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Canzano: Sneaky Pac-12 football contenders are lurking
Also... the WNBA to Portland?
We all know who the front-runners are in the Pac-12 Conference when it comes to football. Everyone will pick Utah, USC and Oregon to appear in the conference title game next season. But I have been thinking a lot about who the sleepers might be.
USC is 2-to-1 to win the conference in most sports books. That’s overvalued in my opinion. Utah and Oregon are hovering around 5-to-1 and are much better bets.
My sneaky contenders:
• Washington State (33-to-1): Jake Dickert did a tremendous job settling down the Cougars’ program in the wake of last season’s Nick Rolovich mess. Dickert has now transitioned from crisis-management director to head football coach. He is bringing back the Air Raid on offense and the whisper around the conference is that transfer quarterback Cameron Ward has looked sensational. At 33-to-1, you’re getting tremendous odds for a program that flirted with a division title last season.
• Washington (11-to-1): Nigel Burton of the Pac-12 Network told me this week that he believes the Huskies will start the season 4-0. If true, that would include a huge Week 3 victory over Michigan State. I like the Kalen DeBoer hire. Also, UW doesn’t have to play Utah and USC in the regular season. The Huskies are interesting at 11-to-1 and could be a surprise.
• Oregon State (40-to-1): Jonathan Smith is lurking, isn't he? No chest thumping. No big talk. Just quietly improving a program that took a huge leap forward last season in reaching a bowl game. The Beavers look like they want to attack more on defense and there were some bright moments in the spring game. Freshman running back Damien Martinez is going to be a star. I think OSU will start 3-0 this season, but they have to play the Oregon-Utah-USC trio in the regular season while some others don’t. They’re a top-half of the conference team next season in my view.
Arizona State and UCLA are both listed at 9-to-1 to win the conference in sports books. I’d lean Bruins more than ASU because of all the disruption on Herm Edwards’ staff. But I’d be hesitant to go all-in on either program. They’ve been chronically disappointing. Chip Kelly got a contract extension in the offseason. He’s also looking over at a USC program that is using most of the oxygen in Southern California right now. Will that motivate? Or not? I can see the Bruins being disruptive but I wonder about consistency.
Cal is 66-to-1 to win the conference. The Bears are a nightmare game-plan matchup with head coach Justin Wilcox. He’s just terrific in a one-off and wins a couple of games he shouldn’t win every season, but Cal just doesn’t have the talent right now to win big.
Stanford is 80-to-1 and just trying to stay afloat in an era that features the transfer portal and NIL-palooza. David Shaw beat Oregon last season, had a nice recruiting performance, and brought his incoming freshman to spring practice. But he has some heavy lifting to do.
Arizona and Colorado are making a steep climb after disappointing results last season. The Wildcats are 200-to-1 in the sports book. If you want a real long shot have at it, because I think they’ll be improved with transfer Jayden de Laura at quarterback. But I think you’d be wasting your money. Getting above .500 is one thing, but actually contending is another. Colorado is 500-to-1 to win the conference title after averaging just 19 points per game last season. They’re just trying to stabilize a listing ship.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Legendary Trail Blazers’ broadcaster Bill Schonely celebrated a birthday on Wednesday. He’s 93. I reached “The Schonz” late in the afternoon and asked him how he would celebrate.
Schonely said he had big plans.
“I’m going to have a hamburger and some coleslaw and sit in my chair and fall asleep.”
Sounds like a blast.
Schonely — the original play-by-play voice of the NBA franchise — is “retired” now. But he’ll make a “meet-and-greet” appearance at Worlds of Sport on Saturday, June 18 at 11 a.m. If you’d like to thank the guy for all the memories, that feels like a great time to do it.
BRING IT ON: The WNBA is exploring expansion and Portland was included on a list that has been narrowed to “10 to 12 cities,” per a story in The Athletic. The league is looking at added two franchises and a billionaire has emerged as the potential owner.
Per the piece:
A representative for billionaire Kirk Brown said he is leading the bid to bring a WNBA team to Portland in this round of expansion. Brown’s representative declined further comment. Brown made his fortune co-founding DiscoverOrg, a company now called ZoomInfo that he later left.
San Francisco, Oakland, Nashville and Philadelphia, are among those mentioned. Portland makes perfect sense here. Moda Center and Memorial Coliseum give the franchise plenty of room to play. The programs at Oregon and Oregon State have sparked healthy enthusiasm for the women’s game. And Nike already has serious ties to the WNBA. This feels like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?
Get it done.
I’m also interested in Brown, who is a scratch golfer who caddied on the PGA Tour. He even carried a bag at Augusta National. He went to college at UNLV.
A few suggestions once Portland lands the franchise: A) hire Oregon’s Kelly Graves as coach; B) trade for Sabrina Ionescu; and C) pop the popcorn.
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