Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019 | 2 a.m.
No one can come to any consensus on what’s going to happen in the Pac-12 Conference this year.
At least compared to the other Power Five conferences, the West Coast league has caused the most dissension among bettors. Odds on 10 of the 12 teams to win the conference have shifted at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook over the last month — including a new favorite emerging in Utah, who’s down to plus-275 (risking $1 to win $2.75) after opening at 3-to-1.
The Utes have been a favorite betting option among professional bettors, while a couple other Pac-12 teams have wooed recreational players.
Oregon and Washington were also 3-to-1 with Utah at the onset but have gotten boosted up to plus-325. That implies three teams have at least a 20 percent probability to win the title — more than any other major conference.
The Pac-12 is also the only league to have produced a different champion in four of the past five years, an unpredictability that’s kept it intriguing even while the on-field product has floundered. The conference has been left out of the College Football Playoff in each of the last two years, and three of the five all-time, but have plenty of contenders this year.
Total: 5.5 (minus-110, minus-110)
Last Season: 7-6 straight-up, 6-6-1 against the spread
With virtually no returners on offense and an annual tendency to struggle moving the ball, almost any statistical model is going to spit out the Golden Bears coming in below 5.5 wins this year. That’s also the way the betting market has moved, as the over initially opened at minus-150 before action came in on the under. But this isn’t a bad team to take a leap of faith on. Inexperience is less of an issue when the veterans of yesteryear didn’t produce in the first place. Justin Wilcox is also an underrated coach who’s consistently presided over strong defenses and should figure out some semblance of an offense eventually.
Lean: Over 5.5 wins at minus-110
Total: 8.5 (minus-170, plus-145)
Last Season: 9-4 straight-up, 5-8 against the spread
The Ducks are a popular “over” bet every year in win totals despite under-performing and having failed to eclipse their total for four straight seasons. Bettors are smitten with their skill players, which appears to be the case again this year as the odds on the over has steadily risen for more than a month. The Ducks see the surprise return of top NFL prospect Justin Herbert at quarterback along with last year’s top two rushers, C.J. Verdell and Travis Dye. This was a team, however, that went from knocking off Washington last year to getting blown out against Arizona two weeks later. They were maddeningly inconsistent, and that often falls on the coaching. Second-year coach Mario Cristobal has yet to prove he’s worthy of one of the best jobs in college football, and until he does, there’s no reason to pay an inflated price on his teams.
Guess: Under 8.5 wins at plus-145
Total: 2.5 (minus-160, plus-140)
Last Season: 2-10 straight-up, 4-8 against the spread
Drastic defensive improvement is easier to attain than a sudden offensive explosion, which might be Oregon State’s only comfort this season. The Beavers held their own on offense last year behind a returning core of quarterback Jake Luton, running back Jemar Jefferson and receiver Isaiah Hodgins but they were a disaster on defense. They ranked third-to-last in the nation in giving up 7.5 yards per play against Football Bowl Subdivision opponent. Like their in-state “Civil War” rivals, this is another one that comes down to a price. Oregon State has gone over 2.5 wins only once in the last four seasons, so it’s hard to pay a premium on a leap.
Guess: Under 2.5 wins at plus-140
Total: 7 (plus-110, minus-130)
Last Season: 9-4 straight-up, 7-5-1 against the spread
The Cardinal had one of the most celebrated players in the country going into last season in running back Bryce Love. This year, they have a player who’s even more valuable because of his position and yet there’s been virtually no buzz. Junior K.J. Costello was one of the better quarterbacks in the nation last year, especially down the stretch, and should lead a revitalized Stanford offense this season. This looks like an opportunity to buy low on a consistent program that’s racked up double-digit victories in five of eight seasons under coach David Shaw. Stanford may merit a look at 7-to-1 to win the North division, if not 20-to-1 in the conference futures.
Play: Over 7 wins at plus-110
Total: 9.5 (minus-120, Even)
Last Season: 10-4 straight-up, 4-10 against the spread
It feels like an insult to Washington that it’s currently trailing Oregon in odds to win the North Division at minus-140 to the Ducks’ minus-150 after winning the conference title in two of the last three years. It’s also a reflection on all that the Huskies lost, though, as they rank 118th in the nation in returning production according to the S&P+ ratings. That would be a major problem at most programs, but coach Chris Petersen’s teams have stayed remarkably steady throughout his 14-year career. He’s also brought in back-to-back highly-touted recruiting classes meaning some blue-chip prospects — including Georgia transfer quarterback Jacob Eason — are ready to step in to full-time roles.
Play: Over 9.5 wins at minus-120
Total: 8 (Even, minus-120)
Last Season: 11-2 straight-up, 11-2 against the spread
Doubting a Mike Leach-coached team has been a money-losing recipe for nearly two decades, but there might not be any other choice this year. The Cougars go into the season overvalued off of a dream year where they experienced a lot of good fortune. In 2018, Washington State avoided injuries, posted a plus-8 turnover differential and went 4-1 in games decided by less than a touchdown. Those are all fickle factors that could easily swing other way. It also doesn’t help that they catch the three Pac-12 favorites — Oregon, Washington and Utah — all on the road.
Guess: Under 8 wins at minus-120
Total: 6.5 (plus-115, minus-135)
Last Season: 5-7 straight-up, 7-5 against the spread
A year ago, Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate was the most popular Heisman Trophy bet on the board — getting down to as low as 10-to-1. Now he’s practically forgotten, sitting as high as 100-to-1. If Tate just needed a year to adjust to coach Kevin Sumlin’s system and isn’t set up to decline for another season, then the Wildcats could be highly dangerous. Tate also has a pair of explosive running backs around him in J.J. Taylor and Gary Brightwell. Combined with a manageable opening schedule — Arizona is at Hawaii and then hosts Northern Arizona and Texas Tech before a bye week — this might be a bounce-back year.
Guess: Over 6.5 wins at plus-115
Total: 6.5 (minus-130, plus-110)
Last Season: 7-6 straight-up, 7-6 against the spread
Even after a successful year-one campaign, the betting market must remain wary of Arizona State coach Herm Edwards. That’s at least the best way to explain why gamblers have continued to bet against the Sun Devils despite the team returning standouts at many key spots. Running back Eno Benjamin, the offensive focal point, is back along with almost the entire offensive line. On defense, edge-rusher Merlin Robertson and coverage safety Aashari Crosswell are among the conference’s best at their specialties. The Pac-12 looks crowded with how many teams appear to be improved, but there’s no denying the Sun Devils are solidly among that mix.
Lean: Over 6.5 wins at minus-130
Total: 4 (Even, minus-120)
Last Season: 5-7 straight-up, 5-7 against the spread
When a first-year coach steps in and immediately thrives with a new program, circumstance usually plays a bigger role than credited. A team can get an early jump on a turnaround if they’ve got the right leftovers from the previous staff or a soft schedule. It doesn’t look like new Colorado coach Mel Tucker will have either. Beyond senior quarterback Steven Montez, there’s mostly unproven young players as holdovers from former coach Mike MacIntyre. And while almost every other program in the Pac-12 has reason to believe they’re in an upward swing, the Buffaloes are the one in an undeniable rebuilding year. It might make for a rough start to Tucker’s tenure, but he shouldn’t be judged too prematurely. First years can be misleading.
Guess: Under 4 wins at minus-120
Total: 6.5 (plus-110, minus-130)
Last Season: 3-9 straight-up, 5-6-1 against the spread
UCLA coach Chip Kelly is certainly hoping his first year was misleading as he couldn’t harness the promise of one of the nation’s youngest rosters and posted the program’s worst record in more than 40 years. The Bruins are now one of the more experienced teams in the nation with the expectation that sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and senior running back Joshua Kelly can improve and implement a vintage Kelly offense. Well, some are expecting that. Few teams inspire such split opinions as the Bruins. They’re everything from a sleeper conference championship threat to an overrated squad based on their brand depending on who’s asked. Both extremes might be a reach, but Kelly needs to show he’s still ahead of the game — as he was when he served as the coach at Oregon earlier in this decade — before it’s time to start backing his team.
Lean: Under 6.5 wins at minus-130
Total: 7 (minus-150, plus-130)
Last Season: 5-7 straight-up, 4-8 against the spread
If the most popular betting sentiment was always right, Oregon and USC would play against each other in the Pac-12 Championship Game every year. Oregon and USC have never played against each other in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Much like the Ducks, the Trojans draw money every season and this year is no exception. By talent and recruiting rankings, USC has the talent to compete for a national championship every year but it’s rarely gotten to that level in the last decade. If the Trojans are going to do it this year, they’ll need to prove it right away as they open with five straight tough games before a bye week. The challenging early-season schedule is an even bigger red flag than normal. Many fans are already done with coach Clay Helton, and if the team loses a couple to start the season, the cries will intensify. USC always has a chance at a breakthrough but a bottoming-out seems more likely this year.
Lean: Under 7 wins at plus-130
Total: 9 (minus-150, plus-130)
Last Season: 9-5 straight-up, 7-7 against the spread
There’s a reason why big money has streamed in on the Utes: On paper, they might be the best team in the Pac-12 and they weren’t priced anywhere near it. The sharp action has brought them closer to their truer odds. Utah’s offense ranks third in the nation in returning production, per S&P+, and its defense has been remarkably consistent throughout coach Kyle Whittingham’s 15-year tenure. Utah won nine games last year despite losing now-senior quarterback Tyler Huntley and now-senior running back Zack Moss for stretches. In addition to some bad injury breaks, the Utes endured poor turnover luck. With everything pointing up, Utah is currently a minus-150 favorite to win the Pac-12 South division — and that might not be high enough.
Play: Over 9 wins at minus-150