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Phil Steele reveals preseason 2023 Pac-12 power ratings

Alex Weberby:Alex Weber07/11/23

The Pac-12 experienced a pretty awesome year of football in 2022. Five of the conference’s 12 teams wound up winning 10+ games while all five also finished between 10-20 in the final College Football Playoff rankings. Plus, they had the Heisman Trophy winner.

In the final season for Los Angeles-area clubs USC and UCLA, the Pac-12 is packed full of talented teams, great quarterbacks and several young terrific head coaches. The conference is changing for good next summer and will likely undergo further mutations in the coming years. For now, though, Pac-12 football is heading into as anticipated a year as the league has had in quite a while.

Ahead of such a fun season, take a look at how college football guru Phil Steele predicts the Pac-12 standings to shake out:

1. USC

Aaorn Murray believes USC has what it takes to win a national championship in 2023
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports (Pac-12)

Lincoln Riley did in year one at USC what he’s done ever since he became a head coach: finished first in the conference standings, competed for a College Football Playoff berth and helped his quarterback to a Heisman Trophy. With that QB, Caleb Williams, back for one more year before he’s inevitably picked at the top of next spring’s NFL Draft, USC has to be the favorite.

The Trojans did stumble and lose twice against Utah, once by one bitter point and then again in the conference title game by more than three touchdowns. So far, the Utes are the only Pac-12 club to defeat Riley, which is worth noting for later on.

2. Oregon

(Photo by Ali Gradischer/Getty Images) Pac-12

Steele is high on year two of the Dan Lanning experience. The former mastermind of the Georgia defense actually put a terrific offensive product on the field in 2022 led by former longtime Auburn Tiger Bo Nix under center.

Nix is back in the fold as an extremely veteran starting quarterback, as is his favorite target from last fall, Troy Franklin, who recorded a hair under 900 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in ’22.

On the other side, the defense lost some high NFL draft picks but is loaded back up with veteran transfers. It’s possible Lanning starts zero underclassmen on D this fall. He’s got a very veteran group in Eugene.

3. Utah

Penn State quarterback Cam Rising
(Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) Pac-12

Against power conference teams not named USC, the Utes went just 6-4 and 0-3 against ranked opponents. But those wins against the Trojans made the season for Utah and you have to commend Kyle Whittingham for being the one Pac-12 coach to own Riley in his inaugural season.

As for this coming year, there’s plenty of reason to believe. The Utes get back starting QB Cameron Rising and Ja’Quinden Jackson, a converted quarterback who shined as the team’s most explosive running back in terms of yards-per-touch last season. Plus, Rising gets his No. 2 and No. 3 receiving targets back.

Steele is buying into another top-three finish for Whittingham and his Utes.

4. Washington

Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. (Pac-12)

It’s the fourth program in a row that’s returning its star quarterback and also coming off a double-digit win season. And it speaks to the incredible strength of the current Pac-12 that a football team as talented as the Huskies is rated as low as fourth in their own conference.

Washington walks into 2023 with perhaps the most established quarterback-receiver trio in the country. They get dual threat playmaker Michael Penix back under center, along with his two top targets in 2022, Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan, who both broke the 1,000-yard mark last fall. There’s some serious talent in Seattle this season.

5. Oregon State

(Steve Dykes/Getty Images) Pac-12

Here is the fifth and final 10-win team from the Pac-12 last season, and Phil Steele has them coming in 1-5 again this coming season, albeit in a slightly altered order. The Beavers snuck under the radar last year before roaring to four straight wins to end the year, which included a Civil War victory and a blowout bowl win vs. Florida.

They did lose some big pieces off last season’s team, but the arrival of former Clemson starting quarterback DJ Uiagalalei spices things up a bit on the offensive side of the ball.



Beyond the quintet of double-digit win-getters from last season, the Bruins slid in at sixth place in the conference despite a very strong season for the program. Chip Kelly is quietly stabilizing in his second Pac-12 stint but faces an uphill battle at cracking the top of the rankings in a really tough league this year.

There is likely to be a lot on the shoulders of true freshman quarterback Dante Moore, the No. 3 overall player and No. 2 QB in the 2023 On3 Industry Rankings. Wisely, Phil Steele is approaching the Bruins with some caution given such a stark change in experience under center.

7. Washington State

USC defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu puts pressure on Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward during a game between the Trojans and Cougars
(Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images) Pac-12

Seventh in 2022 and Phil Steele is saying it’ll be seventh place again and just outside the top half of the standings for Wazzu. Oddly enough, it was the defensive side of the ball that powered another above-.500 finish for the Cougars last season, as they allowed just under 23 points a game, a top-40 mark in the country in that department.

Given that development, plus a return from quarterback Cameron Ward, it’s reasonable to expect another solid team in Pullman. The big question on offense is how WSU will replace the bevy of receivers it lost after last year. There are plenty of transfers but no clear star in the room.

8. Arizona

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Pac-12

After an eighth place finish in 2022, Phil Steele as these Wildcats repeating that position once again. What held them back last time around was the defense, which surrendered 36.5 points per game, bad enough to rank sixth from last in the country.

If the defense isn’t improved, it could be another eighth or lower finish for the Wildcats. However, with star quarterback and 3,600-yard passer Jayden De Laura back in blue and red, plus scrimmage yards leader Michael Wiley at running back, an uptick on defense could make for a really solid football team.

9. California

California Golden Bears linebacker Femi Oladejo
(Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports) Pac-12

California finished ninth in the Pac-12 last year, are picked to place ninth again by Phil Steele and even had their coach ranked as the ninth best in the conference by CBS Sports.

The Golden Bears’ last bowl game appearance happened in the pre-COVID days, not even this decade. Anything but another ninth place or lower finish has to be considered a reasonable success, but Steele just thinks this group will tread water in 2023.

10. Arizona State

Make it six in a row for Phil Steele! His prediction for the 5-10 finishers in the 2023 Pac-12 identically mirror the 5-10 finishers of the 2022 season, ending here with Arizona State.

The Herm Edwards experiment ended in despair a quarter of the way through last season and the team really never found much momentum throughout the year after that loss to Eastern Michigan early on. They’ve got a new coach now, but Steele waiting to see on him before expecting a jump in the standings.

11. Colorado

(Cross/The Denver Post)

At last, there’s a switch-up between Phil Steele’s projections and the 2022 Pac-12 standings. His deviation comes in the form of Colorado, who placed last in 2022 but received a one spot bump up to 11th for 2023 per Steele.

Deion Sanders is making more headlines than any other Pac-12 coach or program at the moment, but Steele is still skeptical over his translation to the Division I and power conference level. He won’t waltz into the season with a talent mismatch against every opponent like he did with Jackson State.

12. Stanford

notre dame stanford josh karty
Stanford Cardinal place kicker Joshua Karty (43) sizes up his field goal during the college mens football game between the Oregon State Beavers and Stanford Cardinal on October 8, 2022 at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, CA. (Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Cardinal ranked in the bottom-25 in the country in two fairly important stats last season: points per game and points allowed per game. Stanford gave up more than 10 points per game more than they scored in 2022 as they cruised to a second-to-last finish in the conference.

With Sanders infusing at least a little bit of star power over in Boulder, Arizona State or Stanford could be the least talented teams in the conference, and Steele’s is giving that edge, or lack thereof, to the team in Palo Alto.


Well, if you came for scalding hot takes, Phil Steele did not come through. Instead, the wise old magazine mogul stuck mainly to what he saw on the field last season, keeping the same six teams in the 1-6 spots for 2023, which means he also has the same group of teams finishing 7-12. Plus, as mentioned, he managed to pick six straight teams in the identical spot they finished a year ago.