For the past two seasons, Oregon has easily dominated almost every opponent that was across the field from them...except Stanford. The Cardinal upset the Ducks in dramatic fashion in 2012-13 to derail their National Championship, and Pac-12 Championship hopes in back to back seasons.
Another season is on the horizon, and again, the Ducks are the favorites to win the North Division and Pac-12 Championship. Eight offensive starters are back in Eugene, including potential Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota, who looks ready to take the Ducks on a national title run in 2014. Of course, they'll have to get through the Pac-12 South favorites in UCLA, possibly twice. This could be one of the best Bruins teams in recent memory: 17 starters returning, including Quarterback Brett Hundley and two-way star Myles Jack, and the entire secondary on defense.
A wildcard that could throw a wrench into UCLA's conference title hopes is USC. New Head Coach Steve Sarkisian inherits one of the best defenses in the Pac-12, spearheaded by returning All-American Junior Leonard Williams, who racked up 74 total tackles, and a team-leading six sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. Williams could be one of the best D-Lineman not only in the Pac-12, but in the entire country in 2014 if he remains healthy.
On offense, Junior Cody Kessler is back and should be the day one starter for Sarkisian's offense. He came in to 2013 still locked in a battle for the #1 Quarterback spot with Max Wittek, splitting time in both the Hawaii and Washington State games last year before Lane Kiffin named Kessler the starter for Boston College. He would turn in his best performance vs. BC, completed 88% for 237 yards and two scores. Although he's overshadowed by the big names of the conference like Hundley, Mannion, and Mariota, Kessler should be one of the better QBs in the Pac-12 in 2014.
Odds win to 2014 Pac-12 Championship
Arizona State 12/1
Oregon State 33/1
Washington State 50/1
Odds to win Pac-12 North
Washington State 12/1
Oregon State 14/1
Odds to win Pac-12 South
Arizona State 3/1
"I'm not a gambling man/woman, but if I wanted some easy money, who should I put it on?"
Oregon. The Ducks are possibly the most powerful offense in College Football once again, returning nine starters including Marcus Mariota and Byron Marshall, Coach Mark Helfrich will see a lot a points on the board for his team. Of course, the biggest game of the year will come November 1st when Stanford comes to town. If history repeats itself, and Stanford upends Oregon again, the Cardinal will hold their own destiny in the North for the third year in a row. However, the Ducks powerful offense may supersede Stanford's usually rugged defense. The Cardinal lose two All-American Linebackers in Shane Skov and Trent Murphy, who were key in making Stanford the best Rush Defense in the conference. If the Ducks have early success and set the tone vs. Stanford, they will finally hold their destiny for a Pac-12 Championship berth.
"So what if I'm not a fan of picking favorites, who is an underdog I should look at?"
Two teams come to mind: Washington or Oregon State. The Huskies do lose Keith Price, Bishop Sankey and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who were the bulk of their offense in 2013, but return all of their offensive line with a combined 124 career starts on the roster. Cyler Miles returns this year with some experience due to Price going down with an injury last year, and although he will miss the Hawaii game due to suspension, should be the starter the remainder of the year. Defensively, Defensive End Hau'oli Kikaha and Cornerback Marcus Peters return as two of the top players in the conference at their respective positions and will lead this Huskies defense in 2014. They have to travel to Oregon and Arizona this year, but Stanford and UCLA comes to Husky Stadium. An upset in at least three of those four could put UW up for a berth in the conference title game.
In Corvallis, Sean Mannion will most likely leave Oregon State with almost every school and conference passing record after this year, but will certainly miss his number target in Brandin Cooks, who departed for the NFL last year after catching 128 for 1,730 yards, nearly 1,000 more than the #2 receiver Richard Mullaney. He may struggle in finding a true #1 receiver this fall. The RB group returns intact with Storm Woods and Terron Ward back, and should have a little more production this year if given the opprortunity. The secondary could be one of the best in the Pac-12, with three returning starters led by Senior Steven Nelson, who is the returning interception leader in the conference with 6, and broke up 8 passes last year as well. They draw USC on the road and Arizona State at home, but avoid UCLA this year. If the 2013 Civil War is proof of what the Beavers can do against top competition, don't be surprised if they can upset their way to a Division title.
"I have $5. I don't think this team has a shot but if they win I would be rich. Who does it go on?"
I think people underestimate Colorado. They went 4-8 last year, but that was after going 4-21 the previous two seasons before that. The Buffs return 16 starters (8 offense/defense) including starting QB Sefo Liufau, and the entire RB group from 2013. #1 receiver Paul Richardson is gone to the NFL, but almost everyone else is back from 2013, so they'll have some more experience this season. Although Colorado's defense was near the bottom of almost every defensive category in the conference last year, they found a bright spot in now-Sophomore LB Addison Gillam. As a freshman, Gillam was the first CU frosh to lead the Buffs in tackles since they starting to track that in 1964. He racked up 107 total tackles, 6.5 TFL, 5 PBU's, and 3 sacks en route to a spot on the Freshman All-America first team. While Coach Mike MacIntyre most likely won't be hoisting the Pac-12 Championship at the end of the year, the Buffs should exceed expectations in 2014.