By Charlie Wheary (925 Native, Oregon Alum)
a long poem, typically one derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the history of a nation.
That ladies and gentlemen perfectly summarizes what we are about to see this year in the Pacific 12 Conference. It'll be a sports representation of the movie, Mad Max: Fury Road. An endless barrage of action, violence, and yelling, with Oregon possibly sporting chrome mouthguards.
I should start by saying that if you are looking for a preview that just lists your rank of order, players to watch, coaches on the hot seat, etc., just pick up a Sports Illustrated or the Chronicle. You'll get your vanilla ice cream, but not much else. I'm just here to deliver that apple pie. In my preview we'll look at the teams you didn't see winning it all, mascots that define and undermine, and most importantly I'm going to outline some Vegas odds in detail.
First off, I need to repeat, this season in the Pacific 12 Conference will be beyond epic.
I don't think you people are taking me seriously though?
Fine. Let's roll...
How will they finish:
AP / SI / ESPN Consensus: Oregon, USC, Stanford, UCLA, Arizona St., Arizona, Utah, Cal, Washington, Washington St., Colorado, Oregon St.
1. The Pac-12 South is going to be an absolute bloodbath. 5 of the top 7 teams are down south, and Colorado is by no means a gimmie on any given Saturday. One of the conundrums of the Pac-12 is it essentially cannibalizes itself week after week, and this year may be no exception.
2. I like Utah, a lot. I like Johnny Utah in Point Break. I like Park City. I like the Red Iguana on North Temple in Salt Lake (Seriously check it out). I like the Salt Flats. And what I really like are the Utes. I'm not saying they'll win it all, but they could come pretty darn close. An early date with Michigan, then it's off to Eugene and L.A. But they make it through that grind, and you could very well see Cinderella slippers on Kyle Whittingham's feet.
3. Oregon State will be torpedoing teams all year. The Beavers LOVE to be picked to finish last, they almost cherish that title. You know what they do when that happens? They go out and beat the crap out of USC. It's happened so many times I've lost count. So keep a very close eye on the underdogs in Corvallis.
4. Oregon has a brutal, brutal schedule, and could be floored in week 2 when they visit East Lansing. Michigan State is a very good team, and that coupled with the sheer brutality of conference play has a lot of people concerned the Ducks may be overrated.
5. Washington and Cal will surprise a lot of people. Overall, their schedule is by no means easy, but Cal has a manageable non-conference slate and also gets USC and Arizona State at home. Jared Goff has his eye on the first round of the NFL draft, and there's no better platform then conference play this year for him to show off his wares.
Players to watch:
Again, I'm not here to tell you about how awesome Cody Kessler is, although that is my Heisman frontrunner right now. Instead, I'm here to give you a couple names to watch that may be flying slightly under the radar.
D.J. Foster, WR, Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost their most prolific receiver in years with Jaelen Strong taking off to the League. So they just moved their best all-purpose player to the wing, and he is going to do some real damage. Foster is my pick for offensive player of the year, and it's going to happen.
Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona: Wilson's only a sophomore coming off a frosh season where he tallied 1375 yards with 16 touches. Nick caught fire late in the season too, which only makes you wonder how quick he will be out of the gate. The little guy from Tucson is ready, trust me.
Byron Marshall, WR Oregon: A lot of people may be talking about Marshall, but it's all warranted. Rushing for 1000 yards as a sophomore before moving to wide receiver where he also went over 1000 yards, he's got his mind on the draft. You'll get comfortable with him on Sundays, but this is his year for the Ducks.
Jared Goff, QB California: Under no circumstance is this guy flying under the radar, especially not after his trip inside the Section925 Podcenter, but with all the Cody Kessler pre-season pub, he's not getting his due in my humble opinion. Most impressive stat: 35 touchdowns with only 7 interceptions last year. This guy is allergic to bad reads and sloppy passes. I saw him in person last year just torch USC for 279 yards and 3 touches, without a pick. He's my Cinderella Heisman pick.
Mascots on the Hot Seat:
Oskie, California: I grew up idolizing that silly bear, but Cal is quickly emerging back on the national scene, and word coming out of Berkeley is that the students don't worship him like they used to. With the birth of the Capital One Mascot Challenge, the Bears may be switching gears in Strawberry Canyon.
UCLA: Do the Bruins even have a mascot?! I love Westwood, I love Wooden, I love the Rose Bowl. As far as a mascot is concerned though, they got none. I guess when you rip off the school colors, fight song, and mascot from your neighbor up north, this should be expected. Sorry UCLA fans.
Mascots NOT on the Hot Seat:
Puddles, Oregon: Best mascot in the United States of America. Period.
Best Fight Song:
Tie: Big "C", Cal. Fight for California, Cal.
Two ridiculously amazing fight songs right there!!! I'm an Oregon alumnus and if I'm watching a Cal/Oregon game at Autzen I actually work my way towards the Cal Band to soak it in. How you work a 'GRRR Rah' into a song is beyond me, but it works every time. Big 'C' and Fight for California still give me chills. Bar none, best band in the conference. And they're classy, sorry Stanford.
California Marching Band. (Reference comments above.)
Stanford. But you already knew that.
Game of the Year:
USC at Oregon, November 21: It'll be chilly in Eugene, and I can only imagine they'll make this a night game. So just pop a bird in the oven, work out the kinks ahead of Turkey Day, and enjoy what is going to be a testament to the Pac-12.
Now I live by 3 simple rules when it comes to sports gambling:
1. Never ever bet what you don't have. So if you're living with Mom and Dad still, stop reading. Kick the parents a few bones you would otherwise be laying on the line.
2. Never bet what you don't have.
3. Never go on tilt. If you lose big early on Saturday, the Gods have sent you a message. Take a walk and we can get after it next week.
I'll check in on Section925 from time to time to let you know when to bet the farm, the cows, and maybe your significant other. But for now, I'm going to establish betting trends to get some green in your pocket early and often.
First, when it comes to the Pacific 12 Conference, I love the over. The over is the combined points scored by both teams, usually set in .5 increments. So if both teams combine to score more points then the predetermined amount, you win. Also, most Vegas nubes just bet the line, so the over doesn't see the swings you'll see when, say Ohio State fans steamroll the Bellagio and all bet the Bucks to win outright. I can see I'm already confusing you, so I'll slow down.
I'll say it again, bet the over in Pac-12 conference games in the early portion of the season, and do it often. But please write this next part down, DO NOT BET NON-CONFERENCE PATSY GAMES EVER!!! When Oregon plays Eastern Washington in week 1, I'll be watching of course, but my cash will be safely stowed in the overhead compartment as far away from Vegas as possible. Oregon could cover what looks like a 30+ point spread in the first quarter, or let up the breaks and win by 20. Just don't do it. However, when USC plays Arizona State on September 26th, I'm betting my car (and yours if you'd let me) on the Trojans and Sun Devils popping off at least 40 apiece. So unless the over is 80+, bet that game. It's in the desert, the SC defensive line is a huge question mark, and ASU has their entire offense back after a terrific year. The best part is, no bookmaker in Vegas wants to set a 80+ line, only to see the two teams rattle off 40 points total. So our friends in Sin City typically set over/under lines very conservatively allowing you, the now seasoned gambler, to hit often, especially in an offensively offensive conference like the Pac-12. You're welcome.
Now it's extremely hard to forecast picks in the first week of August, but I just gave you a prime example of when to run and when to gun. Here's a couple more to keep in your back pocket to stay flush in the upcoming fall months:
1. Bet the over when USC is playing on the road: The biggest question mark of the year is how well the USC defensive line will stand up. I'm afraid opposing quarterbacks may have time to read Tolstoy in the pocket versus the Men of Troy this season Also, while Cody Kessler likes to throw it often and sucessfully, he tends to get a litte nervous on the road for some reason. I think he's the Taylor Swift of the Pac-12, he's always performing, but sometimes you just shake your head and say, "What the f**k was that?" In other words, the Trojans will be in a lot of dogfights this year. Expect some typical 63-56 scores that define the Pac-12 out of these guys.
2. Keep an eye on the Bears: I'm projecting a Las Vegas Bowl bid this year, but if Goff can put up numbers like last year, and if that defense holds, skies the limit. The Golden Bears ran the seventh most plays in the FBS last year, which means loads of offense. I already know I'm betting the over in weeks 3 and 4 when they head to Austin and Seattle. The book will put the over on the low side because of the lack of offense on the home teams, so Cal could take the over by themselves. You heard it here first.
...And remember, don't bet what you don't have!
That's all I got for now, but whatever happens, we are in for a phenomenal year of college football out west.