Marc Lawrence of Playbook.com has 2017 Pac-12 Conference Football Betting Preview
It’s Getting Warm Around Here
If it appears that things are warming up in the desert these days it’s because they are. Global warming aside, Arizona and Arizona State are just 20-19 and 21-17 respectively since 2014.
That puts head coaches Rich Rodriguez and Paul Graham squarely on the hot seat this season. Behind defenses that allowed an average 38 (Wildcats) and 40 (Sun Devils) points per game last season its no surprise new defensive coordinators were hired in the off season.
Like most football conferences, the Pac-12 is a quarterback driven league. And 2017 will be no different, with USC Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Washington’s Jake Browning and Washington State’s Luke Falk leading the charge.
Each will be in the Heisman Trophy talk in 2017. And rest assured,
by the time the final dust settles backers of these teams will have air miles aplenty.
For a Power 5 conference, the Pac-12 landed only six bowl berths in 2016. Not only did they manage a waffling 3-3 SU mark, they lost the money in all six contests when they went 0-6 ATS.
After a blasé 6-4 bowl effort in 2015, it’s time for the surfer dudes to stand and deliver in 2017.
Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2017 PLAYBOOK Football Preview Guide magazine – the 25th Anniversary Issue, on sale at newsstands nationwide. The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
2017 PAC-12 NORTH PREVIEW
CALIFORNIA Off – 5/2 Def – 8/3 56 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: NEW LOOK BEARS
The bad news Bears fielded the 4th worst overall stop-unit in the nation last season, owning the worst rush defense AND worst 4th down conversion percentage defense as well. Hopefully, those days are now in the rear-view mirror. The dismissal of HC Sonny yikes (no D) and the hire of Justin Wilcox bring a new look to Berkeley. As a DC, Wilcox’s stuffing defenses at Boise State, Tennessee, USC, Washington and Wisconsin guarantees a defensive turnaround at Cal. And for good measure, he brings in hard-nosed former HC Tim DeRuyter as his new DC, and former Eastern Washington HC Beau Baldwin as his OC. The Bears look ready to strap on the ‘D’.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Under Dykes, the Bears were 2-14 SU and 4-12 ATS versus Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, and USC, losing by over 20 PPG… and 1-11 SU in Games Six thru Eight.
OREGON Off – *7/4 Def – 9/0 48 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: TAG… YOU’RE IT
New HC Willie Taggart inherits a decidedly desirable situation, and not just because he’s taking over a top-level program. It’s the fact that Oregon hit a chuckhole in 2016 when its 4 wins (the fewest since 1983) snapped a 12-year win skein. Thus, a winning season of any sort will be looked upon as improvement. But more than that, the Ducks started more freshmen that any FBS team (29.1% of all starts). In addition, 46.7% of all starts were made by underclassmen (8th most in the land). That goes hand-in-hand with our take on young teams translating ambitious experience into success (see Washington in 2016). Fear these dangerous Ducks.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Ducks were held to under 300 yards of total offense for the first time in 89 games in a loss to USC last season.
OREGON STATE Off – *8/2 Def – 7/3 51 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: REBUILDING THE DAM
After being beaten to a pulp in Gary Andersen’s first year with OSU in 2015 (they were outscored and outyarded by conference foes, -24.6 and -208 YPG ), things improved across the board in 2016 – to the point that they handily outperformed the oddsmaker, going 9-2 ATS. Hence, promise is the optimal word in Corvallis these days. 22-year old OT Gus Lavaka spent two years as an LDS missionary in Tonga and returned to land a spot on Campus Insiders’ 2016 Freshmen All-American First Team for the Beavers last season. He joins CB Xavier Crawford as another 2016 Freshmen All-American First Teamer, so the building blocks are in place.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Beavers were ranked No. 127 (2nd worst) in 4th down conversion percentage in 2016.
STANFORD Off – *8/4 Def – 8/2 82 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: SHAW SHANKED
Perpetuating their lofty standing as a premier team in the Pac-12, Stanford ranks at the top of its division and third in the conference in the number of 4-or 5-star (41) and ESPN 300 (32) recruits signed over the past five seasons. It’s a primary reason that, since he arrived at Stanford in 2011, head coach David Shaw has averaged 10.7 wins per season. However, the loss of two 1st-rounders in this year’s NFL Draft cannot be overstated. RB Christian McCaffrey’s 3,360 rushing yards against Power 5 foes was tops in the land (nearly 700 yards more than runner-up D’Onta Foreman of Texas). And DL Solomon Thomas was the 3rd overall pick in the draft. Be careful here.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cardinal’s offense slipped 12 points and 68 yards per game last season.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Notre Dame (11/25)
WASHINGTON Off – *8/4 Def – 7/2 53 Lettermen
Last year we proclaimed the fact that the 2015 Huskies were ”young as hell, and back for more in 2016.” That force-feeding paid off in spades when they earned a trip to the CFB Playoffs. And because only 17.5% of all starts last year were made by seniors (the 6th fewest in the nation), they are still hungry, led by QB Jake Browning and TB Myles Gaskin. Still, three members of UDub’s starting secondary were scooped up in the first 11 picks in the 2nd round of this year’s NFL Draft. Remember, the Huskies led the nation in turnovers gained last season (33). What happens to the defending Pac-12 champs if they don’t this year?
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Head coach Chris Petersen averages 10.82 wins per season, which ranks No. 3 among all current head coaches.
PLAY AGAINST: at Colorado (9/23)
WASHINGTON STATE Off – *9/3 Def – 7/2 44 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: TICK, TICK, TICK…
After seeing his best squad ever at WSU last season open up 0-2 and then stall down the stretch, one can only imagine the numbers on Mike Leach’s Fit Bit this offseason. We know this for sure: we’re betting QB Luke Falk will be in New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentations this year. The 6’4” SR started all 13 games in 2016 while completing 443-of-633 passes for 4,468 yards (third most in the nation) and 38 TDs. And those numbers were actually DOWN from two years ago when he completed 448-of-645 passes for 4,566 yards and 38 TDs. A wealth of receivers also return, making this a team no one will want to line up against in 2017.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cougars are 10-1 ATS as conference road dogs versus winning foes under head coach Mike Leach.
PLAY ON: vs. Boise State (9/9)
PAC-12 SOUTH PREVIEW:
ARIZONA Off – *8/4 Def – 8/3 45 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: WHERE HAS ALL THE TALENT GONE?
It was a collapse of major proportions. Last year’s awful 3-9 season, after four consecutive bowl campaigns, dropped the Wildcats to 10-15 since winning the Pac-12 South Division in 2014. Last year’s 82-yard slippage on offense can be attributed to a depleted attack unit being forced to play three different quarterbacks, and a wide receiver at running back. Only in this case it was a lack of talent – not injuries – that handcuffed the team. “Part of the problem we had last year was mistakes in recruiting or bad luck in recruiting,” head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “It falls on me.” It’s fair to say he won’t be long for Tucson with another 3-9 season. Safe to say Rich Rod will need stud RB Nick Wilson, who’s missed 14 games the past two seasons with injuries, to stand and deliver.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: For the third time in the last five years, Arizona has had zero players selected in the NFL Draft.
PLAY ON: vs. Utah (9/22)
ARIZONA STATE Off – *7/2 Def – 7/3 57 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: IT’S GETTING HOT AROUND HERE
After a second straight losing campaign in 2016, head coach Todd Graham’s staff underwent more change for the second straight year, losing passing game coordinator Jay Norvell (new HC at Nevada). Also gone is OC Chip Lindsey, who accepted the same position at Auburn. Graham then added former Baylor DC Phil Bennett to the mix. But you know things are going bad when Youngstown State and West Georgia each had more players drafted (2) this year than you did (1). The good news is new OC Billy Napier, Alabama’s WR coach, will work with former Alabama QB Blake Barnett, who transferred out with automatic eligibility.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Arizona State ranked dead last (No. 128) in passing yards allowed for the second consecutive season.
PLAY AGAINST: at UCLA (11/11) – *KEY
COLORADO Off – 9/4 Def – 3/1 53 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: RALPHIE ON THE LOOSE
The Buffaloes improved from 3-33 in conference play the previous four seasons to 8-1 in 2016. And the expectation is that Colorado will likely remain a Top 25-caliber team for the foreseeable future. The Pac-12’s best scoring defense will need to overhaul its unit, though, with 8 starters gone. On the flip side, the Buffaloes have one of the best groups of receivers in the conference, and also return 2nd-team All-Pac-12 RB Phillip Lindsay. They should be in good shape with Steven Montez replacing Sefo Liufau at QB, and four starters back on the OL, including OT Tim Lynott, a Freshmen All-American First Teamer who started every game last year.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Buffaloes have forced a turnover in each of their last 25 home games – the longest skein in the nation.
UCLA Off – *7/4 Def – 6/2 49 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: A THOUSAND MILES FROM NOWHERE
Where does a team go that loses its franchise quarterback at the midway point of the season behind an offense that ranked No. 127 (2nd worst in the land) in rushing offense? Not far, or as Dwight Yoakam might say, “A thousand miles from nowhere.” Thus, this year’s team will be all about having the “Chosen Rosen” back behind center. The ‘mission team’ Bruins will also be looking to improve on last year’s 1-5 mark in true road games (as opposed to going 17-6 the prior four seasons). UCLA’s defense actually improved in 2016 when it held six straight opponents to under 400 yards of total offense in a season for the first time since 2010.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: QB Josh Rosen was sacked 13 times in 6 games last season, as opposed to 15 times in 13 games in 2015.
PLAY ON: vs. Texas A&M (9/3)
USC Off – *6/2 Def – 7/1 48 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: WELL-EQUIPPED TROJANS
After starting the season 1-2 for the first time since 2001, USC handed the keys over to phenom QB Sam Darnold, who lost his first start and then led the Trojans to nine straight wins – winning the stats in all ten games. Darnold finished with the 2nd-most passing yards (3,086) of all freshmen in 2016, and he projects as the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft (should he decide to enter). Hence, the 2017 Trojans are well equipped, returning 81 squad men from last year’s Rose Bowl champion team. A consensus national Top 5 recruiting class of 23 newcomers will join them. That likely tells you all you need to know. What is concerning is the fact that the Trojans averaged 68,459 fans in home attendance in 2016. They drew 91,480 fans a game under Pete Carroll.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: USC beat both teams that played in the Pac-12 Championship Game last season.
PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite at Notre Dame (10/21)
UTAH Off – *6/1 Def – 6/2 50 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: RANK ‘EM UP
Former Washington Huskies and JCU transfer QB Troy Williams stepped in and filled Travis Wilson’s shoes with aplomb last season when he threw for 2,757 yards and 15 TDs. The Utes tied with BYU for the 2nd best team in the land in turnovers gained (31), and was also the No. 1 ranked team in net punting in 2016. However, Kyle Whittingham’s team took a big hit in the NFL Draft when eight players were selected this year. Fortunately, there are no back-to-back road games this season for the first time since 2003, when they went 10-2. The bad news, though, is they will face the top four teams from the North division in 2017. FYI: Utah has appeared in every College Football Playoff ranking since its inception in 2014.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Utes head coach Whittingham owns the best bowl winning percentage (.910) of any coach in NCAA history.
PLAY AGAINST: at USC (10/14)