PAC-12 2017 Title Odds: A Cannibalistic Feast

Flickr: Neon Tommy ( CC License)

After previewing the ACC last week, it’s time to take a gander at the other challenger to the SEC’s throne atop the Power 5. The PAC-12 doesn’t produce national titles like the SEC or ACC, but it does produce consistently fun, occasionally silly games that keep east-coast viewers up very late, giggling madly. This year, they’ve got more than one team with a serious eye on the grand prize, and a handful of others ready to ruin those plans. Fun!

Or, if you’re the glass-half-empty sort, the Pac-12 is a nightmare dinner party where every guest has Prader-Willi syndrome and a taste for human flesh. One person will probably get out alive, but oh so very scathed. Less fun.

Either way, let’s set some over/unders and the odds for the Pac-12 title.

NORTH

Known for eating its young, the PAC-12 North spent much of the last decade as a furious duopoly, with Stanford and Oregon going back and forth ruining each other’s seasons. This year, Washington is the clear favorite, with Stanford looking pretty good and Oregon at the beginning of a rebuild that will hopefully elevate the Cardinal from the depths of 4-8.

CAL GOLDEN BEARS

Coming off a 5-7 (3-6 Pac-12) season, Cal’s set to improve under first-year coach Justin Wilcox, but is plagued by a tough PAC-12 North slate, so the win total may not increase commensurately. Catching USC in the out-of-division schedule, plus UNC and Ole Miss out-of-conference, is a recipe for disaster. Cal will be favored against Arizona, and FCS Weber State, and likely nobody else. Washington State, maybe.

Wilcox is inheriting a great offense, which will be tough to maintain, and an awful defense, which will be tough to fix quickly. He isn’t set up here for a spectacular first season and will likely prioritise development over win total.

  • Win total O/U: 5.0
  • Odds to win the PAC-12: 50/1

OREGON DUCKS

Well, Oregon (4-8, 2-7 Pac-12) collapsed. Two years ago, they were playing in a national title game, and they entered the 2016 season ranked in both the AP and coach’s poll. Then they lost eight games and fired their coach for the first time since the 1970s.

The Ducks brought in Willie Taggart from South Florida, and things haven’t been going great. In his first month on the job, players were hospitalised. Then Taggart made an enemy of The Oregonian for reporting on the fiasco, which is a bizarre move for a new head coach, but that doesn’t matter on the field. What does matter is that DC Brady Hoke has been tagged and released into the wild, and Royce Freeman is still in the backfield. The defense should be slightly better, the offense should be electric, and they’ve built a schedule that could allow for a decent record in 2017. Willie Taggart teams aren’t know for getting off to blistering starts in year one, but there’s no reason to think this team can’t go from 4-8 to 8-4.

  • Win total O/U: 7.5
  • Odds to win the PAC-12: 15/1

OREGON STATE BEAVERS

Oregon State (4-8, 3-6 Pac-12) is definitely improving in its third year under Gary Andersen, but this is not the schedule to show it. The Beavers draw all three of the top teams in the PAC-12, plus Oregon on the road, plus an out-of-conference game against a rejuvenated Minnesota, plus a trick game on the road at Washington State. All those plusses add up to a lot of Ls.

The Beavers really struggled against the run last year, and are looking for upgrades on the defensive line. They’re also suffering from a lot of turnover on the offensive line and in the secondary, but they’re set to swap in talented players there. They’re a good team, perhaps a top-50 team, but will likely miss a bowl game due to this schedule. Shame.

  • Win total O/U: 5.5
  • Odds to win the PAC-12: 50/1

STANFORD CARDINAL

Stanford (10-3, 6-3 Pac-12) loses Christian McCaffrey, the running back that brought them national attention, but retains one of the best defenses in the nation. These linebackers, in particular, are maybe the best in the country, and this secondary is seriously underrated.

The schedule is mostly favorable — a road game against USC isn’t doing you any favors, but getting Washington and Notre Dame at home means that the Cardinals should be favored in almost all their games. But few of them will be cupcakes. Having already walloped Rice in Australia, the only real locks left on the schedule are the California and Arizona State games.

  • Win total O/U: 8.5
  • Odds to win PAC-12: 6/1

WASHINGTON HUSKIES

Washington (12-2, 8-1 Pac-12) is fresh off an impressive playoff appearance and a historic 2016 season, so you’d be forgiven for expecting something of a hangover. That doesn’t appear to be in store, however, as the Huskies returns the bulk of their offensive production and a spectacular run defense. A hullabaloo has been made about the losses in the secondary, and yeah Budda Baker was really good — but there’s plenty of talent on the shelf. Washington has enough four-star freshmen and redshirts to field a nickel defense, plus JoJo McIntosh, Ezekiel Turner, Taylor Rapp, and Austin Joyner. I’m not saying that the losses will go unnoticed, only that this team is totally capable of fielding an elite secondary in time for it to matter.

  • Win total O/U: 9.5
  • Odds to win the PAC-12: 3/1

WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS

Washington State’s (8-5, 7-2 Pac-12) football team is the culmination of every Mike Leach fantasy: a glorious, ruthlessly efficient quarterback; an aggressive defensive front; a shaky secondary; and questionable special teams. This football team is less the product of careful strategy and design and more a radical masterstroke of self-actualisation. Mike Leach has gone confidently in the direction of his dreams and he has Luke Falk and the 2017 Cougars to show for it.

This schedule, again, is a dang nightmare: at Washington, at Utah, at Oregon. They get Stanford and USC at home, but against those two, even Pullman can’t save you. An out-of-conference game against the genuinely terrific Boise State and tossup games with California (road), Arizona (home), and Colorado (home) make for a gauntlet. This schedule could abide Leach’s customary eight wins but it could also yield much, much less than that.

  • Win total O/U: 6.5
  • Odds to win the PAC-12: 20/1

SOUTH

The PAC-12 South used to be an afterthought in national title picture, a question of which team Oregon or Stanford would have to blow through in the conference championship. Now though, the South is a terrifying affair, home to playoff favorite USC and a handful of teams just talented enough to ruin your whole day.

ARIZONA WILDCATS

Some of the Arizona (3-9, 1-8 Pac-12) horoscope is easy to decipher. You’re going to lose at USC. Your trip to Eugene isn’t going to go well, either. On the plus side, you’re playing UTEP and Northern Arizona, and you can pencil those in as wins. Your other eight games are going to be pretty close: Houston, Utah, Washington State and Oregon State are all tossups, and Arizona State, California, Colorado and UCLA aren’t exactly out of reach.

There’s not a lot you can say about this Rich Rodriguez team that doesn’t make you sad, particularly when you remember that RichRod turned down the Alabama job that some former Kent State wideout ended up taking. They won the Pac-12 South in 2014, then won seven games in 2015, and three in 2016. This trend isn’t heading in the right direction.

  • Win total O/U: 5.5
  • Odds to win PAC-12: 50/1

ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS

The song “Wake Me Up When September Ends” is actually about being an Arizona State (5-7, 2-7 Pac-12) offensive lineman in October 2017. At the very end of September, the Sun Devils play Stanford in Palo Alto, a game they will almost certainly lose. They then take a bye week, because taking a bye week after playing Stanford is always a good idea, before playing Washington at home. After that game they’ll be praying for another bye week, which won’t come, because they have to travel to Utah, because life comes at you very fast. They will at that point be very qualified to answer the question of who has the most physical defensive front in the PAC-12, having sampled the three best that the conference has to offer, one after another.  They end the month with a home game against USC, during which they will learn the definition of the word “ennui,” playing a more talented football team while broken and exhausted on a lonely night in Tempe.

I like this team, because they love to take chances and are totally okay with you burning their house down if it means they get an opportunity to burn yours too. But I also feel sorry for this team, because this schedule will likely reward their courage with somewhere between four and six wins.

  • Win total O/U: 5.5
  • Odds to win the PAC-12: 50/1

COLORADO BUFFALOES

Let’s be clear: there’s one team in the PAC-12 that had a dream season last year, improbable, inspiring, memorable … and it wasn’t Washington. The Buffaloes went 4-9 in 2015, winning just one game in conference. They responded by going 10-4 last year, including an 8-1 mark in the PAC-12, and winning the South. They lost to USC and the Sam Darnold hype train by four points but put together enough of a season to edge the Trojans out of the title game and probably the playoff.

Colorado loses quarterback Sefo Liufau, whom I will gladly take a bullet for at your earliest convenience. They also lose every big name they had on defense, including their coordinator. This schedule isn’t a nightmare — there are two clear wins early on and eight coin flips — but it’s time to prepare ourselves for some kind of a regression.

  • Win total O/U: 6.5
  • Odds to win PAC-12: 35/1

UCLA BRUINS

Josh Rosen can throw the ball, we know that. Converting that preternatural individual ability into team success has mostly eluded UCLA (4-8, 2-7 Pac-12), which has won 11 of 18 games with Rosen under centre. They were also the worst running team in college football last year, demonstrably worse than every other FBS team and a handful of FCS teams as well. The fix? A third offensive coordinator in the Rosen era, someone called Jedd Fisch. Apparently he worked well at Michigan.

If Fisch and new DC Tom Bradley work out, they’ll be in good shape. UCLA’s defense has improved to somewhere between “solid” and “decent,” reasonably efficient against good offenses and really good at preventing explosive plays.

Like a lot of Pac-12 schedules, the combination of USC, Washington, and Stanford cap UCLA’s best-case win total at nine. Throw in a handful of tossups, and the more realistic total is six or seven. The only clear win is Hawaii. Is seven wins enough to keep Jim Mora gainfully employed?

  • Win total O/U: 6.5
  • Odds to win the PAC-12: 12/1

USC TROJANS

All aboard the USC (10-3, 7-2 Pac-12) hype train: next stop, Pasadena. Since the nine-game win streak that culminated in a scintillating Rose Bowl victory against the seriously capable Penn State, there’s been no end to the talk of the Trojan’s return to the national spotlight. Is Sam Darnold the best quarterback they’ve ever had? Can we draft him now? Should we even play the season out?

For the most part, it’s well-founded. Darnold is the real deal, and even if he isn’t, Ronald Jones II is. This schedule might be the friendliest in the PAC-12 — the Trojans don’t have to play Washington or Oregon and get Stanford at home. Who knows how tough Texas will be in mid-September, but at least they’ll be coming to California.

  • Win total O/U: 9.5
  • Odds to win the PAC-12: 9/5

UTAH UTES

Defensively, Utah (9-4, 5-4 Pac-12) is an aggressive team. This is the kind of front seven that you don’t want to meet in a dark alley and you really don’t want to meet on third-and-long. This year, they’re trying a new, faster offense — that was the motivation behind hiring offensive coordinator Troy Taylor — which could either pair well with their stout defense or produce new, faster three-and-outs.

I’m getting tired of saying this, but this schedule is really not amenable to this promising team’s hope for success. Road games against Washington and USC plus a home game against Stanford probably cap Utah’s win total at nine. From there, you’ve got tossups against Washington State, UCLA, and Arizona, plus an out-of-conference rivalry game against BYU and a tough game on the road against Oregon. Thank God you scheduled the wrong North Dakota team.

  • Win total O/U: 5.5
  • Odds to win the PAC-12: 25/1