College football betting preview: Pac-12

August 2, 2022 08:01 AM
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The VSiN college football experts have been hard at work this summer, writing up team previews and predictions for all 131 FBS teams, including their favorite individual season win total and College Football Playoff bets.

Here are the team previews for the Pac-12:

UTAH

Most of the Pac-12’s offseason hype was focused on USC, but it was Utah that won 10 games and took the conference title last season before losing a Rose Bowl thriller to Ohio State. The Utes bring back 14 starters and have a shot to be better this year. If the stars align, Kyle Whittingham could be coaching a national title contender.

Offense

Three games into last season, Whittingham flipped a quarterback switch that proved to be the turning point. He made Cameron Rising, a Texas transfer, the new starter and the team never looked back. Rising led the Utes to 38 points per game and a 9-1 record against Pac-12 opponents. Utah dropped 52 points on Stanford, 44 on UCLA and 42 on USC. Rising passed for 20 touchdowns with five interceptions, and his mobility (499 rushing yards) added a tough-to-defend dimension. Rising, praised by coaches and teammates for his strong leadership, is still somewhat of a secret yet is about to emerge as a top NFL prospect. If Tavion Thomas is not the league’s top running back, he’s close to it. Thomas rushed for 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns. Five of the top six receivers return, and four starters come back on the offensive line. This should be one of the nation’s highest-scoring offenses.

Defense

The Utes will miss linebacker Devin Lloyd, the team’s leading tackler and a first-round pick in the NFL draft. Whittingham tried to fill the void by bringing in Florida transfer Mohamoud Diabate, who will make a big impact. There are plenty of playmakers, led by linemen Junior Tafuna and Van Fillinger, cornerback Clark Phillips and safety Cole Bishop. Six starters return, and that seems like a relatively low number, but Whittingham reloaded by bringing in a lot of transfer portal talent. Whittingham is an aggressive coach who usually fields one of the nation’s top defenses, and this unit again appears to be the toughest in the league.

Outlook

It’s not going to be a surprise if Utah wins 10 or more games and makes a run at the College Football Playoff. Still, the Utes must survive three road games that could derail their dreams — Sept. 3 at Florida, Oct. 8 at UCLA and Nov. 19 at Oregon. DraftKings lists Utah as a 2-point favorite against the Gators in the opener. The most positive aspect to the schedule is the Utes host USC on Oct. 15. Anything less than a nine-win season would be a big disappointment, so bet Over 9 and expect a push at worst. The pieces are in place. Rising will be a star, and Thomas is a physical runner who will punish defenses. In his 18th year in Salt Lake City, Whittingham is a rock solid coach who emphasizes defense. There’s a lot to like about this team. Even if the Utes lose to Florida, they should bounce back in a big way. The Pac-12 ditched the North/South division format this year, so the top two teams by winning percentage will meet in the conference title game, and smart money says it’s Utah and USC.

Pick: Over 9

USC

Lincoln Riley fell short of a national championship at Oklahoma, but he coached the Sooners to three playoff appearances in five years and piled up a 55-10 record. USC would be thrilled with similar results, especially after last year’s 4-8 fiasco. The coaching situation is finally solidified, and the offense should be explosive, but is the defense improved enough for the Trojans to win a conference title? 

Offense

Riley is a creative play-caller who cranked out Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks for the Sooners, so he seems to be exactly what USC needs. He’s young (38), Hollywood cool and will recruit at the highest level. He’s already winning in recruiting, and his biggest get is former Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams, who passed for 21 touchdowns with four interceptions and also ran for 442 yards and six scores last season. Riley also brought in former Oklahoma receiver Mario Williams and Jordan Addison, a star receiver who transferred from Pittsburgh. If the line holds up, the Trojans expect to display one of the nation’s highest-scoring offenses. The line should hold up, with seniors Brett Neilon and 6-foot-6, 325-pound Andrew Vorhees as the anchors. The ground attack looks promising and will be led by a pair of Pac-12 transfers — Travis Dye (Oregon) and Austin Jones (Stanford). Assuming Williams continues to develop under Riley, this offense will light up scoreboards and oddsmakers will be posting high totals on USC games.

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