For the past few seasons, Oregon has been the team to beat in the Pac-12 Conference. But the Ducks aren't clear-cut favorites in 2015 after losing Marcus Mariota. Here are the three easiest & hardest schedules by NCAA rankings for Pac-12 teams.
Coach Jim Mora's Bruins, who might be starting a true freshman named Josh Rosen at quarterback this season in replacing Brett Hundley, have the easiest schedule of the Pac-12 teams by NCAA rankings. It ranks No. 82 nationally. Their 2015 opponents had a combined 2014 winning percentage of 76-76 (50 percent; no FCS opponents included in winning percentage -- but would on winning records -- when applicable). Of UCLA's foes, six had winning records last year, six were bowl eligible and five finished ranked in the Top 25. Because Pac-12 teams play nine conference games (as should all conferences in my opinion), there are only three non-conference games. The Bruins open as 17-point home favorites against Virginia. The Wahoos gave the visiting Bruins fits in last year's opener but UCLA would prevail 28-20. Then it's an easy win at UNLV in Week 2 for UCLA before a challenging home game vs. BYU. The best news of the conference schedule: no Oregon. Toughest Pac-12 road games: Arizona, Stanford and USC.
5Dimes Win Total: 9, with 'under' a -210 favorite. Hard to handicap a team not knowing much about its quarterback situation. I'm going 'under,' projecting 8 wins.
The Beavers have a new head coach as Gary Andersen surprised many by leaving Wisconsin for what really isn't as good as a job from a national perspective. OSU also has to replace all-time leading passer Sean Mannion. Oregon State's schedule ranks 78th in the country. Its opponents were 78-76 last season (50.7 percent) with six finishing with winning records, six bowl eligible and five ranked. The Beavers can go ahead and count on two easy home non-conference wins against Weber State and San Jose State. Sandwiched in between those, however, is a trip to Michigan in Jim Harbaugh's home coaching debut. Think the crowd in Ann Arbor will be fired up for that? OSU never gets to avoid Oregon being in the same division (and they played every year when there weren't any). The Beavers do avoid USC and Arizona State from the South. Toughest Pac-12 road games: Arizona, Utah, Oregon.
5Dimes Win Total: 4, with 'under' a -130 favorite. I can see 5 wins so go 'over.'
The Ducks are still the +275 conference favorites. Their likely starting QB, Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams, has yet to arrive on campus as he has to pass two tests first at his old school. Assuming he does, he should enroll at Oregon within two weeks. Oregon's schedule ranks No. 58 in the country as its opponents were 82-70 last season (53.9 percent) with seven finishing with winning records, six bowl eligible and five ranked. The Ducks open, ironically, against Eastern Washington. They will roll there and in Week 3 at home against Georgia State. But in Week 2 they travel to Michigan State in what should be a Top-10 clash. Oregon does avoid UCLA and Arizona from the South Division but has to play both USC and Arizona State. Toughest Pac-12 road games: Arizona State, Stanford.
5Dimes Win Total: 9, with 'over' a -135 favorite. This total really all comes down to that MSU game. Win that and it's probably over. Lose and push. I'll say 'over' only I see no way the Ducks lose four games.
The Huskies lost a ton of talent off last year's team, especially on defense, and Coach Chris Petersen's squad has the toughest schedule in the nation. The Huskies' opponents were a combined 101-56 last season (64.3 percent), with nine closing with winning records, eight bowl eligible and seven ranked. That's rough. The opener will be a major challenge at Petersen's former school, Boise State. The Broncos are 12-point favorites. UW should win its next two out of conference at home vs. Sacramento State and Utah State (although Aggies are pretty solid). Of course UW has to play every Pac-12 North team and has the misfortune of facing perhaps the South's three best teams in USC, Arizona State and Arizona. Toughest Pac-12 road games: USC, Stanford, Arizona State.
5Dimes Win Total: 4, with 'over' a -350 favorite. I think UW tops this by one win.
Lot of people like Cal as a potential sleeper in the conference this season because it should have an electric offense. But can the Bears stop anyone? Cal's schedule is ranked No. 7 in the nation as its opponents were 95-61 last season (60.9 percent), with nine having winning records, nine bowl eligible and six ranked. Cal should start 2-0 with home wins over Grambling and San Diego State but likely will lose Sept. 19 at Texas. Cal has of course every North Division team, so that likely means losses to Oregon and Stanford. From the South Division, the Bears have both UCLA and USC plus Arizona State. Toughest Pac-12 road games: UCLA, Oregon, Stanford.
5Dimes Win Total: 5, with 'over' a -230 favorite. Smells like a push but I'll go 'under.'
The Utes' schedule ranks No. 19 nationally with their opponents going 93-65 (58.8 percent) last year, with seven finishing with winning records, eight bowl eligible and five ranked. Utah gets the pleasure of welcoming back Jim Harbaugh to college football on Sept. 3 as the Utes are 3-point home favorites against Michigan. Then Utah hosts Utah State and visits Fresno State. Certainly no sure wins on the non-conference slate, but the Utes could also go 3-0. From the Pac-12 North, Utah does have to face Oregon but misses Stanford. Toughest Pac-12 road games: Oregon, USC, Arizona.
5Dimes Win Total: 7, with 'over' a -125 favorite. College football odds makers are killing me as this feels like a push, too. I'll go 'over.'