2022 college football: Pac-12 preview, odds and predictions

·13 min read

Is 2022 set to be the season of bouncebacks in the Pac-12?

Both USC and Washington struggled mightily in 2021 as each team won just eight games combined. Now with new coaches in the fold, each team's over/under for the upcoming season is more than double their number of wins last year.

The Trojans and Huskies still have to deal with the defending division champions, Oregon and Utah. And even though the conference has done away with divisions this year (the top two teams in the standings face off for the Pac-12 title) Oregon and Utah are still well-positioned to compete for the conference crown again with lots of returning talent.

Other conference previews: ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Group of Five, SEC

(All odds via BetMGM)

Favorites

USC (+200 to win the Pac-12)

  • 2021 record: 4-8 (3-6 Pac-12)

  • National title odds: +2000

  • Over/under: 9.5 wins

No team has gotten more preseason hype than USC. Just look at the Trojans’ odds. Should they really be the favorites in the Pac-12? Their odds are a great case of brand-name bias.

USC has the chance to be really good in 2022, of course. Lincoln Riley’s arrival immediately juiced the Trojan fanbase and the injection of high-profile transfer talent should immediately make the offense very good. Former Oklahoma QB Caleb Williams is a serious preseason Heisman contender and the best QB in the Pac-12. Former Oregon RB Travis Dye will be a threat both rushing and receiving. And former Pitt WR Jordan Addison was the best wide receiver in college football in 2021.

But it’s also fair to look at USC’s potential limitations. The defense allowed 32 points per game in 2021, is replacing eight starters and had just 21 sacks. The offensive line also needs to improve with three starters back. USC hasn’t averaged more than 4.5 yards a carry since 2017. Riley’s teams have always been phenomenal running the football.

Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley comes from immense success at Oklahoma. Can he duplicate that at a once-proud USC program? (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley comes from immense success at Oklahoma. Can he duplicate that at a once-proud USC program? (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Utah (+225)

  • 2021 record: 10-4 (8-1 Pac-12)

  • National title odds: +5000

  • Over/under: 9 wins

The Utes are our preseason pick to win the Pac-12 after a stellar 2021 season. The offense should be even better this season with Cam Rising and Tavion Thomas both back. Thomas rushed for over 1,100 yards and 21 TDs while Rising completed 64% of his passes and threw 20 TDs to just five interceptions.

Brant Kuithe and Dalton Kincaid make up one of the best tight end duos in the country and receiver DeVaughn Vele averaged 17 yards a catch a season ago. Throw in an offensive line that’s both young and experienced and Utah could easily match its 36 points per game output from a year ago.

The defense loses Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell but still returns six starters. Van Fillinger and Junior Tafuna will be asked to step up with Mika Tafuna gone (9.5 sacks) and the secondary returning two of four starters. Florida transfer Mohamoud Diabate could end up starting in Lloyd’s place. He was Florida’s top tackler in 2021 and will play his old school in Week 1.

Contenders

Oregon (+300)

  • 2021 record: 10-4 (7-2 Pac-12)

  • National title odds: +5000

  • Over/under: 8.5 wins

The Ducks have a new quarterback and a new head coach. Former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning brought former Auburn quarterback Bo Nix to Eugene and Nix is likely to open the season as the starter. The Nix experience can be a rollercoaster. He’s thrown for 39 TDs and 16 interceptions in three years at Auburn but has averaged just seven yards per pass and completed less than 60% of his throws. Consistency will be key.

RB Byron Cardwell averaged nearly seven yards a carry in 2021 and Minnesota transfer Mar’Keise Irving was very good as a freshman a season ago. They’re a nice 1-2 punch behind an offensive line that’s likely the best in the Pac-12. All five starters return and should be dominant up front, especially in conference play.

The defense returns seven starters, including do-it-all linebacker Noah Sewell. He had 114 tackles, four sacks and five pass breakups in 2021. Finding contributions from more defensive linemen in 2022 will be imperative with Kayvon Thibodeaux off to the NFL. Opposing teams keyed in on Thibodeaux every week and that provided opportunities for others. Lanning gets to face off with his former employer in Week 1 in Atlanta and the tough non-conference schedule concludes with BYU two weeks later.

First-year Oregon head Coach Dan Lanning arrives after he ran Georgia's championship-winning defense in 2021. He brings big expectations with him to Eugene. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
First-year Oregon head Coach Dan Lanning arrives after he ran Georgia's championship-winning defense in 2021. He brings big expectations with him to Eugene. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

UCLA (+1000)

  • 2021 record: 8-4 (6-3 Pac-12)

  • National title odds: +10000

  • Over/under: 8.5 wins

Could the Bruins be 5-0 ahead of an Oct. 8 home game vs. Utah? It’s very possible with an extremely easy non-conference schedule and games at Colorado and at home vs. Washington to open the season.

QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson is back for another season after combining for 30 TDs in 2021. RB Zach Charbonnet rushed for 1,137 yards and 13 TDs in his first season as a Bruin after transferring from Michigan, and he's also back. The rushing attack should still be very solid despite three new starters on the offensive line. The biggest offensive questions are at receiver where the top three pass catchers from last season are gone. Kazmeir Allen and Kam Brown will be asked to take on much bigger roles.

The defense gave up fewer than 30 points per game for the first time in five seasons in 2021 but nine starters need to be replaced. The good news for UCLA is that the Bruins rotated heavily on defense a season ago, so more key contributors return than you would expect. The easy non-conference slate gives UCLA some time to get the defense sorted out.

Washington (+1600)

  • 2021 record: 4-8 (3-6 Pac-12)

  • National title odds: +10000

  • Over/under: 7.5 wins

The Huskies should be better in 2022 after the disaster that was the 2021 season. But just how much better will this season be?

New coach Kalen DeBoer comes in from Fresno State and he brought in former Indiana QB Michael Penix Jr. DeBoer, a former Indiana assistant, is very familiar with Penix's skill set. Quarterback was a problem for the Huskies a season ago; Dylan Morris and Sam Huard combined to throw more interceptions than touchdowns. The lack of a passing attack also helped stifle the run game as Washington ran for a staggeringly low 3.2 yards per carry and averaged fewer than 100 yards per game. Four starters return on an offensive line that will feature three seniors.

The defense was great against the pass last year but needs to replace corners Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon and linebacker Jackson Sirmon. Shoring up the run defense is as much of a priority as improving the run game. Opposing offenses rushed for nearly 200 yards a game against Washington a year ago. A Week 3 game against Michigan State at home is a great measuring stick for the Huskies before conference play begins.

Washington's Kalen Deboer is yet another new head coach in the conference, and he'll have a big task of turning around a team that struggled mightily last year. (Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)
Washington's Kalen Deboer is yet another new head coach in the conference, and he'll have a big task of turning around a team that struggled mightily last year. (Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

Oregon State (+3300)

  • 2021 record: 7-6 (5-4 Pac-12)

  • National title odds: +25000

  • Over/under: 6.5 wins

The Beavers are well-positioned for another solid season after going to their first bowl game in eight seasons in 2021.

QB Chance Nolan emerged as the starter over Sam Noyer early in the season and threw for nearly 2,700 yards. Nolan didn’t have to carry the offense last year; RB BJ Baylor rushed for over 1,337 yards and 13 scores. Baylor is gone, and Deshaun Fenwick is in line to take over as the starter. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry as Oregon State’s No. 2 back and Trey Lowe averaged 6.4 yards a rush. Oregon State’s run game should be very good once again.

The defense brings back nine starters, including the entire secondary. Oregon State has gotten a lot better against the run in Jonathan Smith’s tenure and should be pretty stingy once again. The Beavers got to a bowl game with back-to-back wins over Stanford and Arizona State late in the season and the second half of the schedule this year includes Colorado, Cal and Arizona State.

Long shots

Washington State (+5000)

  • 2021 record: 7-6 (6-3 Pac-12)

  • National title odds: +20000

  • Over/under: 5.5 wins

The Cougars may be the biggest variable in the Pac-12. Washington State’s offense is set to feature former Incarnate Word quarterback Cam Ward and will be run by former Incarnate Word offensive coordinator Eric Morris. Ward threw for nearly 4,700 yards in 2021 and had 47 TD passes. It’s not impossible to think that Washington State’s offense could make a leap similar to Western Kentucky’s a season ago when Bailey Zappe set the college football world on fire.

Six starters are back on defense, including the majority of the pass rush. Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert did a phenomenal job after he was promoted to head coach following Nick Rolovich’s firing as the Cougars finished the season 3-2 to go to a bowl game. Improving the run defense will be key for the Cougars.

Arizona State (+5000)

  • 2021 record: 8-5 (6-3 Pac-12)

  • National title odds: +10000

  • Over/under: 5.5 wins

It’s been a tumultuous offseason for Arizona State. The Sun Devils have lost five assistant coaches amid an NCAA investigation into improper recruiting visits. Longtime starting QB Jayden Daniels transferred to LSU and 14 other starters are gone from last year’s Las Vegas Bowl team.

Former Florida QB Emory Jones steps in to replace Daniels after it was apparent Anthony Richardson was the QB of the future in Gainesville. Finding solid receivers for Jones to throw to will be key; no ASU receiver on the roster had more than 13 catches in 2021.

The defense returns linebackers Kyle Soelle and Merlin Robertson but not much else. And the schedule to start the season is rough. ASU has games against Oklahoma State, Utah and USC through its first five.

Cal (+6600)

  • 2021 record: 5-7 (4-5 Pac-12)

  • National title odds: +50000

  • Over/under: 5.5 wins

It’s been a rough couple seasons for Cal. The Bears were 8-5 in 2019 but have won just six of their 16 games since. And the 2022 version of Cal will have a lot of new faces.

Chase Garbers is set to be succeeded at QB by Purdue transfer Jack Plummer. He lost out to Aidan O’Connell in West Lafayette and could easily put up numbers better than Garbers did a season ago. No. 2 RB Damien Moore returns after rushing for over five yards a carry and six TDs in 2021 and Jeremiah Hunter is one of only two returning receivers who caught a TD pass last season.

The defense does return leading tackler Daniel Scott at safety and he’ll have Jackson Sirmon ahead of him to hopefully keep his tackle numbers down. Sirmon was Washington’s leading tackler at linebacker in 2021 and transferred to play for his dad, Cal DC Peter Sirmon.

Stanford (+8000)

  • 2021 record: 3-9 (2-7 Pac-12)

  • National title odds: +50000

  • Over/under: 4.5 wins

Maybe this is the year that Stanford gets back to a bowl game. Or not. The schedule is brutal. The Cardinal haven’t played in a postseason game since 2017 and were abysmal in 2021. The good news is 17 starters are back from that young team and QB Tanner McKee is one of them. McKee completed 65% of his passes and was about the only bright spot on the Stanford offense.

The run game that you used to associate Stanford and its famous running backs with was nonexistent in 2021. The Cardinal averaged a paltry 87 yards a game and 3.2 yards per carry. All five starters are back on the offensive line and none of them are seniors, so perhaps there will be a big leap up front.

The defense, meanwhile, gave up almost 240 yards per game on the ground and 6.5 yards per play. Figuring out that side of the ball is key with games against USC, Oregon and Notre Dame in the first half of the season.

Colorado (+25000)

  • 2021 record: 4-8 (3-6 Pac-12)

  • National title odds: +50000

  • Over/under: 3.5 wins

It’s possible the Buffaloes could be better in 2022 but have a worse record than they did in 2021. At the moment, it looks like Colorado could be favored just once this season in a home game vs. Arizona on Oct. 1.

Brendon Lewis is back at quarterback after taking over as the starter in 2021 but will compete with JT Shrout, who missed the 2021 season after transferring in from Tennessee. The running game needs to replace Jarek Broussard and get a solid push up front. The defense has to replace seven starters, though leading tacklers Isaiah Lewis and Quinn Perry are back. The Buffs have a brutal non-conference schedule to start the season, with games against TCU, Air Force and Minnesota, and could be 0-4 ahead of that matchup with the Wildcats.

Arizona (+35000)

  • 2021 record: 1-11 (1-8 Pac-12)

  • National title odds: +40000

  • Over/under: 2.5 wins

Things have to get better in Tucson, right? Arizona was outscored by an average margin of 31-17 and lost to FCS Northern Arizona in Week 3. The Wildcats’ only win came in a 10-3 victory over a depleted Cal team.

Former Washington State QB Jayden De Laura is the presumptive starter after Arizona couldn’t get consistent QB play a season ago. Replacing WR Stanley Berryhill’s production (83 catches, 744 yards) is necessary. The defense has eight returning starters and was actually better than it's been in years. It’s on the offense to make a big jump in 2022, but there could also be another FCS loss on the schedule. Powerhouse North Dakota State visits in Week 3.

Who will win the Pac-12?

Champion: Utah