Oregon tops wide open Pac-12

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Updated: 8/18 8:12 am

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Pac-12 conference has six teams in the preseason AP Top 25 with Oregon topping the list at No. 3. Only the SEC has more with eight.

Speaking of the Ducks, they have a myriad of statistical nuggets that should play in their favor this year, so watch for them to improve on last season's 10-2 regular season record and win the conference title for the first time since 2011.

Last year was a huge turnaround for the Pac-12 as it went 21-16 (57 percent) against the spread in non-conference play, including 6-3 marks (both straight- up and ATS) in bowl action. This on the heels of a 31-38-2 ATS out-of conference record between the prior two seasons. The league also was terrible in bowl games, recording 10-17 SU and 12-15 ATS records between 2009 and 2012. In fact, the league did not have a winning record in any of those four years.

Time now to take a deeper look into the league, along with conference championship odds and regular season over/under totals courtesy of Bovada.

SOUTH

6) COLORADO (200-1) - The Buffaloes are 5-16 as road underdogs the last four years. They averaged just seven first-half points in all but one conference game last season. Still, outside of Arizona State, they were the only team to average more points and allow fewer points inside Pac-12 play compared to 2012. There is no question the defense will be better with the return of 10 of its top 13 tacklers as well as Terrel Smith, who did not play last season. Unfortunately, Colorado loses wide receiver Paul Richardson, who helped the offense improve from 18 to 25 points per game.

Final thought - Keep an eye on how well the offensive line plays. Two years ago, the Buffaloes allowed 50 sacks. Last season, they cut it down to 20. This year, they lose their starting left tackle. Over/under total - 4. Predicted overall and conference records - 4-8, 1-8.

5) UTAH (66-1) - The Utes are 40-22 as road underdogs the last 23 years. Turnover ratio played a huge role in their season as they were minus-12 in league play. Travis Wilson, besides throwing 16 balls to the other team, missed time due to injuries. Kendal Thompson could take his spot with a great showing in camp, but the offense is not the strength of the team. Utah's defense will keep the club in almost every game, but as we have seen the past few years, Utah is not as talented as the majority of teams in the conference.

Final thought - The Utes, who are 2-9 on the road the last two years, play five Pac-12 road games this season. Over/under total - 4.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 4-8, 2-7.

4) ARIZONA STATE (12-1) - The Sun Devils are 11-5 ATS as favorites the last two years. They won 10 games for the first time since 2007. Even though they scored 10 more points per game inside the Pac-12, they averaged only 25 more yards per game than in 2012. In addition, Taylor Kelly threw just five touchdown passes over the final six games. The defense, which returned eight starters, allowed 12 passing touchdowns to Stanford, Texas Tech, Washington and Notre Dame. It gave up just 12 the rest of the season. This year, Arizona State loses 10 of its top 12 tacklers, so the points allowed will rise.

Final thought - The Sun Devils forced 33 turnovers last year and outscored their opponents 146-42 in points off turnovers. That won't happen in 2014. Over/under total - 7.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 6-6, 4-5. Take under 7.5 wins at -115.

3) ARIZONA (33-1) - The Wildcats are 14-3-1 as home underdogs the last nine years but just 4-10 as road favorites the last six. The defense cut 10 points per game off its league average from 2012 and allowed 83 fewer yards per game - both were tops in the conference. Unfortunately, just five of its top 10 tacklers are back. Still, if newcomers Jeff Worthy and Jordan Allen hold their own on the line, the defense could surprise. Look for the Wildcats to throw the ball more than the 37 percent they did last season as the strength of the offense is at wide receiver.

Final thought - Moving forward without Ka'Deem Carey might seem too tough a task, but with seven home games and an outstanding offensive line, Arizona will still be an effective squad. Over/under total - 6.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 7-5, 4-5.

2) USC (5-1) - The Trojans are 8-19 as road favorites the last five years, but 10-6 as home favorites the last three. They ranked just seventh in conference play in scoring and ninth in total offense, but only Oregon and Stanford averaged more yards per play. This year's offense might not be as effective due to scheme changes, but it is doubtful USC will finish in the bottom half of the league once again. Meanwhile, the defense has a great chance to match last year's conference finishes - second in scoring and third in total defense.

Final thought - Steve Sarkisian took a down-and-out 0-11 Washington team and won five games in his first season. Over/under total - 9. Predicted overall and conference records - 11-1, 8-1. Take over nine wins at +110.

1) UCLA (11-4) - The Bruins are 17-10 ATS the last two years. They lost three games last season: two to the division winners and the other one to Oregon. Despite that, they ranked 10th in league play in total offense. A lot of that had to do with a ground attack that averaged fewer than four yards per carry as well as playing the top three teams in the North. Expect the offense to be even better this season. Defensively, the Bruins lose their top three sack leaders. but seven of the top 10 tacklers are back compared to just four of 10 in 2013.

Final thought - UCLA has lost just two regular season games straight-up as a favorite since 2008. The Bruins should be favored in 10 of their 12 games. Over/under total - 9.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 11-1, 8-1.

NORTH

6) WASHINGTON STATE (75-1) - The Cougars are 22-14 ATS in conference play the last four years. Washington State had a dream season last year, making its first bowl appearance in 10 years. Still, the Cougars were outscored by 10 ppg inside the Pac-12. The offense ranked ninth in league play in scoring while the defense allowed 5.2 yards per carry in its last six games and gave up 23 passing touchdowns in the last nine games. This year, the offense will regress with an inexperienced offensive line and the defense will continue to be susceptible to the pass with the loss of three starters in the secondary.

Final thought - A lot is expected from the Cougars in Mike Leach's third season but the locals will be disappointed with the final results. Over/under total - 5.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 4-8, 2-7. Take under 5.5 wins at +105.

5) CALIFORNIA (200-1) - The Golden Bears are 5-17 ATS the last two years. Not many thought they would fare well in the first year of the Sonny Dykes regime, especially due to the dramatic changes in schemes. On the other hand, not many expected the defense to suffer as many injuries as it did. A lot can change from one year to the next and that will be the case in Berkeley, especially on defense. That side of the ball lost its four leading tacklers last year, but the top five come back in 2014. The offense also should be better in the second year of the new system. Incidentally, look for Jared Goff to be one of the better quarterbacks in the league.

Final thought - Cal will break out both straight up and ATS after poor records a season ago. Over/under total - 2.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 4-8, 3-6.

4) WASHINGTON (14-1) - The Huskies are 9-20 as road underdogs the last six years. They improved the most of any team in Pac-12 play, averaging 14 more ppg and 117 more ypg (compared to 2012). In fact, they moved from 97th nationally to 13th in total offense. A new coaching staff is present in 2014, along with a different starting quarterback and running back. Look for the offense to suffer even though all five starting linemen return. Defensively, the team moves forward without three-fourths of its secondary. That is not a good sign against clubs such as Oregon State, Washington State and California.

Final thought - Former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen does not come into a great situation as Washington will be fighting for its lives to make the postseason. Over/under total - 9. Predicted overall and conference records - 7-5, 3-6. Take under nine wins at -105.

3) OREGON STATE (33-1) - The Beavers are 7-0 as road underdogs the last two years. I wrote in this space last year how poorly the defense would do against the run after losing both defensive tackles and its middle linebacker. Well, the Beavers allowed 5.8 yards per carry in league play - almost 1.5 yards more than in 2012. Oregon State also gave up 11 more ppg overall. This year, the defense will be much-improved. Don't expect the same type of jump offensively as the line loses three longtime starters.

Final thought - As was the case in 2012, look for the defense to carry the Beavers to an above-.500 ATS mark. Over/under total - 7. Predicted overall and conference records - 8-4, 5-4.

2) STANFORD (6-1) - The Cardinal are 14-5 as road favorites the last three years. They ranked eighth in total offense (inside the Pac-12) even though they averaged more ppg than in 2012. Surprisingly, their scoring improved despite dropping from second to 10th in league play in red zone touchdown percentage. It will be interesting to see how well the offense fares this year with the loss of Tyler Gaffney (21 rushing TDs) and four offensive line starters. The defense returns seven starters, and the Cardinal have allowed fewer than 20 ppg the last three years that was the case.

Final thought - Stanford came into last season without players who caught 18 of the 19 touchdown passes and the offense still was very effective in 2013. Over/under total - 8.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 9-3, 6-3.

1) OREGON (11-10) - The Ducks are 10-2 as road favorites the last three years. One could argue they had a down season last year despite 11 victories. Their conference red zone touchdown percentages on both offense and defense worsened, which are good signs for better numbers in 2014. They also were minus-19 in turnover differential inside the Pac-12 compared to 2012. and the defense finished last in league play in third-down efficiency. In addition, Marcus Mariota's injured knee stifled the offense late in the season. Expect most of those numbers and Mariota's health to improve in 2014, giving the Ducks the edge in a very contentious Pac-12.

Final thought - Amazingly, Oregon has finished .500 or better ATS every year since 2003. Look for that run to continue for at least one more season. Over/under total - 10.5. Predicted overall and conference records - 11-1, 8-1.

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