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South Division

Can a team from the South division finally win the Pac-12? It seems hard to believe, but a team from the South has not won the Conference since 2008 (USC). Oregon or Stanford won the Pac-12 for seven straight years before Washington took home the title last season. USC appears to be the most likely candidate to finally break through with Sam Darnold, the Heisman favorite, running the show from day one. Darnold, who did not start the first three USC games last season, led the Trojans to a 9-0 finish, including wins at Washington and against Penn State in the Rose Bowl. This may be his last year considering most analysts project Darnold as the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Trojans did lose some key pieces from 2016, particularly at receiver and along the offensive line, but there simply isn’t another defense in the division that can contain them.

USC currently sits at -295 to win the Pac 12 South, which may appear too steep to some, but I price their chances at closer to -450, so I jumped in on USC to win the South and also USC to win the Pac 12 at +110. The South is down enough this year that USC could still potentially win the division with two conference losses. A quick glance at USC’s schedule shows that they will have the benefit of a bye week directly before the Pac-12 Championship. I ultimately think USC has the easiest path to the College Football Playoff; therefore, I also placed a wager on USC to win the National Championship, which can be found anywhere from 7/1 to 9/1.

Colorado, despite having to replace their all-time leading passer at QB, should still have a pretty explosive offense, but the problem in Boulder this year is on the defensive side of the ball. Utah lost a significant amount of offensive production from 2016. Additionally, the Utes have a new offensive coordinator that will implement a brand-new offensive scheme with an inexperienced QB under center. UCLA received plenty of preseason betting love as their season win total has moved to a juiced over 6.5 at most shops after initially opening at Cantor Gaming in May at a flat 6. I struggle to see what will be different in Jim Mora’s sixth year for the Bruins, especially considering UCLA has one of the hardest schedules in the country. Lastly, Arizona and Arizona State are complete non factors with lame duck head coaches. Simply put, the South is a one-horse race.


USC Trojans

Opening Power Rating:       69
Home Field Advantage:      2.8

Date Away Home CW Line
Sep 2 W. Michigan USC USC -29
Sep 9 Stanford USC USC -8
Sep 16 Texas USC USC -11
Sep 23 USC California CAL +22.5
Sep 29 USC Washington St. WSU +4
Oct 7 Oregon St. USC USC -23.5
Oct 14 Utah USC USC -19.5
Oct 21 USC Notre Dame ND +12
Oct 28 USC Arizona St. ASU +15
Nov 4 Arizona USC USC -23
Nov 11 USC Colorado COLO +8.5
Nov 18 UCLA USC USC -15.5
Legend: Off Of Bye / Overlook Watch / B2B Road Spots / Neutral site

CW Projected Total Wins:     10.5
CW Projected P12 Wins:       8.1
Posted Total Wins:            O 10 -120

Offseason Notes

  • Returning Production: S&P+ 71st Overall (Offense 82nd, Defense 61st)

  • Sam Darnold returns at QB on a nine-game winning streak. His vision is as good as you will ever see at this level. USC can hopefully protect him all season with an offensive line that has three new starters.

  • Darnold did lose two key targets from last season in Juju Smith Schuster and Darreus Rogers. Deontay Burnett does return and should be the primary target, but keep an eye on the development of the other inexperienced Trojan WRs (Greene/Pittman).

  • The backfield is strong with the return of Ronald Jones and a stable of talented freshman backs to provide depth.

  • The defense should be solid, as they have a ferocious pass rush, a deep defensive line and stars at corner and linebacker. USC is as deep as they have been in years since they are no longer dealing with sanctions.

  • LB Cameron Smith will be a rock in the middle of the USC 5-2 base defense, and CB Iman "Biggie" Marshall is one of the best cover corners in the country. If USC can adequately replace Adoree Jackson at the other CB, this defense will shine.

  • Speaking of Adoreee Jackson, his loss really hurts on special teams, as he was one of the most dynamic returners in football. Keep an eye on Velus Jones, who may also contribute at wideout, to step up as the new return man.

  • Another facet of the special teams to keep an eye on is the kicking game since kicker Matt Boermeester was expelled in the offseason.

X-Factor

  • Porter Gustin (DE) – The highly-touted defensive end enters his junior season after leading the team in sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (7.5). He has a nose to create turnovers and will be an issue for Pac-12 offensive tackles. He and Uchenna Nwosu will make up a ferocious pass rush off of both edges.

Useless Trend

  • The Trojans are 13-3 ATS following a straight up loss since 2013.

Betting Outlook

  • USC has a very favorable schedule as they get Stanford and Utah at home while avoiding Washington. Additionally, because their bye is at the end of the season, they will have an extra week of prep for the Pac-12 Championship Game if they win their division.

  • Play the Trojans -27 or better against Western Michigan in week one. The Broncos will be dealing with roster and coaching turnover and should be overmatched in all phases.

  • Pac-12 South division champions -295

  • Pac-12 champions +110

  • National champions +800

USC


Colorado Buffaloes
Opening Power Rating:          58.5
Home Field Advantage:         2.0

Date Away Home CW Line
Sep 1 Colorado Colorado St. CSUP +5.5
Sep 9 Texas St. Colorado COLO -36.5
Sep 16 N. Colorado Colorado COLO -35
Sep 23 Washington Colorado COLO +4
Sep 30 Colorado UCLA UCLA -0.5
Oct 7 Arizona Colorado COLO -11.5
Oct 14 Colorado Oregon St. ORST +7.5
Oct 21 Colorado Washington St. WSU -6.5
Oct 28 California Colorado COLO -16
Nov 4 Colorado Arizona St. ASU +4.5
Nov 11 USC Colorado COLO +8.5
Nov 25 Colorado Utah UTAH +3
Legend: Coming off bye / Overlook watch / Back to Back road travel / Neutral site

CW Projected Total Wins:     8.5
CW Projected P12 Wins:      5.8
Posted Total Wins:            O 7.5 +155

Offseason Notes

  • Returning Production: S&P+ 102nd Overall (Offense 33rd, Defense 126th)

  • The Offense returns nine starters and new starting QB Steven Montez, who takes over for Sefo Liufau, has starting experience. Montez can expect to have time to throw behind an experienced offensive line with four seniors led by tackle Jeremy Irwin.

  • Phillip Lindsay, one of the most underrated RBs in FBS, returns in the backfield a year after rushing for 1,250 yards and 16 touchdowns. Also, don’t sleep on his receiving ability out of the backfield, as he had 50-plus catches in 2016.

  • Colorado will also have one of the most talented and experienced wide receiver groups in the nation, led by seniors Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo and Devin Ross.

  • Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt left for Oregon – a major loss. DJ Elliot (from Kentucky) will step in and at least runs the same 3-4 scheme, but the Buffs will need to replace all three starting DL from a season ago. (Two are on NFL rosters).

  • There are major questions on the entire defense, as the top-20 unit from 2016 only returns three starters this season. They are especially thin at corner after Isaiah Oliver because projected starting cornerback Anthony Julmisse is currently suspended indefinitely after his second arrest this summer (domestic violence & robbery).

X-Factor

  • Isaiah Oliver (CB/PR) – Oliver is one of the few experienced players on this defense and the only known commodity at Cornerback, a position that is even more critical in the pass-heavy Pac-12. Oliver will also contribute in the return game.

Useless Trend

  • The Buffaloes are 0-5 ATS following a bye week since 2011.

Betting Outlook

  • Colorado had zero bad losses in 2016; their four defeats came to USC, Washington, Oklahoma State and Michigan. Colorado is 0-11 all time vs USC.

  • The toughest spot on the schedule might be in early November when Colorado travels to Arizona State before closing out the season against USC and Utah.

  • Take Colorado State +7 week one vs in-state rival Colorado.

Buffs

Utah Utes

Opening Power Rating:          52.5
Home Field Advantage:         3.2

Date Away Home CW Line
Aug 31 North Dakota Utah UTAH -27
Sep 9 Utah BYU BYU -5
Sep 16 San Jose St. Utah UTAH -16
Sep 22 Utah Arizona ARIZ +1.5
Oct 7 Stanford Utah UTAH +8.5
Oct 14 Utah USC USC -19.5
Oct 21 Arizona St. Utah UTAH -4
Oct 28 Utah Oregon ORE -8
Nov 3 UCLA Utah UTAH +1
Nov 11 Washington St. Utah UTAH +7
Nov 18 Utah Washington WASH -14.5
Nov 25 Colorado Utah UTAH +3
Legend: Coming off bye / Overlook watch / Back to Back road travel / Neutral site

CW Projected Total Wins:     5.8
CW Projected P12 Wins:      3.3
Posted Total Wins:            O 6.5 -105

Offseason Notes

  • Returning Production: S&P+ 115th Overall (Offense 81st, Defense 124th)

  • New offensive coordinator Troy Taylor looks to bring the Air Raid system he used as Eastern Washington’s co-offensive coordinator to Utah as the new OC under Kyle Whittingham. Part of his scheme features the QB run, which may be one of the reasons Utah surprisingly named Tyler Huntley the starting QB over incumbent senior starter Troy Williams. Also, the staff may have valued Huntley’s mobility since the offensive line lost four starters from a year ago, all to the NFL.

  • Utah must replace running back Joe Williams and his 1,400 rushing yards from 2016.

  • The Utes did add wide receiver Darren Carrington, who was the leading receiver at Oregon last year, after he was dismissed from Oregon for a DUI.

  • Utah lost seven starters from a fantastic defense that ranked No. 1 in the conference against the run while also totaling 43 sacks. However, the front seven should still be dominant especially up front, where Utah will feature one of the best defensive lines in the Pac-12, led by seniors Filipo Mokofisi, Lowell Lotulelei and Kylie Fitts.

  • Safety Chase Hansen, Utah’s leading tackler from a season ago, is the only returning starter in the secondary. He just returned from an injury, so keep an eye on his status as he is considered the leader of the defense and, more importantly, of the inexperienced secondary.

X-Factor:

  • Mitch Wishnowsky (P) – Wishknowsky, a first-team All-American in 2016, returns for his junior season a year after winning the Ray Guy Award. With the implementation of a new offensive scheme with an inexperienced group, it may take some time before the offense clicks. Wishnowsky should help the defense immensely in the interim by giving opponents terrible starting field position.

Useless Trend

  • The Utes are 8-1 ATS as a road dog since 2014.

Betting Outlook

  • Take Utah and the points at home off a bye week against Stanford. The Trees may get caught looking ahead to Oregon the following week against a prepared Utes squad.

  • Utah has a very difficult schedule after the opener against North Dakota including trips to BYU, USC, Oregon and Washington.

  • Arizona State at home could potentially be a very sleepy spot after games vs USC and Stanford with Oregon on deck

  • Utah has won six straight in the Holy War vs BYU. Five of the six have been decided by a TD or less including two by one point, which was the margin in 2016.

Utah


Arizona Wildcats

Opening Power Rating:          49
Home Field Advantage:         2.1

Date Away Home CW Line
Sep 2 N. Arizona Arizona ARIZ -19
Sep 9 Houston Arizona ARIZ +1
Sep 16 Arizona UTEP UTEP +14
Sep 22 Utah Arizona ARIZ +1.5
Oct 7 Arizona Colorado COLO -11.5
Oct 14 UCLA Arizona ARIZ +5.5
Oct 21 Arizona California CAL +2.5
Oct 28 Washington St. Arizona ARIZ +11.5
Nov 4 Arizona USC USC -23
Nov 11 Oregon St. Arizona ARIZ -2.5
Nov 18 Arizona Oregon ORE -11.5
Nov 25 Arizona Arizona St. ASU -5
Legend: Coming off bye / Overlook watch / Back to Back road travel / Neutral site

CW Projected Total Wins:     5.7
CW Projected P12 Wins:      3.3
Posted Total Wins:            O 5.5 +125

Offseason Notes

  • Returning Production: S&P+ 23rd Overall (Offense 47th, Defense 16th)

  • There’s a quarterback competition in camp, but Brandon Dawkins is expected to get the nod to start the season. He knows the zone-read offense, but he simply needs to improve drastically when throwing the ball. It won’t help that Arizona lost a great deal of production at the wide receiver position in Samajie Grant, Trey Griffey and Nate Phillips.

  • Nick Wilson returns at running back to lead a talented and deep group. He has dealt with injuries the previous two seasons, but if he can stay healthy, this backfield will be a core strength of the Arizona offense behind an experienced offensive line. Wilson showed his production value when healthy in 2014 when he accumulated almost 1,400 yards.

  • Arizona returns a lot of production up front and in the secondary from a defense that gave up 38-plus points per game in 2016. There’s no reason to believe that will change this season. Experience does not always equate to success; the Arizona defensive line will illustrate that this year. Additionally, the Wildcats will be relying on a lot of freshman production at linebacker.

X-Factor

  • JJ Taylor (RB) – Taylor demonstrated his potential last season before breaking his ankle against Washington. He is completely healthy and making noise in fall camp due to his speed and cut ability between the tackles. He and Wilson can be a dynamic duo in the Wildcats backfield that could lead the conference in rushing for a second straight year if they both stay healthy.

Useless Trend

  • BearDown is 1-5 ATS in bowl games since 2009.

Betting Outlook

  • Take Arizona State -3 or better in Tempe. The home team in this series has generally blown out the visitor, and Arizona comes in on back-to-back travel after Oregon. The home team in this rivalry has won seven of eight, including the last four by an average margin of 20 points.

  • Look to fade Arizona the week after they play Houston when they travel to UTEP (the week before starting conference play). Look for 14+ with the Miners.

  • There’s not much to see here with this team. They can’t throw the ball and they can’t defend. It’s been profitable to bet against Rich Rodriguez. Not only did Arizona go 3-9 straight up last year, the Wildcats also posted an abysmal 2-10 ATS mark. Rodriguez has had one winning season ATS in his previous five at Arizona.

Zona


UCLA Bruins

Opening Power Rating:          56.5
Home Field Advantage:         2.5

Date Away Home CW Line
Sep 3 Texas A&M UCLA UCLA -4
Sep 9 Hawaii UCLA UCLA -19.5
Sep 16 UCLA Memphis MEM +3
Sep 23 UCLA Stanford STAN -11.5
Sep 30 Colorado UCLA UCLA -0.5
Oct 14 UCLA Arizona ARIZ +5.5
Oct 21 Oregon UCLA UCLA -2
Oct 28 UCLA Washington WASH -10.5
Nov 3 UCLA Utah UTAH +1
Nov 11 Arizona St. UCLA UCLA -7.5
Nov 18 UCLA USC USC -15.5
Nov 24 California UCLA UCLA -14.5
Legend: Coming off bye / Overlook watch / Back to Back road travel / Neutral site

CW Projected Total Wins:     4.1
CW Projected P12 Wins:      2.4
Posted Total Wins:            O 6.5 -170

Offseason Notes

  • Returning Production: S&P+ 99th Overall (Offense 49th, Defense 120th)

  • Mora brought in offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch from Michigan to revamp an offense that could not move the ball in 2017. In fact, Mora, who may be on the hot seat, replaced 50 percent of the coaching staff, mainly on offense.

  • Josh Rosen, one of the purest passers in all of FBS, is back under center hoping to avoid an injury for a third consecutive season.

  • There are major questions along the offensive line again outside of center Scott Quessenberry. If UCLA doesn’t improve up front, their running game will be stagnant once again (127th in FBS last season), which in turn will hurt the passing game.

  • Wide receivers were very inconsistent last year, as drops plagued the Bruins all season. As a result, walk-on Christian Pabico might start because of his reliable hands. This group has a lot of potential, but they have yet to show it.

  • The defense lost a lot of production from 2016, including their leading tackler Jayon Brown. The defensive line lost three starters from a season ago, but UCLA has the talent (see X-Factor section) to help fill the void left by the departures of DT Eddie Vanderdoes and elite pass rusher Takkarist McKinley (now with the Falcons).

  • UCLA does return a few solid pieces up the middle of the defense that they can rely on in LB Kenny Young and two outstanding safeties, Adarius Pickett and Jaleel Wadood. If they can find a reliable corner to complement Nate Meadors and the youth around Young at linebacker can produce (keep an eye on the development of Lokeni Toailoa), this defense could be very good in 2017.

  • UCLA needs to improve in the kicking game after converting only 13-22 in FGs in 2016.

X-Factor:

  • Jaelan Phillips (DL) – The highly-touted true freshman has been the buzz in fall camp getting the reps with the first team. He should start against Texas A&M. The Bruins will need the five-star defensive lineman to contribute from the first snap in order to fill the void left by all of the defensive line departures. Phillips was considered by many to be the most talented incoming freshman in the conference.

Useless Trend

  • The Bruins are 7-1-2 to the under as an away underdog since 2013.

Betting Outlook

  • UCLA has one of the hardest schedules in the country. Not only do they get Memphis and Texas A&M out of conference, they have road games against USC, Washington, Stanford and Utah.

  • They open the season against an SEC team and then have a tricky back-to-back situation with Memphis and Stanford early on in the season. You have to consider the possibility that Josh Rosen starts to think about his NFL future and sits out the remainder of the season if UCLA starts the season at 3-3, or even worse.

  • There’s disagreement between my number and most every other power rating service on what this win total should be. UCLA draws Stanford, Washington and Oregon from the North. Give me any team total under 6.5 with Mora on the hot seat and Rosen looking forward to the NFL.

Bruins


Arizona St Sun Devils

Opening Power Rating:          51.5
Home Field Advantage:         2.6

Date Away Home CW Line
Aug 31 New Mexico St. Arizona St. ASU -21.5
Sep 9 San Diego St. Arizona St. ASU +1.5
Sep 16 Arizona St. Texas Tech TTU -2.5
Sep 23 Oregon Arizona St. ASU +3
Sep 30 Arizona St. Stanford STAN -16.5
Oct 14 Washington Arizona St. ASU +10.5
Oct 21 Arizona St. Utah UTAH -4
Oct 28 USC Arizona St. ASU +15
Nov 4 Colorado Arizona St. ASU +4.5
Nov 11 Arizona St. UCLA UCLA -7.5
Nov 18 Arizona St. Oregon St. ORST +0.5
Nov 25 Arizona Arizona St. ASU -5
Legend: Coming off bye / Overlook watch / Back to Back road travel / Neutral site

CW Projected Total Wins:     3.7
CW Projected P12 Wins:      2.1
Posted Total Wins:            O 5 +120

Offseason Notes

  • Returning Production: S&P+ 35th Overall (Offense 45th, Defense 48th)

  • Todd Graham, who knows he is coaching this season for his job after not seeing his contract renewed, brought in two new Coordinators. Billy Napier, previously at Alabama as the WR coach, was hired as the new offensive coordinator after Chip Lindsey departed for the OC job at Auburn. Graham also brought in Phil Bennett, previously at Baylor, as the new defensive coordinator.

  • Manny Wilkins won the QB competition over Alabama transfer Blake Barnett.

  • The Sun Devils certainly have a plethora of returning talent on offense at the skill positions. Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage return in the backfield and freshman All-American wide receiver N’Keal Harry joins them on the outside.

  • However, if the offensive line doesn’t play much better than it did in 2016, the skill will go to waste. Napier will want to implement more of a pro-style scheme, which will require, at the minimum, a competent offensive line.

  • Arizona State had the worst pass defense in all of FBS in 2015 and 2016, which does not bode well for a team that will face Darnold, Rosen and Browning. Their secondary in 2017 will now be extremely inexperienced after safety Armand Perry retired and cornerback Kareem Orr transferred this offseason, which sounds scary on the surface in the Pac-12, but it can’t get any worse than 2016.

  • The pass rush should at least be solid with JoJo Wicker and Koron Crump leading the aggressive, blitzing style scheme that Graham prefers.

X-Factor

  • Koron Crump (DE/OLB) – Crump ed the Sun Devils in 2016 with nine Sacks. Crump was a first-team All-Pac-12 player in 2016 with a total of 37 tackles in eight starts. I wouldn’t be surprised if he leads the conference in both sacks and tackles for loss.

Useless Trend

  • The Sun Devils are 12-1 to the over after a bye week since 2009.

Betting Outlook

  • Take Oregon State minus the points, as the Sun Devils come in on back-to-back travel with a rivalry lookahead game with Arizona the following week.

  • Todd Graham is on the hot seat down in Tempe after high expectations for his Sun Devils the past two seasons have produced outcomes of 6-7 and 5-7. Arizona State was outgained in every Pac-12 Conference game in 2016. Don’t expect much of that to change in 2017. It could get ugly quick down in Tempe if they stumble out of the gates.

ASU


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