Oregon looks like a solid bet to win their third straight PAC 12 title. Which other PAC 12 conference foes could stand in the way of Oregon’s hat trick? With UCLA kicking off the season on Saturday, let’s talk about some potential investments out West.
|Oregon (+250)||Washington (+350)||Arizona State (+400)|
|USC (+400)||Utah (+600)||UCLA (+1200)|
|Washington State (+4000)||California (+5000)||Stanford (+5000)|
|Colorado (+600)||Oregon State (+6000)||Arizona (+10000)|
The Favorite – Oregon (+250)
It starts up front for the Ducks and they bring back an experienced offensive line (four starters). The offensive line should provide ample time for the new quarterback to survey the field and deliver the ball to the dynamic Oregon playmakers.
Boston College transfer Anthony Brown is battling Jay Butterfield for the starting nod at quarterback. It appears that Brown is likely to win the job. He has plenty of experience under his belt as he started 28 games while at Boston College. Brown made his Oregon debut in last year’s 31-24 PAC 12 championship win over USC. The dual-threat quarterback tossed two touchdown passes in that game.
The Ducks are loaded at wide receiver as they return seven out of their top eight pass catchers from last season. That includes all three starting wide receivers (Jaylon Redd, Johnny Johnson III, and Mycah Pittman) along with 2021 breakout candidate Devon Williams. The Ducks have the best pass-catching group in the PAC 12.
Oregon has plenty of experience in the backfield as their top two leading rushers from last season return. Starting running back CJ Verdell battled injuries for most of the 2020 shortened season. He’ll look to regain his form this season after eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards in both 2018 and 2019. Backfield mate, Travis Dye, will see plenty of playing time. He’s more than capable of stepping in and carrying the mail if Verdell is forced to miss any time this season.
The defensive line is ranked second in the conference by Pro Football Focus. It is also headlined by preseason AP All America first-teamer Kayvon Thibodeaux. The edge rusher has 12 sacks through two seasons in Eugene. The secondary has been pegged as the best amongst PAC 12 participants, according to Pro Football Focus. The linebackers are headlined by Noah Sewell and Isaac Slade-Matautia. Slade-Matuatia was the only FBS linebacker to record 60 tackles and at least 10 pass breakups last season. Sewell is a former five-star recruit.
Oregon looks like a great bet to win the PAC 12 conference once again this season. The Ducks offense should be dynamic once again. The one question mark is at quarterback. However, quarterback Anthony Brown will have a strong offensive line protecting him and plenty of playmakers at his disposal. Finally, the Ducks defense profiles as one of the best units in the conference.
The Value – USC (+400)
Quarterback Kedon Slovis is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and NFL prospect. The gunslinger has tallied 47 touchdown passes in two seasons while operating USC’s air raid offense. The Trojans are returning eight starters on offense and eight starters on defense.
The Trojan’s championship dreams could depend on the play of the offensive line. The offensive line, while experienced, is ranked ninth amongst PAC 12 teams by Pro Football Focus. USC’s quick-hitting passing game should help alleviate the offensive line concerns. Quarterback Kedon Slovis attempted 264 passes last season. 154 of those attempts were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage or behind the line of scrimmage.
The Trojans are experienced in the backfield with the return of last season’s leading rusher, Vavae Malepeai. Malepeai led the Trojans with 238 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 54 carries. He was also active in the passing game (16 receptions in five games). They also landed Texas transfer Keoantay Ingram. Ingram was a two-year starter at running back but lost his job to Bijon Robinson.
Memphis transfer Tahj Washington and Colorado transfer KD Nixon replace Amon Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns in the starting lineup at wide receiver. However, leading pass catcher Drake London returns after leading the Trojans with 502 receiving yards last season. London is expected to be one of the nation’s top wide receivers this season.
The defensive line should mask any deficiencies in the secondary. The defensive line was ranked second best in the PAC 12 by Pro Football Focus. Incoming Korey Foreman is a huge addition to the defensive line this season. He is the nation’s top overall recruit.
The schedule is favorable for USC to return back to the PAC 12 championship game. They avoid playing Oregon and Washington. The Trojans only have one road game against a ranked conference foe this season (Arizona State).
The Longshot – UCLA (+1200)
It’s a make-or-break season for Chip Kelly as the head coach at UCLA. Kelly and the Bruins are returning an eye-popping 20 out of 22 starters this season. The biggest variable surrounding the Bruins this season is the play of quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Thompson-Robinson is an exceptional athlete but has been plagued by inconsistency through two seasons as the Bruins starting signal-caller. There will be plenty of talent around Thompson-Robinson to make a giant leap in 2021.
The offensive line profiles as a strength for the first time in Kelly’s tenure at Westwood. All five starting offensive linemen are back. There is also plenty of depth behind the starters.
The Bruins lost their best playmaker from last season, running back Demetric Felton, to the NFL. However, the Bruins will return last season’s second-leading rusher, Brittain Brown. Brown led the Bruins with an average of 6.6 yards per carry in 2020. UCLA also added depth to the running back group by landing Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet.
UCLA welcomes back their top two pass catchers from a season ago. Tight end Greg Dulcich enjoyed a breakout season in 2020. The junior led the Bruins with 517 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Meanwhile, Kyle Philips led the team with 38 receptions.
The defense was vastly improved against the run last season. They limited opposing ball carriers to 3.6 yards per carry which was 25th best nationally. Meanwhile, they were gouged through the air. UCLA allowed 274.1 passing yards per game which ranked 114th nationally. The Bruins should take a big leap forward against the pass this season as they lost only one defensive starter from last season.
Chip Kelly appears to have the talent to finally compete against the upper echelon PAC 12 teams. Notably, he won three PAC 12 titles in four years while at Oregon. I’ll take my chances by betting on Kelly and his veteran team.