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Duck the Odds: 2014 Pac-12 Prognostications

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The one where Sean acts like he knows exactly what is going to happen and you all laugh at him in December.

Ronald Martinez

Hi everyone! I'm brand-new writer Sean, and I'm here to tell you exactly what will happen this college football season.

(What's that?)

(I'm not new?)

(Oh, I actually wrote for ATQ and picked games five times last year?)

(And I was woefully middle-of-the-road with my picks? NO ONE ASKED YOU.)

Here we go, friends. We return to college football on the cusp of a new era with the advent of the College Football Playoff. We return to a field of Pac-12 teams bringing back offensive skill and experience like none in recent memory.  We return to the pirate references from Mike Leach, the now-Sarked USC Trojans, the somehow-gets-results-ing from Mike Riley, the smooth genius of Marcus Mariota, the Taylor Kelly-helmed Sun Devils.  Hundley.  Mannion. Leonard Williams. Rich Rod. Shaq Thompson. Lane Kiffin. Ty Montgomery. Chris Petersen. Big names primed for a return to the gridiron.

Let's bet on them!

(Reminders: (i) Current lines are from Bovada; (ii) Picks are on a 1-to-5 Mike Bellotti "Staches" confidence-o-meter. Obviously more "Staches" is good. In all contexts.)

The Picks:

Arizona Wildcats - OVER 6.5 Wins (4-Stache Pick): The bettors (betters?) are leaning toward the over here, and I think that's a good lean.  I don't know who's running the ball for 'Zona this year, and I don't know who's throwing it, but under Rich Rod, I think they'll find the guys. The UA program is on its way up, and I think they get to 7 wins even though they draw Oregon and Washington out of the North Division. I'll write in 6 wins for the 'Cats against UNLV, @UTSA, Nevada, Cal, Colorado, and @Utah, and 3 losses against @Oregon, USC, and @UCLA. That means they've just got to get ONE more win to get to 7, and that win could come at Washington State, at home with Washington, or in the Territorial Cup in Tucson. Bet on Rich Rod's third year in the system and bet the over.

Arizona State Sun Devils - UNDER 7.5 Wins (3-Stache Pick): I have no clue what to expect with this bunch. Great offensive skill returning in Kelly, Foster, and Strong, but they lose a ton (9 starters, I think) on defense.  They benefited from some very lucky wins last year (RIGHT BADGERS?), and had a big, lucky turnover ratio (+15). I think signs point down here. I think ASU could very well lose 5 of 6 games in a row during a brutal midseason stretch: UCLA, @USC, Stanford, @Washington, Utah, Notre Dame. If I'm right, then they're stuck at 7 no matter what.  I'm not even mentioning the Territorial Cup at the 'Zona Zoo. Take that under.

California Golden Bears - UNDER 2.5 Wins (2-Stache Pick): Oh God. I don't even want to talk about this team.  Cal may have gotten a little better following a 1-11 campaign....but so did everyone else in the Pac-12.  I'll write in a win in week 2 over Sacramento State, but there are no more gimmies on the sked.  I think Colorado got better and could beat the Bears in Berkeley. I don't see Cal beating Wazzu in Pullman. Ditto for the Beavs in Corvallis.  And I'm not even mentioning the OOC bookends: traveling to Northwestern in Week 1 and hosting BYU in Week 14.  Take the under and shield your eyes: the Berkeley Blues are in full swing.

Colorado Buffaloes - OVER 4 Wins (5-Stache Pick): Buffs are goin' bowling - you heard it here first.  While there hasn't been a ton to celebrate in Boulder since [Note to Sean: look back to find last winning season for Colorado and definitely do not forget to come back and put this in], I think the Buffs are winning 6 games this year.  Favorable OOC schedule will net them 3 wins (Colo. St., UMass, Hawaii).  I think they can beat Cal on the road and Utah at home, and get ONE upset win in the Pac-12.  Even without that upset win to be named later, they get 5 W's. Take that over.

Oregon Ducks ? 10.5 wins (1-Stache Pick): This is one that, as a Duck fan, I would put $1 on both sides of the bet and then crumple into an indecisive, teary heap on my kitchen floor listening to Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U." No, this is not from personal experience. Why do you ask?

This bet is all but determined once the clock hits :00 on the Ducks' September 6 clash with the Spartans of East Lansing. Win, this bet is in great shape.  Lose, the Duckies have some 'splainin to do and an uphill battle to 11 wins. Aside from the where-the-F-did-THAT-come-from loss potential this year (aka @Arizona last year #TIPINTERCEPTION), there are three games figuratively circled in figurative red: Michigan State, @UCLA, Stanford. Ducks have to win 2 of those 3, and then avoid letdown losses in trap games (@Washington State, Washington, @Utah to name a few) to get to 11 wins. I don't want to choose, but gun to my head, I'd take the OVER. I know what we're going to get on offense, but the reason I have faith is because the defensive news out of camp this year sounds stellar, and that's what UO has missed in the past when it really counted. IN PELLUM WE TRUST.

Oregon State Beavers: UNDER 7 Wins (1-Stache Pick): Generally, when Vegas picks even numbers for over/under win totals, they don't really know what a team is going to do. This holds true here. Mannion, one of best passers in nation, is back, as is a good chunk of the Beaver defense.  Middle-of-the-road running back corps returns, but losing Biletnikoff-winner Brandin Cooks is a huge blow to the OSU offensive attack.

I can really only pencil in 4 wins for Oregon State: Portland State, @Hawaii, Cal, and Utah. San Diego State is a talented crew and that could be a tricky game. Same thing for the Wazzu matchup.  Road trip to Colorado also tricky. Road trips to USC, Stanford, and Washington are very tough tests, as are home dates with Arizona State and Oregon.  Doubt that OSU can win any of those 5.  Holding the line at 7 makes it difficult to choose sides, but if forced, I'd make a small wager on the under.  Although they had a nice finish last year, I can't see them going 8-4 against that schedule. I see them probably right at 7-5 like Vegas does, but I'd leave room for error below 7 rather than above 7.

Stanford Cardinal: OVER 8.5 wins (2-Stache Pick): Want to hear a brutal road schedule? Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon, Cal, UCLA. 4 of the 6 should be in the top 20 all year, 5 if ASU keeps its head up.  (As David Piper and Rusty Ryan identified in their recent episode of Slingin' Quack, Stanford has a real gross Pac-12 home slate that's sure to get the be-scarfed tech entrepreneurs all hopped up on fine soft cheese and a crisp Sonoma sauvignon blanc: USC, Washington State, Oregon State, Utah. Ew.)

Real question is whether Stanford is still "elite" after the departure of a whole lot of really good players on the O-line, at RB, and on defense. If they get by USC in Week 2, 9 wins is pretty locked up. If they don't, they're going to have to spin some magic like that spider did in Charlotte's Web (LITERATURE REFERENCE, STANFORD ELITISTS).  But if I have learned anything from watching Stanford since Jim Harbaugh's arrival: do not bet against them. And so I'll grudgingly take the over because of all the stout recruits they've got in reserve that will inevitably step up on the O-line and at LB. (Postscript editorial note: My sister was a standout trackster at Stanford, and so I have to give the Cardinal credit in that regard: they know how to get good people. A little more weight on the side of the over.)

UCLA Bruins: UNDER 9.5 Wins (2-Stache Pick): UCLA had a 9-3 regular season in 2012. UCLA had a 9-3 regular season in 2013.  How much better are they in 2014?  They've got a moderate OOC schedule (@Virginia, Memphis, Texas at Jerryworld), but draw both Oregon and Stanford from the North.  They face a real rough final 4 games: Arizona, @Washington, USC, Stanford.  But what if - gasp - they drop a game under the bright lights against Charlie Strong's Texas squad in week 3? Do the wheels fall off? My analysis for USC's win total (below) rests on the Battle for LA.  I think it's the same result here.  If UCLA rolls into the final 2 weeks to face USC and Stanford sitting at 8-2 or 9-1, can they get it done?  I'm still stinging from picking them to beat ASU at home late last year, and I just don't think they've got enough big-game credentials to withstand the heat of Top-10 pressure the entire season.  They've got excellent experience at OL and obviously at QB, but until Mora wins a huge, close game, I'm not ready to crown the Bruins.

USC Trojans: OVER 9 Wins (3-Stache Pick): Trojans have a rough schedule and have to contend with rival/rising power UCLA in the South, but yikes do they have good players.  They return 14 starters - 7 on each side of the ball - and may have found a serviceable QB in Cody Kessler, who quietly had a 65% completion rate and 20 to 7 TD/INT rate in 10 games last year.  They have all-everything Nelson Agholor on the outside, one of the best LB corps in the nation, Madden and Allen at RB, and maybe the best D-lineman in the country in Leonard Williams.  They miss Oregon and Washington from the North. Their toughest games: @Stanford early, Arizona State mid-year, and @UCLA and Notre Dame in final two weeks. I think picking over or under rides on whether you think they'll beat UCLA on Nov. 22, because I think 'SC could be 8-2 or 9-1 heading into the final two weeks.  I've gone on record (read: made a proclamation over oat sodas) to verbally pick USC to win the South, so I'm gonna go with that. Give me the over. I think the Men of Troy are back, notwithstanding the newly-arrived specter of #SevenWinSark.

Utah Utes - UNDER 4.5 Wins (2-Stache Pick): Let me go ahead and list definite-wins or should-wins for this Ute squad: Idaho State, at Colorado. End of list. The Utes have a brutal OOC schedule, hosting Fresno State and going to Ann Arbor to play Michigan, and have road games with UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona State, and Stanford.  Home Pac-12 slate's not so hot either: WSU, USC, Oregon, Arizona.  Rough schedule + 12 returning starters + questionable health of QB Travis Wilson = I just don't see 5 wins on the schedule. Mark me down for a cautious under here.

washington huskies: OVER 9 Wins (2-Stache Pick): Again, the even number line makes this difficult. The fact that UW gets a 13th game thanks to the "travel to Hawaii" rule clarifies this a little, but not a ton.  Can we really picture the Huskies as a 10-win team (ASTERISK 13TH GAME)?

Although they are very strong across both lines, there are big questions about the QB and RB units after losing Price and Sankey. They've got a very favorable OOC schedule (aforementioned @Hawaii, Eastern Wash., Illinois, Georgia State) and should be 4-0 by late September.  While the Huskies have been bad on the road in conference (7-20 over past 6 seasons), they get a pretty favorable Pac-12 road schedule (one team excepted, obvs): @Cal, @Oregon, @Colorado, @Arizona, @Washington State.  This means they get most of the big boys - Stanford, Arizona State, UCLA - at home. So the real question is whether they can win 4 of 5 on the road, and steal one home win from Stanford, ASU, or UCLA.  If this was Sark, I'd say no way. But Petersen has certain je ne sais quoi (Google Translate, y'all) about him, and his Boise State teams were next to unbeatable at home.  I think the Purple Poodles got a heckuva upgrade in Coach Pete over Sark, and I think that will translate into a 10-win season (ASTERISK 13TH GAME).  And - bold prediction - I think they take down Stanford at home on September 27.

Washington State Cougars - OVER 5.5 Wins (4-Stache Pick): Pretty high on the Cougs this year.  Reason? Mike Leach enters his third year.  Which means he's got mostly his own recruits on the roster, and the holdovers from the Paul Wulff era have either bought in or are non-contributors.  And looking back to his time at Texas Tech: he won 7 games each of his first two seasons, and then jumped to 9-5 in his third year.  He never won fewer than 8 games for the remainder of his time at Tech.  Not saying the Cougs see a huge improvement from their 6-7 2013 campaign, but I think they get bowl eligible again.  Their schedule is interesting but navigable, as they open with a beatable Rutgers squad in Seattle and then have winnable games in Reno vs. Nevada and hosting the Vikings of Portland State.  If they can get 2 wins in the middle of the year (among games with Utah, Cal, and Arizona), then I think they can win one of their three final games (@Oregon State, @Arizona State, vs. Washington) to go bowling.  If you don't like the Cougars, then bet on Leach. I think he's got his bunch, including Connor Halliday, ready to roll.


Think you've got better ideas??? You probably do. Let me know in the comments. (Also tell me if I screwed up any math.) And thank God there's football next week.