2021. Additionally, within this debate of Oregon versus Washington, these two teams didn’t play in ’20, and both teams had question marks going into last season that weren’t really addressed or answered in the limited sample size. With those factors in mind, I would give a slight edge to Oregon. The Ducks have won the Pac-12 title two years in a row and have the No. 1 roster in the conference thanks to stellar recruiting classes assembled by coach Mario Cristobal. New coordinator Tim DeRuyter should be a great fit on a defense that returns eight starters, including standout end Kayvon Thibodeaux and rising star linebacker Noah Sewell. A full offseason to work under coordinator Joe Moorhead should be a plus for an offense that averaged 6.8 yards per play last season. Anthony Brown is unproven as Oregon’s No. 1 quarterback after transferring in from Boston College, but the rest of the supporting cast is strong. The Ducks will find out just how good they are with a trip to Ohio State on Sept. 11 and later treks to Washington (Nov. 6) and Utah (Nov. 20). Expect the North Division to be a tight battle, but I give a small edge to Cristobal’s team once again.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
It's tough to glean much from last season's results, especially when you consider Washington took the Pac-12 North but Oregon won its second straight conference title after the Huskies were knocked out of the championship game due to COVID-19. But credit to Mario Cristobal's Ducks for taking full advantage of the opportunity and because of their championship mettle, I'll give a slight edge to Oregon for 2021. Both teams are similar in approaches and current makeup — relying on their defenses to carry the load — but the Ducks appear to have more talent, especially with Washington losing All-American linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui to a ruptured Achilles tendon. Oregon also seems to have found something in switching to quarterback Anthony Brown late last season and still has offensive mastermind Joe Moorhead calling the plays. It should be a tight race and the Huskies get the Ducks on their turf in early November, but I'll side with Oregon until someone knocks the now two-time conference champs from their perch.
Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)
The Huskies may have "won" the Pac-12 North last year, but it's hard to draw too many conclusions from four games. The defense is strong, but so should Oregon's with the return of Kayvon Thibodeaux, Noah Sewell, and Mykael Wright. Losing quarterback Tyler Shough is tough, but he was ceding playing time at the end of last season, and Anthony Brown is a quality replacement. Oregon's elite recruiting should pay off this fall with another division title. The skill positions are deep and talented, and they have an extremely underrated offensive mind in Joe Moorhead running that unit.
Nicholas Ian Allen (@NicholasIAllen)
I was surprised when I ran my first set of computer projections for the 2021 season and found that my model had Washington favored in all 12 regular-season games. The Huskies have a solid roster without a major glaring weakness, but only rank 15th nationally in average 247Sports rating throughout its current roster of scholarship players, and No. 23 in CFB Winning Edge Roster Strength, which adjusts those raw talent ratings for experience and career production. Solid, but not exactly the type of roster we would expect to go undefeated and challenge for a playoff spot.
Oregon ranks No. 9 in FBS in raw talent and No. 18 in Roster Strength, but the Ducks must travel to Seattle on Nov. 6, so it makes sense Washington would be favored at home. However, Oregon also has to make trips to UCLA and Utah, both of which could be Top 25 matchups. Meanwhile, Huskies also host rival Washington State and Cal, as well as top Pac-12 South crossover opponents UCLA and Arizona State. The toughest road game on Washington's conference slate is probably Stanford or Colorado, both of which arguably overachieved in 2020 and could take a step back this year. It wouldn't shock me at all if the Huskies lose one of those, or even suffer at least one upset at home, but the Washington schedule sets up really nicely and the Huskies to stack a lot of close wins together. Oregon may have a talent edge, but the gap isn't huge and Washington has a better chance of making it through the schedule with one loss.
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