Betting Odds Suggest A Wide Open Pac-12 Title Race

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On paper, the Pac-12 is among college football’s elite as a Power Five conference, but the league hasn’t sent one of its teams to the College Football Playoff since Washington qualified in the 2016 season. 

Since the Huskies’ appearance, every other Power Five conference has had at least one participant. The SEC has boasted eight playoff representatives during that span. 

Could 2023 be the year the Pac-12 finally sends a team back to the College Football Playoff?

BetMGM gives USC (+225) the fifth-shortest odds to make the College Football Playoff, behind just Georgia (-250), Michigan (+100), Ohio State (+110), and Alabama (+150). The Trojans, who will leave for the Big Ten after this season, are one of the realistic 2023 playoff participants. Other possible playoff participants from the Pac-12 include Oregon (+650), Washington (+650), and Utah (+1000). 

Elite quarterback play

USC returns Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams (+500 to win the award again on FanDuel), but the Trojans have questions defensively. Washington returns a stellar unit, also led by an experienced quarterback in Michael Penix Jr. (+1600 for the Heisman). Oregon quarterback Bo Nix (+1800) is proven at the collegiate level, and Utah’s Cam Rising (+8000) is one of the steadiest quarterbacks in the conference. 

Few leagues boast such elite and experienced quarterback play at the top of the conference. 

“There’s no doubt the Pac-12 has the most Heisman candidates,” Phil Steele, who authors one of the most popular preseason college football magazines in the country, told Sports Handle. “If you look at the preseason Top 10, there’s very few experienced quarterbacks there. … With very few experienced quarterbacks coming back, the Pac-12 is clearly your quarterback conference this year.”

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Steele notes that the ACC was dubbed “the quarterback conference of 2022” before that moniker quickly went away due to injuries and poor play, but he’s still optimistic about the Pac-12’s quarterback play in 2023.

Even Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders (+20000) has been floated by some as a possible candidate for the Heisman, although he’ll have a tough time leading the Buffaloes to a bowl game in 2023. Sanders’ father, Deion, is a well-known head coach with seemingly endless charisma, but Colorado’s roster and schedule mean plenty of losses are likely coming. Multiple defeats figure to shoot any players out of Heisman contention. 

“Jackson State plays in a very weak FCS conference, which is why Deion [Sanders] was able to win so quickly at JSU,” BetMGM analyst Chase Kiddy, who often analyzes college football odds, told Sports Handle. “The idea that he will come to Boulder and immediately find the same kind of success he had in the SWAC is just not realistic.” 

BetRivers lists Colorado at +10000 to win the Pac-12, tied for the longest odds of any team. Interestingly, the Buffaloes are +5000 at Caesars Sportsbook, with four teams having longer odds to win the league title. Most mobile sportsbooks view Colorado as one of the Pac-12’s weakest teams.

Open battle at the top

Given the talent across the top of the conference, six teams have odds of +1400 or shorter to win the league title on DraftKings. Four of those six teams have odds of +600 or shorter. Those six teams are:

  • USC (+190)
  • Oregon (+300)
  • Washington (+320)
  • Utah (+600)
  • Oregon State (+1100)
  • UCLA (+1400)

Picking a conference winner offers a challenge, with plenty of experts offering different opinions. Steele likes USC.

“I took USC because of the low amount of road trips that they have to take against the power teams — just the one [at Oregon] — and I think they will have an improved defense this year under Lincoln Riley,” Steele said. 

College Football Network’s Oliver Hodgkinson is high on Washington, with CFN listing Washington at the top of its Pac-12 power rankings, followed by USC, Oregon, and Utah. 

“Washington’s conference advantage compared to USC rests with their defense,” Hogkinson told Sports Handle. “Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui are as dangerous a backfield duo as any in the nation. Circle Week 10’s trip to USC as one of the defining games of the conference.”

Action Network’s Alex Kolodziej thinks there’s possible value in taking Utah to win the conference. 

“We watched the Utes dismantle USC last season, twice, which just goes to show: If you can take both Lincoln Riley’s curveball and fastball in the same season, you already have my attention,” Kolodziej told Sports Handle. “Utah’s broken through, with back-to-back conference championships. They’re priced fourth in the Pac-12 right now. I disagree!”

The Pac-12 conference race is expected to be one of the most compelling at the FBS level this fall, which leaves bettors with an abundance of realistic futures bets available.


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