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Pac-12 football preview 2023: One last ride for the West Coast conference

We preview each college football team in the Pac-12 ahead of the 2023 season, including key stats and transfers schedules, odds and more.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Tulane v USC Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The Pac-12 is in for one last ride as a full conference before splitting up among existing conferences. While questions about the future will certainly loom over this season, particularly for the four teams who don’t have their next steps figured out. However, we’re just looking ahead at the season to come, which should feature some of the best Pac-12 play we’ve seen in this decade.

The USC Trojans, the favorites to win the conference, boast shoo-in Heisman winner Caleb Williams at quarterback. He is an enormous threat to every opponent, and has proved to be nearly unstoppable (that nearly is thanks to an impressive Utah performance at the end of last season). Utah, Washington, Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington are all ranked in the AP and Coaches polls.

Bo Nix returns to Oregon under second-year head coach Dan Lanning, and Michael Penix is another Heisman hopeful at Washington. Things didn’t quite work out for DJ Uiagalelei at Clemson, but he’s headed west to help out an intriguing Oregon State team with plenty of potential to cause some conference chaos.

Deion Sanders begins his first year as Colorado’s head coach after plenty of offseason hype, hoping to pull the Buffaloes off the conference floor. UCLA lost its star quarterback and running back to the NFL Draft this offseason and enters unranked. Cal and Stanford are unlikely to make a splash, though Cal has a new quarterback coming in out of TCU. Arizona and Arizona State will also find themselves in the bottom tier of this season, unable to compete with the many top dogs vying for a conference title.

Here’s everything you need to know before Pac-12 football is back on the field.

Preseason Media Poll results

USC Trojans: No. 6 in AP, No. 6 in Coaches
UCLA Bruins: Unranked
Oregon Ducks: No. 15 in AP, No. 15 in Coaches
Oregon State Beavers: No. 18 in AP, No. 18 in Coaches
Washington Huskies: No. 10 in AP, No. 11 in Coaches
Washington State Cougars: Unranked
Cal Bears: Unranked
Stanford Cardinal: Unranked
Utah Utes: No. 14 in AP, No. 14 in Coaches
Arizona Wildcats: Unranked
Arizona State Sun Devils: Unranked
Colorado Buffaloes: Unranked

Preseason Win Totals from DraftKings Sportsbook

USC: Over 10 (+100), Under 10 (-120)
UCLA: Over 8.5 (-115), Under 8.5 (-105)
Oregon: Over 9.5 (+100), Under 9.5 (-120)
Oregon State: Over 8.5 (+120), Under 8.5 (-140)
Washington: Over 9.5 (+125), Under 9.5 (-145)
Washington State: Over 6.5 (+140), Under 6.5 (-165)
Cal: Over 5 (-120), Under 5 (+100)
Stanford: Over 3 (+135), Under 3 (-160)
Utah: Over 8.5 (+120), Under 8.5 (-140)
Arizona: Over 5 (+100), Under 5 (-120)
Arizona State: Over 5 (+135), Under 5 (-165)
Colorado: Over 3.5 (+115), Under 3.5 (-135)

USC:

The Trojans return the nearest thing to a Heisman guarantee in a long time in quarterback Caleb Williams. The only question is — can their defense improve from last year? USC was right on the cusp last year, but a defeat in the Pac-12 Championship game determined their fate. With Williams at the helm, their offense should be unstoppable, but as Alex Grinch enters his second year as defensive coordinator, it’s a make-or-break situation for the defense.

Oregon:

Bo Nix returns to Oregon under Dan Lanning in his second year as head coach. The Ducks were in the race up until a Nix injury late last year, and they should be in the hunt again this season. Just as they were becoming a perennial competitor in the Pac-12, conference realignment is shaking things up. One last ride in the Pac-12 could mark Oregon’s chance, if they can figure out a young offensive line. They’ll also need to figure out their defense in big games.

Washington:

The Huskies have a Heisman hopeful as well in quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan return to the offense as well, after putting together a 1,000-yard season each in 2022. The offensive line lost some major talent, but their defensive line looks strong and they’ve beefed up a secondary that struggled last season. They face Utah and USC in November, but it’s not out of the question that they enter the month undefeated.

Key Transfers

QB Drew Pyne: Notre Dame to Arizona State
QB Sam Jackson: TCU to Cal
CB/WR Travis Hunter: Jackson State to Colorado
EDGE Jordan Burch: South Carolina to Oregon
QB DJ Uiagalelei: Clemson to Oregon State
EDGE Logan Fano: BYU to Utah
RB Carson Steele: Ball State to UCLA
DL Anthony Lucas: Texas A&M to USC

Best bets

USC under 10 wins (-120)

USC is very, very good. I have them picked to win the Pac-12 championship game. But in the regular season, I don’t see them hitting the full 10 games. They face an insane October-November stretch that has them facing Notre Dame, Oregon, Washington, and Utah within five weeks. Unless their defense has significantly improved from last year, I think they drop multiple games in this stretch. Maybe they hit double digit wins, but in this year’s competition, they will be pressed to rise to a level that they haven’t quite reached yet.

Cal under 5 wins (+100)

Cal is not going to have fun this season. Even putting aside their shaky future as a Power 5 team, they face five teams this year who are ranked in the preseason top 25. This doesn’t even count hosting Auburn and playing on the road against UCLA. I don’t have much faith in Cal’s upset potential this year.

The 2023 Pac-12 forever champion will be... USC

I think, as always, the Pac-12 is going to be a very close race this year. Oregon, Washington, USC, and even Utah will be in the mix for the championship game. USC came close to the win last year, and I just don’t see a scenario in which they let this chance escape with Williams under center. They will likely face either Washington or Oregon for the second time this season in the championship, and even if they lost the first time, they’ll win the second.