No other conference in the FBS faces more challenges than the Pac-12. In what likely could be their final season in existence, two-thirds of the iconic conference are leaving after this season. Cal, Stanford, Oregon State, and Washington State remain currently without a home after this season, although Cal and Stanford are attempting to join the ACC. It’s a sad and disappointing end to such a historic part of college sports.
For this season, however, they retain all their members and boast the reigning Heisman Trophy winner with USC’s QB Caleb Williams. The AP Top 25 Poll sees both USC and Washington in the Top Ten and excitement is high among those two programs. The two Oregon programs are also in the poll and the Pac-12 looks to have a solid, if not spectacular, final season.
The Chalk: USC (+200/ +1000)
The Trojans look to be a formidable opponent this season, with 17 starters returning from the 3rd-best scoring offense in the country last season (41.4 ppg). Highlighting that group is QB Williams, who has a very legitimate shot of becoming the second Heisman Trophy winner to repeat (Ohio State’s RB Archie Griffin did it in 74-75). USC’s depth was impressive, as 13 different receivers caught TD passes last year. When you put up video game numbers as a QB (4,537 yards and 42 TDs to 5 INTs), you’ll have this. What held USC back from being elite is a defense that was ranked 94th out of 131 for points allowed per game (29.2 ppg allowed). Tough to win a National Championship with those numbers. They play two creampuffs to start with and then their annual Notre Dame game later. Their offense can score on anybody and as such, they should go above their win total.
The Contender: Oregon (+320/ +2500)
While the Huskies may be getting the national media attention, the betting community is still leaning towards the Ducks as the biggest threat to USC’s coronation. They return 16 starters, including former Auburn transfer QB Bo Nix, who will be in his second season in Eugene. They return their backfield which ran for almost 1,900 yards and 10 TDs, and that’s not including Nix’s 544 rushing yards and FOURTEEN RUSHING TDs. As is the case with almost every Pac-12 team, a lack of defense kills them in bowl games and Oregon’s 27.4 ppg allowed was 75th in the nation. They get USC at home and if they can beat them, have a great shot of going over the 9.5 win total.
The Wildcard: Utah (+550/ +4000)
The Utes are the Rodney Dangerfield of the Pac-12, they get no respect. The two-time defending Pac-12 champion, they’ve beat USC two years in a row, return 16 starters (with the returning starting QB) from an offense that scored 38.6 ppg and a defense that allowed 21.4 ppg. They open up against Florida and then travel to Baylor. With a low 8.5-win total this season, oddsmakers are joining in on the people who disrespect them. People who like money will take that over and give Utah the respect they deserve.
Nation’s Darling: Washington (+340/ +5000)
There’s an interesting trend in the Pac-12. All of the heralded QBs have transferred in and the Huskies QB (Indiana transfer Michael Penix) is no exception. The Huskies bring back 15 starters from last year’s team that averaged 39.7 ppg but also gave up 25.8 ppg. Penix is being touted as a Heisman hopeful. Washington actually plays a legit non-conference slate with Boise State, Tulsa, and a trip to East Lansing to face Michigan State. November will be tough, first traveling to USC and then getting Utah at home. They’re good enough to go over the 9.5 win total though.
Most Popular: Colorado (+15000/ +30000)
Just to be clear, popular does not translate to good. But no other head coach hiring has generated the noise that the Buffalos’ hiring of Deion Sanders has. Never before has a 1-11 team generated this kind of buzz. Deion is a fantastic recruiter but that will take a couple of seasons to gather momentum. We’ll get a chance to see his coaching chops in the big time. There isn’t an easy game for them on the schedule and the 3.5 win total looks to be too high.
The Rest of the Pac
Oregon State (+1200/ +6000)
The Beavers bring back 8 starters on offense and bring in a 2-year starter at Clemson D.J. Uiagalelei. Their schedule is incredibly favorable, missing USC and getting Utah, UCLA, and Washington all at home. Over the 8.5 win total is the play here
UCLA (+1000/ +10000)
Head coach Chip Kelly has slowly been turning the Bruins around, with back-to-back winning seasons. He sees the return of 16 starters but must replace the explosive QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson. One thing Kelly can do though is coach QBs and a soft non-conference slate gets them over the 8.5 win total
Washington State (+6000/+30000)
The Cougars surprised a lot of people last year, going into Madison and coming away with a 17-14 victory as a 17.5-point dog. They were 7-6 SU but a winning 8-5 ATS last season. They bring back 7 starters, including QB Cameron Ward, and could surprise people again (although Wisconsin will be looking for major revenge). Their 5-game win mark looks very reachable.
California (+8500/ +50000)
The Golden Bears return 17 starters and will have a definite upgrade at QB with TCU transfer Sam Jackson. They play Auburn in week 2 which will be a good barometer for how their season will go. Even winning that game though only puts them at 5 wins, which is their season total. A push is likely, with a lean towards the under
The Wildcats made a huge improvement last year, going from 1-11 to 5-7 in head coach Jedd Fisch’s second season. They bring back 8 offensive starters, with their QB and have a manageable non-conference slate. If Fisch keeps improving, he’ll go over their 5 game-win total. We think they will.
Arizona State (+11000/+50000)
First-time head coach Kenny Dillingham is stepping into the mess that Herm Edwards had created. Notre Dame transfer QB Drew Pyne should help stabilize this program that is in disarray. He has some talented weapons at wide receiver that are joining him. Even with 8 home games, they project to fall short of the 5-win season total.
Stanford (+25000/ +30000)
After consecutive 3-9 seasons, Stanford let head coach David Shaw go. New head coach Troy Taylor doesn’t have a lot of experience to work with, as only six returning starters are back. But when you only score 21.3 ppg and allow 32.2 ppg, that may not be a bad thing. Their win total is set at 3 and the projections have them coming in at 4-8, so the over looks good.
Projected Order of Finish
- Oregon State
- Washington State
- Arizona State