Pac-12 season betting preview: Are USC, Utah worth the hype?
Amid the Pac-12's dramatic off-field dissolution, the 2022 season - which may be the last to resemble the tradition of the "conference of champions" - is poised to be the most interesting in years.
The three teams atop the oddsboard and the pair of capable squads below them suggest the league has both parity and national potential. Although the new divisionless format means the schedule is less balanced, it gives teams a better chance at a championship game showdown in Las Vegas.
Pac-12 conference championship odds
USC crept ahead of Utah and Oregon since our offseason update. This shouldn't be surprising given the growing buzz surrounding an L.A. team that poached a big-name head coach in Lincoln Riley and his hand-picked quarterback, Caleb Williams, from perennial powerhouse Oklahoma.
Of course, that combination couldn't get the Sooners to the Big 12 title game last year despite having more proven talent around them. Conversely, the Utes are closer to a finished product, albeit devoid of flash.
Utah has continuity with the return of coach Kyle Whittingham and quarterback Cameron Rising. It lost two linebackers to the NFL draft, but the good news is that's arguably the Utes' deepest position group. Ethan Calvert, maybe their best recruit in program history, returns after he tore his ACL in the opener last year. The Utes went on to win the league relatively easily, destroying USC and Oregon (twice) in the process.
The Ducks are in this echelon because their schedule avoids USC and doesn't feature a single notably difficult road conference game. New head coach Dan Lanning, the former Georgia defensive coordinator, can make the Pac-12 title game without ever needing to prove Oregon is actually good.
Season win totals
|TEAM||WIN TOTAL||O/U PRICE|
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and head coach Chip Kelly return for UCLA to provide stability - something USC, Oregon and Washington don't have. I'm looking to back the Bruins in some form while hoping that "DTR" can stay healthy. UCLA's schedule is manageable, but to make it to Las Vegas, the defense must improve so it can prevent every game from turning into a Wild West shootout.
Washington is a high-variance wild card. Jimmy Lake appeared to get as little as possible from the roster last season. Now, the Huskies have turned to head coach Kalen DeBoer and Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr - two additions whose tenure could go either way.
Speaking of opposite directions, Oregon State is a "buy" team this year, while Arizona State is a "sell." The young Beavers' offense was right there with USC and UCLA last year, but the defense couldn't get off the field (fourth-worst nationally in third-down stops). Meanwhile, the Sun Devils have been dealing with an NCAA investigation, and the shine may be off the Herm Edwards regime.
Games of the year (projected spread)
Oct. 15: USC @ Utah (-4)
If the Trojans are better than the Utes, which the conference odds and win total theoretically suggest is the case, this line indicates Utah has quite the home-field advantage. A five-to-seven-point swing from a neutral might be fair in Salt Lake, but it's more likely that the Trojans' hype is manifesting itself in the futures market.
Nov. 12: Washington @ Oregon (-10)
Oregon is this much of a favorite because former coach Mario Cristobal got everything out of the team over the last two seasons, while the Huskies got nothing from their group under Lake. Given both teams are now in similar situations - with new head coaches and quarterback decisions to make - 10 points seem like too many.
Nov. 19: Utah @ Oregon (-1)
This is a fair line now and may still be come November given that we're still unlikely to know all that much about Oregon's rating relative to the top teams in its own conference.
Nov. 19: USC @ UCLA (+3.5)
Give me the home underdog at over a field goal right now, and I'll take my chances by game time.
Pac-12 championship: Utah (+240)
Win totals: UCLA over 8.5 (-105), Arizona State under 6 (-125), Stanford under 4.5 (-130), Colorado under 3 (-110)
It's hard to imagine the Utes not making the title game in Las Vegas. Once they do, they'll likely be the favorite. A home win as four-point favorites against USC should be enough to punch their ticket, so we may be getting a team that should be closer to even money for the championship at a much better price.
UCLA's interesting at +900 for a Pac-12 championship. With three gimme wins on the non-conference schedule, I'd rather need UCLA to go 6-3 in the league than need seven or eight wins just to get there.
Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there's a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.