Of all the storylines that will dominate the conversation in the Pac-12 this fall, the one that has resonated the most nationally during the offseason has been whether or not its time to add Chris Petersen's Washington program to the list of annual playoff contenders.
In the four years of the College Football Playoff era, we've been able to identify the programs to beat by the ones with multiple playoff appearances. If Washington can win the Pac-12 and get back to the playoff, it joins an elite and prestigious group at the top of college football that heading into 2018 only includes Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma.
The Huskies have the highest projected win total according to South Point Casino at 10.5, and they sit two wins clear of the rest of Pac-12 on the board. Division rivals Oregon (8.5) and Stanford (8) are in that next group, along with USC (8) and Arizona (7.5) from the Pac-12 South. In the eyes of the oddsmakers, Washington is on an elite tier with no peers.
For those uninitiated on "prices," minus-odds of -120 mean you'd have to wager $120 to win $100, while plus-odds (+120) means wagering $100 would win you $120. An "EVEN" price would result in a $100 payout for a $100 wager.
| 7.5 wins: Since Rich Rodriguez was let go relatively late in this year's spin of the coaching carousel, I don't think the union of Kevin Sumlin and Khalil Tate received quite the attention that it deserves heading into 2018. Tate was the most electrifying player in college football for about a month, dicing up defenses in the open field and showing flashes of a good, deep arm to pair with his running game. I think Sumlin can add quick game passing elements to Tate's attack to round out a potential Heisman Trophy contender and lead the Wildcats to an 8- or 9-win season. -- Over -120, Under EVEN|
| 5 wins: Herm Edwards doesn't inherit a schedule that's friendly to a first-year coach. The Sun Devils play Michigan State and San Diego State in nonconference games, Washington, Stanford and Oregon out of the division and take on both USC and Arizona on the road. With Manny Wilkins and a handful of talented wideouts back -- led by 1,000-yard receiver N'Keal Harry -- winning one of those seven games isn't out of the question, but I'd like to see more toss-up games on the schedule to go all-in on Edwards getting this team to six wins in Year 1. -- Over -120, Under EVEN|
| 5.5 wins: Justin Wilcox received high marks early in the year as the Bears started 3-0 in 2017, but what is going to make significant progress in the win column difficult is the team's place in the pecking order among its own division. Cal can improve, but until it catches up with the likes of Washington, Stanford, Oregon and even Washington State, the much-coveted breakthrough season in Berkeley will be a goal for the future instead of a reality in the present. With road games at Arizona and USC on the schedule as well, a team that could be better (and hopefully healthier) than 2017 could end up with the same 5-7 record. -- Over -120, Under EVEN|
| 4 wins: This is a good number for Colorado. At 3.5, I'd feel real good about going over, but there's not a lot to suggest that the Buffs have the personnel to leap back into the Pac-12 South title race. If anything, the success of 2016 speaks to the multiple-year process it takes for a program to truly go worst-to-first in its conference. There's only one or two games on the 2018 schedule where you can feel confident in a Colorado win, so asking for an investment in a five-win outcome is too much for me. -- Over -110, Under -110|
| 8.5 wins: When Justin Herbert was healthy and in the lineup, Oregon went 6-1 in 2017. Heading into 2018, Herbert is the top quarterback in the Pac-12 and in the conversation as one of the best in the country at the position. While Willie Taggart is gone, Herbert's former offensive coordinator, Mario Cristobal, is now the head coach and the quarterbacks coach, Marcus Arroyo, is now the offensive coordinator. That kind of continuity bodes well for Herbert and the Ducks, as does retaining Jim Leavitt as defensive coordinator. Oregon also gets to host two of the biggest Pac-12 games of the year in Autzen Stadium with both Stanford and Washington coming to Eugene in Week 4 and Week 7, respectively. -- Over -120, Under EVEN|
| 2.5 wins: First-year coach and former Oregon State star quarterback Jonathan Smith draws the most daunting debut of any new coach in 2018, opening the year against Ohio State in Columbus. We expect the depth chart to be filled with plenty of sophomores and juniors, allowing fans to take small victories and point towards a hopeful future, but it's going to be a long season in Corvallis. If the Beavers can get one Pac-12 win (Cal at home and Colorado on the road look like the best opportunities), I think OSU gets to three wins. -- Over -110, Under -110|
| 8 wins: This number is far too low for a program that has played in four of the last six Pac-12 Championship Games and a team that returns the Heisman favorite in Bryce Love. The Cardinal have been one of the most consistent programs of this decade, and a late-season showing from K.J. Costello suggests that quarterback play might no longer be a position of concern. I don't think Stanford will beat Washington again, but it will cover this number with at least nine wins. -- Over -110, Under -110|
| 5 wins: The fact that Chip Kelly's record as a college coach is 46-7 shouldn't be ignored totally, but for the purposes of this exercise and others related to projecting UCLA's success in 2018, it's better to focus on the personnel. After all, we have no idea what Kelly intends to do schematically (and good luck getting any hint before the Bruins hit the field) and the team has enough question marks in the trenches on both sides of the ball to know there's not going to be a single easy win on the schedule. A six-win season is a huge success for Kelly in Year 1, but I'm just not sure UCLA has the program depth to get there yet. -- Over -110, Under -110|
| 8.5 wins: The new starting quarterback for Clay Helton faces a brutal September with road games at Stanford and Texas in back-to-back weeks. On talent alone, it's one of the top 10 teams in the country, but between roster turnover and the draw of the schedule, it's not a stretch to think USC might enter its bye week in early October with three or four losses. There is an opportunity after that to go on a run -- like the Trojans did in 2016 after a 1-3 start -- and while 8-4 seems more likely than 9-3, a Pac-12 championship isn't out of reach at that number. -- Over EVEN, Under -120|
| 7 wins: I'm very bullish on Utah. Drawing Washington, Stanford and Oregon from the Pac-12 North is brutal, but Utah still has a chance to be a player in the Pac-12 race with home games against USC and Arizona in October. I think Utah can win two or three of those five games and finish year 9-3 in the thick of the conference title race. -- Over -110, Under -110|
| 10.5 wins: So I agree that, on a wildly difficult schedule that starts with Auburn and includes trips to Utah and Oregon, there is a potential and maybe even a likelihood that Washington will lose a game. But I'm feeling good about betting on an 11-1 season for a team that will be led by many of the same players who have contributed to back-to-back double-digit win years for the Huskies. After an offseason of hype, Washington isn't going to sneak up on anyone and doesn't qualify for a "dark horse" label. This is the Pac-12's most probable playoff contender, and if the Huskies go under to finish 10-2, then we're probably talking about the league getting left out again at the end of 2018. -- Over EVEN, Under -120|
| 6.5 wins: While much of Mike Leach's tenure has been defined by a steady level of success produced by his system, the 2018 season will test the plug-and-play nature of his program in Pullman. It's not the just the loss of key players like Luke Falk, Cody O'Connell and Hercules Mata'afa, but also defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. We're used to seeing a step back in a season after that kind of turnover, and while I think the Cougars are going to finish the year in a bowl game, there's just not enough evidence to feel comfortable investing in this year's team exceeding expectations. -- Over -110, Under -110|