NCAA Football 2019: This Year’s Dark Horse from the Pac-12

Jaylon Johnson, Utah Utes - PAC 12 Logo

The Pac-12 has had its share of futility in recent years.

They haven’t had a team make the College Football Playoff the last two seasons and haven’t been good at all in most of their bowl performances.

Washington is still the top dog—pun intended—in the conference, at least for the time being. The Oregon Ducks, their rivals who finally beat them again last season, are hot on their heels. They’re bringing a physicality that has been rare for the Ducks in years past.

But despite the talent level of both teams, there is certainly a bevy of potential challengers ready to give them a run for their money.

There could certainly be a dark horse in the Pac. Washington State always seems to outdo expectations. UCLA and Chip Kelly are on the rise. And Utah with its stout defense and accurate QB will have a say in things. Even a mainstay like Stanford might have an outside shot.

So I looked at the odds for winning the conference on MyBookie. And I have not only went with what I believe is the team in terms of wagering value in the Pac. But they are also a program I legitimately think has just as much of a chance of winning the conference title as Washington and Oregon.

Here’s a breakdown of how I reached that decision.

The Front-Runners and Those I Left Out

Washington is the mainstay that will once again be the favorite, if only barely. Oregon doesn’t have the recent track record but has a much more well-rounded unit than in years past.

Those two teams, in terms of the odds, have separated themselves quite a bit from the rest of the field. But that doesn’t mean that the competition won’t be fierce from outside the top two programs.

As many as four other schools could factor in heavily.

Despite the emergence of their defense, especially with a prized secondary, I wouldn’t expect Cal to have any more than seven wins.

And even though he proved many people wrong in year one, I don’t think Herm Edwards and the Arizona Sun Devils are going to make any crazy run this season. Eno Benjamin will almost certainly be All-Conference though.

The four teams I do think will contend deeper into the season will be Washington State, Utah, USC, and UCLA.

UCLA Bruins Logo

UCLA Bruins, +3300

So how deep in the season you might ask? Well, Chip Kelly’s Bruins will more than likely be more of an offensive force in his second year. Under his tutelage will be second-year QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who has at least at times flashed his former five-star billing.

But they aren’t going to be good enough yet. Late trips to Utah and USC back-to-back should spell the end of their conference hopes. That is, if they even get that far without having them spoiled. They also have Washington State and Stanford on the road before then.

USC Trojans Logo

USC Trojans, +800

As far as USC goes, they better come at least close to contending for a division title. Otherwise their coach, Mike Helton, will surely be getting the boot.

He likely has the hottest seat in college football this season. With Graham Harrell at offensive coordinator now, this offense will be opened up a lot for the passing game. The way J.T. Daniels progresses in his second year will be another huge factor in whether Helton keeps his job or not.

But there’s going to have to be big improvements from the offensive line too, especially in the ground game, in order to take this offense to the next level. There’s also enough uncertainty in the secondary that I’m going to have to pass on the Trojans.

At +800, they’re not a very good value anyway.

Washington State Cougars Logo

Washington State Cougars, +700

Washington State at +700 might be a tad better, but they’re coming from the North Division, where Washington and Oregon are. The Cougars and Mike Leach have yet to figure out their in-state rivals and coach Chris Petersen, and it’s hard to see that changing this year.

Washington State is always seemingly one game from getting over the hump in this conference and going to the title game. But Leach is really going to have to work some magic in the passing game again for this team to get another double-digit-win season.

That’s because they’re a little behind Washington, Oregon, and Utah on the defensive side of the ball. Their running game won’t be obsolete this year, but it’s certainly not a flashy group either.

Gardner Minshew is also gone from under center after an awesome year as a post-grad. That’s where having a quarterback whisperer for a coach matters. But I’m not high enough on the passing game to single-handedly have any confidence in picking this team over Washington or Oregon in the North.

Stanford Cardinal Logo

Stanford Cardinal, +1600

That leads us to Stanford, who had been one of the more consistent programs in the FBS for almost a decade, first under Jim Harbaugh, then David Shaw. Now, for the first time, Shaw has a little bit of heat starting to take hold of his seat.

He’ll likely right the ship, but how much? The dominance of their linebacking units are suddenly gone. They don’t look much improved in the secondary either other than with Paulson Adebo at corner.

And after Bryce Love was hurt or disappointing for most of last year, they lost that guy with Heisman buzz. With him gone now, they’re still without that commanding figure. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside had that flair too at WR, and he’s also being replaced.

I just don’t think the talent level is there anymore with this team. I think Shaw could get an extra win or two for the Cardinal, but that’s still not going to get them over both Washington and Oregon. Even if they do play both of them at home this year.

The Decision – Utah Utes

So that leaves me with Utah. And though they are getting a lot of buzz this year, the fact they’re still at +700 odds makes them the ultimate dark horse.

I would greatly encourage a wager on the Utes. Though they’ve been known to wane in the past once November comes around, they still made the Pac-12 championship last year. And with USC and UCLA still on a learning curve, I think they will take the division once again.

Last year’s title game was a sloppy one. But it was also tight, and a low-scoring affair always gives the underdog—obviously—a better chance to break through.

Their defense is more than strong enough to hang with any team in this conference. It has a defensive line that is uber talented. But above all else, it is one of the deepest position groups in the entire country. Bradlee Anae and Leki Fotu bring All-Pac threats on the end and nose, respectively.

And having Jaylon Johnson on an island with a team’s best receiver will more times than not be an advantage for him. And if the corner on the other side needs help, both safeties the Utes have are among the best in the Pac-12 as well.

This defense will be their bread-and-butter. But the fact they have a mobile and accurate quarterback in Tyler Huntley to go with that puts them over the top for me.

While I think Oregon is in a great position to win this conference with their blend of athleticism and power, I think Utah is dead-even with them.

Prediction: Utah Utes +700
Chances of Happening: 6/10

The Bet

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