The Pac-12 is in a bit of a weird place this year. There is a shift in the balance of power - or at least it feels like there could be. The league feels far more wide-open than it has in years, and futures odds - like those posted at Bovada which we will examine here - make it very tough to get a sense of just what might happen. In most conferences we have a team or two with a big advantage over the rest. In the Pac-12 we have five teams so close together you could cover them with a blanket - a small one. So, do the futures odds offer any interesting value?
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The favorite: Stanford is favored, but at +300 you have to call them lukewarm favorites at best. In all four other major conferences the favorite is at +175 or lower - much lower in the case of the Big 12 - so oddsmakers are making it clear that they don't feel great about their first pick. It's more like they need to pick someone. All-world running back Christian McCaffrey is back for more, but he has to deal with a whole lot of change around him - from quarterback to the line and beyond. They could adapt well or they could struggle to find their way. We can't know until we see them start to play.
The biggest threat: This is by far the toughest conference to answer this question in. The odds are no help at all. UCLA is the second choice at +350, but Washington is right behind at +400, and USC and Oregon are both close behind at +550. All four have lots of positives but lots of questions as well. UCLA lost a lot - eight players were drafted - and they have always found ways to minimize their own accomplishments when faced with an opportunity. Until this coaching staff can prove they can win, I will have my serious doubts. Washington is very talented and intriguing, but they are young and don't have any real record of accomplishment in recent years. Can they make the leap, or will the moment be too large? USC has a brutal schedule, uncertainty at QB, a coach in his first full year, and a defensive line that is really changed. Oregon is fighting hard to stay relevant but is rolling the dice again with another transfer QB. Last year's experiment was only a modest success.
Which one of those four will emerge? Your totally random guess is as good as mine.
Hard to judge: Can I answer all of the above? I feel like Stanford is really tough to get a handle on right now. So is USC with their horribly-uninspiring coaching choice and the tough schedule but a lot of nice talent. I gave up trying to predict anything about UCLA years ago. I feel like I have the best handle on Washington and Oregon of the group - high on the former, waiting for the latter to bottom out and rebuild. The top of this conference is messy, though.
No hope: Finally we have an easy one. As wide open as this conference is, I am absolutely certain that neither Oregon State nor Colorado (both +5000) are going to be factors in any way, shape or form. They just aren't good.
Best Value: With such a deadlock up top, we have to look for longer shots for value. Luckily, this conference sets up well for that - it wouldn't be a shock to see any of those top five teams have some issues, so it is certainly possible for another team to sneak in and steal it all this year. Of the group of also-rans, the one I like best is Washington State (+1400). Mike Leach has brought together the team he dreams of having, and he has some nice pieces to work with - the best we have seen him have here. He is obviously more than willing to take some risks, and when things are as wide-open as they are then those risks could easily pay off. Worth a shot - at least in relative terms. .
Sucker Bet: At this point I have to say that the sucker bet is the Pac-12. They just aren't in a very good place right now - at least not a particularly inspiring one. It's tough to make the argument that they have a single serious national contender right now. After all the years of first USC and then Oregon and Stanford being right in the mix, it's sad to see. There is nothing chronic or irreversible here, but this group is definitely not on a collective high. At this point I don't see any good reason at all to bet on the Pac-12 futures market.
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