Best Bets – Pac-12 Futures

After already working our way through the other Power 5 conference in the ACC, Big 12, Big 10, and SEC in the past couple of weeks, all that's left is a Pac-12 Conference that hopes that the parity they tend to strive for from a competition standpoint isn't frowned upon on the National level. But the truth is, Pac-12 teams a year ago were not good enough to be legitimately considered for the CFB Playoff, and the stigma of Washington's lackluster performance in the 2016-17 playoff as the 4th and final seed in still casts quite a shadow of doubt over the conference.

2019 likely won't be any different for the Pac-12 Conference barring a sensational, “playing out of their skin” type season by one of the handful of Pac-12 QB's listed on the Heisman Winner odds list – Justin Herbert (Oregon), JT Daniels (USC), Khalil Tate (Arizona), KJ Costello (Stanford), or Jacob Eason (Washington).

But even with that type of performance, everything would still have to go right from a team perspective, and when the highest three win totals for all the Pac-12 schools this year are 9 or 9.5 (Oregon, Washington, Utah), chances are we get another CFP Playoff without the Pac-12 represented. There are just too many elite teams from around the country the Pac-12 champion would have to leapfrog, and unless there is chaos all across the country in nearly every Power 5 conference, the Pac-12 should be on the sidelines for a National title once again.

However, that's why they play the games on the field though, and if there is a team that runs the table in this conference, they'd almost certainly have to be in, especially if the overall depth of the conference takes a big leap forward. That was one of the biggest (and legit) criticisms of this conference a season ago, as every team had dropped at least two conference games, and when traditional “football schools” like UCLA (3-9 SU) and USC (5-7 SU) sport losing records and don't go Bowling, it's easy to dismiss the entire conference based on how the conference schedule played out and what else was out there across the country.

But 2019 is another year forward in the rebuilding/reloading motif for those LA schools, as well as many others in the conference. Half of the conference (six schools) have head coaches that were hired in 2017 or 2018, and as those men continue to put their stamp on their football teams, the overall depth of the Pac-12 could end up being a story in a positive light this year. But that's when the parity kicks in, and when all of these high-profile coaches end up beating up on one another, there isn't one left standing to take on the best of the best from around the country.

So look for some highly entertaining Saturday evenings from the Pac-12 teams when they are out there showcasing the “Conference of Champions”, as many of these teams will be trading wins back and forth and see who's left standing at the end. The North division will be a battle between the two Washington schools and Oregon – with Stanford and California looming, while the South is expecting plenty of improvement across the board, and hoping there are multiple contenders able to threaten a very deep and talented Utah team at the top.

Best Season Win Total Over Bet:

UCLA Over 6 wins (-110)

It's Year 2 of the Chip Kelly era at UCLA, and after a 3-9 campaign in 2018, there is plenty of room for growth and improvement for this team in 2019. There are many bettors in the market who absolutely have no time for Kelly and his unique coaching style (especially fans of say the Eagles or 49ers in the NFL), but his methods have been proven to work at this level when he gets adequate time to develop his guys and implement his methods. Year 2 may not be the full amount of time Kelly needs to bring the Bruins back to a level of competing for a Pac-12 title, but getting to seven wins and landing in a Bowl game somewhere has to be high on the goals list for this team in 2019.

QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson should start the year under center, and after taking his licks after being thrust into the starter's role a season ago, the game should slow down tremendously for him. He's got plenty of athletically gifted playmakers around him, and the O-line, which was overmatched more then a few times last year, should show significant improvement. Protection and the ability to run the ball with speed is a hallmark of Kelly's offensive schemes, and UCLA will look much more like those Kelly teams of old from Oregon in 2019 then they did in 2018.

In terms of the schedule, the non-conference slate for the Bruins is no cakewalk with games @ Cincinnati, vs San Diego State, and vs Oklahoma in the first three weeks, and an 0-3 SU start heading into conference play is definitely on the table. But beating Cincinnati and/or San Diego State is well within the realm of possibilities too for this Bruins team, and while that Oklahoma game is likely a loss regardless, it is still a home game for the Bruins and you never know what kind of non-conference upsets get pulled off in the month of September. Oklahoma has a bye week after that game with the Bruins as they start Big 12 play the following week, and it's quite possible they come into that game not taking the Bruins seriously at all. What a feather in the cap it would be for Kelly in Year 2 to knock off a team like the Sooners if it ends up happening.

From there it's on to Pac-12 play for the Bruins, and all four home games (Oregon State, Arizona State, Colorado, California) are very winnable for UCLA, as only the Sun Devils enter the year with a higher season win total (7.5) posted then this number UCLA's currently saddled with. Win those four and at least one of the Cincinnati/San Diego State contests and it's just one road win needed in Pac-12 play for the Bruins, and it doesn't hurt that they completely avoid the top two projected teams from the North in Washington and Oregon.

Visiting Washington State will be interesting, and Stanford is more then likely on the decline as opposed to the other way around. The Bruins road game in Utah may be pencilled in as a loss, and then there is the Battle for LA against a USC team that's expecting to make significant improvements as well this year. But if that doesn't happen, the Trojans could a sub-6 win team again this year too.

It's definitely not going to be easy, but the Bruins are definitely capable of surpassing this total, especially if they can take one or two big leaps forward with big time upsets. Remember, you may not agree or believe that Kelly's coaching style is indicative of success in today's game, but he was highly sought after by many Pac-12 programs before landing at UCLA, and it's this year that we should start to see glimmers of why. There will be at least one surprising upset pulled off by these young Bruins in 2019, with the 2020 season being the one they target to potentially be Pac-12 champions.

Best Season Win Total Under Bet:

Arizona State Under 7.5 wins

Another “prestigious” coaching hire coming into 2018 for the Pac-12 conference was Herm Edwards coming to Arizona State, and as it is with every program, improvements are expected in Sun Devil land this year too. But Herm Edwards is a guy that's never really had dominant success as a head football coach, as his best seasons tend to be a game or two over the .500 mark. As much as guys want to hate on Chip Kelly, at least he's had teams that compete for conference and national titles during his career, Herm Edwards teams peak at being just a little better then mediocrity.

So Year 2 of the Edwards era at ASU should get off to a good start with home games against Kent State and Sacramento State, but from there it gets really tough. A road trip to Michigan State is up next before returning home to host Colorado, and even with a potential 3-1 SU record after those four games, getting five more victories is going to be tough.

There is no more WR N'Keal Harry to take the lid off a defense and keep them honest in allowing running lanes for Eno Benjamin, and with a new QB under center as well, this offense is bound to take some big steps back. Week 5 has ASU heading to Cal to take on a feisty home dog in the Golden Bears, and with the rest of the slate going like this: vs Washington State, @ Utah, @ UCLA, vs USC, @ Oregon State, vs Oregon, and vs Arizona, there is not going to be more then a couple of wins in there. All of Arizona State's so-called “easier” games are on the road, and the race for mediocrity for Edwards teams likely won't have them closing out the season strong against two Heisman contending QB's in Oregon's Justin Herbert and Arizona's Khalil Tate.

Even if all goes well for the Sun Devils this year, seven wins is probably where they top out, as that's where Edwards has lived all his life as a head coach; basically one-game over the .500 mark at best.