2021 Pac-12 Football Picks & Predictions: USC Looking For Conference Title
Every conference’s 2020 season was bizarre, but the Pac-12 might have had the weirdest pandemic season of any league. It canceled its season in the summer, then brought football back after the Big Ten did the same. The Pac-12 tried to fit in a seven-game season, but COVID-19 forced a series of cancelations and some teams played as few as four games. A conference championship finalist, Washington, had to bow out of the game.
So, it’s hard to make much of what we saw in the Pac-12 last year. That makes betting on the league challenging, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to find some smart plays.
Here are five futures I like for 2021. The odds featured on this page are via DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook and will likely vary by where you place your bets. You should also check your sportsbook’s policy on game cancelations, which stand to affect certain team win total bets. (In many cases, a bet is void if a team doesn’t play 12 games.) Cancelations might also affect conference championship wagers in certain circumstances.
USC to Win the Pac-12 @ +400
The Trojans are not necessarily the most talented team in the conference. There’s a good case that Oregon has passed them, which is both an indictment of USC coach Clay Helton’s recruiting and an impressive showing by the Ducks. But USC still has one of the best rosters in college football, with four- and five-stars making up just over half of their last four signing classes. Kedon Slovis will be one of the best QBs in the country, and USC’s receiving group has a good chance to be the best in the Pac-12. Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s air raid should be excellent. USC is the South divisional favorite, and I don’t think it takes a lot of imagination to see the Trojans beating Oregon or Washington in the conference title game.
Washington to Win the Pac-12 North @ +140
There’s a good deal of buzz around the Huskies ahead of Jimmy Lake’s second year as head coach. Going back to former coach Chris Petersen’s tenure, they’ve stacked their roster with depth at nearly every position group. Dylan Morris seems poised to be one of the better QBs in the conference, and he might have the protection of the best offensive line in the league. UW has a few question marks; namely, if the defense will take any kind of step back under new coordinator Bob Gregory and if a featured running back emerges and plays at a high level. But there’s enough talent here that UW should be fine on both sides of the ball. At +140, they’re an appealing divisional pick compared to Oregon at -110 –– especially because the teams’ meeting this year is in Seattle. The Huskies are the value pick in this half of the conference.
UCLA Over 7 Wins @ -110
The Bruins haven’t won eight games (or the pro-rated version of eight games) since 2015, when Jim Mora Jr. was still two full seasons from being fired. This will be Chip Kelly’s fourth year, and you don’t normally see coaches take a big leap so late in their tenure at a given school. But I think UCLA’s in a nice spot this year after going a mixed 3-4 in 2020. The Trojans have a 93 percent returning production rating, according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, the highest figure in the Pac-12 and sixth-highest in FBS. Kelly’s offense has a lot of talent, including multiple solid tight ends, maybe the Pac-12’s top returning receiver in Kyle Phillips, and a talented QB in Dorian Thompson-Robinson. In three years, Thompson-Robinson hasn’t broken out and fulfilled his promise as a once-upon-a-time mega-star recruit, but he’s shown some flashes and mainly been hobbled by occasional horrible decisions. If he severely cuts down on those, couldn’t UCLA win eight or nine games? I don’t think it’s out of the question.
Oregon State: Over 4.5 Wins @ -135
The Beavers have quietly done a nice job building the last few years under Jonathan Smith, the former OSU QB who took the job in 2018 after four years as Washington’s offensive coordinator. Smith made a big jump in 2019, when Oregon State went 5-7 after going 2-10 in his debut year. Last year’s team went 2-5, but I’m not especially worried about that. Three of the Beavs’ four losses were by six points or fewer (as were both of their two wins), and they had a high point when they beat rival Oregon in late November. Smith is enough of an offensive savant that I trust him to find a good quarterback some time this fall, and I see the schedule as favorable enough for him to find five wins. OSU should beat both Hawaii and FCS Idaho, and they should at least have a chance in every game except those against USC, Washington, and Oregon. (And who knows; maybe they can pull a rabbit out of their hat against the Ducks again.)
Arizona Under 2.5 Wins @ -110
Rival Arizona State has NCAA problems on the way, but that doesn’t change that the Wildcats are currently the worst team in the Pac-12. Kevin Sumlin left behind a lousy roster, and most people in the industry weren’t impressed by the hire of longtime NFL assistant and former UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch to replace him. Fisch is relying on a bunch of transfers to make UA less terrible than it’s been recently, but it’s going to be a big lift. There’s not a single area on offense or defense where Arizona should be average. The schedule has one probable victory against FCS Northern Arizona, but that’s it. Everything else is going to be a lift, and there’s only one other game (a tossup against San Diego State) in which the Cats don’t figure to be big underdogs. Getting to three wins and busting this total would be an achievement.