Athlon Picks Oregon, Arizona State as Pac-12 Division Winners

Magazine pegs Cal football to finish third in the North, noting the Bears' strengths and weaknesses on offense
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Athlon predicts that Oregon with win the Pac-12 North and Arizona State will win the Pac-12 South in its projected order of finish for the conference for the 2021 football season.

Athlon, which posted its projections this week, pegs Cal for a third-place finish in the North, noting the return of Chase Garbers as a strength but the Bears’ offensive struggles the past several seasons as a concern.

The magazine says there is no clear-cut favorite in the Pac-12, which makes for a wide-open race.

Here is Athlon’s projected order of finish:

Pac-12 North

1. Oregon

2. Washington

3. Cal

4. Stanford

5. Washington State

6. Oregon State

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Pac-12 South

1. Arizona State

2. USC

3. Utah

4. UCLA

5. Colorado

6. Arizona

Athlon’s breakdown on Cal:

After back-to-back winning seasons (2019-20), California finished 1-3 last year. Of course, the one-win mark is easily explained by the unusual nature of last season and the limited practice time prevented this team from adapting to a new play-caller on offense. The Golden Bears should rebound in ’21.

Previewing the Offense

Strength: Quarterback Chase Garbers has the potential to be one of the top signal-callers in the conference and having a full offseason to work with play-caller Bill Musgrave should help the offense improve in 2021. California brings back four starters up front, an experienced running back unit and the bulk of its receiving corps.

Concern: California has ranked last in the Pac-12 in yards per play in four consecutive seasons. This unit managed only 20.2 points a game last year, gave up 15 sacks, ranked 11th in the conference in third-down offense and struggled to generate big plays. How fast can Musgrave and Garbers get on the same page?

True Freshman to Watch: TE Jermaine Terry

Incoming Transfers: None

Breakout Player: WR Jeremiah Hunter

Previewing the Defense

Strength: Wilcox is one of the Pac-12’s top defensive coaches, and even if there was a slight regression on the stat sheet last year, it’s hard to doubt this defense. Linebackers Cameron Goode and Kuony Deng are two of the best in the conference, and the secondary should be solid once again.

Concern: California is thin along the defensive line and could be vulnerable against the run. More pass rush is needed, and cornerback Cam Bynum won’t be easy to replace.

True Freshman to Watch: DL Akili Calhoun

Incoming Transfers: S Raymond Woodie III

Breakout Player: DL JH Tevis

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Cover photo of Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels by Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports

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Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53

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