2017 Pac-12 Football Predictions with Betting Odds and Expert Analysis
Perpetually underrated, the Pac-12 enters the season with a pair of national title contenders (USC, Washington), a proven powerhouse that is a sleeper threat to make the College Football Playoffs (Stanford), and a load of potential spoilers that have the talent and coaching to make a surprise run (Oregon, Washington State, UCLA). I feel that the Pac-12 North is the best division in college football (edging out the ACC Atlantic) and I think this league will have one of the most competitive and entertaining conference races in the nation.
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Here are Doc's Sports 2017 Pac-12 Conference college football predictions (with odds to win the conference title in parentheses):
The Favorite: USC (+100)
For the umpteenth year in a row, college football fans have had to endure an offseason full of "USC is back!" previews and predictions. Will it ever come to fruition? The Trojans shook off a sloppy 1-3 start last season and rolled to nine straight wins and a Top 5 finish. Apparently that's all it took to get the Trojans back to the top of college football's Hype List despite the fact that they've lost three or more games in seven of the past eight years. Further, over the last 20 times that USC has started the season in the Top 10 they have finished with a lower ranking 19 times, including finishing the year unranked five times. Perhaps the best thing the Trojans have going for them this year is the fact that the Pac-12 South is significantly weaker than the North. USC has two tough nonconference games (vs. Texas, at Notre Dame). But they avoid Washington and they get Stanford and UCLA at home. I'm not as high on USC as the masses. But even I have to admit this is a good team with a legit chance to make it to the playoff. (Although they won't.)
The Challenger: Washington (+250)
I don't think there is any doubt that Washington is the best team in the Pac-12. The Huskies won the league last year and made it to the College Football Playoff. They have 14 starters returning and one of the best quarterback/coach combinations in the country in Jake Browning and Chris Petersen, respectively. Washington's offense is an unstoppable force, averaging 41.8 points per game last season. The Huskies outscored opponents by an average of 24 points per outing and could be even better this time around. The Huskies do have to play at Stanford. But that is their only road game after mid-October, and the Huskies will be heavy favorites in 11 of their 12 regular-season contests. These guys are for real.
The Dark Horse: Stanford (+1000)
The Cardinal continue to be one of the best bets in college football. Stanford has won 10 or more games in six of the past seven seasons and have compiled an outstanding 71-46 record against the spread (60.7 percent) over the past nine years. Stanford asserts its will with sheer, brute force. They do have 16 starters back from last year's 10-3 contest. But one that they're missing is all-world player Christian McCaffrey, one of the best offensive players in Pac-12 history. Stanford also has one of the toughest schedules in the land, with road games at USC, Utah and Washington State to go along with tough home games versus UCLA, Oregon and Washington. Add in nonconference tilts against San Diego State and Notre Dame, and Stanford has to be somewhat of a long shot to win the league or make the playoffs. If they do either they certainly will have earned it.
The X-Factor: Washington State (+1200)
Look, we've seen out-of-nowhere runs from Mike Leach-coached teams before. Now in his sixth year at Pullman, Leach has the Cougars program humming and has fully implemented his Air Raid attack. Leach now has his best Washington State team yet, with 16 starters back from the squad that outscored opponents by 12 points per game last season. Washington State will lean on four-year starting quarterback Luke Falk to lead this high-octane attack. And Wazzou has been an upset machine under Leach, winning games outright as a double-digit underdog six times in the past five years. The Cougars host USC, Colorado and Stanford. They also have two weeks to prepare for the Apple Cup against Washington to close the regular season. Washington State might not have the juice to win this league. But they will certainly be a major player in it.
The Disappointment: Colorado (+800)
The Buffaloes are coming off a dream season in 2016, coming out of nowhere to win the Pac-12 North and represent the league in both the conference title game and a high-profile bowl game against Oklahoma State. However, I think the Buffs will slide back to reality this season. Last year's 10 wins were just one fewer than the previous four years combined. And after losing quarterback Sefo Liufau and eight of their top 11 defenders, the Buffs enter the season less talented and experienced than last season. Further, Colorado's lightning struck at the right time last season as several traditional powers in the league were either beat-up or suffering through down seasons. That won't be the case this season. And the Buffaloes won't be sneaking up on anyone this fall.
UCLA (+800) - I am firmly on record in my belief that Jim Mora is a weak coach and a loser. His performance to this point in his UCLA coaching career has hardly done anything to sway my opinion. Yet even I couldn't pin all of UCLA's failures in 2016 on Mora as injuries, especially to star quarterback Josh Rosen, submarined the Bruins' season. But now Rosen, the former No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country, is back to 100 percent. And he and Mora are perhaps the biggest impediment to USC's almost predetermined division title. UCLA's schedule is absolutely brutal, with their four toughest games (Stanford, Washington, Utah and USC) all coming on the road. But this team should be vastly improved and is one to keep an eye on.
Utah (+1500) - The Utes have very quietly and successfully completed their assimilation into the Pac-12, posting a superb 28-11 straight up mark over the last three seasons. The Utes are a respectable 16-11 in league play during that time, and Kyle Whittingham has his system solidly in place. Whittingham heads into the season with his least experienced team in a decade, though, and Utah's staying power will be certainly be tested. Also, Utah is making a sea change to their offensive approach, ditching their ground-and-pound style for a more up-tempo, pass-happy attack. I think they will have some growing pains this year.
Arizona (+6500) - Rich Rodriguez never should've left West Virginia. And now he's on the verge of potentially being run out of his second program this decade. Arizona went just 3-9 last season, and Rodriguez's seat is as hot as any coach's in the country. Can he engineer a quick turnaround? And will it be enough to save his job? I'm not confident. Arizona is finally past the Anu Solomon drama at quarterback. But Brandon Dawkins didn't do much to instill complete confidence with his effort last year. Arizona is still shaky on defense as well, allowing more than 35 points per game in back-to-back seasons. The Wildcats have four of their final six games on the road, and that will likely be all she wrote for RichRod.
Arizona State (+3500) - Todd Graham has seen his win total dwindle from 10 to six to five over the last three years, and now, after posting a 28-12 record in his first three seasons in Tempe, finds himself on the hot seat down in the desert. If Graham and the Sun Devils are going to do anything in the South this year they'll need to shore up a pathetic defense. Arizona State allowed an average of 40 points per game last season. And those numbers were even worse if you eliminate games against Northern Arizona and Texas-San Antonio. ASU has most of its skill position talent back on offense. And they will try to do their part for an offense that's seen its scoring numbers fall each of the past three seasons. Everything has been trending downward for ASU. Graham will have one more shot to turn it around.
Oregon (+1000) - Over the last decade the Oregon Ducks have been among the most elite college football programs in the country. They played for a National Championship as recently as 2014, for example. However, the Ducks bottomed out with a 4-8 season last year and swiftly made a major change, severing ties with Mark Helfrich and bringing in Willie Taggart from South Florida. Taggart has a wealth of talent to work with, including big-armed quarterback Justin Herbert. Oregon has 17 starters back from last year's disappointing squad. They will lean on stud runner Royce Freeman to stabilize a young offense. And, defensively, new coordinator Jim Leavitt will have 12 of Oregon's top 13 tacklers back. I expect a major bounce back from this squad, despite a ruthless schedule.
California (+8000) - New head coach Justin Wilcox sure has his work cut out for him at Cal. Wilcox, who has never been a head coach, inherits a mess at Berkeley. Cal has enjoyed only one winning season over the past five years while posting a 22-39 SU mark. And things don't look very rosy heading into this September. Wilcox was an accomplished defensive coordinator. And he will be trying to reshape this group into more of a physical, defensive unit. That won't happen overnight. And it could be a long road before Cal is competitive in this outstanding conference.
Oregon State (+8500) - Gary Andersen is in his third season at the helm in Corvallis. And it is time to start seeing some results. The Beavers have gone just 6-19 SU since Mike Riley skipped town for Nebraska. And Andersen's efforts to this point have been less than inspiring. The Beavers will lean on standout runner Ryan Nall and an improving offensive line. But Andersen still has a long way to go to beef up a defense that has been torched for more than 30 points per game in four straight seasons and gave up nearly 60 in their season opener.
Projected Pac-12 Standings:
3. Washington State
5. Oregon State
3. Arizona State
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