The Pac-12 is unlikely to produce a national champion this year. The conference hasn’t sent a team to the College Football Playoff since 2016, a streak that may well continue in 2021. Even so, the battle for the Pac-12 Championship could be one of the most compelling conference title races in NCAA football this year.
FanDuel Sportsbook lists five schools with +500 or better odds of capturing the Pac-12 Championship this season, a far more competitive field than in any other Power Five conference.
Oregon, Washington renew rivalry
That’s not to say that there aren’t favorites. The Oregon Ducks are the two-time defending Pac-12 winners, though their last title came under very 2020 circumstances. Oregon finished second in the Pac-12 North, but replaced Washington in the Pac-12 Championship due to a COVID-19 outbreak among the Huskies. The Ducks went on to beat USC 31-24 to win the conference.
Oregon comes into the 2021 season as the +250 favorite to win the Pac-12 Championship. Boston College transfer Anthony Brown will take over at quarterback for Tyler Shough, who transferred to Texas Tech in the offseason. While Oregon will score points – it always does – the strongest unit on the team will be the defense, a combination that could make the Ducks a College Football Playoff contender.
Oregon opens its season at home against Fresno State, with the Ducks giving 20.5 points to the 1-0 Bulldogs. What should be a comfortable win will be followed by a tough test at Ohio State. Should the Ducks win there, the narrative around the Pac-12’s playoff hopes could change in a hurry.
But, Oregon may not even make it to the Pac-12 Championship, as it must first contend with Washington (+350) in the North Division. The Huskies jumped out to a 3-1 record last year before COVID-19 issues scuttled their season, including late-season contests against Oregon and USC.
Washington will line up Dylan Morris at quarterback for the second year in a row, and expects to be improved at wide receiver and offensive line. The Huskies also benefit from a reasonably soft Pac-12 schedule, as they avoid both USC and Utah while getting Oregon and Arizona State at home.
Three teams rank as co-favorites in Pac-12 South
We haven’t talked about the South Division yet, where at least three teams should contend for a spot in the Pac-12 Championship. USC earned the spot last year, and enters as one of the three co-favorites to get back, alongside Utah and Arizona State. FanDuel lists all three schools as +200 picks to win the South Division and +500 choices to take home the conference title. UCLA (+1200) also looms as a potential threat.
|Pac-12 Championship Odds (via FanDuel Sportsbook)
|Arizona State: +500
|Washington State: +8000
|Oregon State: +10000
That level of parity could be what causes the Pac-12 to miss out on the College Football Playoff yet again, however. With so many balanced matchups, going undefeated will be difficult. And without any teams starting the year within the AP top 10, it will take something special for any of these schools to convince the CFP committee that they deserve a spot in the final four.