Ranking the Top 5 Players for Pac-12 Football in 2021

By Dan Vasta in Sports
| August 14, 2021 8:20 am PDT

The Pac-12 is looking for their third trip to the College Football Playoff. We are entering year number eight in the CFP era, but the conference should have an opportunistic look towards the 2021 season.

All six of the top projected squads in this conference are bringing back several starters to their rosters. The Pac-12 is improving, and the production from their defenses could lead the way.

The amount of star quarterbacks is still there for a conference that has had a history of producing some starting signal-callers in the NFL. The receivers are not full of first-rounders, but the trenches seem to be improved.

The only team to play in a bowl was Colorado (Alamo Bowl). That has helped allow most of the starters to return for another season ahead. It also helps that there is continuity on the coaching staff since there is only one new coaching staff (Arizona) in the conference.

It is never easy to dissect the best players from a Power Five conference, but somebody has to do it. With that, here are my Pac-12 college football player rankings for 2021.

5. Trent McDuffie, DB, Washington

Jimmy Lake is entering his second season as the Huskies head coach but has been with the program since 2014.

The amount of talent he has on the defense is borderline absurd. It’s been a ferocious unit that has limited opponents at an elite level.

Just look at their scoring defense and ranking over the last three years.

2020 2019 2018
No. 39 (25.0 PPG) No. 15 (19.4 PPG) No. 5 (16.4 PPG)

This team can win the Pac-12 and getting back to the College Football Playoff as they did in the 2016 season.

Trent McDuffie is the alpha dog of this defense and will be the leader in the secondary.

He has a case to make as one of the few elite shutdown corners that can stand out on an island. The length, athleticism, fluid hips, and awareness of McDuffie will make the Huskies defense one to watch.

4. Drake Jackson, LB, USC

The Trojans have been clamoring for a banner season in which they can be proud of their performance. The defenses have struggled these past few seasons, and the potential of the team has dropped.

During the Pete Carrol era, they had a top-five defense every season. The star linebackers and defensive linemen they brought in were overly impressive.

Drake Jackson had 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in six games last season. The production will need to increase even further with a challenging schedule.

The accountability this defense needs to play with throughout the season may determine their fate. Similar to programs like Texas and Michigan, the talent level isn’t lacking much.

The ability to develop certain positions that are vital for success has been an issue. The lack of a star on the defensive side of the ball looks like it will change shortly.

Jackson made Second Team All-Pac-12 last season, and the opportunity is there to have his best season yet.

3. Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah

Kyle Whittingham has done one of the better coaching jobs in the country. He is entering his 17th season, and their hard-nosed defenders have been their calling card.

Enter Devin Lloyd and his chances of winning the Butkus Award in 2021 look great. The star linebacker can roam the sidelines similarly to Brian Urlacher, back when he played for New Mexico.

Lloyd is a star-studded linebacker at 6-3, 230-plus pounds. The Utes rely on their premier defender to obliterate players in the backfield, but he is athletic enough to avoid being a liability in pass coverage.

Most linebackers struggle with technique, awareness, and or quickness in pass coverage.

Lloyd can do it all and will continue to produce at a high level. His team-high ten tackles for loss last season were in only five ball games.

The potential and upside for Lloyd are to become one of the five best defenders in the country. He will lead the way on defense and is in the perfect position to go bonkers this season in Salt Lake City under Whittingham.

2. Kedon Slovis, QB, USC

One of the best pure passers in the country had to crack the top five list of players in the Pac-12. USC saw their Holiday Bowl chances of winning against Iowa fall apart.

Kedon Slovis was looking the part of a future superstar early on in that game against a respectable Hawkeye defense. The injury he suffered and the lack of blocking in the trenches for USC is a growing concern.

The offense is electric when the offensive line protects the future first or second-round pick. Just look at the numbers he’s compiled over the last two years.

Year Passing Yards Passing Touchdowns
2020 1,921 17
2019 3,502 30

Even without much of a run game, the Trojans can be one of the more explosive offenses in the country. They will have a chance to shatter some recent records out on the West coast, but Slovis will need to play his best when pressure comes from the better defenses.

There will be games against Arizona State, Utah, UCLA, and Notre Dame that will show us how far Slovis has come. Delivering the ball on time under duress became an issue last season.

Stepping up in the pocket and threading the needle to the bevy of weapons on this offense will be fun to watch.

The USC starting signal-caller will have the opportunity to become a Top 10 Heisman type of player, as well. Needless to say, he’s one of the top Pac-12 players to watch in 2021.

1. Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

One of the most feared players in the entire country is back to decimate opposing Pac-12 backfields. The NFL scouts have been drooling over No. 5 in green and white for years.

A potential number one pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, Kayvon Thibodeaux is a problem.

Thibodeaux is a freak that cannot be blocked coming off the edge. He demands double teams, chip blocks, and even tripling him up would be considered a strategy to prevent your starting signal-caller from getting flattened like a pancake.

He is the impact player that can turn a game around on any given play. They always say the most important players in football are the quarterback, protecting the quarterback, and getting after the quarterback.

This current star-studded Duck will likely be spreading his wings one final time in Eugene before he flies away to the NFL.

Looking Ahead to the 2021 Pac-12 Season

While many will say the Pac-12 conference will be a disappointment again if they fail to reach the CFP, I disagree with that notion.

The Pac-12 needs to get back to winning non-conference matchups to show the nation they are worthy of appearing in premier bowl games. Washington, Oregon, USC, UCLA, and Arizona State are just a handful of the ones that need to step up.

The conference can get to where it needs to go on the heels of their top talent, starting with the five best Pac-12 players above.

The mid and lower-tier squads will have their chances in the non-conference slate that determine their postseason fates. These five premier players can carry their programs towards the College Football Playoff. They are capable of making an appearance on all the postseason award lists and teams as well.

Taking these five off their current teams could put them in a tailspin, so it isn’t just their talents but also their experience and mental edge that their squads crave.

For more 2021 college football content, check out the posts below.

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