The college football world has been forced to wait longer than usual for it -- and for a while there, it wasn't even going to happen -- but the 2020 Pac-12 season officially starts this weekend. The Pac-12 will be the fifth and final Power Five conference to begin play this season as it attempts to do so in as safe a manner as possible amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, it will also be playing the fewest scheduled games among any Power Five league, which may eventually factor into its College Football Playoff candidacy should any team stand out from the pack (no pun intended). The current plan is for a seven-game, conference-only schedule with no buy weeks. Included among that would be a regular-season Pac-12 game played among teams not competing for the league title during championship week.
As for what will actually happen on the field, that's not going to be easy to predict. But don't worry, we've got all the experts you need here at CBS Sports to figure it out for you. While our experts agree on certain items -- such as the top three teams in the Pac-12 South -- they wildly disagree in other areas, such as which is the most overrated team entering the 2020 season.
Oregon and USC are tied as Pac-12 favorites at 11/5, according to William Hill Sportsbook. Washington is next at 4-1 followed by Utah at 13/2. Our CBS Sports college football experts have gathered to answer which of those teams might be worth your wagers along with plenty of others about the Pac-12 ahead of the season.
Most overrated team
Colorado: How does a 5-7 team that lost its previous coach after one season become overrated? Easy. It replaced that coach with a guy who hasn't been a head coach for 13 years. When Karl Dorrell was a head coach, he wasn't a very good one (two winning seasons in five at UCLA). Look, I get that CU wanted someone who was going to stay awhile and wasn't going to look around. But that's in indictment of what Colorado has become rather than the man himself. Mike MacIntyre didn't work out. Mel Tucker left after a year. The last winning coach in town was Gary Barnett. That was 15 years ago. Nothing against Dorrell, who is a fine person and veteran assistant coach, but if the idea is to get back to the glory days at CU, this isn't the right move. -- Dennis Dodd
UCLA: There's two main factors contributing to my pessimism around UCLA in 2020. The first is the recent history, where it feels like we've just been waiting for things to click with Chip Kelly and it still hasn't happened. The Bruins have flashes of success but there's no consistency -- they are just as likely to beat Arizona State as they are to lose to Arizona -- and if we haven't seen it yet, I'm not sure this hectic offseason and sprint of a regular season is the time where it will. The other factor is how UCLA, specifically, handled its business during the offseason. Reports of more than two dozen players meeting to craft demands for COVID-19 treatment in June paired with strict local policies on how much work could be done and when all add up to another year of disjointed performances on the field. -- Chip Patterson
Cal: There aren't a lot of options for overrated teams in the Pac-12 considering there are currently only two Pac-12 teams ranked in the polls, and they're both the reasonable favorites to win it. So I'm turning my attention to a Cal team that finished 8-5 last season, but I believe over-performed a bit. While Cal's defense was fantastic, the offense, even when Chase Garbers was healthy, left something to be desired. It's hard to count on teams to meet or exceed expectations these days when they must rely on defense to get there. Garbers could take this offense and team to another level, but until I see it happen, I'm not giving the Bears credit for it. -- Tom Fornelli
Washington: Losing quarterback Jacob Eason is a massive deal in a year that prevented his replacement from getting much work. Yes, there was an extended fall camp. But that gets canceled out by the fact that first-year coach Jimmy Lake still has a four-man battle heading into the opener. The winner of that battle has to go to battle without veteran tight end Hunter Bryant and running back Salvon Ahmed. Oh, and they have to go to Oregon on the final week of the regular season. Good luck with that. -- Barrett Sallee
USC: It's a bit of a juxtaposition for me to pick the Trojans as both overrated and my Pac-12 South champion, but there are a couple of things at play. For one, the Pac-12 South doesn't appear particularly deep. Secondly, USC has developed a bad reputation under coach Clay Helton of playing down to opponents and shooting itself in the foot with mistakes. Make no mistake, I think USC will win games. I love quarterback Kedon Slovis. But I'm not ready to buy the Trojans as the best team in the Pac-12 or one that will escape with fewer than a couple of losses. -- Ben Kercheval
Stanford: The relatively recent past has been good to Stanford. Prior to 2019, the Cardinal had a run of 10 straight seasons of eight or more wins, which included five division titles and three Pac-12 championships. You can understand why people think highly of the Cardinal in general, but last year they were 4-8 and anything above 500 this year would be a bit of a surprise. -- Jerry Palm
Oregon: Coach Mario Cristobal has effectively out recruited the Pac-12, and his program has momentum coming off a league title and Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. So by no means are the Ducks headed toward some sort of long-term downturn. But left tackle Penei Sewell's decision to opt out means they are replacing their entire offensive line at the same time they are breaking in a new quarterback and offensive coordinator. Oregon also lost a couple of veteran starters from their secondary to opt outs in Thomas Graham Jr. and Jevon Holland. So when you really look at it, there are just a handful of returning starters. The natural thing to do is write Oregon in as the league champion simply by default, but there are enough questions here to suggest that's unwise and that these Ducks are likely overrated. -- David Cobb
Most underrated team
Oregon State: Jonathan Smith has something special going in Corvallis, Oregon. The Beavers were 5-5 last season going into the final two weeks. They lost by one point to Washington State and were competitive in the Civil War (losing 24-10). The point is that Smith is his making progress in his third season. Athletic director Scott Barnes is committed through these tough times to a renovation of Reser Stadium. Smith is sending players to the NFL. Last year's quarterback, Jake Luton, is starting this week for the Jacksonville Jaguars (due to an injury to Gardner Minshew). Watch Preseason All-Pac 12 linebacker Hamilcar Rashed. Look for Oregon State to make the jump to a bowl team, whatever a bowl team looks like this season. -- Dodd (and Patterson)
Arizona State: If you haven't watched quarterback Jayden Daniels play, check out the Sun Devils vs. USC in the opener. He might be the best quarterback in the stadium, which will include Trojans QB Kedon Slovis. Daniels threw 17 touchdowns and two interceptions as a true freshman, and that was without much time to prepare. They only got two first-place votes in the Pac-12 predicted order of finish, which is just absurd. Their only tough road game that they have is vs. the Trojans. If they win, it'll be smooth sailing not only to the Pac-12 Championship Game, but potentially to the playoff. -- Sallee (and Palm)
USC: See "Pac-12 champion" section below. -- Fornelli
Cal: See "Pac-12 champion" section below -- Cobb (and Kercheval)
- Dennis Dodd: Clay Helton will not only hang onto his job at USC but solidify his standing with a Pac-12 championship. That won't satisfy a large swath of fans, but it will save the administration a costly buyout.
- Chip Patterson: Oregon's passing attack will look better with Tyler Shough than it did with Justin Herbert. I think the hire of Joe Moorhead will do wonders for opening up the Ducks' attack and helping that side of the ball level up in 2020 and beyond.
- Tom Fornelli: The Pac-12 will not get a team into the College Football Playoff this year, but the team that will finish the highest in the CFP Rankings will be USC, not Oregon.
- Barrett Sallee: The Pac-12 Championship Game will serve as a de facto CFP quarterfinal between USC and Oregon. Winner gets in, loser is out.
- Ben Kercheval: No Pac-12 team will finish with fewer than two losses.
- Jerry Palm: Now that they are finally playing, no league will have fewer issues with COVID-19 this season than the Pac-12.
- David Cobb: Cal will win the Pac-12 North over Oregon.
Pac-12 predicted order of finish
Oregon: Yes, Justin Herbert is in the NFL. Offensive lineman Penei Sewell, the team's best player, has opted out. So too have some of the team's best defensive players in the secondary. But coach Mario Cristobal has done a good job of building quality depth. And with the decisions being made so early on, there's been time to reestablish the depth chart. Until Oregon proves otherwise, I'm sticking with the Ducks as the Pac-12 champ. -- Kercheval (and Sallee, Palm)
USC: There are only two Pac-12 teams ranked in the polls right now, and the Trojans are No. 20. Granted, they haven't played a game, but we've seen plenty of teams -- like Oregon -- who haven't played yet ranked much higher this year. Meanwhile, USC is below teams like Indiana, Coastal Carolina and Marshall. Considering I like USC's odds of winning the conference, it's safe to assume I believe the Trojans can climb past those teams (and plenty of others) in the polls.
It feels like a two-horse race between Oregon and USC for the Pac-12, and strangely enough, I have fewer questions about USC coming into the season than I do the Ducks. Not only did Oregon lose Justin Herbert, but it's lost a number of other key players due to graduation, the NFL and players opting out of the 2020 season. USC, meanwhile, had one of the most prolific offenses in the conference, likely has the best QB in the conference in Kedon Slovis, and a talented roster. Also, the Trojans play in a Pac-12 South that doesn't seem to have a clear cut challenger in 2020. -- Fornelli (and Dodd, Patterson)
Cal: A single COVID-19 case derailed Cal's opener at Washington this weekend. But if the Bears are able to have any sort of coherent season, this is their year. Heck, if enough Cal players take advantage of the free year of eligibility, next season could be the Bears' year as well. This team returns most of its starters from an 8-5 squad that was nearly unbeatable when quarterback Chase Garbers was healthy. Garbers is back as a junior along with the entire offensive line and leading rusher Christopher Brown and leading receiver Nikko Remigio. Ultimately, if the offensive line can take a significant step forward in pass protection and keep Garbers healthy, this will be the best Cal team since Marshawn Lynch was on campus.
This is clearly an unconventional take, but it could be now or never for Cal. Oregon is dealing with a significant amount of turnover in its starting lineup, Washington is transitioning to Jimmy Lake as coach, and Stanford is still trying to snap out of last season's funk. The Pac-12 North is up for grabs in a way it likely won't be moving forward as Oregon continues to welcome elite recruiting classes to campus. COVID-19 issues have already canceled Cal's opener. But the Bears have a ton of returning starters and have steadily improved under fourth-year coach Justin Wilcox. if the Bears get enough games in, the trajectory of the program is such that a conference title will be within reach. -- Cobb