The Pac-12’s final season of existence (at least in its current form) ramps up Thursday and features games on four consecutive days.
The conference is favored in eight of nine matchups against FBS opponents, including Utah’s critical duel against Florida. Eight victories, if combined with three wins over FCS foes, would make for a stellar opening weekend.
But from a wagering standpoint, the outlook isn’t as bright. Pac-12 teams are precariously positioned as road favorites in four games against Group of Five foes and double-digit road favorites in two.
Traditionally, the conference has not handled that role very well.
Welcome to another season of the Hotline’s picks against the spread, where we aim for the high side of .500 and will select a winner in every Pac-12 game — even the ones we’d rather avoid.
Last year, the Hotline was 47-40-1 against the spread (54 percent).
Here we go.
All picks against the spread
Lines taken from BetMGM (via VegasInsider.com)
Not included (FCS opponents): Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon
(All times Pacific)
Florida at Utah (Thursday)
Kickoff: 5 p.m. on ESPN
Line: Utah -6.5 (Total: 45.5)
Comment: All eyes are on Utah quarterback Cam Rising, who’s recovering from a knee injury but is listed as the starter. Will he take the first snap and perform at close to peak level? That’s a significant factor, for sure. But keep one eye focused on the trenches, where Utah’s offensive line must provide Rising (or backups Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson) with steady protection and open enough running lanes to create the necessary balance. We like the Utes to win but not cover a rematch that could be just as tight as Florida’s 29-26 victory last season in The Swamp. Of note: Utah kicker Cole Becker made 11-of-13 field goals last season for Colorado.
Stanford at Hawaii (Friday)
Kickoff: 8 p.m. on CBS Sports Network
Line: Stanford -4 (Total: 60.5)
Comment: Coach Troy Taylor should make the most of limited personnel in Year 1 of his rebuilding project. Most weeks, that won’t be enough to win on the field. But the Cardinal stands to become a terrific underdog play until the betting public adjusts and the point spread reflects the improvement. Against a wobbly foe like Hawaii, which was 3-9 last season under rookie coach Timmy Chang, Stanford should more than hold its own.
Colorado at TCU
Kickoff: 9 a.m. on Fox
Line: Colorado +21 (Total: 59.5)
Comment: The Deion Sanders era begins against the CFP finalists from last season in one of the top attractions of the weekend. The Horned Frogs return just 10 starters from their magical run and don’t have quarterback Max Duggan to calmly navigate late-game mayhem. Meanwhile, Sanders must forge a cohesive team out of a roster that features more than 60 newcomers. We don’t see an upset, but a backdoor cover could be in play for the Buffaloes.
Boise State at Washington
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. on ABC
Line: Washington -14.5 (Total: 58.5)
Comment: Two returning quarterbacks, two high-powered offenses and two evolving defenses could create the most entertaining game of the weekend. (Watch for Boise State’s veteran receivers to challenge UW’s unproven secondary.) The Huskies went over the total eight times last season, and we expect this duel to zoom past 58.5 points. As for the outcome, look for a close game early before UW’s playmakers take charge in the second half.
Cal at North Texas
Kickoff: 1 p.m. on ESPNU
Line: Cal -7 (Total: 56.5)
Comment: A dangerous game for the Bears, who open on the road with a rookie quarterback (Sam Jackson) facing a mid-level Group of Five opponent with 15 returning starters. But these teams aren’t the foreign adversaries you might think: North Texas coach Eric Morris was Washington State’s offensive coordinator last season — he knows Cal’s defense, and the Bears know his offense. (WSU won the head-to-head matchup 28-9 after breaking open a close game in the fourth quarter.) We hate the Bears as a road favorite but love the Under anytime the total exceeds 55 with a Justin Wilcox team.
Pick: North Texas
Nevada at USC
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Line: USC -38 (Total: 66)
Comment: The Trojans don’t need a competitive edge against the Wolf Pack but have one anyway: They played last week (against San Jose State) and were able to work through season-opening kinks, whereas Nevada must deal with the inevitable Week 1 glitches. If USC quarterback Caleb Williams is on the field in the fourth quarter, something has gone very wrong for the home team.
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Washington State at Colorado State
Kickoff: 4 p.m. on CBS Sports Network
Line: Washington State -11.5 (Total: 54.5)
Comment: The Cougars are in the unusual (for them) role of road favorites, and our research indicates they have not been a double-digit road favorite since the end of the Mike Leach era (2019). CSU is entering its second year under coach Jay Norvell and should be markedly improved from the three-win version we saw last season. WSU playcaller Ben Arbuckle, in his first game at the Power Five level, is weeks away from his 28th birthday. His chemistry with quarterback Cam Ward is high on our list of issues to watch.
Pick: Colorado State
Coastal Carolina at UCLA
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
Line: UCLA -14.5 (Total: 65.5)
Comment: For the first time since the 2017 season, UCLA’s starting quarterback won’t answer to the initials DTR. How will veteran Ethan Garbers handle the first-string role, and to what extent will coach Chip Kelly’s planned quarterback rotation with Collin Schlee and Dante Moore impact UCLA’s continuity? Coastal Carolina has a first-time head coach (Tim Beck) and enters the post-Jamey Chadwell era with a bevy of unknowns.
Oregon State at San Jose State (Sunday)
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. on CBS
Line: Oregon State -17.5 (54.5)
Comment: If you’re looking for a major Week 1 upset, this has all the ingredients. We foresee an uneven game from quarterback DJ Uiagalelei in his OSU debut, but the primary reason to expect an unexpected result is the competitive tilt toward the home team: SJSU played last week (at USC) while the Beavers were home watching the Week 0 action. Look for the Spartans to move the ball effectively behind quarterback Chevan Cordeiro (three touchdowns, no interceptions against USC) and push OSU to the brink.
Pick: San Jose State
Straight-up winners: Utah, Stanford, TCU, Washington, North Texas, USC, WSU, UCLA and Oregon State
Five-star special: San Jose State. Expect a close game throughout. Even if the Spartans are losing decisively down the stretch, the backdoor cover could be in play.
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