The Pac-12 was set up perfectly for bettors in 2011, with teams of both extremes and not a lot in the middle. USC, Oregon, and Stanford all got full on the rest of the conference and anyone along for the ride was rewarded (26-10-3 ATS combined), while the bottom of the conference (UCLA,Arizona,Oregon State, Arizona State, Colorado) was easy pick’ins to bet against (20-43-1). It’s unlikely to be this good again, but it’s still a polarizing league and one I suggest you keep your eye on each week.
Washington (2011 Record ATS: 7-6)
The Huskies were one of the best bets in college football to begin the 2011 season (5-1 ATS through 6) before the competition picked up and exposed them a bit. At the very minimum, this is a great team to bet against inferior opponents as they can simply out-gun the Colorados of the world. With Keith Price back at the helm and a year of seasoning under his belt, I expect Washington to take the next step into the top 25. A home game against San Diego State with an affordable spread (-10.5) seems like a great way to start.
UCLA (2011 Record ATS: 5-9)
After a dismal 2 year stretch for bettors (8-17-1 ATS), Jim Mora Jr. is bound to right the ship. The groundwork is there – the junior and senior classes ranked 8th and 14th in recruiting respectively and thus UCLA has as much talent as anyone in the conference outside of USC and Oregon. The wild card is quarterback. Inconsistency at the position is what probably cost Rick Neuheisel his job, and this could be a good team if the incumbents improve or stud recruit Brett Hundley is ready to go day 1. We’ll have plenty of early chances to figure out the Bruins are with games at Rice and versus Nebraska and Houston to begin the season.
Arizona (2011 Record ATS: 4-8)
It didn’t stop me from betting against him, but I always felt a little bad for Rich Rod at Michigan; the man isn’t a bad coach, the style of play in the Big Ten just didn’t fit his coaching philosophy. That said, the Pac-12 seems to be an ideal spot for him, and Arizona, a roster with modest talent, could be the ideal situation. I don’t expect miracles from the Wildcats, but this is a team that flat quit on its coach midway through 2010 as Mike Stoops wrapped up his career a dismal 5-13 ATS. There’s nowhere to go but up, and Rich Rod has to have earned a little bit of good karma after his disastrous stint in Ann Arbor.
Oregon State (2011 Record ATS: 4-8)
I’m warning you – don’t sleep on the Beavers. Oregon State was one of the best kept secrets in college football betting from ’06-’10, going an exceptional 38-24 ATS during that stretch before the bottom fell out last season. I’m banking on the fact that 2011 was a product of inexperience and injuries, and inexperience in year 1 means veterans in year 2. If they can kick the injury bug, there’s no question we’ll see better results. Hosting Wisconsin week 2 should give us a fair idea about where the program is at heading into conference play.
Oregon (2011 Record ATS: 8-5-1)
Oregon heads into the season without a clear-cut #1 QB (Brian Bennett or Marcus Mariota?), and don’t just assume that the Ducks won’t miss a beat without Darren Thomas, who made us forget about Jeremiah Masoli in about one quarter of football. The spreads will be huge the first 3 weeks (Arkansas State is currently listed as +33 in Autzen week 1) but I wouldn’t suggest a major play until we know what we’re dealing with at QB. That said – if the train is rolling, jump aboard. Chip Kelly knows how to channel his inner Mike Gundy when an inferior opponent is weakened, as Oregon is 10-4-1 ATS as a favorite of 6-28 points over the last few years, so anything in this range you can feel safe laying the chalk. Expect a few 30+ point lines though, and as I suggest in most cases, lay off; Kelly is only 3-5 ATS in these situations over that time span.
USC (2011 Record ATS: 9-4)
A year and a half of frustratingly chasing Trojan bets was vindicated with last season’s hot second half, as USC finished off 6-0-1 ATS. Everyone is hot and bothered with the program heading into this season as they go into September as the odds-on favorite (9:2) to take home the crystal football. While they aren’t sneaking up on anyone, the offense will be a juggernaut and with such a huge gap between the good and the bad in the Pac-12, USC will almost certainly cover more than they don’t. Expect at least 7 payouts from the men of Troy and maybe more if they end up as good as everyone wants them to be.
Arizona State (2011 Record ATS: 3-9-1)
We’d all be retired if we’d known the collapse ASU was to embark on heading into November a year ago, as they lost and failed to cover their last five, four of which they were favorites of 6, 8.5, 10, and 12 points respectively. Oh, the money line possibilities. This year looks like a rebuilding year for the Devils who only return 4 starters on both offense and defense and haven’t yet figured out who will be the triggerman. This could very well be the last place team in the Pac-12 so don’t expect much other than to bet against them.
Colorado (2011 Record ATS: 4-9)
I hate to say it but Jon Embree looks like a 3-and-out guy to me. The Buffs were atrocious a year ago and at one point lost and failed to cover 7 straight. Not much experience returns either (maybe that’s a good thing) but the Buffs are basically looking at a reset once again. I didn’t see anything from a year ago that gives me hope for this season so I just hope they’re truly terrible.
Utah (2011 Record ATS: 6-7)
Utah was as enigmatic as any team i can think of a year ago, capable of winning tough road games (BYU, Pittsburgh) then losing inexplicably at home to Colorado. Jordan Wynn is back under center after missing most the season, so they’ll be more of a known commodity on offense, and defense should be stout as usual. Still, I’m not used to the Utes away from the Mountain West just yet; I’ll probably wait and see how they play out before making any big moves.
California (2011 Record ATS: 7-6)
Something is starting to stink in Berkeley, and it’s not just a general lack of hygiene and human residency in trees. With his career beginning to form the classic bell curve, Jeff Tedford’s seat is white-hot and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the year things fell apart. There are positives with Cal though, notably the predictability of the program: first, they will get smashed by USC (0-3 the last 3 seasons with an average margin of victory 27.3); second, when not playing USC, they’re a damn good bet at home (12-4 ATS the last 3 years) and a damn good bet against on the road (6-10 ATS in the same span of time). All trends and intangibles aside – on paper, the Bears have a lot of rebuilding to do. Only 3 starters return on defense and the offense, though competent with Isi Sofele and Keenan Allen, may lack the firepower to compete in the Pac-12. I’ve got their trip to Ohio State circled as one that could be a 30+ point win for the Buckeyes and a major payout.
Stanford (2011 Record ATS: 10-2-1)
Clearly, we can’t expect a repeat of 2011 from the Cardinal from a betting perspective after posting a ridiculous 10 covers and producing the NFL’s top pick in Andrew Luck. But don’t expect a gigantic drop from Stanford either. The Harbaugh/Shaw era has produced top-25 recruiting classes each of the last 4 seasons including an elite class of freshman this season (ranked 5th by Rivals), so the team is stocked with talent. The defense should by the key to success this year as 7 starters return from the country’s 26th best unit from a year ago. The Cardinal won’t be making us rich as they did a year ago but against some of the Pac-12′s cream puffs Shaw’s crew should take care of business.
Washington State (2011 Record ATS: 7-5)
Mike Leach thanks Paul Wulff for keeping his seat warm, but can the betting community really expect Leach to produce more than 7 covers? Wulff inherited a program in then tank and some would say overachieved the last two years (14-10 ATS). With Leach at the helm, expectations have risen drastically and all of a sudden people are expecting things from a program that didn’t have a recruiting class ranked in the top 70 from 2009-2011. I think Leach is the right hire but don’t expect any miracles this season, and for gods sake, don’t be that guy throwing money lines at them when they’re 10+ point dogs.