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Oregon, Stanford Expected to Lead Pac-12

Mark Helfrich's Oregon Ducks are favorites in the Pac-12.

Mark Helfrich’s Oregon Ducks are favorites in the Pac-12.

The Oregon Ducks and Stanford Cardinal are expected to challenge for the Pac-12 title this season, according to leading bookmaker Bovada.

The two North Division schools are also predicted to have a big influence on this year’s BCS National Championship race, with both ranked inside the nation’s top six.

Read on for BettingSports.com’s Pac-12 preview, taking a look at how the 12 schools are expected to fare as well as some of those players that may be in the discussion for the Heisman award come the end of the season.

Note: All odds quoted are sourced from Bovada’s College Football futures and are accurate as of June 23.

Oregon Ducks

Pac-12_StandingsAfter three straight Pac-12 championships, the Oregon Ducks relinquished their position at the top of the conference in 2012 by way of a 17-14 overtime loss at home to Stanford. The Ducks’ only loss of the season proved a costly one, eradicating any chance the school had of playing for the BCS National Championship as well as the conference title.

The offseason departure of head coach Chip Kelly – who will be plying his trade with the Philadelphia Eagles – now leaves a pretty hefty question mark beside the Ducks’ future. If incoming head coach Mark Helfrich – internally promoted from offensive coordinator – can keep the team’s high-octane offense rolling whilst fitting in the required new pieces, Oregon stands a good chance of another successful season. The bookmakers certainly seem to think so too.

Oregon has been assigned 7/1 odds of winning the 2013-14 BCS National Championship, putting the side behind only the Alabama Crimson Tide, Ohio State Buckeyes, and Texas A&M Aggies; and top of the Pac-12 pile.

With both Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas returning (see below), the Ducks are in good shape, but only if Helfrich can sail the ship safely through some choppy waters.

A dark cloud continues to hover above the school thanks to a series of recruitment violations which could prove to be a huge distraction for Helfrich, his staff, the players and everybody else at the school, which would certainly open the door for the rest of the conference.

Kevin Hogan helped lead the Stanford Cardinal to an unexpected Pac-12 title last season.

Kevin Hogan helped lead the Stanford Cardinal to an unexpected Pac-12 title last season.

Stanford Cardinal

Few expected anything of Stanford at the start of last season. Andrew Luck’s departure for the NFL left a lot of questions for a team had slowly but surely improved from a 1-11 side in 2006 to a conference contender. Sportsbooks even had the Cardinal at 200/1 to win the BCS title before Week 1.

Stanford surprised everyone then when they took the conference championship and a victory over the Wisconsin Badgers in the Rose Bowl behind the efforts of first Josh Nunes and then Kevin Hogan at quarterback. The No. 7 Cardinal may have finished below Oregon (No. 2) on the end of season poll, but David Shaw’s side owns all bragging rights heading into the new season.

The Cardinal lost two of its three best receiving threats (tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo) to the NFL draft, while leading rusher Stepfan Taylor graduated. That leaves a lot of spaces to fill on the offensive side of the football, which could be a concern. Senior Drew Terrell figures to be the number one receiver.

Still, odds makers like Stanford heading into the season. With odds of 16/1 to lift the crystal football, the Cardinal is ranked sixth in all of College Football, and second in the Pac-12. Those odds might be a little too optimistic though.

Brett Hundley's freshman campaign has UCLA fans hopeful heading into this season.

Brett Hundley’s freshman campaign has UCLA fans hopeful heading into this season.

UCLA Bruins

The UCLA Bruins maintained a 100 percent record of appearances in the Pac-12 championship game last season after winning the South Division. Having made an appearance in the inaugural game in 2011 as a result of USC’s postseason ban, the Bruins earned this one though, recording a 5-3 record within the conference.

The team lacked a marquee victory though and ultimately made the most of what was a comparatively weak schedule. A 27-24 loss to Stanford in the conference championship followed by a 49-26 hammering at the hands of the Baylor Bears in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl wrapped-up a season that sounded better than it was. With road games against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Oregon, and Stanford this season, the Bruins will need to play better.

UCLA will be without DE Datone Jones and leading rusher Jonathan Franklin after the pair graduated and was picked up by the Green Bay Packers, as well as leading tight end Joseph Fauria. However, Brett Hundley returns at quarterback alongside last season’s top receiver, Shaquelle Evans.

Jim Mora’s side is currently 50/1 to win a National Championship. The Bruins are a long shot for sure, particularly with a tough schedule, but the side is certainly a threat to take the south division once more. From there, a Pac-12 title could open a lot of doors.

Marquise Lee and the USC Trojans will be looking to make up for last season's disappointment.

Marquise Lee and the USC Trojans will be looking to make up for last season’s disappointment.

USC Trojans

If there’s a team that wants to forget about 2012 as much as the USC Trojans, we haven’t met them yet. Life in sunny Southern California was a drag to say the least.

After quarterback Matt Barkley opted to forgo the NFL Draft in favor of playing out his senior year, the Trojans opened the season as the favorite to win a National Title. A loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 opener put everybody on red alert. Further losses to the Arizona Wildcats, Oregon, UCLA, and finally the Notre Dame Fighting Irish left the school with a very disappointing 7-6 record, including a 5-4 tally in the Pac-12. Eligible for the postseason for the first time in three years, Lane Kiffin’s side had to make do with an appearance in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, a game the Trojans lost 21-7 to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

After completing his senior year, Barkley headed for the NFL this past spring, leaving the Trojans with a gap at quarterback. Max Wittek, who spelled Barkley during his injury last season, was the starting quarterback on the USC’s spring depth chart and is the frontrunner to take the job permanently in August.

Joining Barkley on the list of departing seniors is S T.J. McDonald and C Khaled Holmes, while WR Robert Woods opted for the NFL ahead of his senior season.

USC has been assigned offs of 50/1 to win the BCS National Title, ranking the side joint 18th. It’s hard to imagine that a side that had the problems the Trojans had last season will succeed this year. However, the Trojans face a fairly easy schedule with just one true test on the road – a visit to South Bend for a primetime game on Oct. 19 – and could find themselves at the top of the South division. As we said for UCLA, from there a Pac-12 title could unexpectedly propel the side.

The Field

Elsewhere in the Pac-12 things look somewhat bleak.

Pac-12_oddsThe Oregon State Beavers currently rank joint-24th on the College Football futures list, with odds of 100/1. The Beavers finished last season with a respectable 6-3 conference record, but losses to both Stanford and Oregon clearly demonstrated where the side stands in the North Division pecking order. That being said, if either slips up this year – which certainly can happen – the Beavers could be there to take advantage.

The Washington Huskies defeated Oregon State 20-17 last season, so could be poised to leapfrog their Pacific Northwest rivals. Bookmakers think not though. The Huskies are a lengthy 150/1 to win a title.

The California Golden Bears (200/1) and Arizona Wildcats (250/1) sit further behind, but both make the futures’ top 50.

Meanwhile, the Washington State Cougars, Arizona State Sun Devils, Utah Utes, and Colorado Buffalos are expected to be Also Rans.

Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas is one Pac-12 player that could be in the running for the Heisman award this season.

Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas is one Pac-12 player that could be in the running for the Heisman award this season.

Pac-12 Heisman Hopefuls

In addition to college football futures, Bovada is also offering a list of Heisman trophy candidates. The top 20 features five players from the Pac-12.

De’Antony Thomas (Oregon) – Having compiled 701 rushing yards – including a 7.6 per carry average – and 445 yards receiving during last season’s campaign, expect Thomas to remain a focal point in Oregon’s offense. The Ducks’ philosophy of sharing the wealth might leave a Heisman trophy out of reach though. Odds: 14/1

Marquise Lee (USC) – 1,721 receiving yards and a 14.6 per catch average saw Lee finish fourth in Heisman voting last season. The junior will need another season like that to be in consideration again this year, but being that it’s been 22 years since a wide receiver took the award, Lee should be considered a long shot. Odds: 14/1

Marcus Mariota (Oregon) – Mariota’s surprising freshman season saw him throw for 2,677 yards with a 68.5 percent success rate. The result was a tally of 32 touchdowns, six interceptions, and a Ducks side that was impossible not to watch. If Oregon manages to ride the potential storm of a coaching change, and if Mariota can have another season like last year, he’ll certainly be a good call for the Heisman. Odds: 16/1

Brett Hundley (UCLA) – Another Pac-12 freshman QB that earned his stripes in 2012, Hundley finished the season with 3,740 passing yards and 29 touchdowns, leading the Bruins to the Pac-12 championship game. UCLA’s rebuilding has gone well so far. Another step upwards could once again see the team in the championship picture, and Hundley in the Heisman conversation. Odds: 25/1

Ka’Deem Carey (Arizona) – A consensus All-American in 2012, the Wildcats’ running back tore up the field for a total of 1,929 yards and 23 touchdowns in his sophomore season. He caught the ball for another 300 yards just for good measure too. Arizona had a poor season though, particularly within the conference, and the Heisman voters rarely back losing teams. It will take a monumental turnaround for the Wildcats for Carey to even be considered come December. Odds: 40/1

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