One of the best ways to forecast how the upcoming college football season is going to look is by taking a look at the odds and how they play out during the summer. To give Pac-12 fans some insight into this year's odds, we talked with Peter Loshak from SportsBookReview.com.
Arizona shocked a lot of people when they won the Pac-12 South last year. What are the odds that they do it again?
Right now the market actually has Arizona as just the fourth choice to win the South, at 6-1. USC, UCLA and Arizona St are all being given better odds to win the South. Any of them could do it, the South is stacked with talent this year of course, but Arizona might actually have the best value at 6-1. Arizona does return a lot of key contributors from last year, including of course Anu Solomon at QB. But right now, the market says 6-1 odds.
Has Mike Bercovici replacing Taylor Kelly as the starting QB at Arizona State actually improved the Sun Devils' outlook for 2015?
In my opinion, I think so, yes. We know Bercovici played impressively last year in his limited action replacing Kelly when Kelly went down, so confidence from Day 1 shouldn't be an issue. And Bercovici has a stronger arm than Kelly, which should open up the field and create a more potent vertical game for Arizona St, which should in turn allow them to then do more with their running attack, which is looking like it will also be a strength this year. The newcomers restocking the receiving corps can't flop, and Arizona St will have to tweak their offensive schemes to suit Bercovici's strengths as a strong-armed pocket passer, but as of right now I'd say yes, Bercovici improves the Sun Devils' outlook. There's no reason to think he won't be at least as good as he was in his three relief starts last season, and he should be primed for a year on par with the other elite QBs in the Pac-12.
This looks like Cal's best chance to get to a bowl game in quite a while, what are the odds they go bowling in 2015?
Well, the market right now says the odds are slightly against them reaching a bowl. Their current season win total is 5.5, juiced a bit to the under, so the betting market is giving them about a 45% chance of getting to 6 wins or more. And that makes some sense because looking over their schedule, they only have 4 "easy" games. To get to 6 wins, they'll have to pull out at least two upsets (counting a road win at Washington as an "upset"). But they're clearly an improving team with some huge positives, and they might be getting sold a little short here. They return a ton of potency on offense of course. Having an offense led by a proven elite QB entering his third season as a starter is an enormous plus, and they return a ton of production in both rushing and receiving as well. The defense obviously will probably be a significant liability again, but they have brought in some new faces that could make a difference. They're clearly an improving team looking for a better result than last year, but right now the market is putting their chances at about 45%. I might personally put it a little higher than that though.
Colorado improved a lot in 2014, but still failed to win a Pac-12 game.
Which Pac-12 game on their schedule do they have the best chance to win?
They have road games at Washington St and Oregon St, and both of those games are very winnable for them. To start the year, Colorado, Oregon St and Washington St are all getting ranked pretty closely, and Colorado should be just a small underdog in both of those games, so as of now I do think it's more likely that they win at least one of those than that they lose both. They'll be a much bigger underdog in the rest of their Pac-12 games, but an upset in one or more of them is an absolute possibility. Last year they went to OT in two different conference games where they were a 14-point underdog in each.
Oregon has a fairly friendly schedule in 2015. Who has the best chance of knocking them off?
Well even before conference play starts, Oregon will likely be a small underdog at Michigan St on Sept. 12th. That game has already had an early line released and taking betting action, and Michigan St is currently favored by 3 points, so yes Oregon's schedule is looking relatively modest overall, but the market expects them to be more likely than not to already have a loss heading into the Pac-12 regular season. The Michigan St game might be the only game in the regular season where Oregon closes as an underdog though. Their three other toughest games, at least as it seems now, are at Arizona St, at Stanford, and at home against USC. The early line for the Stanford game is actually currently pick ‘em, while Oregon is -5.5 for the USC game, but the USC game might prove to be tougher in the end. The Stanford game, which could be a grueling battle, comes first, and in 2011 of course, Oregon won a road game at Stanford, and then the next week came home and lost outright to USC as a 16.5-point home favorite.
Expectations are not high for Gary Andersen in his first year at Oregon State. What would be a good win total for the Beavers in 2015?
Right now the betting market has Oregon St's win total at 4, so if they can win just 5, that would exceed expectations. But realistically, in light of the quality of the rest of the conference, it's hard to imagine the Beavers caring much about wins and losses this season, as opposed to just getting the rebuilding process started, establishing an identity, and executing competently. Looking at their schedule, I think I would bet the under on their season win total, even at 4.
Stanford is a rare Pac-12 team that wins games with defense. About how many points per-game do they probably need to score to win 10 games in 2015?
Well it's not so much a matter of overall points per game, it's a matter of can they score when they need to, and how strong will the defense be again this year. As of right now, Stanford is looking a little different from the classic Stanford teams of recent years. Their offense is looking better than usual, but their defense is coming into the season with more questions than usual. On offense, QB Kevin Hogan had an inconsistent year last year, but he closed the season well, and he's a third-year starter now, so that's promising. The running game should be better this year than it was last year, and Stanford should also benefit from returning 4 of 5 starters on the O-Line, and will probably be effective in using their deep rotation of tight ends. But on defense, there are relatively new questions with experience and depth both up front and in the secondary. So, there are a lot of big positives but definitely some uncertainties with Stanford heading into the season. I suspect their offense will be surprisingly better than usual, while their defense will be slightly, or possibly significantly, worse than usual, and in the stacked Pac-12, they'll get their wins, but won't dominate. 10 wins will definitely be a stretch, but more likely because of a less elite defense than the offense not scoring enough. The market right now has them at just 9 wins, and juiced to the under.
It looks like true freshman QB Josh Rosen will be the Bruins starter over junior Jerry Neuheisel. Could starting a highly-touted true freshman at QB actually give the Bruins a betting boost over starting a more-proven veteran?
It's hard to say. From a betting perspective, a highly-touted true freshman at QB can just as easily get overhyped by betting markets as he can get underestimated. In the case of UCLA, there will be so much talent around Rosen that he won't have the burden of feeling like he has to do it all himself. But, chemistry and experience do matter a lot, especially at the college level. We should get a good sense pretty quickly of how accurately the market is rating Rosen and UCLA, but as of right now, it's still an unknown. But yes, it's entirely possible that adding Rosen's huge upside in talent to UCLA's already-formidable mix will make them explode out of the gate, and be undervalued this year despite the high expectations.
USC is expected to have their best season since Pete Carroll was their coach, but do oddsmakers have them as a serious Playoff candidate?
Yes absolutely. Right now the market is giving USC roughly a 20% chance of making the 4-team playoffs. There are only 5 other teams in college football being given a better chance to make the playoffs than USC, and one of them is actually Oregon, at closer to 25% at the moment. The other 4 ahead of USC right now are Ohio St, Alabama, TCU, and Florida St.
Utah has quietly created a nice home field advantage where they seem to pull off a big upset now every year. What is a game where they have high odds to pull off a big upset in Salt Lake City this year?
Well, interestingly, and purely from a betting perspective, it was actually on the road where Utah had value last year. They covered 5 of their 6 spreads on the road last season, only losing ATS for the first time on the road in their final road game, when the market finally caught up to them, and they were a 7-point favorite at Colorado, but won by just 4. At home they were just 3-3 against the spread, including just 1-3 ATS at home in conference play, with 2 outright losses as a favorite at home (to Washington St and Arizona). But those are small sample sizes, and certainly they can be very dangerous as a home underdog. But, based on the early odds released for their home games, they might not be an underdog in any of them. They're currently favored by 5 in their home game against Michigan, and favored by 3 in their home game against Arizona St, so winning either of those can't count as an upset if those odds hold. They do have a home game against UCLA on Nov. 21 that would normally have "upset" written all over it. The regular season will be winding down, and UCLA will have their huge clash with USC the week after. But the early line on that game has Utah as just a 1-point underdog.
Washington loses more talent and experience than maybe anyone in the conference and only won eight games last year. Are chances high that they do not make a bowl game for the first time this decade?
Yes. Right now Washington's season win total is set at 4.5, juiced to the Over, so getting to 6 wins is seen as a longshot by the market right now. And looking over their schedule, it's easy to see why 6 wins will be a challenge. They open on the road at Boise St, where they'll be a big underdog, and then even their third non-conference game, at home against Utah St, won't be a gimme. They'll be a solid favorite, but Utah St is arguably better than 3 Pac-12 teams, and probably roughly very close to Washington this year. And then the gauntlet of Pac-12 play starts, where they won't have a competitive matchup until their last 2 regular season games. So to make a bowl, they'll have to sweep their 4 easiest games, by no means an easy task, and then also somehow pull of two wins against the collection of superior teams they'll face on the rest of their schedule. Sweeping their home games against Cal and Utah will probably be the easiest way to get that done, but there's good reason their season win total was set at 4.5 by the market. I would be surprised if Washington wound up in a bowl this year.
Washington State passes for more yards than just about everyone in the country, but it doesn't seem to win them games because they don't have much defense. About how many points per-game does their offense probably have to average to get to a bowl game in 2015?
Well Washington St will probably be passing somewhat less this year, and running more, which should serve to reduce overall scoring for them a bit. They return their top 2 running backs from last year, and all 5 offensive lineman, and Coach Leach has been reportedly saying they're looking to stop being an exclusively shotgun-based offense. So I don't think Washington St's path to a bowl game this year will be via a hyper-charged passing offense trying to compensate for a nonexistent defense. I think we'll see a bit more of a balanced and nuanced offense from them this year, which could be more effective than in years past, but they will have to improve at least somewhat on defense. They do have a new defensive coordinator this year, and there is hope that there will be at least minor improvement for them on D. The market has their season win total set at 5, juiced to the Under, so getting to 6 wins this year, based on current market odds, is less than likely to happen, but it's certainly not out of the question, and it will depend on how much improvement they do manage to get on defense from the coaching change and incoming junior college talent, as well as any improvements they might get on offense from their reportedly planned tweaks this year. Most likely they'll have to sweep their 3 non-conference games, which will involve winning on the road at Rutgers as an underdog, sweep their home games against Oregon St and Colorado, and then try to get their 6th win over Washington at Husky Stadium in the last game of the regular season.