With spring camps getting underway on the west coast, we have decided to take an early look at which teams will contend for the Pac-12 title this season.With Oregon losing Marcus Mariota, the College Football futures odds suggest that this division could be a bit more competitive this season.
Big Shoes To Fill In Eugene
Mariota will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks in Pac-12 history and certainly the best ever at Oregon, winning the 2014 Heisman Trophy. He will almost surely be the No. 2 pick in the first round of the NFL Draft on April 30 in Chicago -- by which team is yet to be determined if the Titans trade out of that spot.
Even with such a big loss, the Ducks are still +225 favorites on College football odds to repeat as Pac-12 champions. Mariota's replacement will either be his former backup Jeff Lockie or Vernon Adams, a transfer from FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington. Lockie obviously has the advantage of familiarity with Oregon's system and he's currently taking the majority of snaps during Oregon's spring football. Adams will not arrive until the summer but he offers three years of starting experience. The FCS All-American threw for 10,438 yards and 110 touchdowns with 31 interceptions while completing 64.8 percent of his passes for Eastern Washington. He was a runner-up for the Walter Payton Award, given to the FCS' best offensive player, the past two seasons. Don't think that Adams did it just against inferior competition, either. Last year in a shootout loss to Washington, Adams completed 31 of 46 passes for 475 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions. A few other big-time programs like UCLA and Texas also were courting him. It would be an upset if Adams doesn't win the job.
Overall the Ducks bring back 12 starters, five on offense. Interestingly, Oregon opens at home against Eastern Washington. Then the Ducks have a huge game at Michigan State. The toughest conference games should be Oct. 29 at Arizona State, Nov. 14 at Stanford and Nov. 21 at home against Southern Cal.
Top Contenders To Oregon
Southern Cal is the +375 second favorite and the Trojans might bring back the best pure pocket passer quarterback in the country in Cody Kessler, a likely first-round pick in next year's draft. He threw for 3,826 yards on 69.7 percent completions with 39 touchdowns and just five interceptions in 452 attempts in 2014. He did lose top receiver Nelson Agholor (104 catches, 1,313 yards, 12 TDs) to the draft. Leading rusher Buck Allen (1,489 yards, 11 TDs) also is gone. The defense lost tackle Leonard Williams, who is expected to be the first defender chosen overall on April 30. USC's toughest games should be Sept. 26 at Arizona State, Oct. 17 at Notre Dame, Oct. 31 at Cal, Nov. 21 at Oregon and Nov. 28 vs. UCLA. Oddly, the Trojans have better odds at +1500 to win the national title than does Oregon (+1800).
The Bruins are +525 third favorites and must replace one of the best quarterbacks in school history in Brett Hundley. At least the school hung onto Coach Jim Mora Jr., who was linked at times to a few jobs in the NFL. UCLA does welcome the top-rated pocket passer quarterback recruit in Josh Rosen and he could start from Day 1. He was an early enrollee. The Bruins' toughest games look to be Sept. 26 at Arizona, Oct. 15 at Stanford, Nov. 21 at Utah and Nov. 28 at USC. No Oregon on the schedule, which is a nice break that USC doesn't have.
Arizona, the defending South Division champion, is +600 on College football odds. The Wildcats have one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in sophomore Anu Solomon, who might be a Mariota clone in some respects (both from Hawaii and both are dual threat). And maybe the best defensive player in the country is a Wildcat: linebacker Scooby Wright. Arizona misses Oregon as well but has to go to Stanford, Washington, USC and Arizona State.
Arizona State and Stanford (both +650) are the only other teams under +1000. The Sun Devils bring back an experienced quarterback in Mike Bercovici among 16 returning starters. Star receiver Jaelen Strong has moved on. ASU has to face both USC and Oregon but does get them at home. It misses Stanford from the North Division. The Cardinal welcome back 13 starters, including quarterback Kevin Hogan. You know what that team will be: well-coached and physical. The Pac-12 North Division title probably will come down again to Stanford's game vs. Oregon, this year on the Farm. Stanford could start 0-2, however, in Pac-12 play with its first two conference games at USC and Oregon State.
One long shot worth a look: California at +2200. The Bears bring back 17 starters and should have a high-powered offense again behind QB Jared Goff.
For more NCAA Football updates, keep checking our college football picks!