2023 Pac-12 Odds, Picks, Conference Preview: How to Bet USC, Colorado, Washington & More
Getty Images (left to right): Washington quarterback Michael Penix, Colorado head coach Deion Sanders and USC quarterback Caleb Williams.
The future of the Power 5 on the West Coast is a complete unknown entering the 2023 season.
As USC and UCLA prepare to join the Big Ten in 2024, the remaining teams in the Pac-12 are looking to commissioner George Kliavkoff for direction. The Big 12 has already cut a deal with ESPN and FOX to broadcast games for nearly a decade, a dagger to the Power 5 West Coast conference looking for a television rights deal.
The Pac-12 has flirted with San Diego State on expansion, but the immediate plans for broadcast and expansion are a mystery.
Despite the noise off the field, the product on the field will be the best offensive play in college football. Four of the top five offenses in the nation in terms of Quality Drive Rate come from the Pac-12.
The conference is heavy in returning offensive experience, loaded with elite weapons capable of creating explosive plays at any time.
Only two Pac-12 teams have ever made the College Football Playoff: 2014 Oregon and 2016 Washington. If the conference wants a presence in the Rose or Sugar Bowl national semifinals, the Pac-12 must produce a single-loss champion at minimum.
Before looking at various futures for action, here's a look at projected win totals for the 2023 season:
Nine of the 12 conference members bring more than the national average in offensive returning experience. Half of the conference finished top-10 nationally in Success Rate during 2022, and expectations are that Pac-12 games will feature boatloads of points during conference play once again.
If there's an overall handicap to the conference, the defensive side of the football will be the focus for finding a conference champion.
Lincoln Riley was successful in getting USC back to the conference championship game in 2022, only to take a second loss on the season to Utah to end any playoff hopes.
Those points were needed, as defensive coordinator Alex Grinch coached a Havoc-minded defense that finished bottom-10 in FBS in terms of opponent points per opportunity.
The defense returns nearly 70% of experience, per TARP, led by Oklahoma State transfer linebacker Mason Cobb.
Pac 12 Linebackers: Most Stops in 2022 – Returning Players
1. Mason Cobb – USC (51)
2. Darius Mausau – UCLA (38)
3. Jackson Sirmon – Cal (37)
4. Karene Reid – Utah (32)
5. Shane Lee – USC (30)
6. Eric Gentry – USC (27)
6. Alphonso Tuputala – UW (27)
— Arrogant Nation✌🏻 (@FightOnRusty) July 14, 2023
Bear Alexander and Anthony Lucas also join via the transfer portal from Georgia and Texas A&M, respectively. The Trojans are one of the most improved Pac-12 defenses, as an expected increase in stops should lead to additional possessions for an offense gassed up on rocket fuel.
The biggest roadblock for USC is the back half of the schedule which features a number of defenses that can stop the rush. The Trojans got a downgrade in offseason power rating adjustment after finishing +21 in turnover margin last season.
With games on the road against the Oregon and Notre Dame front sevens, USC under 9.5 wins at +150 or better gives an investor hedging options through November.
One team that has had success against the Trojans is Utah, beating USC in three games over the past two seasons.
The Utes have the best defensive front seven in the conference, led by interior tackle Junior Tafuna. No drop-off is expected on defense for head coach Kyle Whittingham and coordinator Morgan Scalley after the Utes ranked top-25 in Havoc and coverage in 2022.
The defense may need to carry the water for the roster through a nonconference schedule that includes Florida, Baylor and a strong FCS team in Weber State.
The PAC-12 is stacked with stellar QBs – and Utah have one of them: Cam Rising 🔥
Rising backed up a strong ‘21 season with an even better ‘22!
⚪️71.8 adjusted comp. %
🔴26 TD – 8 INT
⚪️523 yards rushing/6 TDpic.twitter.com/XDF7yhwk04
— Redshirt Heisman (@TasteOfSport) July 18, 2023
Cam Rising was in attendance for Pac-12 Media Days, indicating that recovery from an ACL injury in the Rose Bowl might affect the season opener.
The offense loses one of the most explosive tight ends in the country in Dalton Kincaid, but the multi-tight end scheme run by coordinator Andy Ludwig will still be led by a stellar player in Brant Kuithe.
The projection for Utah is above the market number of 8.5 wins, but without clear information on Rising's progress, a win total cannot be played.
Because the defensive front seven is one of the best in the conference, look for a Utah +280 ticket to make the Pac-12 Championship once again.
Kaleb DeBoer enters his second season as Washington's head coach with a career record of 90-11.
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. returns for a sixth season of college football, leading an offense that finished second in Finishing Drives. DeBoer has shown offensive flash at all stops, but Washington’s top overall rank in Havoc Allowed translates to 2023 as 76% of offensive line snaps return.
The Huskies are one of the most dangerous offenses in the country, leading FBS when it comes to available yards gained.
Rome Odunze is a PROBLEM 🔥
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 25, 2022
The good news for Purple Reign Nation is a defense that returns 85%, per TARP. Tackling and coverage issues plagued the Huskies defense last year, but defensive edge Bralen Trice will keep Washington a top-25 pass rush unit.
The Huskies don't have as high of expectations as USC and Utah in stopping the rush, but the defensive front seven is loaded with upperclassmen in Year 2 of coordinator Chuck Morrell’s scheme.
Washington gets five home games and projects as a heavy favorite in road games at Stanford and Arizona. The win total is too steep for an over, but Washington has all the tools to win the conference.
The biggest game on the schedule is a Nov. 4 travel spot against USC, a game that is sure to see plenty of offensive fireworks. Action Network projects the Trojans as a small favorite in the showdown, giving gamblers the chance to scoop Washington +6 or better in Game of the Year markets.
The fourth and final defense that has the ability to stop the rushing games of conference opponents is UCLA.
There are plenty of unknowns on both sides of the ball, but head coach Chip Kelly dipped into the portal to grab defensive playmakers for new coordinator D’Anton Lynn. The coach comes off a two-year stint as the safeties coach for the Baltimore Ravens. If Jesse Minter and Mike MacDonald’s success at Michigan after coaching on the Ravens staff is any indication, Lynn will be ready to field a quality defense from the opening kick.
There's size and speed in the defensive front seven, putting the remaining question marks on the offensive side of the ball.
Former Ball State star running back Carson Steele is going to be a fun player for UCLA pic.twitter.com/PCqhy0y5Ps
— Ryan Roberts (@RiseNDraft) February 26, 2023
This will be the first season in the Kelly era that Dorian Thompson-Robinson isn't projected as the starting quarterback.
Center Duke Clemens returns for a fifth season, acting as an anchor for an offensive line that returns 66% of snaps.
Freshman Dante Moore will battle Kent State transfer Collin Schlee for starting quarterback duties. Ball State import Carson Steele will pound the rock after generating 25 runs of 15 yards or more last season.
The Bruins are within a half-game projection in conference wins alongside the upper tier of the conference, making UCLA +1600 an investment to the conference portfolio futures.
The previous four teams are conference contenders, but a lack of defensive presence will ultimately keep Oregon from taking down the Pac-12.
Second-team All Pac-12 edge rusher Brandon Dorlus will continue to create Havoc, but a lack of pressure and efficiency from the 3-3-5 scheme of head coach Dan Lanning continues to be an issue for the Ducks.
The good news for Oregon is the emergence of Bo Nix as one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation.
The Bo Nix/Troy Franklin downfield connection is ELITE🚀
— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 11, 2023
Offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham moved on to take the head-coaching position at Arizona State, leaving the play-calling duties to Will Stein. This is a meteoric rise for the 32-year-old who previously served as passing game coordinator at UTSA.
With a coaching change, there could be a hiccup in an offense that finished second nationally in first downs per game, leaving conference futures and win totals in question.
Oregon must win one or more of its road games at Texas Tech, Washington and Utah while defending Autzen against USC. Take Oregon under 9.5 (-110) or better with the aforementioned games as the hedge spot if needed.
The remaining teams in the Pac-12 have a plethora of holes to fill when it comes to winning the conference.
Stanford was an early 2023 play on the win total under, as new head coach Troy Taylor will look to implement schemes from Sacramento State.
The Cardinal own the lowest TARP of any team in the conference, missing six of their top seven tacklers on defense and the top two targets on offense.
This number opened at 3 and has seen a steady flow of money to the under, putting it at 2.5 at most shops. Anything below a win total of 3 is a pass, as Taylor's team should dominate Sacramento State in Week 3.
Deion Sanders was almost the busiest FBS coach since spring practices began, getting Colorado to second nationally in the transfer portal rankings. The roster is a virtual unknown with projected starters from SEC, Florida State and Jackson State.
Cornerback Travis Hunter is the best player on defense, while Shedeur Sanders will elevate play at the quarterback position. With former Kent State head coach Sean Lewis serving as offensive coordinator, the Buffaloes are expected to have the fastest tempo in the country.
The schedule is what might hold Coach Prime back from overachieving in his first year. The Buffaloes are projected favorites against two teams: Colorado State and Stanford.
The under 3.5 is properly lined with heavy juice, but if victories are going to come on this schedule, they'll more than likely be late in the season when team chemistry is established.
Colorado plays Arizona and Washington State in November, right around the time this roster should be clicking on all cylinders. A Colorado future is a pass, but look for this to be a play-on team to cover in the second half of the season.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Another roster in transition is at Arizona State, led by new head coach Kenny Dillingham.
The top four tacklers are gone, along with most of the Havoc production.
Where the Sun Devils separate themselves from the Buffaloes are in two places: more proven transfers and an easier schedule. Arizona State will potentially be favored in half of its games on a schedule that features eight matchups in Tempe.
Dillingham doesn't have as big of a rebuild as Sanders, inheriting a wide receiver unit with more than 150 targets returning.
The biggest question is if the new head coach can bring the magic from an Oregon offense that transformed Bo Nix into a Heisman contender. Drew Pyne is the expected starter after transferring from Notre Dame, lining up behind an offensive line that returns 77% of snaps of experience.
Considering the ease of the schedule along with Dillingham’s ability to elevate quarterbacks, take Arizona State over 4.5 wins.
Cal Golden Bears
The one position of inexperience on the Cal roster was at quarterback. Justin Wilcox remedied the situation by pulling in former TCU signal-caller Sam Jackson.
The sophomore was electric in limited play as the Horned Frogs skipped to the National Championship game.
New offensive coordinator Jake Spavital will have plenty of inside and outside zone read game for his new quarterback.
TCU QB Sam Jackson has entered the transfer portal 👀
Reminder that this dude has ELECTRIC speed and athleticism 🔥pic.twitter.com/JWYB80AZHt
— The Transfer Portal CFB (@TPortalCFB) January 10, 2023
Unfortunately for the Golden Bears, Cal is declining on the defensive side of the ball with bottom-10 FBS ranks in Success Rate and Havoc last season.
The Bears return 69% of experience on the defensive side of the ball, just above the national average. Senior middle linebacker Jackson Sirmon had over 100 tackles last season but is tasked with improving a defense that finished dead last in Standard Downs Success Rate.
A nonconference schedule that features a top-five FCS team in Idaho and a trip to Auburn will limit where the Bears can steal a victory. With a projection of 4.5, taking Cal under 5 on the season win total is the suggested play.
Arizona & Washington State
Both Arizona and Washington State are a pass on their season win totals. Each is expected to rank in the cellar of Pac-12 defensive front sevens.
In the case of Washington State, head coach Jake Dickert loses both of his coordinators, along with the four top targets in the passing game.
Quarterback Cam Ward has the ability to put up video game numbers, generating more than seven yards per scramble attempt. However, the ability to protect the football was a consistent issue for Ward, as the Cougars ranked 119th in Havoc Allowed.
At a projection of 6.6, there's no play on the market number of 6.5.
As for the Wildcats, the defense didn't see any improvement in head coach Jedd Fisch’s second season. Arizona finished dead last in Defensive Rushing Success Rate, along with a bottom-20 rank in almost every other category.
Only 50% of experience on the defense will return, giving second-year coordinator Johnny Nansen a chance to start from scratch.
On offense, Jacob Cowing gives Arizona the explosive weapon from the slot after averaging 2.8 yards per route in his career dating back to UTEP.
Quarterback Jayden de Laura recorded 29 big-time throws with 24 turnover-worthy plays, facing pressure on 32% of dropbacks. The offensive line returns 62% of snaps from an experience perspective, as Arizona must improve on a rank of 75th in pass blocking.
The schedule makes getting over the posted win total a bit difficult, as the Wildcats go on the road for five conference opponents and Mississippi State. The win total projection sits at 4.7, leaving minimal value on a season win total under 5.
Oregon State Beavers
The final team in the conference may be the biggest chaos-maker on the West Coast.
Oregon State will put Pac-12 defensive fronts on notice, as DJ Uiagalelei transfers in from Clemson. The junior ran for more than 660 yards last season, with more than 80% of those yards coming on designed runs. The quarterback averaged 3.2 yards after contact, adding a critical piece to zone read plays for head coach Jonathan Smith.
Meanwhile, running backs Damien Martinez and Deshaun Fenwick are capable of creating highlights on any touch.
— Oregon State Football (@BeaverFootball) October 23, 2022
Only three defenses on the conference schedule are capable of slowing down the Beavers' rushing attack: Utah, UCLA and Washington.
Smith prefers a slower tempo than any other Pac-12 team, ranking 122nd in seconds per play last year.
With the offense dictating a game with limited possessions, the critical part of the Beavers' season is a defense that loses more than 70% of tackles and pass breakups. The Beavers were excellent in coverage grading last season, but the loss of key linebackers and cornerbacks will be felt in Pac-12 play.
The good news is a rebuilt Reser Stadium, as Oregon State has covered all 13 home games over the past two seasons.
Action Network's projection places Oregon State at 8 wins, which is in alignment with a market that's heavily juiced on the under 8.5. The Beavers will upset teams that don't have a defensive front built to stop the rush, making a Game of the Year wager of Oregon State +7.5 at Oregon a better investment than a juiced win total.
Pac-12 Futures & Win Total Picks
- USC Under 9.5 (+150 or Better)
- Utah +280 to Make Pac-12 Championship
- Game of the Year (Nov. 4): Washington +6 vs. USC
- UCLA to Win Pac-12 (+1600 or Better)
- Oregon Under 9.5 (-120 or Better)
- Arizona State Over 4.5 (-110 or Better)
- Cal Under 5 (-110 or Better)
- Game of the Year (Nov. 24): Oregon State +7.5 vs. Oregon