The 2023-24 college football campaign is finally approaching. The Utah Utes are eager to begin a third straight conference-title-defending campaign after capturing back-to-back Pac-12 Championships in 2021 and 2022. Yet, Kyle Whittingham’s Utes aren’t considered the favorites.
Preseason bragging rights belong to Caleb Williams and USC, who BetOnline views as likely to capture their first Pac-12 Championship since 2017. Last season, USC was handedly defeated 47-24 by Utah in the Pac-12 Championship and they’ll be eager to course-correct that blemish.
Let’s analyze the full conference. BetOnline recently updated their odds for the Pac-12 Championship winner. The competitors shake out as follows:
- USC (+200)
- Washington (+265)
- Oregon (+325)
- Utah (+625)
- UCLA (+750)
- Oregon State (+1200)
- Washington State (+4500)
- Colorado (+5000)
- Arizona (+7500)
- California (+8000)
THE FAVORITE AND MY PICK: USC
The USC Trojans flashed considerable growth throughout Lincoln Riley‘s first season in charge. USC returned to the Pac-12 Championship Game, but the aforementioned 47-24 blowout defeat to Utah proved the journey back to national relevance isn’t complete. Another season under Riley’s tutelage should help USC inch closer to restoring the glory years.
Caleb Williams is bar none the best player in college football. Already the heavy favorite to be the No. 1 overall selection in the 2024 NFL Draft, Williams will flawlessly execute Riley’s quarterback-friendly scheme this season. He could capture the Heisman for a second consecutive campaign.
Williams should lead USC to their first Pac-12 Championship since 2017. USC’s ultimate goal transcends past the Pac-12. Riley is focused on qualifying for the four-team College Football Playoff. They’ll need to be better defensively to meet those expectations.
THE NO. 1 CONTENDER: WASHINGTON
The oddsmakers are projecting big things for a Washington Huskies squad that hasn’t played for a Pac-12 Championship since 2018. Head coach Kalen DeBoer is building something special. DeBoer’s first-year output makes it easy to project future success.
DeBoer immediately fielded one of the nation’s most effective offenses. Washington’s offense averaged a second-ranked 515.8 yards per game, trailing just Tennessee for the nation’s lead. Their No. 1 ranked passing attack threw for 369.8 yards per contest. DeBoer’s Huskies won 11 games en route to enjoying one of the most successful seasons in program history.
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. returns after throwing for 4,641 yards and 31 touchdowns under DeBoer’s direction. After injuries put him behind the eight ball throughout the early portion of his career at Indiana, Penix Jr. is now firmly on the NFL’s radar. Another season of comfortability under DeBoer’s thumb should lead to another massive season for Penix Jr., Rome Odunze, and the entire offense. Washington is capable of winning the Pac-12 Championship.
DON’T SLEEP ON: UTAH
The Utah Utes are viewed as BetOnline’s fourth-ranked favorites despite winning back-to-back Pac-12 Championships. They’re currently available at +625. That’s borderline disrespectful.
However, we can understand BetOnline’s hesitancy. The schedule is extremely unforgiving. Utah is tasked with beginning its title-defending campaign against Florida and Baylor. Utah’s championship mindset will be tested. Chalk it up as the cost of doing business as an ascending program that waved goodbye to some major elements of the two conference champion teams.
The Utes lost several notable players to the 2023 NFL Draft. Dalton Kincaid, Clark Phillips III, and Braeden Daniels all came off the board within the first 120 picks. Replacing such talent is never easy for a non-blueblood program. Whittingham faces his biggest challenge yet.
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