College football conference odds: In Pac-12, can new-look USC dethrone steady Utah?

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising runs for a touchdown during the first half in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Utah quarterback Cameron Rising runs for a touchdown during the first half in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Between now and the start of college football season on Sept. 1, we’ll preview every conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision with an emphasis on futures odds. Each preview will include a look at favorites, long shots and a pick as well as the full list of odds for the conference.

(If you’re just getting started with sports betting and want to learn the terms and how it works, check out Sports Betting 101.)

We’ll start with the smaller conferences and work our way toward the top, finishing with the Southeastern Conference just before games kick off. By the time the season starts, you’ll have a comprehensive look at the top division in college football.

We’re done with the Group of Five conferences (see links to all previews below) and onto the Power Five. Or at least the Power Five as we know them now. The Pac-12 Conference still has several formidable programs, but it’s soon losing UCLA and USC to the Big Ten.

In the meantime, the conference made a change that likely is coming to many conferences in the near future: The Pac-12 title game will be played between the two teams with the best conference record — not necessarily the winners of the South and North divisions.

Potentially, that means the Bruins and Trojans could stage an all-Los Angeles battle for the title in a conference they’re leaving. That would be a juicy storyline, but if teams like Utah and Oregon, last year’s title game participants have anything to say about it, it’s a long way from happening.

Last season

The Utes beat the Ducks 38-10 for the Pac-12 title in the final year of the North vs. South format.

The teams arrived in the championship game in different ways, with Oregon earning the Pac-12’s biggest non-conference victory in years early when it topped Ohio State 35-28 but then fizzling a bit. The Ducks actually lost twice to Utah, 38-7 in the regular season to fall out of the national championship picture and then the title-game beatdown to fall out of the Rose Bowl. They settled for an Alamo Bowl loss to Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, the Utes lost back-to-back games early to BYU and San Diego State and were just 4-3 after a shootout loss at Oregon State. They didn’t lose again in the regular season — didn’t even play a close game, in fact — and nearly won the Rose Bowl before succumbing to Ohio State in a 48-45 classic.

Not many other Pac-12 teams could call 2021 a success. Arizona State was 8-5 but lost most of its offense to transfer, including quarterback Jayden Daniels to LSU. Oregon State rode a strong offense to a 7-5 season but then lost the L.A. Bowl to Utah State. UCLA beat LSU and leaped up in the rankings but ended up with four losses and no good wins. Washington had high hopes but won just three Pac-12 games. Stanford had its worst team in years and went 3-9.

And then there’s USC. The Trojans bottomed out, losing their final four games to go 4-8 but then won the offseason, landing coach Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma and Sooners quarterback transfer Caleb Williams. USC was already the Pac-12’s story of the new year when it and UCLA dropped the July 1 bombshell that they’re leaving for the Big Ten in 2024.

Favorites

Three teams stand above the rest here. There’s the defending champion, the new shiny object and the runner-up with a new look.

Really, there’s no reason to doubt Utah (+210) will be a contender all season long. The Utes bring back 14 starters from their Rose Bowl team, including quarterback Cameron Rising, who had one of the nation’s strongest passer ratings. Pair that with a typical Kyle Whittingham defense, which took a couple of games to get going last year but eventually found its usual stride, and you’ve got not just a Pac-12 title contender but perhaps a national title one (keep an eye on that opening game at Florida.)

The co-favorite is USC (+210), which has done nothing but make headlines since it ended last season with a four-game losing streak and fired Clay Helton. The Trojans managed to steal Lincoln Riley — plus quarterback Caleb Williams and starting receiver Mario Williams — from Oklahoma, not to mention high-profile transfers from Oregon, Stanford and Colorado. There are many more question marks on defense, where USC struggled last year and returns just four starters. There are transfers here, too, including Alabama linebacker Shane Lee, but the depth is a question mark.

If you want a contender from the North — and remember, the divisions only matter for scheduling, not for title-game participation — Oregon (+300) is your first choice. There aren’t a lot of skill-position players returning, and coach Mario Cristobal left for Miami, but the cupboard is far from bare. The Ducks have enjoyed great recruiting for years, and most of the talent along the offensive and defensive lines is back. If new coach Dan Lanning can find a quarterback, a conference title is far from unlikely.

Longer shots

The odds say the best of the rest is undoubtedly UCLA (+800), which actually is a lot like its crosstown rival without quite so many headlines. The Bruins were terrific on offense under Chip Kelly last year, and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is back along with a big supporting cast. But the defense was awful and lost a bunch of starters. In are a new defensive coordinator and several transfers on defense. Clearly the reset has to work for UCLA to do much better than last year’s 8-4 version.

Washington (+1600) had high hopes last year after a nice five-year run of success, but the Huskies fell flat, opening the season with a loss to Montana and ending it with four straight losses and a 4-8 record. They’ll try to turn it around under new coach Kalen DeBoer, who was a success at Fresno State. He has a good track record of turning around offenses and will try his hand in Seattle with Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. at QB.

After that, the pickings get slim quickly. Arizona State (+3500) and Oregon State (+3500) are next, but it’s hard to trust either. The Sun Devils lost a ton through the transfer portal and are relying on Florida transfer Emory Jones at quarterback; the Beavers were quietly effective last year, especially on offense, but they struggled on defense and must improve. The only other team under 50 to 1 is Washington State (+4000), which might be exciting with transfer QB Cameron Ward after he threw for 6,000 yards at Incarnate Word last season.

Value picks

The makeup of this conference is on brand with the “Pac-12 after dark” idea that zaniness is right around the corner any time two West Coast teams play. There are a lot of elite — or potentially elite — offenses, between Utah, USC, UCLA, both Oregon schools, both Washington schools. There are not a lot of great defenses, at least on paper.

It’s that last point that gives one team a leg up, and even though betting on favorites can be no fun, Utah at +210 offers enough value to be worth a look. And if UCLA can even get an average defense out of new coordinator Bill McGovern, the Bruins at +800 isn’t a bad option. I’m steering clear of USC for now; I think the Trojans have a bright future under Lincoln Riley, but the hype is out of control for Year 1, and that price reflects that.

For a longer shot, keep an eye on Oregon State at +3500. The Beavers are an unknown to most of the country, which means the price is higher than it should be. Jonathan Smith is building a program in Corvallis, and having the entire starting offensive line back is a great place to start for 2022.

Full Pac-12 odds and win totals

(From Caesars Sportsbook)

 Team  Title odds  Win total
 Utah  +210  9
 USC  +210  9.5 (o-120)
 Oregon  +300  9 (u-135)
 UCLA  +800  8.5
 Washington  +1600  7.5 (o-125)
 Arizona State  +3500  6 (u-140)
 Oregon State  +3500  6 (o-130)
 Washington State  +4000  5 (o-130)
 California  +6000  5.5
 Stanford  +6000  4.5 (u-140)
 Arizona  +30000  2.5 (o-160)
 Colorado  +30000  3 (u-125)

 

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