Pac-12 Conference Preview and Win Totals

·49 min read

(Stats courtesy of CFB Winning Edge, Bill Connelly's SP+, Phiil Steele and Athlon Sports.)

Pac-12 North

Cal

HC - Justin Wilcox (6th year)

OC - Bill Musgrave (3rd year

DC - Peter Sirmon (4th year)

2021 Record: 5-7 (4-5 in P12)

Second Order Win Total: 6.8 (+1.8)

Points/Yards Per Game: 23.8 points | 386 yards

Points/Yards Allowed: 22.3 points | 367 yards

2022 SP+ Overall = 74th

2022 SP+ Offense = 100th

2022 SP+ Defense = 39th

2021 SP+ Special Teams = 28th

Offensive Returning Production = 30% (127th)

Defensive Returning Production = 60% (78th)

247Sports Avg. Offensive Player Rating: .8629 (44th)

2022 Offensive Unit Strength: 78th

247Sports Avg. Defensive Player Rating: .8593 (42nd)

2022 Defensive Unit Strength: 85th

2022 Schedule Strength: 57th

With HC Justin Wilcox entering his sixth season and receiving a contract extension through 2027, the slowly paced (65 plays per game = 99th nationally) Bears will continue to focus on a ball-control offense that doesn't turn the ball over (+9 = 13th overall), while pitching a solid, bend-but-don't break defense that doesn't give up big plays (26th in ISO/PPP, 8th in marginal explosiveness). In nine of Cal's 12 contests the post game win expectancy was at least 87% in favor of one side. In those lopsided scenarios, Cal went 5-4. However in their three closely contested games against Nevada, @TCU and @Washington, Cal lost all three decisions. Their inability to win one-score games cost Cal the opportunity to go to a bowl, but it's relevant that all three losses occurred within the first four weeks of the season with Cal playing better as the season commenced.

Offensively Cal returns OC Bill Musgrave for a third season and there's little reason to expect Cal to break the 24 points or 400 yards per game thresholds for the first time in half-a-decade. The offense returns just 31% of 2021's production which ranks fourth-to-last in the nation as just three starters return - two offensive linemen and RB Damien Moore. There is zero passing game continuity with nondescript Purdue transfer Jack Plummer set to start since no other QBs on the roster have taken a collegiate snap. Despite ranking 77th in offensive SP+, Cal was extremely efficient running the ball recording a 51% success rate (9th) with 2.9 line yards per carry (20th) while ranking 9th in marginal rushing efficiency. While they weren't explosive on the ground (79th in marginal rushing explosiveness), OC Musgrave would take deep shots in an attempt to break off big gains, with 18% of Cal's targets going 20+ yards downfield, the 21st highest rate in the nation, however taking high risk shots has its consequences, as Cal managed just a 39% success rate (98th) which hurt their ability to sustain drives. The problem is the offensive line had some struggles when asked to pass protect for too long, as they allowed a 33% pressure rate which ranked 96th nationally. With just two linemen returning from 2021 and a completely rebuilt WR corps, it's difficult to see the passing game improving this year, as their SP+ offensive projection of 100th overall is a 23 spot drop from last year's mundane group.

The defense on the surface has been a strength, allowing 22 or less points per game in three of the last four seasons. They were excellent at preventing chunk plays, ranking top-20 nationally in both rushing and passing marginal explosiveness, but physical teams imposed their will on Cal's defensive front with a 46% rush success rate (84th) and a 17% stuff rate (75th). Though their secondary was strong, their line's inability to generate pressure (27% pressure rate = 97th/2.9% DL Havoc rate = 119th)) and get third-down stops (48% third-down success rate = 121st) allowed teams to march on them. The line was senior dominated which means the unit returns just three total starts from 2021, though former four-star Utah transfer Xavier Carlton should be an immediate factor on the Edge. While the linebackers should be solid after adding DC Peter Sirmon's son Jackson in from Washington, the secondary will need to come together after losing First-Team All Pac-12 safety Elijah Hicks and CB2 Josh Drayton. CB1 Lu-Magia Hearns recorded 10 PBU last year as a freshman and should help to pick up the slack. Their special teams should be an asset at least, with SP+ projecting Cal to have the 28th best unit in the country.

O/U Wins: 5.5 (-130 U) | + 5,000 to win Pac-12

Cal plays CFB Winning Edge's 56th ranked schedule and is projected to be clearly favored in just three games this year, which all occur at home against - UC Davis (94% Proj. Win Pct.), UNLV (74%) and Arizona (62%). Personally, I think the game against Arizona is a lot closer to a pick em. They also play @ Notre Dame and get winnable P12 games against Washington State, Oregon State and Colorado on the road. With a completely retooled offense and a defense that loses their top playmakers on the Edge and in the secondary, I don't see this team achieving bowl eligibility and i'm strongly backing the Under 5.5 here.

Oregon

HC - Dan Lanning (1st year)

OC - Kenny Dillingham

Co-DC - Tosh Lupoi

Co-DC - Matt Powledge

2021 Record: 10-4 (7-2)

Second Order Win Total: 9.3

Points/Yards Per Game: 31.4 points | 424 yards

Points/Yards Allowed: 27 points | 385 yards

2022 SP+ Overall = 24th

2022 SP+ Offense = 16th

2022 SP+ Defense = 41st

2021 SP+ Special Teams = 24th

Offensive Returning Production = 58% (80th)

Defensive Returning Production = 64% (66th)

247Sports Avg. Offensive Player Rating: .9220 (8th)

2022 Offensive Unit Strength: 15th | 3rd in Pac 12

247Sports Avg. Defensive Player Rating: .9021 (10th)

2022 Defensive Unit Strength: 5th | 1st in Pac-12

Schedule Strength: 33rd

Georgia DC Dan Lanning takes over from former HC Mario Cristobal who returns home to Miami to resurrect the Canes, where he's already doing a bang up job on the recruiting trail. HC Lanning brings in former Auburn and Florida State OC Kenny Dillingham, whose offenses averaged 191 rushing yards, 203 passing yards and 29 PPG over the last three seasons. OC Dillingham takes over an offense that still retains eight starters from a unit that was rated as the 22nd best in the country last season, a small feat in the transfer portal era porting in a whole new staff. They averaged 6.3 yards per play (27th), 2.9 points per drive (20th) with a 49% success rate (14th) while ranking 34th in EPA/Play. Oregon replaces BC transfer Anthony Brown with former five-star Auburn transplant Bo Nix or homegrown five-star prospect Ty Thompson. Either will be an appreciable upgrade, even baking in Nix's career 59% completion rate and 85.1 NFL QB rating. They will field an elite offensive line that boasts four returning starters, ranks fifth overall in Phil Steele's preseason OL rankings and has two preseason First-Team All Pac-12 OL according to Athlon Sports. Though relatively inexperienced, the Ducks' skill players are young, blue-chip talents with every projected starter a top-20 recruit at their respective position. Their offense should be one of the best in the Pac-12, boasting a .9220 247Sports average player rating, eighth best nationally. Don't expect 35+ PPG though, since HC Lanning will likely want to protect his defense with a similar 65 plays per game pace to what Cristobal posted last year.

New HC Lanning served as the DC of an all-time legendary defense last season, allowing a staggering 10 points and 269 total yards per game en route to a national championship. Former Alabama DC (2017-18) and NFL DL coach Tosh Lupoi will link up with Baylor special teams and safeties coach Matt Powledge as Co-DCs. The Ducks defense had fallen precipitously from the halcyon days of 2019 when then DC Andy Avalos (now Boise St. HC) pitched a D that allowed 16.5 points and 329 yards per game for a 12-2 Ducks team that beat Wisconsin 28-27 in the Rose Bowl. As a unit Oregon's defense was superb at limiting big plays, ranking top-10 overall in IsoPPP, Explosive Play Rate and Marginal Explosiveness. However their defensive efficiency plummeted once offenses crossed the 30-yard line averaging 4.5 points per scoring opportunity (104th), a 69% red zone TD rate (106th) and an 86% goal-to-go TD rate (112th). Despite losing six of the top eight tacklers the defense is in great shape to improve upon last year, especially on the defensive line as Oregon posted ust 24 sacks, their lowest season total this millennium. The front-seven replaces Kayvon Thibodeaux but brings back First-Team All Pac-12 players in Edge Brandon Dorlus and LB Noah Sewell while also getting back Five-Star LB Justin Flowe who was the number one overall defensive player from his high school class. The secondary loses their inspirational leader “The General” Verone McKinley in addition to two starting cornerbacks, but transfers in Colorado starter Christian Gonzalez to help pick up the slack. While the defense will almost assuredly improve upon their 2021 showing, how well the Ducks' D performs will hinge on how the secondary comes together.

O/U Wins: 8.5 (-145 O) | + 300 to win Pac-12

Oregon has the displeasure of opening up with HC Lanning's former team, Georgia, in a “neutral site” game situated in Atlanta. Ahem. They also draw BYU at home in a contest where they are projected as 2.5 point favorites with a 59% projected win percentage by CFB Winning Edge, which are two pretty tough non-conference tilts. U of O dodges USC out of the South and play their toughest Pac-12 opponents - UCLA, Utah and Washington - at home. Their away slate is against the lower rung teams of the conference - @Wazzu, @Arizona, @Cal, @Colorado and @Oregon State. The Ducks non-conference schedule is tough, but they're projected favorites in every game except Georgia and possibly Utah at home, a team that owned them in 2021 defeating Oregon by a combined score of 76-17. I think Oregon gets to the 9-win mark, but you're going to have to pay -145 juice to play it.

Oregon State

HC - Jonathan Smith (5th)

OC - Brian Lindgren (5th)

DC - Trent Bray (1st/2nd) (took over last 4 games of 2021)

2021 Record: 7-6 (5-4 in P12)

2021 Second Order Wins: 8.5 (1.5)

Points/Yards Per Game: 31.2 points | 429 yards

Points/Yards Allowed: 25.8 points | 387 yards

2022 SP+ Overall = 50th

2022 SP+ Offense = 31st

2022 SP+ Defense = 75th

2021 SP+ Special Teams = 49th

Offensive Returning Production = 74% (29nd)

Defensive Returning Production = 75% (23rd)

247Sports Avg. Offensive Player Rating: .8659 (39th)

2022 Offensive Unit Strength: 48th | 7th P12

247Sports Avg. Defensive Player Rating: .8419 (65th)

2022 Defensive Unit Strength: 72nd | 8th

Schedule Strength: 46th

Homegrown Oregon State HC Jonathan Smith returns for his fifth season and has the good fortune of bringing back the 22nd most experienced team in the country. That's very promising news because he and longtime OC Brian Lindgren put forth one of the Power Five's most underrated and efficient offenses last year ranking 16th overall in offensive SP+ with a 51% success rate (4th), 4.9 points per scoring opportunity (8th) and 5.3 yards per carry (12th). Quarterback Chance Nolan will once again lead the offense after completing 64% of his passes for 8.4 yards per attempt with a very solid 84.7 overall grade from PFF in his first year as a starter. Nolan deserves a lot of credit for OSU's exceptionally low sack rate of 4.1% (15th) despite a pressure rate of 33% which ranked 94th nationally. He spread the ball around last year with eight receivers posting at least 200 receiving yards, of which five return including Florida State transfer Tre'Shaun Harrison who will be the primary outside receiver and could have an Isaiah Hodgins type usage rate with Trevon Bradford graduating and Oregon State averaging 9.7 air yards per pass last year (27th). Also of note was how ruthlessly the Beavers executed on third downs, converting third-and-short opportunities at a blistering 95% rate (7th) and third-and-medium chances 58% of the time (10th). What held this offense back from being better was one thing - lack of explosiveness. The Beavers ranked 103rd in IsoPPP and 99th in marginal explosiveness, however their explosive play rate of 14.5% slotted in at 24th nationally. Essentially they created chunk plays well enough, but not the kind of home runs that break games open and lead to quick scores.

The defense struggled defensively through the first nine games, culminating with a brutal four-game stretch where OSU allowed 35.2 points per game that was capped off by a 37-34 defeat at the hands of lowly Colorado. Former DC Brian Lindgren was promptly fired and replaced by interim-DC Trent Bray, who proceeded to turn the defenses fortunes around in short order. Oregon State promptly dominated Stanford 35-14 the following week, holding the Cardinal to just 230 total yards of offense. The following week was even better, as Oregon State physically manhandled Arizona State up front en route to a 24-10 victory where ASU rushed 30 times for just 100 yards (3.0 YPC). They Beavers slipped against Oregon losing a competitive 38-29 decision before allowing 24 points in the Jimmy Kimmel Bowl to a Utah State offense that won the Mountain West and averaged 33 points per game. With DC Bray ditching the interim tag and nine returning starters, including 11 of the top 14 tacklers, Oregon State's defense is in line for a marked improvement over their 87th SP+ defensive rating last season. The biggest issues to address are their ability to rush the passer (4.0% sack rate = 120th) and get third-down stops (123rd in third-down success rate). Fortunately OSU returns all three defensive linemen and all four defensive backs, including three All Pac-12 caliber DBs. This is shaping up like the best team that HC Jonathan Smith has put on the field in his five years at OSU.

O/U Wins: 6.5 (-125 U) | + 2,500 to win Pac-12

Though Oregon State went 7-6 last season, they had 8.5 second-order wins according to SP+ and are almost assuredly a better squad than the 2021 version. They play the 46th ranked schedule and have a pair of challenging MWC non-conference games against Boise State and @Fresno State, with both games projected to be within a field goal spread. OSU gets USC and @Utah as their first two Pac-12 games before the schedule lightens up with a run of @Stanford, Wazzu, Colorado, bye, @Washington, Cal, @ASU before finishing with the Civil War vs. Oregon. With the spread juiced -125 to the Under, i'm very bullish on this Over 6.5 Wins play.

Stanford

HC - David Shaw (12th)

OC - Tavita Pritchard (5th)

DC - Lance Anderson (9th)

2021 Record: 3-9 ( 2-7 in P12)

Second Order Win Total: 2.9

Points/Yards Per Game: 20.4 points | 302 yards

Points/Yards Allowed: 32.4 points | 451 yards

2022 SP+ Overall = 77th

2022 SP+ Offense = 60th

2022 SP+ Defense = 90th

2021 SP+ Special Teams = 22nd

Offensive Returning Production = 88% (4th)

Defensive Returning Production = 70% (35th)

247Sports Avg. Offensive Player Rating: .8886 (19th)

2022 Offensive Unit Strength: 28th | 5th

247Sports Avg. Defensive Player Rating: .8613 (38th)

2022 Defensive Unit Strength: 71st | 7th

Schedule Strength: 7th

HC David Shaw has become an institution at Stanford and will try to improve on last year's disappointing 3-9 season with an experienced team that was forced to press several freshmen into action in 2021. The offense is fresh off their worst offensive performance in over a decade, averaging a shameful 87 rushing yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry on the ground while ranking dead last nationally in rushing marginal efficiency. Four-star RB and son of NFL legend Emmitt Smith, EJ Smith, and all five OL return with 108 career starts to their credit which means the run game should be significantly improved. Their pass blocking wasn't much better, as their very raw offensive line allowed a ghastly 8.3% sack rate (108th), though their very respectable 24% pressure rate allowed (20th) accentuates five-star QB recruit Tanner McKee's difficulty when facing a disruptive pass rush, with his 27.5% pressure-to-sack rate ranking 12th-worst in the country according to PFF College. The good news is McKee throws to an established, veteran group of pass catchers led by All Pac-12 TE Ben Yurosek, WR Elijah Higgins and WR Brycen Tremayne, which bodes well for his development.

After allowing less than 23 points per game on defense each year from 2015-18, the Cardinal have allowed at least 30 PPG in each of the last three seasons. Despite his recent stumbles, DC Lance Anderson has been retained for his ninth season to call the plays for a Stanford defense that returns seventy percent of it's production. That being said, “production” is a relative term as their line will start four underclassmen from a neophyte unit that got absolutely destroyed in the trenches, allowing a 49% success rate (124th), 4% sack rate (15 total sacks = 121st), 6.5 yards per play (114th) and ranked dead last in DL Havoc Rate (2%). The good news is every one of the back-seven's first-unit has started at least 10 games, which should help an already pretty decent secondary that allowed a 41% passing success rate (65th) to improve. The key to this unit's success will be whether or not their defensive line can stop the run after allowing a staggering 5.7 YPC last year, and if their two, four-star defensive ends, Stephen Herron and David Bailey, can generate enough pressure on the quarterback to take some heat off an experienced secondary.

O/U Wins: 4.5 (-140) | + 6,000 to win Pac-12

This is not the schedule a team coming off a 3-9 campaign wants to face, as Stanford draws Colgate, @Notre Dame, BYU in their non-conference slate while pulling USC, @Utah, @UCLA out of the P12 South. Nightmare fuel. Per Phil Steele, 13 of the Cardinal's 19 losses over the past three years were by 15 points or more. While they will certainly improve upon their Shaw-era low of scoring 20 points per game, i'm not seeing the 5 wins here due to the grinding schedule and am backing the Under despite -140 juice.

Washington

HC - Kalen DeBouer (1st)

OC - Ryan Grubb

Co-DC - William Inge and Chuck Morrell

2021 Record: 4-8 (3-6 in P12)

Second Order Win Total: 5.2

Points/Yards Per Game: 21.5 points | 323 yards

Points/Yards Allowed: 22.7 points | 337 yards

2022 SP+ Overall = 54

2022 SP+ Offense = 79

2022 SP+ Defense = 28

2021 SP+ Special Teams = 62

Offensive Returning Production = 76% (25th)

Defensive Returning Production = 55% (96th)

247Sports Avg. Offensive Player Rating: .8919 (17th)

2022 Offensive Unit Strength: 40th | 6th in P12

247Sports Avg. Defensive Player Rating: .8743 (22nd)

2022 Defensive Unit Strength: 29th | 3rd in P12

Schedule Strength: 72nd

New HC Kalen DeBouer has shown demonstrable success in turning around morose offenses like the one Washington pitched last year, as former OC John Donovan's unit accrued just 21.5 points and 323 yards per game while in the bottom-10 nationally in both rushing and passing explosiveness. HC DeBouer took over as OC of Fresno State in 2017 and immediately increased their scoring output from 17-to-27 PPG, before accepting the OC job at Indiana and molded it into the second best offense in the Big Ten before completing his coaching circle as HC of Fresno State who just led to 10 victories in 2021. The good news is despite a dismal 101st SP+ offensive ranking, Washington has 76% of their offensive production returning including four linemen who have 82 career starts under their belts. Though their rushing acumen was less than desirable averaging 98 yards per game and 3.2 YPC, Washington was excellent in pass protection posting a 26% pressure rate allowed (33rd) and a 3.1% standard down sack rate (18th). The winner of the three-way quarterback competition between Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr., five-star recruit Sam Huard and incumbent Dylan Morris will be tasked with improving upon UW's 6.8 yards per pass last season. It's looking like Penix Jr. might have the slight edge over Huard since he had the best year of his career under HC DeBouer at indiana. I am backing Huard as the signal caller to record the most snaps this season, but Penix Jr. has the seniority edge. The QBs will be throwing to a pair of four-star wideouts in Jalen McMillan and Rome Odunze and has a skill position talent pool to draw from that rates 17th in the country in terms of recruiting strength. SP+ projects Washington to rise from 101st in offensive performance to 79th. The question isn't “if” the Huskies will increase the potency of their offense, it's just a matter of how much.

Washington led the nation in passing yards allowed by 26 yards per game over the next closest team (143-to-169 for Cincinnati) last season. However, despite two, high NFL Draft selections locking down the outside, the defensive line was so overmatched that it was easier for teams to simply bludgeon UW's soft interior. Co-DC's Inge and Morrell's first priority will be to shore up a front-seven that allowed a 50% rush success rate (122nd), 2.9 line yards per carry (115th) in addition to a 5.3% sack rate (95th) on the pass rush. The good news is impact Edge Zion Tupuola-Fetui will be back to full strength following an achilles injury back in 2020 which means it's a virtual lock Washington will eclipse their 20 sacks from last year. The bad news is starting linebacker and number three tackler Edefuan Ulofoshio sustained an offseason injury which is expected to affect his availability to play in the beginning of the year. The secondary brings back both safeties and transfers in cornerback Jordan Perryman from UC Davis, who was an FCS All-American, to help replenish the CB group. Despite ranking 96th in returning production, the defense could improve overall if they are able to shore up the defensive line deficiencies.

O/U Wins: 7.5 (-115) | + 1,100 to win Pac-12

The schedule is certainly easier than 2021, as Washington trades out a trip to The Big House in Michigan for a visit to Husky Stadium from Michigan State. The rest of the non-conference is a breeze vs. Kent State and Portland State while dodging Utah and USC out of the South, which accounts for a manageable 72nd ranked schedule. All four home games against Stanford, Arizona, Oregon State and Colorado are very winnable, but they do have the misfortune of five P12 away contests against UCLA, Arizona State, Cal, Oregon and Wazzu. CFB Winning projects the Huskies as at least a field goal favorite in nine of their 12 games and they had two losses last year where their post game win expectancy was greater than a 65% probability. Talent-wise Washington is the second-best team on their schedule, with only Oregon having a better recruiting base to work from. If they beat Michigan State in Week 3, I think they go Over 7.5 thanks to an incredible schedule that dropped in their lap.

Washington State

HC - Jake Dickert (2nd)

OC - Eric Morris (1st)

DC - Brian Ward (1st)

2021 Record: 7-6 (6-3)

Second Order Win Total: 8.3

Points/Yards Per Game: 27.8 points | 379 yards

Points/Yards Allowed: 24.2 points | 377 yards

2022 SP+ Overall = 69th

2022 SP+ Offense = 82nd

2022 SP+ Defense = 53rd

2021 SP+ Special Teams = 43rd

Offensive Returning Production = 46% (112th)

Defensive Returning Production = 65% (55th)

247Sports Avg. Offensive Player Rating: .8428 (72nd)

2022 Offensive Unit Strength: 65th | 10th in P12

247Sports Avg. Defensive Player Rating: .8305 (75th)

2022 Defensive Unit Strength: 87th | 12th

Schedule Strength: 52nd

A difficult set of non-football related issues held back the Cougars in the early going of 2021, as they sputtered to a 1-3 start. But even in the midst of a mid-season coaching change Wazzu managed to win six of their last eight games before dropping a 24-21 Sun Bowl decision to Central Michigan where they had a 58% post game win expectancy. In fact losing games where they outplayed opponents was a theme, as losses to Utah State and BYU were both over 70% in terms of Wazzu win expectancy. Interim HC Jake Dickert was hired full time, bringing in former Texas Tech WR and air raid disciple Eric Morris to run the offense. OC Morris was the HC at Incarnate Word for the last four years where he coached incoming transfer QB Cam Ward who threw 592 passes last season and followed him to WSC. Last year they had an exceptional +11 turnover margin while still remaining pretty explosive (37th IsoPPP/39th explosive play rate). Wazzu's biggest problems on O were getting pushed around in the run game (125th in stuff rate/102nd in line yards) and not converting red zone opportunities (108th goal-to-go TD rate). The Cougars are light on experience offensively, returning just 46% of 2021's production (112th) inducing #3NFL DC RT Abraham Lucas, QB Jayden de Laura, both starting RBs and their top-two wideouts. The line only returns 31 starts from two starters and has to replace their cornerstone tackles. Having an experienced hand like Ward greatly helps the transition, but expectations of him becoming the next Bailey Zappe should be tempered as Ward completed just 39% of his passes beyond 10 yards with a 25-to-24 Big Time Throw-to-Turnover Worthy Play ratio. The Cougars will deploy a high-volume passing offense once again, hopefully a young line can keep Cam Ward upright.

New HC Dickert deserves a lot of credit for his work as the DC, shaving 14 points and 85 total yards per game off Wazzu's 2020 averages. Their defensive backfield was the catalyst for the steep improvement, allowing just 6.5 yards per pass attempt (19th) and 5.8 net yards per attempt (13th) while ranking 11th overall in suppressing passing explosiveness. Their defensive line struggled to consistently stop the run, ranking 103rd in rushing success rate against, while also posting a disappointing 4.2% sack rate which ranked 12th worst in the country. The Cougars return 65% of their production and perhaps most importantly eight defensive linemen return with starting experience, including First Team All Pac-12 Edge Ron Stone. Two linebacker starters are new with Nevada transfer, Second Team All MWC WLB Daiyan Henry stepping right into a starting spot alongside Honorable Mention All Pac-12 NB Armani Marsh. Two cornerbacks return from last year, but the safeties will be rebuilt. Thanks to new DC Brian Ward's ties to the Group of Five as Nevada's former DC. WSU again raided the Group of Five by bringing in three MWC transfers to replenish their depleted secondary ranks. With four of the top six tacklers gone, it's going to be tough for Wazzu to maintain their lofty 2021 numbers.

O/U Wins: 5.5 (-157 U) | + 3,300 to win Pac-12

Wazzu is projected to be favored in four-of-12 games (Idaho, Colorado State, Cal and @Arizona) according to CFB Winning Edge, with all but their opener against Idaho being less than seven-point advantages. They draw USC, Utah, Arizona State and Arizona from the P12 South, missing out on a potentially easy win against Colorado. With a brutal non-conference game against Wisconsin also factored in I don't think the Cougars achieve bowl eligibility. THe -157 juice is too rich for this play though, so monitor to see if it comes down as the offseason progresses.

Pac -12 South

Arizona

HC - Jedd Fisch (2nd year)

OC - Brennan Carroll

DC - Johnny Nansen (1st year)

2021 Record: 1-11 (1-8 in P12)

Second Order Win Total: 2.6 (+1.6)

Points/Yards Per Game: 17.2 points | 356 yards

Points/Yards Allowed: 31.4 points | 371 yards

2022 SP+ Overall = 96th

2022 SP+ Offense = 97th

2022 SP+ Defense = 87th

2021 SP+ Special Teams = 48th

Offensive Returning Production = 77% (23rd)

Defensive Returning Production = 68% (46th)

247Sports Avg. Offensive Player Rating: .8505 (55th)

2022 Offensive Unit Strength: 59th (8th in P12)

247Sports Avg. Defensive Player Rating: .8428 (63rd)

2022 Defensive Unit Strength: 74th (9th in P12)

Schedule Strength: 24th

HC Jedd Fisch had his work cut out for him taking over Arizona in the wake of the catastrophic Kevin Sumlin era when Arizona recorded a winless, 0-5, 2020 season. Predictably AZ bottomed out again last year, finishing 1-11 as HC Fisch brings in fresh recruits to change the culture. Jayden de Laura arrives from Pac-12 foe Washington State, where he completed 63% of his passes for 2,789 yards, 7.7 yards per attempt, a 23-to-9 ratio and back-to-back seasons with a 77 passing grade or higher according to PFF College. Those numbers sound positively Favre-esque compared to the 10-to-17 ratio posted by the moribund quarterback troika of Will Plummer, Gunner Cruz and Jordan McCloud. de Laura will have fellow transfer and UTEP star wideout Jacob Cowing and incoming five-star freshman WR Tetairoa McMillan to pelt with targets. Cowing tore up the C-USA to the tune of 69 receptions, 1,354 yards, 19.6 YPR (!) and seven touchdowns last year while McMillan (6'4/186) looked ready to contribute right away in the spring game. Their offensive line dealt with attrition last year which means four linemen who logged at least 500 snaps last season are back from a unit that paved the way for a modest 130 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry. The running back room returns their top-four rushers, but the incoming freshmen Rayshon Luke and Jonah Coleman are the future of the position. Arizona is primed to improve on last year's 17 PPG average by at least a touchdown, maybe two.

Defensively Zona actually improved by 8.4 points per game last season (39.8-to-31.4) and allowed it's lowest yards per game total in a decade. The new DC is former UCLA DL coach Johnny Nansen after former DC Don Brown left to take the UMass head coach job. He inherits a young defense that returns 68% of their production (46th) and landed the 22nd best recruiting class in 2022. Keep in mind their 2021 class ranked 76th in terms of average 247Sports composite player rating and it puts into perspective how strong the 2022 class is comparatively. I'm not going to lie, there weren't many things the defense did “well” last year, however their secondary did a nice job limiting opponents to a 58% completion rate (28th) while showing some backbone inside the 10-yard line (39th) and in first-and-goal situations (34th). The Cats are now much more experienced than a year ago, with the secondary boasting seven players who logged at least 350 snaps last year and the front-seven transferring in three players who were initially rated as four-star recruits by 247Sports.

O/U Wins: 2.5 (-150) | + 25,000 to win Pac-12

There is reason for optimism as Arizona lost four-of-five one-score games in their true Year Zero rebuild, a stat that tends to even out over the years and can only improve with a more talented and experienced program leading the way that almost assuredly won't be victimized by an unsightly -17 turnover ratio again. The schedule is a grind, as Zona takes on @San Diego State, Mississippi State and a stiff FCS test in North Dakota State in the non-conference while drawing Oregon, Washington, Wazzu and Cal out of the North. They do get seven home games including winnable contests against NDSU, Colorado, Wazzu and Arizona State. With improved quarterback play leading to far fewer turnovers and their lack of success in one-score games likely to run around, I am a strident proponent of the Arizona Over 2.5 Wins play.

Arizona State

HC - Herm Edwards (5th year)

OC - Glenn Thomas (1st year) (UNLV OC 20-21)

DC - Donnie Henderson (1st year)

2021 Record: 8-5 (6-3 in P12)

Second Order Win Total: 8.7

Points/Yards Per Game: 28.4 points | 386 yards

Points/Yards Allowed: 20.8 points | 326 yards

2022 SP+ Overall = 42nd

2022 SP+ Offense = 55th

2022 SP+ Defense = 29th

2021 SP+ Special Teams = 95th

Offensive Returning Production = 44% (119th)

Defensive Returning Production = 55% (100th)

247Sports Avg. Offensive Player Rating: .8556 (62nd)

2022 Offensive Unit Strength: 60th | 9th in P12

247Sports Avg. Defensive Player Rating: .8659 (29th)

2022 Defensive Unit Strength: 31st | 4th in P12

Schedule Strength: 56th

Although Arizona State won eight games last season, it feels like a decade ago after the NCAA investigation revealed that the program flouted COVID recruiting restrictions. There is substantial turnover in both the coaching ranks and the roster (119th in returning production), with the Sun Devils returning just seven total starters from a team that returned 20 last season and allowed just 21 points and 326 total yards on defense. On offense former UNLV OC Glenn Thomas takes over the play calling duties and leads a unit that returns just three starters from a year ago after ASU saw 22 players leave the program in the offseason for reasons other than graduation.

On offense they replace Jayden Daniels, who is now at LSU, with Florida transfer Emory Jones. Jones completed 65% of his passes, but his 10-to-16 big time throw-to-turnover worthy play rate and 70.1 PFF passing grade leave a lot of room for improvement. HC Herm Edwards specifically pointed out a receiving corps transfer portal exodus was going to be an issue they are going to have to overcome in camp. Former Utah transfer leads the holdovers with 423 snaps of action last season, but besides Andre Johnson there isn't another wideout on the roster who played over 150 reps in a Sun Devils uniform last season. Vanderbilt four-star transfer Cam Johnson could contribute immediately which would allow ASU to bring along the freshmen more gradually. The offensive line welcomes back two linemen and loses their bookend tackles to graduation, as just two linemen from last year's roster played more than 22 snaps for the Sun Devils last year. To offset the deficiencies HC Edwards brought in four transfer OL to help solidify a potentially leaky line that allowed a 7.7% sack rate (92nd) but blocked the way for a very respectable 5.0 yards per carry. Former Wyoming RB Xazavian Valladay arrived this offseason into the running backs room and is slated to start while Daniel Ngata will give him a run for the job now that Rachaad White/DeaMontre Trayanum have moved onto other opportunities.

The Sun Devils brought back all 11 starters from the pandemic season of 2020 and allowed its lowest points per game average (20.8) of the HC Herm Edwards era. With just four starters returning due to the aforementioned mass-departures, ASU replenished their depleted ranks with six JUCO's, including four defensive backs. Miami transfer DT Nesta Jade Silvera (6'2/305) logged over 400 snaps in each of the past two seasons while earning a rock-solid 76.3 PFF run defense grade with 24 stops and 18 pressures lining up primarily at three tech. He joins Edge Michael Matus as the anchors of a defensive line that wilted down the stretch, recording zero sacks in five of Arizona State's last six regular season games. Leading tackler MLB Kyle Soelle and Honorable Mention All Pac-12 WLB Merlin Robertson are set to anchor the second level while the secondary is rebuilt. Senior CB Timarcus Davis is an excellent tackler (77.8 PFF tackle grade, 7.5% career missed tackle rate) but hasn't distinguished himself in coverage by allowing a 60% completion rate with a 58.7 PFF cover grade last year. Box safety Khoury Bentley arrives from Hawaii with 34 starts under his belt and will slide right into a starting safety slot. With such major turnover in both the coaching staff and roster, ASU's defense is bound to take a step back this year.

O/U Wins: 6.5 (-130) | + 3,300 to win Pac-12

ASU plays the 56th ranked schedule and should pickup two wins in their first three games against Northern Arizona and Eastern Michigan, and are projected to be field goal dogs @Oklahoma State to round out the off-conference slate. Weeks 4, 5 and 6 are a tough slog against Utah, @USC, Washington, but the Sun Devils have the advantage of only leaving Tempe twice in the first seven weeks of the season when you factor in their Week 7 bye before the schedule lightens up. They are projected to be modest favorites in five of the next six contests, four of which are on the road, with the exception of a home tilt against UCLA where they'll likely be getting a field goal. Arizona State manages to avoid Oregon from the North and gets two easy wins in non-conference. However I can't help but think there's a plausible scenario where ASU is in a bad spot after losing to @Ok St., Utah, @USC and Washington before heading into the bye with four road games and two toss-ups against UCLA and Oregon State at home looming. HC Edwards has had ASU bowl eligible every year, but I think the wheels could come off in a rebuilding year. I am strongly backing Arizona State Under 6.5 Wins.

Colorado

HC - Karl Dorrell (3rd year)

OC - Mike Sanford (1st) (Minnesota OC 20-21)

DC - Chris Wilson (2nd year)

2021 Record: 4-8 (3-6 in P12)

Second Order Win Total: 3.0

Points/Yards Per Game: 18.8 points | 257 yards

Points/Yards Allowed: 26.7 points | 421 yards

2022 SP+ Overall = 100th

2022 SP+ Offense = 94th

2022 SP+ Defense = 92nd

2021 SP+ Special Teams = 39th

Offensive Returning Production = 74% (35th)

Defensive Returning Production = 54% (101st)

247Sports Avg. Offensive Player Rating: .8472 (56th)

2022 Offensive Unit Strength: 73rd | 11th in P12

247Sports Avg. Defensive Player Rating: .8452 (61st)

2022 Defensive Unit Strength: 81st | 10th in P12

Schedule Strength: 13th

After an improbable 4-2 record in the pandemic shortened 2020 season, the sugar high wore off for HC Karl Dorrell as Colorado fell to 4-8 in 2021. Entering his third campaign as HC, Dorrell brought in OC Mike Sanford who spent the last two years in the same position for Minnesota and employed a run-oriented, ball control offense. OC Sanford took a Gophers offense that averaged 34 points and 432 total yards per game under OC Kirk Ciarocca in 2019 and produced just 25.5 points with 360 passing yards last year before being replaced. Similarly, WKU averaged over 44 PPG the two seasons before Sanford took over, and 23 points per game in the next two. OC Sanford is tasked with elevating a Colorado offense that was the 10th worst in the country last year according to SP+ while ranking in the bottom-10 overall in points per drive (1.35), yards per pass (5.8), success rate (36%) and almost every other relevant performance metric known to mankind.

CU has seven starters and 74% of their offensive production coming back, but they had eight starters back last year and couldn't crack the 19-PPG barrier. QB Brendon Lewis was as green as goose poop last year, earning a 64.8 PFF passing grade which ranked 106th. That mark tied him with Luke Doty who is now a wide receiver for South Carolina. He did a nice job limiting turnovers with a 10-to-3 ratio, but that's kind of to be expected considering Lewis ran a very risk averse offense that averaged 6.8 yards of target depth per attempt, which was the 142nd lowest among qualifying QBs. Despite returning seven of their top eight linemen from their 4-2 2020 team, the offensive line was so bad the OL coach was fired seven games into the schedule. HC Dorrell brings in former four-star Alabama LG Tommy Brown to help bolster the line and joins three returning starters from a unit that paved the way for just 3.5 YPC with an 11% sack rate (123rd). Baylor transfer WR RJ Sneed should contribute right away while TE Brady Russell broke an astounding 14 tackles on just 25 receptions with an 83% catch rate. The offense has nowhere to go but up, but that doesn't mean it will be competent.

Defensively the Buffaloes finished as the 94th unit in the country according to SP+, allowing a reasonable 26.7 points per game while pitching a decent pass defense that was able to limit big pass plays (51st passing explosiveness) while holding opponents to 7.0 net yards per attempt (60th). Unfortunately CU returns just five starters and brings in one transfer, seasoned West Virginia LB Josh Chandler-Semedo who recorded 788 snaps last year. The Buffs main issues on defense are generating consistent disruption (2.9% sack rate = 127th/27% pressure rate = 103rd/13% havoc rate = 110th), tackling (84% tackle success rate = 114th) and third down efficiency. The line is very experienced, starting four upperclassmen with 58 starts among them and should improve. The linebacker room takes a big hit losing longtime defensive leader MLB Nate Landman along with top pass rusher Carson Wells. Safety Isaiah Lewis led the team in tackles and is back, however the rest of the secondary has just six total starts among them. I am skeptical that DC Chris Wilson is going to coax much improvement out of this unit.

O/U Wins: 2.5 (-140) | + 6,000 to win Pac-12

The Buffaloes are cursed with the 13th toughest schedule in the nation, facing a torturous non-conference slate against TCU, @Air Force and @Minnesota in the first three weeks where they are expected to be at least eight-point underdogs with a sub-30% win expectancy in each game according to CFB Winning Edge. It doesn't get any better in Pac-12 play where CU draws Oregon, @Washington and @Oregon State out of the North, all superior teams to CU. The only game where they “might” be a favorite is Week 7 off a bye against Cal. There are exactly zero gimmes on this slate and I cannot in good conscience back three Wins out of this team. Under 2.5 Wins is a solid play.

UCLA

HC - Chip Kelly (5th year)

OC - Chip Kelly

DC - Bill McGovern (1st year) (Chicago Bears LB coach ‘21)

2021 Record: 8-4 (6-3 in P12)

Second Order Win Total: 8.5

Points/Yards Per Game: 36.5 points | 441 yards

Points/Yards Allowed: 26.8 ponts | 384 yards

2022 SP+ Overall = 41st

2022 SP+ Offense = 8th

2022 SP+ Defense = 80th

2021 SP+ Special Teams = 80th

Offensive Returning Production = 66% (57th)

Defensive Returning Production = 48% (114th)

247Sports Avg. Offensive Player Rating: .8853 (20th)

2022 Offensive Unit Strength: 6th | 2nd in P12

247Sports Avg. Defensive Player Rating: .8677 (31st)

2022 Defensive Unit Strength: 32nd | 5th in P12

Schedule Strength: 75th

The slow ascent of UCLA under fifth year HC Chip Kelly paid off in 2021 as they returned 20 starters and went 8-4 with an average victory margin of 10 points per game. Each one of UCLA's victories were no-doubters where the Bruins had a post game win expectancy of 96% or above, while they dropped two, one-score decisions that could have gone either way.

HC Kelly's offense produced at a top-10 level, averaging over 35 points (13th in FBS ‘21) and 215 rushing yards (12th in FBS ‘21) per game for the second-consecutive year. UCLA has six starters returning including the All Pac-12 backfield combo of Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Zach Charbonnet who might run for 2,000 yards combined this season. The one thing the Bruins didn't do particularly well is break big plays in the passing game, but that's expected when the two top aerial weapons are a tight end and a possession slot receiver. The line technically returns three starters with C Sam Marazzo returning after getting hurt early in Week 2 and Rutgers LT Raiqwon O'Neal (20 career starts/89.1 pass block grade ‘21) transfers in to shore up the left side. Each one of UCLA's projected starting five has double-digit starts under their belts, just not together. Their wide receiver room loses their top three from last year but is still in good shape as they bring in Duke's WR1 Jake Bobo (78.9 PFF receiving grade/88.9 drop grade) who has a skillset similar to UCLA's former WR1 Jake Phillips. TE Michael Ezeike looked good in spring and is expected to take over the premium TE1 spot that Greg Dulcich turned into 42 receptions for 725 yards and five touchdowns last year. I think UCLA clears the 35 PPG barrier for a third straight season.

The defense was the best of the Chip Kelly era, allowing 26.8 PPG and 384 total yards and focused on stopping explosiveness ranking 36th in explosive play rate (11%), but struggled in allowing a 45% success rate (95th) and 4.34 points per scoring opportunity (88th) while slotting in at 104th in marginal efficiency. In other words teams could pick up first downs and move down the field incrementally, but offenses weren't able to hit game breaking plays with the frequency of past years. This season they bring in a new DC in Bill McGovern who has been a LB coach in the NFL for the past decade. Just two starters return along with 49% of their 2021 production (114th), but UCLA brought in seven impact transfers including the “pass rushing Murphy brothers” from North Texas who combined for 23.5 career sacks, which is promising news considering the Bruins' 5% sack rate (100th) and 27% pressure rate (91st) last year. Bo Calvert posted 7.5 TFL last year and will start opposite the Murphy's in what should be an improved pass rush, but both interior DL starters last year depart so they will be inexperienced in the middle. A little more support from the front-seven is exactly what their beleaguered pass defense needs, as UCLA allowed a 63% completion rate (91st) and a 43% success rate (81st) while rating all the way down at 96th in passing efficiency. CB Azizi Hearn started 29 games at Wyoming and should help right away while safety Stephan Blaylock patrols the middle. All three starting linebackers have transferred in at some point, with Alabama transplant Brandon Kaho leading the unit. Though UCLA loses a lot of production, the pieces are in place to at least not drop too much in terms of performance.

O/U Wins: 8.5 (-110) | + 900 to win Pac-12

The off conference schedule is the polar opposite of 2021, where they had to play Hawaii, LSU and Fresno State. This year they have the pleasure of playing Bowling Green, Alabama State and South Alabama…all at home. UCLA also benefits from five Pac-12 home games and a manageable road schedule against @Colorado, @Oregon, @Arizona State and @Cal. I think the Bruins will run the table in the off conference slate and can go 6-3 in Pac-12 play to make this play an Over. I also like UCLA as a value play on the +900 conference title odds.

USC

HC - Lincoln Riley (1st year)

OC - Josh Henson (Riley play caller)

DC - Alex Grinch

2021 Record: 4-8 (3-6 in P12)

Second Order Win Total: 4.4

Points/Yards Per Game: 28.7 points | 444 yards

Points/Yards Allowed: 31.8 points | 409 yards

2022 SP+ Overall = 51st (82nd in ‘21)

2022 SP+ Offense = 24th

2022 SP+ Defense = 84th (106th in ‘21)

2021 SP+ Special Teams = 53rd

Offensive Returning Production = 63% (68th)

Defensive Returning Production = 56% (93rd)

247Sports Avg. Offensive Player Rating: .8973 (16th)

2022 Offensive Unit Strength: 3rd | 1st in P12

247Sports Avg. Defensive Player Rating: .8985 (12th)

2022 Defensive Unit Strength: 27th | 2nd

Schedule Strength: 49th

USC shook up the college football world by annexing USC HC Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma and bringing him to the west coast with the intention of resurrecting the USC football dynasty following another disappointing 4-8 season out of former HC Clay Helton. HC Riley shook up the roster immediately with 22 players transferring out, and 19 new players transferring in, including five-star Oklahoma recruits QB Caleb Williams and WR Mario Williams. He is tasked with improving an offense that fell to 28.7 points per game last season after averaging 33 PPG over the previous two campaigns. That shouldn't be a heavy lift for HC Riley as he averaged at least 39 PPG in every season he has been an OC or HC at Oklahoma. The story of USC's offense last year was how they did a great job of marching down the field sequentially (13th overall in yards per drive w/38.5, 10th in plays per game w/75) but rarely was able to break open games with chunk plays (118th in IsoPPP, 119th in explosiveness). Even when turning over the QB position in-season from Spencer Rattler to Williams, Oklahoma ranked 25th and 20th in the same explosive play metrics, so expect a precipitous increase in chunk plays for the Trojans in 2022. USC also didn't execute when the field was condensed, ranking a dismal 103rd in red zone success rate which is an arena Riley has shined. With a slew of talented non-OU transfers in Oregon RB Travis Dye, Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison and Jerry Rice's son, Brenden, combined with a veteran line where all five projected starters have logged at least 600 snaps over the last two seasons, and i'm not remotely concerned about The men of Troy lighting up scoreboards across the west coast this year.

Defensively is where USC really faltered last year, ranking an unsightly 106th in defensive SP+ last season. At Oklahoma, the defensive line was stocked with NFL draftees, creating an 8.4% havoc rate as a unit which ranked 15th nationally, the poor tackling from the back-seven (119th in tackle success rate) and a porous secondary (66% completion rate = 113th/104th in passing efficiency) doomed the Sooners against high caliber opponents. DC Alex Grinch has the good fortune of returning DT Tuli Tuipolotu, who was an absolute home wrecker at three tech en route to First Team All Pac-12 honors. Five-star Edge Korey Foreman is set to realize his other-worldly potential as he was extremely productive in limited action as a freshman last season, recording 10 pressures and 2.5 sacks in just 75 pass rush reps for an excellent 13% pressure rate. Alabama transfer MLB Shane Lee has 13 starts under his belt and will occupy the middle while leading returning tackler Ralen Goforth handles the weak side at LB. The rebuilt secondary is projected to start transfers from Oklahoma, Ohio State and Colorado in addition to talented SS Calen Bullock who started six games for the Trojans last year. With Grinch at the helm the defense should see a marked improvement from the 32 points per game they allowed in 2021.

O/U Wins: 9.5 (-130) | + 200 to win Pac-12

USC faces the 49th toughest schedule in the country, but the non-conference slate is no layup since they take on Rice in addition to a very good Fresno State team and of course Notre Dame at the end of the year. Where they really get a break is their Pac-12 schedule, as the Trojans dodge Oregon and Washington out of the North, instead playing @Stanford, @Oregon State, Wazzu and Cal. The downside is USC gets five Pac-12 away games including pivotal conference showdowns @Utah and @UCLA. They are projected favorites in every game except for Utah and UCLA, with Notre Dame also looming in a potential toss up. There's no value in taking them at +200 to win the conference. Why tie up your capital that long when more states are legalizing CFB player props and you can just use your bank roll on free money? USC went 4-8 last year. It would be an incredible turnaround in one year for them to get to 10 Wins considering the starting point and the horrific recruiting fail of 2020 where the premier school in Los Angeles pulled in the 68th ranked recruiting class in the nation. I think HC Riley needs a year to right the ship before we start banking on the Trojans for double-digit win seasons.

Utah

HC - Kyle Whittingham (18th year)

OC - Andy Ludwig (4th year)

DC - Morgan Scalley (7th year)

2021 Record: 10-4 (8-1 in P12)

Second Order Win Total: 10.6

Points/Yards Per Game: 36.1 points | 431 yards

Points/Yards Allowed: 22.6 points | 342 yards

2022 SP+ Overall = 12th

2022 SP+ Offense = 10th

2022 SP+ Defense = 31st

2021 SP+ Special Teams = 111th

Offensive Returning Production = 73% (36th)

Defensive Returning Production = 59% (85th)

247Sports Avg. Offensive Player Rating: .8678 (36th)

2022 Offensive Unit Strength: 19th (4th in P12)

247Sports Avg. Defensive Player Rating: .8596 (43rd)

2022 Defensive Unit Strength: 40th (6th in P12)

Schedule Strength: 55th

One of the longest tenured head coaches in FBS, Kyle Whittingham returns for the 18th year with two consecutive double-digit win (non-pandemic) seasons under his belt and coming off a thrilling 48-45 Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State that was an instant classic. The Utes return 73% of their offensive production (36th in country) and eight starters from a team that scored 36 PPG (14th) and rushed for 5.6 yards per carry behind a rugged line that had all five starters intact. This season three full-time starters are back with two others that started several games but missed time due to injury in 2021. With RB Tavion Thomas (1,130 yards, 21 TDs LY) ready to lead the way and spring standout RB Jaylon Glover locked in as RB2, expect another 5.0 YPC+ average from the Utes. Utah dropped two of their first three decisions last year with Baylor transfer QB Charlie Brewer as the starter. Once Cameron Rising and his wispy mustache took over the starting quarterback gig the offense immediately turned around, spurring a resurgence that saw Utah rattle off a 9-2 record over the rest of the year. I expect continued improvement after Rising completed 64% of his passes with a 20-to-5 ratio, and showed advanced pocket presence posting an excellent 8.5% pressure-to-sack rate with an 82 PFF passing grade. Four of the top-5 receivers are back, including two elite tight ends in Brant Kuithe and Dalton Kincaide. While Kuithe is unassailable as a Second Team All Pac-12 performer, Kincaide was one of the most efficient tight ends in the country catching 36-of-45 targets for 510 yards and eight touchdowns while not dropping a single target and securing 7-of-9 contested catch opportunities. It sounds improbable, but the Utes might actually top their 36 PPG output of 2021.

Morgan Scalley refrains his role as defensive coordinator for a seventh year with a defensive unit that returns six starters and 59% of their production from 2021 (85th) when they ranked 22nd in SP+ defense. The Utes lose five of their top seven tacklers but the cupboard is still stocked with replacements. DT Junior Tafuna is fresh off being named the Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year, while Van Fillinger started 13 games as a redshirt freshman recording 42 tackles and 4.0 sacks. The linebacker room loses #1DC Devin Lloyd but transfer in Stanford DE Gabe Reid (24 career starts) and Florida's leading tackler, Mohamoud Diabate to help fill the void. Highly-touted CB Clark Phillips earned Second Team All Pac-12 recognition while my cousin (actually true) SS Cole Bishop stepped in as a true freshman to start six games while receiving an elite 90.7 PFF run defense grade. After producing 41 sacks and a pristine 18.5% havoc rate (10th), Utah has a young foundation that will make this defense one of the country's best in 2022.

O/U Wins: 8.5 | + 250 to win Pac-12

Utah has an unenviable non-conference schedule to deal with, opening @Florida before welcoming Southern Utah and San Diego State to Salt Lake City. Florida is likely a toss up, but it's always an advantage to play a team changing over their coaching staffs on Week 1. They draw five conference away games while facing Oregon State, @Wazzu, Stanford and @Oregon from the North. Utah can drop three games and still hit this Over 8.5. Week 1 is going to be key against Florida because if they can pull out a win in The Swamp, then this bet is sailing over with little worry. Even with a loss, they can still go 1-2 against their three toughest conference opponents - @UCLA, USC and @Oregon. Considering Utah eviscerated the Ducks by a combined score of 76-17, I feel very confident about the Over 8.5 Wins play and am backing Utah to win the Pac-12 at +250.