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The Pac-12's been left out of the College Football Playoff for three straight years, but that's not to say the conference hasn't been fun.
In 2019, Oregon State finished with a better record in Pac-12 play than both Stanford and Washington State. Oregon lost as a two-touchdown favorite in Tempe the penultimate week of the regular season to miss the playoff. Arizona benched its starting quarterback, who was arguably one of the best dual threats in the conference. Colorado beat two Top 25 teams, yet didn't go bowling and didn't retain its head coach. UCLA scored 67 points on Washington State on the road.
And that's just the start.
The 2020 outlook is more wide-open, though it's clear Oregon's the team to beat. Still, be prepared for maximum chaos.
It is the Pac-12, after all.
I said the conference could be a bit more balanced than last season, but that doesn't mean I'm going to bypass Oregon at +250. This is still the best defense out West, spearheaded by lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux and four defensive backs whom PFF graded among the top-30 returners. Although I recently endorsed the Ducks as buy-low candidates to win the title, I'll admit that investing in Mario Cristobal's squad to beat a program like Alabama or Clemson in a January game is likely -EV. However, I didn't think Oregon would be better than 2-1 to take the Pac-12, hence the recommendation in this spot.
How ironic is it that USC had arguably the widest range of outcomes for any Pac-12 team heading into 2019 and then had the most normal season of any affiliate? The Trojans went 8-5, with four losses as underdogs and the other an overtime defeat on the road at BYU. The short number of +275 to win the conference would suggest more intrigue from the betting markets, but I can't understand all the love. It's not as though the Trojans were unlucky last year - they had a second-order win total of 7.7, which means they actually overachieved. Their schedule is also one of the toughest in the country. USC has Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, and Utah all on the road, and another home game against Washington. The only selling point is the returning production - the Trojans are top five in defense and top 25 in offense nationally - but I still can't fire on a price this short.
While USC will bank on its returning experience to make a run, Utah's virtually starting from scratch. And that's going to be a sell for me.
The Utes have less experience back on defense than any team in the country in 2020. To make matters worse, Utah also lost more than half its production from a year ago. I wouldn't be surprised to see a team that was No. 29 in the nation in scoring offense and No. 6 in points allowed per game last season take a huge step back.
I've spotted a long shot or two that I really like in the conference futures market so far, and Arizona State fits the bill, though it's always difficult to get on board with a team that's zigging when every other program in the country is trying to zag. Head coach Herm Edwards adopted an NFL style to win games in Tempe, a far cry from the shootouts Arizona State had to get into under Todd Graham. The more pessimistic I get regarding Edwards' scheme, the more foolish he's made me look. After going 7-6 in Year 1 in 2018, the Sun Devils improved with eight wins last year. They went bowling for the second straight season and the recruiting classes are looking solid.
What I really love about having some skin on Arizona State is how dangerous it's been as an underdog. Since Edwards was hired, the Sun Devils have won seven games outright as underdogs. If you're looking for a deep flier down the list, ASU's your best bet at 14-1.
Alex Kolodziej is a betting writer for theScore. He's a graduate of Eastern Illinois who has been involved in the sports betting industry for 12 years. He can quote every line from "Rounders" and appreciates franchises that regularly wear alternate jerseys. Find him on Twitter @AJKolodziej.