Pac-12 football preview, odds, predictions: Oregon enters 2021 as the betting favorite

·16-min read

Previously: AAC, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, SEC, Sun Belt

The 2021 college football season is right around the corner and this week we will be previewing each of the Power Five conferences. Up first was the SEC, and now we’re onto the Pac-12.

Below, Yahoo Sports' Sam Cooper and Nick Bromberg provide their thoughts on each Pac-12 team before predicting where those teams will finish in their division and if they will go over or under their projected preseason win total.

Betting odds and win totals are provided by BetMGM. Teams are listed in alphabetical order.

Pac-12 championship odds

  • Oregon: +250

  • Washington: +350

  • USC: +400

  • Arizona State: +400

  • Utah: +600

  • UCLA: +1200

  • Washington State: +4000

  • Stanford: +5000

  • California: +5000

  • Colorado: +6600

  • Oregon State: +6600

  • Arizona: +10000

Sam Cooper's Pac-12 title pick: Oregon

Nick Bromberg's Pac-12 title pick: Utah

Pac-12 North

California

Pac-12 North odds: +1600

Over/under: 6.5 wins

Sam: Under Justin Wilcox, Cal has been strong defensively, underwhelming offensively and has played in a ton of one-score games. In all, 20 of Cal’s 42 games under Wilcox have been decided by a possession. Cal is 10-10 in those games and 21-21 overall in Wilcox’s four seasons. In 2021, the Golden Bears have Nevada and TCU on their non-conference schedule and almost all of their most difficult conference games (Washington, Oregon, UCLA) are on the road. That’s a recipe for more close games. This is an experienced team, but the tough schedule and offensive concerns have me landing on 6-6 more than 7-5.

UNDER 6.5 wins

Projected division finish: 3rd

Nick: What’s the secret to unlocking the Cal offense? The Bears averaged fewer than five yards per play in 2020 as they went 1-3. The easiest way to up that average will be improvement from QB Chase Garbers. He threw for fewer than 200 yards per game in 2020. I think Cal will be better than it showed in that limited sample size a year ago, but games against Nevada and TCU to start the season have me bearish on the Bears.

UNDER 6.5

Projected division finish: 4th

Oregon

Pac-12 North odds: -110

Over/under: 9 wins

Sam: Let’s get this out of the way. I think Oregon will lose to Ohio State in Week 2. From there, the Ducks could be favored in every other game they play. This is going to sound redundant if you’ve read other takes on this team, but my only significant question is quarterback. I don’t think Anthony Brown is a national title-level QB. Perhaps freshman Ty Thompson will be good enough right away. Playing Washington and Utah on the road late in the year will be tough, but if Oregon splits those it can get to 10-2. I’m on the over.

OVER 9 wins

Projected division finish: 1st

Nick: The Ducks have a new defensive coordinator after Andy Avalos went to be the head coach at Boise State. And with seven returning starters on that side of the ball, Tim DeRuyter’s unit could be better in 2021 than it was in 2020. DE Kayvon Thibodeaux is a fun longshot Heisman bet (+20000) even though a defensive player won’t win the award and he’ll be facing a ton of double teams this year. The defense gets a huge test in Week 2 when Oregon visits Ohio State and I wouldn't be surprised if a push is the right play here.

OVER 9 wins

Projected division finish: 1st

Arizona quarterback Grant Gunnell, left, looks downfield under pressure from Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)
Arizona quarterback Grant Gunnell, left, looks downfield under pressure from Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Oregon State

Pac-12 North odds: +2500

Over/under: 4.5 wins

Sam: Oregon State is trending upward under Jonathan Smith. After Oregon and Washington, I think Oregon State can be just as competitive as the rest of the Pac-12 North. OSU has proven its ability to put up points since Smith took over. The defense has been an issue. If the defense can take some steps forward, I think the Beavers can reach a bowl game in 2021. To do so, OSU has to take care of business in the non-conference games. I’m calling it now, the Beavers upset Purdue on the road in Week 1 and finish 6-6.

OVER 4.5 wins

Projected division finish: 4th

Nick: I think Oregon State will look a lot more like the 5-7 team it was in 2019 than the 2-5 team it was in 2020. But will that be reflected in the standings? The Beavers bring back a ton of starters on each side of the ball, though one of the three players not back is star runner Jermar Jefferson. I’m also intrigued about the role that Colorado transfer Sam Noyer will play this year at QB. If it wasn’t for games at Purdue and against USC and Utah from the South, I would be all over the over.

UNDER 4.5 wins

Projected division finish: 5th

Stanford

Pac-12 North odds: +1800

Over/under: 4 wins

Sam: Stanford is going to be a better team than its record reflects at the end of the year. It sounds like the offense is going to go back to smash-mouth style, but I have a lot of concerns with the defense. The Cardinal are facing 12 Power Five opponents. That includes Kansas State and Notre Dame in the non-con and the top four teams in the South: USC, UCLA, Arizona State and Utah. Yikes. I think it’s likely that Stanford pulls off an upset somewhere on this schedule, but most of the times I go through it I land on 4-8. Since we have to pick a side, I’ll slightly lean toward the over. But it’s not with much conviction.

OVER 4 wins

Projected division finish: 5th

Nick: Stanford’s defense has struggled over the last two seasons. Stanford hadn’t allowed over 23 points per game in any season from 2014-18 before allowing nearly 30 points per game in a 4-8 campaign in 2019. The Cardinal went 4-2 in 2020 but the defense allowed almost 32 points per game and gave up 5.5 yards per carry. Getting back to the levels of the previous five years will be key as Stanford is the only team in the country playing 12 games against Power Five teams. This feels like an easy over.

OVER 4 wins

Projected division finish: 3rd

Washington

Pac-12 North odds: +140

Over/under: 8.5 wins

Sam: Washington is a big wild card for me. UW only played four games in 2020, its first season with Jimmy Lake as head coach. The Huskies went 3-1 and the large majority of that team is back. UW is strong up front on both sides of the ball and has consistently been at or near the top of most of the Pac-12’s defensive rankings in recent years. I’m still in wait-and-see mode with this offense, though, and the lack of big-play ability limits this team’s ceiling for me. The schedule sets up nicely to get over 8.5 wins, but I think UW finishes second behind Oregon in the North.

OVER 8.5 wins

Projected division finish: 2nd

Nick: Washington didn’t seem to miss a beat in Jimmy Lake’s first season as the team’s coach, though it was just a four-game sample size. I think we’ll have a good idea of where both Washington and Michigan are on Sept. 11 when the Huskies travel to Ann Arbor. QB Dylan Morris threw for just 900 yards and four TDs and three interceptions in those four games a year ago. He’ll have to take a big step forward if Washington is going to be a legit conference title threat.

OVER 8.5 wins

Projected division finish: 2nd

FILE - In this Nov. 28, 2020, file photo, Washington coach Jimmy Lake celebrates with his team after Washington defeated Utah 24-21 in an NCAA college football game in Seattle. Washington begins the 2021 season as one of the favorites in the Pac-12 North Division, while also trying to erase the bad taste of how last year ended when a COVID-19 outbreak brought a sudden end to an already truncated schedule. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Washington is entering its second season with Jimmy Lake as head coach. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Washington State

Pac-12 North odds: +1800

Over/under: 6 wins

Sam: From a purely stylistic standpoint, WSU didn’t change a whole lot from Mike Leach to Nick Rolovich. I expect the Cougars to be one of the better offensive teams in the Pac-12. There are options at QB, Max Borghi is back from injury and both tackles were preseason all-conference picks. On the other hand, the defense in Pullman has been consistently bad, and I don’t expect that to be different in 2021. With some of the off-field stuff swirling and the fact that WSU doesn’t have a bye until November, I lean to the under here.

UNDER 6 wins

Projected division finish: 6th

Nick: The Cougars were 1-3 in 2020 after two games were canceled due to COVID-19. And now the Cougars are one of the least-vaccinated teams in the Pac-12. Tennessee transfer Jarrett Guarantano should provide an upgrade at QB but the summer loss of wide receiver Renard Bell to a torn ACL hurts. Nearly every key player is back on defense. That means the unit can’t be worse than the one that allowed over 300 yards passing and 39 points per game in 2020, right?

UNDER 6 wins

Projected division finish: 6th

Pac-12 South

Arizona

Pac-12 South odds: +4000

Over/under: 2.5 wins

Sam: Jedd Fisch inherits a program that hasn’t won a game since October 2019 and lost 70-7 to its rival in its most recent game. Even with that said, I don’t think it’s such a dire situation that a relatively quick turnaround to respectability cannot happen. It just won’t be this year. A projected win total of 2.5 spells that out loud and clear. The only surefire win on the schedule is Northern Arizona. I think non-con games vs. BYU and San Diego State are winnable. If you split those and pick off somebody in Pac-12 play, perhaps the Wildcats can get to three. Perhaps.

UNDER 2.5 wins

Projected division finish: 6th

Nick: I think Arizona could be a first-year coach rebound candidate. There's no way that this team was as bad it's been in the past 1.5 seasons with Kevin Sumlin and games against Cal and Washington State from the North are winnable. Given all that BYU lost this offseason, don't be surprised if Arizona plays them close to start the season. There's talent at receiver and there's no way the defense gives up 40 points a game again.

OVER 2.5 wins

Projected division finish: 6th

Arizona State

Pac-12 South odds: +240

Over/under: 8.5 wins

Sam: ASU has been mostly mediocre under Herm Edwards and It’s hard for me to take much from the 2020 season. ASU choked away a two-score lead at USC, had a month-long COVID layoff, lost to UCLA and then scored a combined 116 points in wins over Arizona and Oregon State. I really like QB Jayden Daniels and the running backs, but there’s questions at receiver and I’m not sure this defense is better than middle of the pack in the league. Couple those concerns with a looming NCAA investigation and three tough road games and it’s enough to make me leery about the ASU hype.

UNDER 8.5 wins

Projected division finish: 4th

Nick: I think ASU is going to underwhelm this year. It's not often that you see a team entering the season without numerous coaches because of an NCAA investigation into rulebreaking allegations. Every starter is back on a defense that has been really solid over the last few seasons, and the offense is set to be very good too. There's a recipe here for a Pac-12 contender. But every year there's a team that underachieves, and the circumstances make me think ASU is on that short list. 

UNDER 8.5 wins

Projected division finish: 4th.

Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards answers questions during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards answers questions during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Colorado

Pac-12 South odds: +1800

Over/under: 4.5 wins

Sam: Karl Dorrell did a really good job in 2020 to somehow get Colorado to 4-2. In 2021, the Buffs have two obvious strengths — running back and linebackers. Jarek Broussard was a breakout player and Alex Fontenot, CU’s leading rusher in 2019, is back from injury. At LB, Nate Landman and Carson Wells are both all-conference caliber players. Beyond that, though, the roster feels lackluster. There are some promising young receivers, but the QB play could be shaky. The schedule is really tough, too. I have a hard time finding five wins. Frankly, I’m having trouble finding four. I’m on the under.

UNDER 4.5 wins

Projected division finish: 5th

Nick: Colorado could be an underrated beneficiary of the Tennessee transfer exodus. With Sam Noyer now at Oregon State, the QB competition is wide open. And UT transfer JT Shrout could end up taking the job. Shrout could be a guy who plays better after a change of scenery and whoever wins the QB job will have a solid RB in Jerek Broussard (895 yards in 2020) to hand off to. Colorado's over/under is so low relative to its 2020 win total because of non-conference games against Texas A&M and Minnesota. I really want to pick the over here. But that would require a 4-5 record in the Pac-12 if Colorado goes 1-2 outside the conference. 

UNDER 4.5 wins

Projected division finish: 5th

UCLA

Pac-12 South odds: +700

Over/under: 7 wins

Sam: I think this is the year UCLA finally takes a step forward under Chip Kelly, but I don’t think it’s to the top of the division. Still, the Bruins are going to be a team nobody wants to play. UCLA lost four games last year by a combined 15 points, and that was with QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson missing quite a bit of time. DTR is healthy, he’s got his full starting line back and plenty of weapons around him like RB Zach Charbonnet and TE Greg Dulcich. The defense should be solid, too. The schedule is tough, and I’m envisioning a lot of close games. I think 7-5 or 8-4 is the most likely outcome here, so I’m taking the over.

OVER 7 wins

Projected division finish: 3rd

Nick: Let the overreaction begin if UCLA wins in Week 1 against LSU. Granted, a lot of that will be focused on LSU and Ed Orgeron, but there will certainly be some wondering if UCLA is finally where it wants to be with Kelly. The loss of Demetric Felton hurts, but UCLA's No. 1 RB may not end up being Zach Charbonnet. Brittain Brown rushed for 543 yards on just 82 carries a year ago. Greg Dulcich also averaged 20 yards a catch as a tight end in 2020. I like the push here too, but I can convince myself more of 8-4 than I can of 6-6. 

OVER 7 wins

Projected division finish: 3rd

USC

Pac-12 South odds: +170

Over/under: 8.5 wins

Sam: USC got a really favorable draw with Stanford, Washington State, Oregon State and Cal from the Pac-12 North on its schedule. Though there’s a tricky non-con game with San Jose State, I am projecting a 5-0 start for the Trojans. There are three or four games on the back half of the schedule that I could see them losing, but they won’t lose them all. I know Clay Helton’s teams tend to drop in a few duds over the course of the season, but I’m optimistic about this group and am projecting the Trojans as the Pac-12 South champion. Frankly, if USC goes 8-4 or worse with this roster and this schedule, Helton should lose his job.

OVER 8.5 wins

Projected division finish: 1st

Nick: I think the losses at wide receiver are going to hurt the Trojans in 2021. I know Drake London is back — and was awesome in 2020 — but Bru McCoy is currently suspended after a July arrest and USC needs to replace Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns. The Trojans had one of the best receiving corps in the country a year ago and there's decidedly less talent in the room in 2021. How will that reflect on Kedon Slovis? The addition of Texas transfer RB Keaontay Ingram is big, especially for a program that struggled to run the ball in 2020. But I'm not sold on USC to win the division again.

UNDER 8.5 wins

Projected division finish: 2nd

Southern California quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) in the second half during an NCAA college football game against Arizona, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Southern California won 34-30. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Southern California quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) in the second half during an NCAA college football game against Arizona, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Southern California won 34-30. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Utah

Pac-12 South odds: +260

Over/under: 8.5 wins

Sam: Utah builds through the trenches and the Utes could have both the top offensive and defensive line in the Pac-12. There are nine starters back on defense, and that unit will keep the Utes in every game they play. The offense also has promise, but will be counting on several transfers. Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer is the starting QB, and both T.J. Pledger (Oklahoma) and Chris Curry (LSU) are in the mix at running back. TE Brant Kuithe will be a prominent part of the offense too. There are four teams capable of winning the South, and it won’t shock anyone if it’s Utah for the third time in four years.

OVER 8.5 wins

Projected division finish: 2nd

Nick: Yeah, I'm going with Utah to win the division. Brewer was officially named the starter on Monday and he was very productive when healthy in his four seasons at Baylor. Pledger fills the gap that was tragically left at running back after Ty Jordan's death and a defense that has been one of the best units in the country in recent years has nine starters back. The 108 rushing yards per game that Utah allowed in 2020 was the most yards per game it's allowed in three seasons. I think Utah's defense is dominant and the offense doesn't force it to have to be awesome to win. Utah should be 4-0 ahead of an Oct. 9 visit to USC.

OVER 8.5 wins

Projected division finish: 1st

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