Ducks Big Favorites To Repeat As Pac-12 North Champs
The Oregon Ducks won the inaugural Pac-12 North Division title last season, and Chip Kelly's club is the current overwhelming 2/5 favorite at Bovada to repeat the feat in 2012.
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The Oregon program has become so elite that last season was considered a bit of a disappointment even though Oregon won the Pac-12 Championship Game and then beat Wisconsin in a Rose Bowl shootout to finish 12-2. It was disappointing because Ducks backers wanted a national title after coming up short against Auburn in the 2011 BCS title game.
Any shot Oregon had at returning to that game last season was dashed when Southern Cal visited Eugene on Nov. 19 and upset the Ducks 38-35. Alejandro Maldonado's 37-yard field goal attempt went wide left on the game's final play. The loss snapped a 21-game winning streak for Oregon at Autzen Stadium, which was the longest in the nation. It also stopped a 19-game winning streak in conference games. But the 45-38 win over the Badgers in Pasadena was a solid consolation prize as it was Oregon's first Rose Bowl victory in 95 years.
The Ducks did lose two key pieces of their high-powered offense this offseason in running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas. But the school did keep its most valuable asset in Kelly, who nearly took the head coaching job with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Also back for Oregon is possibly the fastest player in football, running back/return man De'Anthony Thomas. He was electric in that Rose Bowl win as a freshman with touchdown runs of 91 and 64 yards. With James gone, Thomas likely will be the focal point of the offense.
Oregon is not favored, however, to win the Pac-12 title for the fourth season in a row. The Ducks are 2/1 for that honor, behind Southern Cal at 4/7. Oregon is No. 5 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll, while the Trojans are No. 3. USC and Oregon play Nov. 3 in Los Angeles in what likely will be a preview of the Pac-12 title game.
Washington is the 5/1 second-favorite to win the North and the book is most exposed on the Huskies of any North team. Steve Sarkisian's club lost one of the country's top running backs in Chris Polk but brings back quarterback and Heisman candidate Keith Price. He is 45/1 at the book to win the Heisman and 9/1 to finish in the Top 3. Price set single-season school records for touchdown passes (33), completion percentage (66.9) and quarterback rating (161.9) in 2011. He capped the season with a record-setting seven touchdowns in an Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor.
UW finished 7-6 overall last year and 5-4 in the Pac-12, good for third in the North. It is 15/1 to win the Pac-12 title. The Huskies have a killer back-to-back on the schedule as they travel to Oregon on Oct. 6 and then host USC the next week. UW also has to travel to preseason No. 1 LSU in non-conference play.
California is 10/2 to win the North and 18/1 to win the Pac-12 after finishing last season 7-6 overall and 4-5 in the conference. The Golden Bears didn't have a true home game in 2011 as their Memorial Stadium was being renovated. Cal coach Jeff Tedford is on the hot seat in Berkeley as the Bears are just 36-28 overall the past five seasons after going 43-20 in Tedford's first five years.
Stanford tied atop the North with Oregon last year at 8-1 in conference play and played in the Fiesta Bowl, but the Cardinal are 10/1 to win the division this year after losing quarterback and two-time Heisman finalist Andrew Luck, two top offensive linemen and tight end Coby Fleener, among others. The schedule isn't kind to the Cardinal this year as they have to visit both Washington and Oregon and host USC. Stanford, on which the book is also exposed to win the North, is 25/1 to win the Pac-12.
Washington State (15/1 to win North, 50/1 to win Pac-12) hasn't played in a bowl game since the 2003 season. The Cougars were 4-8 overall last season and fired coach Paul Wulff after four years in which his team won only nine games. Wazzu made a huge splash in hiring former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach as Wulff's replacement. Leach was 84-43 at Texas Tech, leading the Red Raiders to 10 bowl appearances in 10 seasons. He was fired in 2009 amid allegations he mistreated a player who had a concussion.
The longest odds to win the North at 22/1 belong to Oregon State (60/1 to win Pac-12). Coach Mike Riley is squarely on the hot seat after the Beavers slipped to 3-9 last season. It was the second straight season OSU missed out on a bowl game. The Beavers haven't played in the Rose Bowl since 1965.
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