And we are back. 25 days away from the first games of the 2018 season, 33 days away from the first full Saturday of college football. Get all of your Saturday day trip dates out of the way so when September 1st rolls around you can plop down in front of a TV and enter into your football coma until February 2019. On July 20th, we took a look at the G5. Today is the Pac-12. Not much else to say. Let’s dive in.
Top Gambling Plays:
I will compile all of my favorite plays into an official win totals piece after we take a look at every conference. For now, these are leans, unless noted.
Oregon State Under 2.5 Wins OFFICIAL:
Oregon State’s roster is young and doesn’t have much talent. Year 1 under Jonathan Smith (have a more basic name, I dare you) is going to be a long one. Take a look at this schedule:
They will be favored in one of these games. Where are three wins? Southern Utah, @ Nevada, and California? They’ll be underdogs in two of those three. This season has 1-11/2-10 written all over it. Maybe they steal one against Washington State?
Utah Over 7.5 Wins:
I am big on what Kyle Whittingham is building at Utah. He returns Tyler Huntley at QB, Zack Moss at RB, and plenty of skill guys on offense. The pass defense will be great. Their biggest question will come in defending the run, but ranking 32nd in rushing S&P+ in 2017 is still attainable for this 2018 roster. The loss of DTs Filipo Mokofisi and Lowell Lotulelei and LBs Kavika Luafatasaga and Sunia Tauteoli hurt, but there are replacements, namely Leki Fotu at DT and Cody Barton/Donavan Thompson at LB. The defense will stay in the mid-30 range, while the offense will improve on their 55th ranking in 2017.
They catch Washington (before a bye), USC, and Oregon at home. If they steal one of those, you are looking at a 10-2 season.
Washington 14/1 to win the CFP:
I am all in on Washington. Chris Petersen’s squad is revving up for a big 2018 season. They return the 22nd most production in the country, the most out of any top 10 team from last season, from a team that finished the season ranked 5th in S&P+. Jake Browning is one of the top QB’s in the country, Gaskin is dynamite at RB, Trey Adams is a first-round draft pick at LT, and the secondary includes multiple NFL prospects. Their schedule is tough, but I could see them sliding into the college football playoff 13-0/12-1. Their toughest games (Auburn, @ Utah, @ Oregon, Stanford) are spread out nicely. One loss won’t spell disaster for this team, especially if it’s against Auburn or Utah.
The good news for Washington will be the opportunity for recovery with a bye week in week 11 followed by easy games against Oregon State and Washington State. This will allow them to be rested heading into the Pac-12 championship game and then, hopefully, the college football playoff if all goes to plan.
(Win total (over line/under line), conference championship odds)
1. Washington (10 (-120/+100), +125)
I am very, very high on Washington this year. Losing DT Vita Vea (1st round pick) and Dante Pettis (2nd round pick) hurts, but overall they return the 22nd most production in the country. Of teams that finished top 10 in S&P+ in 2017, that is the most returning talent.
The biggest concern for Washington will be if they can find a big play receiver. Since John Ross left, Browning has struggled to find a serious downfield threat. Last year, they ranked 35th overall in IsoPPP (explosiveness stat) on offense and 72nd in passing explosiveness. I think a healthy Chico McClatcher will be the answer. McClatcher is returning after a broken ankle in 2017. He had 31 receptions for 574 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore in 2016. Losing TE Hunter Bryant for the season is not great news, but hopefully, they’ll find a proper replacement.
I mentioned more on Washington above in the best bets section, but I’d lean over 10 wins as well. Their first game of the season will be a big one against Auburn. If they win that one, I don’t see them losing more than one other game. After Auburn, their toughest games will be at Utah and at Oregon. 11-1 and 12-0 are most likely.
2. Stanford (9.5 (+190/-230), +550)
David Shaw doesn’t get enough credit for what he has done at Stanford. Sure, he was helped by Harbaugh’s success, but he has taken Stanford to an elite level since he has taken over. Would Shaw do as well at an SEC school? Eh, that’s a hard question to answer, but his 2018 team should be considered as a threat in the Pac-12 for the 8th consecutive year.
Bryce Love returns. He is the best offensive player in America. Not much else to say about the Heisman runner-up. Can KJ Costello be enough of a threat at QB to open up more holes for Love to exploit? That’s a big question for the 2018 Cardinal. Another question that will need answering will be the defense. After a disappointing 2017, the 2018 unit returns the 20th least production in the country. They will have to show up against high powered offenses like Washington, Oregon, Notre Dame and USC if this team wants to even sniff the CFP.
What pops out most about Stanford’s win total number is the -230 line for the under 9.5 wins. If you take a look at their schedule, you will see the road trips to Notre Dame, Oregon, and Washington. On top of that, they have to face USC at home. Betting under 9.5 wins is an obvious play, but at the -230 number? All the value is gone. I have seen over/unders at 8.5. I still wouldn’t bite on either sides of that. Stanford is a tricky one this year.
3. Oregon (8.5 (-105/-115), +750)
I want to love Oregon this year. I really do. Justin Herbert is one of the top QBs for the 2019 NFL draft. Defensive wizard Jim Leavitt is in his second year as DC and has the tools to have a top-30 defense. If Willie Taggart was still in town, I’d have Oregon as a true dark horse for CFP contention. Can Mario Cristobal rally the Ducks?
I’m concerned about the running game for Oregon. Although Herbert is an elite passer, Oregon loved to run the ball last year. With Royce Freeman and Kani Benoit gone, who is going to step up to run the rock? Is it Tony Brooks-James? He’s a freak athlete, but I don’t know if he can carry Oregon to a top-25 rushing level. I do believe that Herbert and five of the top six returning receivers from 2017 can turn this into a pass-first offense if Cristobal changes his philosophy. That will be an interesting note to keep track of.
The good news for Oregon is they will be favored in 11 of their 12 games. Their two toughest games against Stanford and Washington (after a bye week) are at home. I like over 8.5 wins for the Ducks, but have not made it official yet. 100/1 odds for them to win the national championship may be worth putting a few dollars on.
4. California (6.5 (-115/-105), +2000)
Wow, do I like what Justin Wilcox is doing in Berkley. If it weren’t for a bunch of injuries and close losses, Cal could have easily been 7-5 last season. QB Ross Bowers and RB Patrick Laird are a great backfield and although the receiving core loses Demetris Robertson (transferred to Georgia), they could be a great unit as well. The defense ranked 79th last year but could improve if the defensive line replaces James Looney and doesn’t sustain any major injuries. It’s all about defending the run for Wilcox’s 2018 team. Can they improve on their 113th ranked rushing success rate allowed?
6.5 is a tricky number. I think Cal will be improved and a test for every Pac-12 team, but I don’t see many guaranteed wins outside of Idaho State, Colorado and Oregon State. They have to travel to Wazzu, Arizona, and BYU. They’d have to win two out of those three to get to 5 wins and then win two more against North Carolina and UCLA to get to 7 wins. I lean under.
5. Washington State (5.5 (-125/+105), +2500)
Here is what Washington State has going for them: Mike Leach rarely puts a bad offense on the field. The bad news? Wazzu doesn’t have a QB heading into the 2018 season. The options include 4-star freshman Cammon Cooper, redshirt freshman Connor Neville, and ECU graduate transfer Gardner Minshew (who almost transferred to Alabama). They will have a receiving core that has to replace two outside receivers (Isaiah Johnson-Mack and Tavares Martin) but will return top slot guys Kyle Sweet, Renard Bell, and Jamire Calvin. On top of that James Williams is one of the best receiving RBs in the nation. Leach ran more than he ever had before in 2017, but I doubt that will continue this fall due to the loss of Jamal Morrow and the nature of James Williams game.
One of Leach’s biggest losses this offseason was defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who ended up at Ohio State. The defense should be fine with a solid back 7, but the front four will determine if new DC Tracy Claeys defense can stay in the top 50. Speaking of Claeys, I hope Leach has loaded up on Dilly Bars:
5.5 is the right number. You can count San Jose State, Oregon State, and Eastern Washington as wins. @ USC, @ Stanford, and Washington as losses. Likely loses include Oregon and Utah. Can they go 3-1 @ Wyoming, California, @ Colorado, and Arizona to get over the number? I’m not sure.
6. Oregon State (2.5 (+115/-145), +10000)
As you saw in my best bet section, I am very low on Oregon State. I went into their schedule in that section as well. New head coach Jonathan Smith has quite the problem on his hand heading into 2018. The offensive line is decent, but they do lose bell cow Ryan Nall at RB. Seth Luton is coming off a spine injury at QB and will be throwing to a young receiver core. The defense was awful last year (127th in nation) and doesn’t show much hope for improvement. This team is playing for 2019.
(Win total (over line/under line), conference championship odds)
1. USC (7.5 (-220/+180), +325)
There is a trend with most great coaches: they take a huge step in year 3. Will Clay Helton be able to do that? It all depends on whether or not he finds a quarterback. Is it Matt Fink, 4-star redshirt freshman Jack Sears or should-be high school senior JT Daniels (he reclassified)? My bet would be on JT Daniels. The 5-star QB would’ve been the top recruit for the class of 2019, but after reclassifying, he has a great chance to start for the Trojans. Get ready to be reminded time and time again by ESPN/Fox broadcasters that he was at his junior prom in the spring, but now replacing Sam Darnold at USC.
Other questions for USC include whether or not they can replace Ronald Jones at RB. Former 5-star RB Stephen Carr won’t have much problem stepping up. Will the run defense, which ranked 47th last year overall and 91st in success rate, improve? With a LB core of Cameron Smith and Porter Gustin, I assume that will happen. Smith and Gustin will need help from the line, which is full of unproven high star recruits. Deontay Burnett and Steven Mitchell Jr. leave with Darnold, but it’s easy to not be that concerned about a receiving core that is littered with 4/5 stars and returns Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman Jr.
Laying -220 on over 7.5 wins is steep. If you have an 8 number available to you, I’d recommend considering taking the over. Tough games @ Texas, @ Arizona, @ Utah, and Notre Dame may limit this teams upside.
2. Utah (7.5 (+100/-120), 16/1)
As I mentioned above, I’m in on Utah for the upcoming season. Tyler Huntley is a breakout candidate at QB, Zack Moss is great at RB, and the pass defense could be elite. Their matchup against Washington on 9/15 should show us a lot for where Whittingham’s team is.
3. Arizona (7.5 (-130/+110), 16/1)
Here is what Kevin Sumlin has done in the first year at Houston and Texas A&M:
-2008 Houston: After a rough start, Houston finished their season 8-5 and won a bowl game for the first time in 28 years.
-2012 Texas A&M: 11 wins, upset Alabama, oh, and this guy won the Heisman:
This year, Kevin Sumlin has himself Khalil Tate. Who knows what he’ll be able to do with a more athletic version of Johnny Manziel. Count me in on a 16/1 bet for him to win the Heisman.
September 29th could be a fun one when USC comes to town to take on a potential 4-0 Arizona. This team could be A LOT of fun.
4. UCLA (5.5 (+115/-135), 18/1)
Chip Kelly is BACK! I’m very interested to see what he has schemed up in his time away from college football. Kelly was an innovative genius at Oregon. What he was doing at Oregon in the early 2010’s has spread throughout the entire college football landscape.
What does Kelly have at UCLA? Devin Modster showed signs of aptitude after Josh Rosen went down and Wilton Speight transfers in from Michigan. The biggest question for UCLA will be the offensive line. Even with a first-round draft pick and fifth-round draft pick on the OL in 2017, UCLA’s adjusted sack rate ranked 76th. What will that be this year?
The defense looks decent. Kelly brought along his longtime DC Jerry Azzinaro and will have a defense that returns the 40th most production in the country. I still lean under for the Bruins. Road games at Oklahoma, Colorado, California, and Arizona State may cap them around 5 wins. That isn’t an indictment on Kelly, though. It will take a couple of years to bring in the talent he wants. Once he does? Watch out.
5. Arizona State (4.5 (-125/+105), 25/1)
There is one thing that is for sure about the 2018 Arizona State Sun Devil’s: they will be fun thanks to Herm Edwards. I want Arizona State to succeed for the same reason I want Jim Harbaugh to stay at Michigan: content.
Is there a chance that happens? Yes. Manny Wilkins returns with one of the best receiving corps in the nation (N’Keal Harry, Kyle Williams, and Jalen Harvey). Edwards will have to sacrifice his old school ways of running more than he passes thanks to graduating RB’s Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage. The defense has more questions in the front than the back thanks to five of the six starting DL’s and LB’s leaving. The secondary will be strong.
The schedule is tough. An out of conference schedule that includes a trip to San Diego State and Michigan State coming to Tempe could result in 2 losses. Following a bye week, ASU will finish with Stanford, @ USC, Utah, UCLA, @ Oregon, and @ Arizona. October and November will define Herm Edwards 2018. Count me as a believer.
6. Colorado (4.5 (-125/+105), 40/1)
Mike MacIntyre has done a phenomenal job at Colorado, but after replacing his defensive coordinator (Jim Leavitt) in 2017, he’ll have to replace his offensive coordinator in 2018 (Brian Lindgren). QB Steven Montez is back, but his offense returns the 14th least production in the country. The defense ranked 98th last year and doesn’t show many signs of improvement coming in 2018.
At first, I liked under 4.5 wins, but they do catch Oregon State, Washington State, and UCLA at home after starting the season with Colorado State and New Hampshire in week 3. 5 wins is possible.
8/2: Big 12
8/23: Big Ten
8/27: Win Totals & Other Preseason Plays
8/29: College Football Playoff/National Championship Pick
8/30: Week 1 preview pt. 1 (Thursday and Friday games)
8/31: Week 1 preview pt. 2
Other articles will be scattered in there. GET EXCITED.