The Pac-12 hasn’t won a national title as a conference since USC in 2004, but the league still has improved its overall depth in recent years. The Pac-12 North is arguably the second best division in college football behind the ACC Atlantic.
Washington won the league a season ago, and the Huskies should be a playoff contender again this season. USC is the prohibitive favorite from the South division, but this isn’t simply a two-team league. Stanford is still a legitimate contender, and Oregon should be much better after an abysmal 2016.
Sam Johnson and Cole Frederick break down the league, and they disagree on who will win the Pac-12 this season.
Editor’s Note: wagering on sports is illegal everywhere in the United States except Nevada, so these lines and picks are for entertainment purposes only.
Pac-12 Championship Picks
Sam Johnson: The Pac-12 is the conference I am most looking forward to watching in 2017. Washington won the conference last year and made a somewhat surprising visit to the College Football Playoffs, where they more or less held their own versus a talented Alabama team. USC finished the season with as much hype as anyone after a thrilling Rose Bowl victory against Big 10 champions Penn State, and star quarterback and Heisman frontrunner Sam Darnold returns. Those two teams certainly deserve the hype they’re getting. The Huskies and the Trojans seem destined to meet in the Pac-12 title game. Both teams are hoping this conference will be a two-team collision course for the league title.
Meanwhile, a bad moon is rising over Central California, and soon the whole conference and country will see it. That moon goes by the name Stanford, and it has one color: Cardinal. To echo what Lance said in his preview of Stanford, quarterback Keller Chryst is 7-0 since taking over as the starter. And David Shaw? He just wins. A lot. No one in Stanford plans on playing second-fiddle to any other team in the conference this season and I don’t expect them to either. The Pick: Stanford +600.
Cole Frederick: Washington lost star receiver John Ross to the NFL, and they also lost several key contributors from its outstanding secondary from a season ago. But quarterback Jake Browning returns, and he’s joined in the backfield by running back Myles Gaskin. The defensive line will be dynamic yet again, and I expect this team to pick up where they left off in the Pac-12 from last year.
The first half of the schedule is a joke, and they will be 8-0 heading into a brutal November schedule. The Huskies are home for Oregon, following by a road trip to Stanford on the following Friday and two home games against Utah and Washington State. The Stanford game might decide the division, but the Cardinal will likely have at least one conference loss entering that game and possibly two. I’ll take the Huskies over USC in the Pac-12 title game. The Pick: Washington +310.
Pac-12 Dark Horse Championship Picks
Cole Frederick: I think Oregon has a strong bounce back year in Willie Taggart’s first season, but it’s hard for me to believe they get past Washington AND Stanford to even win the division. So, for a true dark horse, I’m forced to take a team from the Pac-12 South. Look, we all know USC is winning this division barring an injury to Sam Darnold. But if I had to pick another team from this division to find a way to sneak into the Pac-12 title game, I’m taking the team with the best coach in the division. Kyle Wittingham does an excellent job at Utah every season, and while their offense will look different in 2017, they still have the best home field advantage in the division and will be a tough out each week. This is a super long shot, but there has to be some alternative to USC in the South. The Pick: Utah +4000.
Pac-12 Division Winners
Sam Johnson: Please read description above for why you should take Stanford at +250 to win this division. The Pick: Stanford +250.
Cole Frederick: My argument for Washington here is the same as it is for the Huskies to win the whole conference. I will say that I’ll take whichever of these two teams that wins the division over USC in the conference title game. Either Stanford or Washington will have a major coaching advantage. The Pick: Washington +115.
Sam Johnson: USC will be the best team in the Pac-12 South. Sam Darnold deserves every bit of the hype he is receiving and will lead his team to plenty of wins. No other team will be good enough to steal the division title away from USC even if the Trojans slip up and lose more games than they should. The Pick: USC -350
Sam Johnson: At the risk of sounding redundant, Stanford will be a good football team. They will win at least 10 games this season, which, last time I checked, is more than 8.5. The Pick: Stanford over 8.5 (-140).
Cole Frederick: I’ll keep this one brief, too: Washington is going to be very good. They have one tough road game on the schedule (at Stanford), and they avoid USC from the South. Outside of Stanford, the Huskies’ toughest conference games are at home (Oregon, Utah, UCLA, Washington State). They’ll be favored in every game except possibly one, and I think Petersen gets this bunch to 11 wins again. The Pick: Washington over 10 (-165).
Sam Johnson: Colorado had a dream season last year. It was a dandy of a season as they won 10 games and played for the conference title. They snuck into the top 10 rankings at one point, too. The Buffaloes had a Cinderella season and with all sincerity I am genuinely happy for their program and fans after a very difficult decade. However, that clock struck midnight during the last two games against solid opponents last year. They were outscored by a combined 79-18 in the Pac-12 title game against Washington and in the Alamo Bowl against Oklahoma State. Colorado now has to navigate the waters of the Pac 12 without quarterback Sefo Liufau and without defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. New QB, New DC, and nearly a half new defensive unit? Bad news for the Colorado faithful. The Pick: Colorado under 7.5 (-175).
Cole Frederick: Cal will be one of the three worst Power 5 teams in college football this year (the others being Illinois and Kansas). They also play in one of the toughest divisions in football. They play North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Stanford and UCLA all on the road. Yikes. They have home games against Ole Miss, USC, Washington State, Arizona and Oregon State. The Golden Bears will likely only be favored in one game (home vs. Weber State), and if everything goes the right way for this team, their ceiling is five wins. I think they go 2-10, and this team will be a nightmare to watch on both sides of the ball. The Pick: Cal under 3.5 (-140).
Pac-12 Heisman Picks
Cole Frederick: Sam Darnold has all the hype, and he is currently the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. In case you were wondering, the last favorite to win the Heisman was Matt Leinart in 2004. In other words, it doesn’t happen often. I get the appeal with Darnold—especially after the way he finished last season—but if I’m taking a Pac-12 QB to win the award this year, I’m going with Washington quarterback Jake Browning.
I know Darnold didn’t start every game last season, but Browning was better than Darnold in 2016 in almost every statistical category.
Sam Darnold: 246-366, 3,086 yards (67.2 percent), 31 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 8.4 yards per attempt, 9.0 adjusted yards per attempt, 161.1 QB rating.
Jake Browning: 243-391 (62.1 percent), 43 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 8.8 yards per attempt, 9.9 adjusted yards per attempt, 167.5 QB rating.
I know Darnold beat Browning head-to-head, but I think Browning will continue to put up better numbers than Darnold, and the Huskies will beat the Trojans head-to-head in the Pac-12 title game. I also think that will be enough to earn Browning an invite to the Heisman ceremony in December. The Pick: Jake Browning +1800.