It was a rough year for the Pac-12 in 2017, when the conference didn't put a team in the College Football Playoff and was a non-factor during championship week. Bowl season made things worse when USC got torched by Ohio State 24-7 in the Cotton Bowl, and Utah was the only team to pick up a win when it beat a beat up West Virginia in the Heart of Dallas Bowl., its champion
Who will be the Pac-12 flag-bearer headed into the postseason in 2018? Odds are out on the conference champion on BetOnline.ag, with Washington, Stanford and USC listed as the most-likely teams to take the crown. Let's break it all down:
Odds to win the 2018 Pac-12 Championship
Barrett Sallee and Tom Fornelli teamed up to take a look at some plays you should consider this year.
Sallee's best bet -- Oregon: In terms of real contenders, Oregon is being vastly overlooked. The Ducks have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Justin Herbert. They also won't suffer from the perils of a coaching transition since first-year coach Mario Cristobal was on the staff last year under Willie Taggart. Plus, Jim Leavitt's defense brings back a unit that suddenly has depth and experience. Yes, Stanford and Washington have better odds -- and rightfully so heading into the season. But the Ducks get Stanford at home early in the season, which will help matters. The Huskies -- fresh off a road trip to Chip Kelly and UCLA -- will come to Autzen Stadium the following week when the Ducks have two weeks to prepare.
Fornelli's best bet -- USC: It seems a little too obvious, right? USC isn't the favorite in the Pac-12 this year at +300, and it shouldn't be. The Trojans lost Sam Darnold and Ronald Jones, as well as plenty of other key contributors. All that being said, this is still USC. It's still the premier program of the Pac-12, and it plays in the Pac-12 South, which offers a much easier route to the Pac-12 Championship Game than the North does at the moment. With the Trojans paying out at +300, they would only have to win the conference 25 percent of the time for you to break even. Well, USC joined the Pac-12 in 1922 (it was then called the Pacific Coast Conference) and has won the conference 39 times in 95 seasons, including last season. That's 41 percent of the time. The Trojans may not be the best team in the Pac-12 in 2018, but at +300, they offer the best value.
Sallee's longshot value -- Arizona: Of the five most likely teams to win the conference according to the odds, only one is from the South -- USC at +300. Translation: Nobody knows what to make of the division outside of USC -- which might start freshman J.T. Daniels at quarterback. So why not take a flier on the Wildcats at +1600? After all, new coach Kevin Sumlin has a human highlight reel at quarterback with Khalil Tate and gets USC at home the week after taking on doormat Oregon State. Is it likely that the Wildcats can take the west? Probably not. But an upset over the Trojans could drastically change the landscape of the division.
Fornelli's longshot value -- UCLA: The Bruins are listed at +1800, which means you would win $18 for every $1 you bet on them. Now, they're a longshot for good reason. They just lost Josh Rosen, and Chip Kelly is beginning his first season at UCLA after spending the last five years in the NFL or a TV studio. Still, even though UCLA was a disappointment under Jim Mora, the Bruins were still loading up on talent. Mora was bringing in top-20 recruiting class after top-20 recruiting class. By placing a bet on the Bruins, you're hoping Kelly can figure out a way to turn that talent into wins. At +1800, the Bruins would have to win the Pac-12 5.26 percent of the time for you to break even. It isn't likely, but with Chip Kelly and a path of lesser resistance in the Pac-12 South, there are worse longshots you could take. I'm much more comfortable with UCLA at +1800 than I am with Oregon at +1000.
Sallee's hold your horses -- Washington: Yeah, it's pretty obvious to put the odds-on favorite as the team without much value. But with Washington in 2018, it makes a ton of sense. The Huskies do return veteran quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin -- both of whom have been around since the turn of the century (not really, but it feels that way). They've got Oregon, the Chip Kelly experience at UCLA, annually underrated Utah and high-octane Washington State on the road. They do get Stanford at home, but it's at the tail end of a 10-game stretch without a bye week. Will the Huskies win the North and play in the Pac-12 Championship Game? Probably. But it won't be easy.
Fornelli's hold your horses -- Washington: The Huskies are the favorite in the Pac-12 and for good reason. Of the teams you'd consider Pac-12 powers they're the only team that won't be breaking in a new coach or QB this season. The problem is I just don't think +140 provides enough reward. As good as this Huskies team is, it still has to live in a division with Stanford, Oregon and Washington State. Also, of those three crucial division games, only the Stanford game will be at home. The Huskies have to play both Oregon and Washington State (as well as UCLA) on the road. So when you combine the schedule with the division, those odds just aren't good enough to earn my money.