Say this for the Pac-12: While it may have fallen behind the other four power conferences, and once again doesn’t appear to have a true national title contender, from a gambling perspective this league is fascinating.
On the one hand, it might be the single hardest league in college football to handicap, thanks to last year’s absurd Covid season. The Pac-12 didn’t kick off its season until early November, with some teams playing as few as four games total. Others - like Arizona State - were forced to take month-long breaks mid-season, after Covid positives swept the program.
Point being, it’s really hard to gauge anything from last year.
Then again, on the flip side, because there is no dominant team in this league, no Ohio State or Clemson, there is value all over the board here.
Here’s our full Pac-12 gambling preview, with odds provided by our friends at DraftKings:
USC (+400) Arizona State (+500)
Colorado (+3500) Washington State (+3500)
Oregon State (+4500)
The Favorite - Oregon (+250): If you want to know how wonky the Pac-12 is, all you need to do is look at the odds on the favorite Oregon. They are +260, meaning if you bet $100 and they win the Pac-12, you win $260. Clemson, meanwhile, is -750 in the ACC, meaning if you bet the same $100 on them to win the ACC, you’d get back… $13 and change.
On the one hand, Oregon’s presence as the favorite makes sense. Mario Cristobal has recruited at an elite level (including last year’s Top 10 class nationally) and the Ducks ended up winning a second straight Pac-12 title last season. They have the best skill position talent in the conference, including CJ Verdell who rushed for over 1,000 yards during the team’s Rose Bowl run two years ago. Kayvon Thibodeaux might be the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft at defensive end.
Then again, I’ll be honest: I wouldn’t feel great betting them. The Ducks only won the Pac-12 title after Washington had to opt out of the championship game because of Covid, and the offense struggled late, leading to the transfer of starting quarterback Tyler Shough. The defense lost coordinator Andy Avalos, who is now the head coach at Boise.
Even still, +260 is great value for a conference favorite. Especially one with the most talent in the sport.
Does the second favorite have value - Washington (+350): The answer here is, umm, “maybe.” And really if you want a metaphor for all of Pac-12 football coming into this season, the Huskies might be it.
That’s because Washington is the second favorite in this league according to DraftKings - but to be blunt, we really don’t know much about them. Yes, their defense was elite last season (they were No. 1 in the Pac-12 in total defense). But they also played just four games total, had the ninth ranked offense in the league and played for a first year head coach who we are still learning about (Jimmy Lake, who replaced Chris Petersen a season ago).
Now look, is there a scenario Washington could win the Pac-12? Absolutely. It just feels like there are better ways to spend your money. Like with…
Best Value - Utah (+500): Like Washington, Utah only played a handful of games last year (five in total). But unlike Washington, we know who this team is - tough and physical with the league’s longest tenured coach, Kyle Whittingham. And because of it, I’m not all that worried about putting action on this team, even if they went just 3-2 overall last season.
Remember it was just two years ago that Utah entered the Pac-12 title game 11-1 with a chance to make the College Football Playoff. And even in a “down year” last year, they still finished second in the Pac-12 in total defense (and 37th nationally) and now return 18 starters - EIGHTEEN - off that team. That includes 10 returning starters on offense, and the only non-returnee is at quarterback, where Charlie Brewer - who has thrown for over 9,700 yards in his career - has transferred in from Baylor. He is expected to win the starting job.
Point being, I trust Kyle Whittingham and I trust this team. This may be one of my best preseason bets anywhere in football.
Stay Away - USC (+400): To be clear, I think it’s absolutely possible that USC can win the Pac-12.
I’m just not sure that I want to go through the ups and downs of betting it.
Just understand that while USC could win the league, getting there is going to give you gray hair, heartburn and make you pick up a nicotine habit. We all know that Clay Helton will probably lose at least one game (likely early) that he shouldn’t, and will also probably pull out a few games that USC has no business winning as well - like last year when they overcame a 14-point deficit in the final minutes to stun Arizona State.
At this point, Helton’s reputation is probably fair. And I personally just don’t want to spend my Saturday nights sweating out games until 1 a.m. ET time when USC has to hold on for dear life, as a double-digit favorite at home.
Total Wild Card - Arizona State (+500): The Arizona State buzz was real and spectacular coming into this season, and with good reason. The Sun Devils have one of the most talented rosters in the Pac-12 this season, and were the league’s top ranked scoring defense a year ago.
At the same time, I was already selling on the Sun Devils (mainly because I’m not as in love with QB Jayden Daniels as everyone else) and with the NCAA investigation that has popped up over the last few months, I’m staying away.
I think there is at least a possibility that Herm Edwards won’t even be the head coach of this team by the end of the year, and because of it, I’ll simply stay away.
Longshot - Cal (+2200): Heading into last season, the Golden Bears were on an upward trajectory, going from five wins in 2017, to seven wins in 2018 to eight wins in 2019. Then last year Covid hit, and they went a miserable 1-3.
With that said though, the Bears do return the Pac-12’s most experienced quarterback (Chase Garbers), were again solid on defense last year (third in the Pac-12 in total defense) and the players are on record saying they believe they are good enough to win the league.
The Bears are more live than most teams listed at 22-1 in other leagues.
This feels like a breakout year for UCLA, even if I don’t think they win the Pac-12. The Bruins went 3-4 last year but easily could’ve beaten Oregon and USC (trust me, I bet both those games) and bring back 19 starters overall.
The fact that Stanford is 30-1 to win the league tells you just how far this program has fallen. After finishing first or second in the Pac-12 North in David Shaw’s first five years, they’ve finished third or worse each of the last three seasons
Arizona is by far the worst team in this league - I’m not telling you to bet against them every single game this year, but I’m not telling you not to either.
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