There are a few ways to calculate the Pac-12's potential drop in prestige as a result of the league's shortened 2020 season, which resulted in the conference's absence from a fourth straight College Football Playoff. One of them is to parse through CBS Sports' annual rankings of all power conference football coaches (plus Notre Dame) and see what impact the abbreviated campaign had on the stock of Pac-12 coaches.
Of the league's 11 returning coaches, seven of them dropped in the 2021 overall ranking, and a couple of the drops are hard to explain. USC's Clay Helton fell seven spots after a 5-1 season, and Stanford's David Shaw dropped five spots after a 4-2 campaign that ended with four straight road victories.
So who are the top coaches in the Pac-12 these days? There was just one coaching change in the conference with Jedd Fisch taking over for Kevin Sumlin at Arizona, but there was plenty of movement within the league ranking. Here's how our panel of college football writers from CBS Sports and 247Sports saw it this offseason.
|Kyle Whittingham (No. 14 overall): It's no coincidence that the longest-tenured coach at a Pac-12 school is repeating at the top of this list. Whittingham owns a 134-66 record in 17 seasons leading the Utah program and led the Utes to division titles in 2018 and 2019. With Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer in at quarterback to lead an experience-laden team, the Utes are set to show the virtues of continuity again in 2021. It all starts with Whittingham. Last year: 1 in Pac-12|
|Mario Cristobal (16 overall): Did Cristobal really deserve to jump eight spots in the overall ranking from No. 24 to No. 16 after a 4-3 season? While the Ducks were technically the Pac-12 champions in 2020, they only appeared in the league title game because of Washington's COVID-19 issues, and then they got spanked by Iowa State in the Fiesta Bowl. Cristobal's 25-10 record in four seasons is respectable, but the the soon-expected dividends of his excellent recruiting must be why he is so high on the list. Last year: 3 in Pac-12|
|Herm Edwards (21 overall): The ballots for this exercise were submitted before June reports surfaced that Arizona State is under investigation for alleged recruiting violations. The investigation is casting a pall over what many project to be a breakout season for the Sun Devils in Edwards' fourth season. There's little doubt the former NFL coach has upgraded the talent level at ASU and positioned the program to compete for a league title. But the investigation raises questions about Edwards' future in college football. Last year: 4 in Pac-12|
|David Shaw (24 overall): It seems unfair that Shaw slid two spots in the league coach rankings after a 4-2 season that featured an undue share of adversity related to COVID-19 protocols. Perhaps the slide for Shaw is more a culmination of factors. After starting out 64-17 in his first six seasons for a winning percentage of 79%, Shaw is 26-19 (57.8%) over the past four seasons. With a strong 2021 campaign against one of the Pac-12's toughest schedules, he should jump right back into the league's top-three. Last year: 2 in Pac-12|
|Justin Wilcox (38 overall): Wilcox slid five spots in the Power Five rankings but retained his grasp on No. 5 in the league standing, despite a disappointing 1-3 season for the Bears in 2020. Wilcox has done a nice job entering his fifth season, but all eyes will be on his offensive coordinator choice in 2021. Bill Musgrave's debut as OC was rough last year, and if the Bears aren't much-improved on that side of the ball this season, it will reflect poorly on Wilcox's head coaching acumen. Last year: 5 in Pac-12|
|Chip Kelly (39 overall): With a 10-21 record through three seasons at UCLA, Chip Kelly is in danger of becoming one of college football's biggest coaching busts in recent memory. His hire during the 2018 offseason was regarded as a home run, but he's yet to guide the Bruins to a winning season. His 2021 roster features tons of experience and a veteran QB, and if it's not now, it's probably never for Kelly at UCLA. Last year: 6 in Pac-12|
|Clay Helton (48 overall): Helton's 36-12 league record is solid, but the Trojans' 9-11 mark in nonconference games in his tenure is less than stellar. His seven-spot drop in this year's overall ranking after a 5-1 season tells you a lot about the way he's perceived nationally. Helton is getting little credit from our panelists for his team's run of close victories last season, and it feels anything short of a league title will fail to change the narrative on Helton at this point. Last year: 7 in Pac-12|
|Jimmy Lake (51 overall): Under normal circumstances, you'd think a first-time head coach that debuted by winning 75% of their games and a division title would be rewarded with a bigger jump in these rankings. But you can't blame voters for wanting to see the Huskies get through a normal season before anointing Lake. After all, Washington only played four games in 2020 and couldn't play in the Pac-12 title game due to COVID-19 protocols. A favorable 2021 schedule offers Lake the opportunity to explode onto the national scene. Last year: 11 in Pac-12|
|Karl Dorrell (54 overall): Dorrell's second stint as a Pac-12 head coach (he was at UCLA from 2003-07) began with a bang as he led the Buffaloes to a 4-2 record and earned the league's Coach of the Year award. It was a well-deserved honor considering he didn't take the job until late February following Mel Tucker's abrupt departure. Breaking in a new quarterback with a tough schedule will challenge Dorrell in Year Two, but reaching a bowl game would keep his stock rising. Last year: 12 in Pac-12|
|Jonathan Smith (56 overall): Smith inherited a mess from Gary Andersen and got it back to a respectable 5-7 in 2019 before Oregon State backslid to 2-5 during a 2020 season that featured some close losses. As a former OSU quarterback and successful former Washington offensive coordinator, Smith seems like the perfect fit here. Year Four should give us a better read on where things are headed. Last year: 9 in Pac-12|
|Nick Rolovich (58 overall): Did Rolovich really deserve to drop three spots just because Washington State finished 1-3? The Cougars were playing a freshman quarterback in Jayden De Laura, and those three losses came against Oregon, USC and Utah. Rolovich won 10 games at Hawaii in 2019 and it feels like 2021 will quickly overwrite the disjointed 2020 season in terms of providing quality evaluation material for one of the league's new coaches. Last year: 8 in Pac-12|
|Jedd Fisch (64 overall): Fisch is one of the most well-traveled coaches in the business, having bounced between the college and NFL ranks over the last 20-plus years while working with some storied coaches. Now the 45-year-old gets his first crack at being a head man. By default, he starts at the bottom of the totem pole among his Pac-12 peers as he faces a steep rebuild while replacing Kevin Sumlin at Arizona. Last year: N/A|