Prior to 2009, USC won or shared the PAC-10 title seven straight years. Last season, Oregon won the conference crown at 8-1. This past offseason, USC was put on probation and unable to compete for a league title or participate in the postseason. Their games still count but heading into the campaign, it is obvious that the Trojans are no longer the class of the league. But who is? We skimmed through every team and schedule and found it very difficult to locate many sizable advantages heading into the 2010 season. The of course won’t keep us from trying to seek out who has the best betting value to win the conference crown.
Washington State is obviously the worst team in the PAC-10. By default they should improve but they’ll be hard pressed to win more than one conference game. Arizona State comes in off a 4-8 season and returns only nine starters. They’ll also play five conference road games. Beyond those two is where things get extremely murky. Washington is in year two of Steve Sarkisian and returns 18 starters including quarterback Jake Locker. Stanford looks to build off a breakout 8-5 campaign with 15 starters back including quarterback Andrew Luck. California has 14 starters back and senior quarterback Kevin Riley. Oregon State places in the upper third of the conference every year. The Beavers return 15 starters including the Rodgers brothers. Arizona returns eight on offense including quarterback Nick Foles. If they win their overtime game against Oregon late last season, they could have won the title. And despite all of the offseason distractions, Oregon returns 17 starters and has an offensive system that no one in the PAC-10 has been able to figure out.
You’d have to back all the way to 1985 to find the last time a PAC-10 team won the title outright with two conference losses (UCLA 6-2). Based on the overall balance of the conference, it would seem likely that this year’s conference winner will have two losses and need to win by way of some sort of tiebreaker. That means that schedule is going to be the determining factor in who wins the league. We broke down each team’s “three toughest” conference road tilts. Having USC on the road is certainly a benefit because you can’t lose a tiebreaker to a team not eligible for the conference title. Oregon, California and Washington all play at the Coliseum. And while we initially used “three toughest” road game as a barometer, several teams qualify as having four. The key is where you play both Arizona State and Washington State – the two weakest teams in the league. Oregon for example should benefit greatly from playing in Tempe and Pullman. Oregon State meanwhile plays ASU and WSU at home which puts the Beavers on the road for that many more games against tougher competition. And because of the nine-game schedule, half the league plays five at home and four on the road or vice versa. Arizona, Cal, Oregon State and UCLA all benefit from having five home games while Oregon, Stanford, Washington all play five on the highway.
So now we get down to how to approach this from a betting perspective. Currently at The Greek, both Oregon schools are the betting favorites to the win the PAC-10 at +250. UCLA checks in third at +350. Arizona and Washington are both +500 and Cal and Stanford are +800. Based on how tough we project the PAC-10 to be this season, +250 doesn’t hold much value. UCLA is somewhat attractive having fit the “three toughest” road game format and playing five games in Los Angeles. But it is tough to get behind a program who is below .500 (41-43) in PAC-10 play over the last decade. Arizona fits the same parameters as UCLA and has arguably the softest schedule of any contender. Their late season road trip to Eugene could determine the PAC-10 winner. Washington will be up against it with four tough road games and the 4-5 home/road split. Stanford has the same issue. Cal at +800 seems to be the most tempting when you take into account the factors we discussed. The Golden Bears close out the season with three straight home games, play USC on the road and league favorite Oregon at home.
Overall, we can see why the market has Oregon as the league favorite. And Oregon State’s pedigree of contending on a yearly basis should be respected. But from our perspective, there isn’t much difference between any of these teams outside of small edges in the schedule. The benefit to that is we see teams with favorable attributes like California hold betting value. There is much more dissection to be done with the PAC-10 in the coming weeks but Cal at +800 looks to be a decent bet.
Odds to win the PAC-10 Courtesy of The Greek
Arizona State +1200
Oregon State +250
Washington State +2500