Thursday, October 10th:
Arizona @ USC (-6), 7:30PM PST, Fox Sports 1
After a decisive loss in monsoon conditions at Husky Stadium, Arizona got the week off to regroup. Coach Rodriguez undoubtedly racked his brain to see if he could figure out a way to kick start the Wildcat passing game. Under new QB B.J. Denker, they are one of the least efficient attacks in the nation, and that's including 3 OOC games against absolute patsies. The good news is their running game is terrific as Denker is fast and can make a DE pay for misplaying the zone-read, and RB Ka'Deem Carey is an All-American and among the best in the country. Arizona's defense has improved from last year, though they are fortunate the conditions two weeks ago didn't allow Washington to fully exploit their playbook.
It's game one of the post-Kiffin era at USC, and it's clear that he and his tenuous job status had become a distraction. While scholarship limits have taken a big bite out of their depth, the Trojans still boast a highly talented roster - the question is if they can start playing up to their billing. Even after getting shellacked at Tempe two weeks ago, their defense still ranks among the country in some key categories: pass efficiency (107.2, 19th); rush defense (99.6, 13th); and total defense (306.8, 14th). They have the athleticism and ability in their front seven to keep from getting rolled by the Wildcat run game, and to give Denker a hard time through the air. The bugaboo has been a stale offense that suddenly looks antiquated in a mostly spread-dominated Pac-12. QB Cody Kessler remains inconsistent, and RB Tre Madden has been steady but not spectacular. However, I think they'll build off a strong offensive performance vs. ASU, and with the cloud of Kiffin gone, I expect to see them play a lot looser and with more enthusiasm: USC 27, Arizona 17
Saturday, October 12th:
Stanford (-9) @ Utah, 3PM PST, Pac-12 Networks
Stanford survived a major scare vs. the Huskies, and now travel to the thinner air of Salt Lake City while hoping to avoid letting this become a trap game ahead of next week's tilt with UCLA. The Cardinal offense continues to be built off their power-running game with RB Tyler Gaffney stepping into the role of featured back. QB Kevin Hogan remains undefeated as a starter, and has some viable WR targets in Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste. But it's their defense that still gets the most attention, though they have taken a step back from last year. Their best attribute is their ability to get into the backfield and generate pressure, which makes a decent secondary look better than they actually are.
Ute QB Travis Wilson had one of the more bizarre games you'll see last week vs. UCLA, where he nearly led Utah to the upset despite tossing 6 interceptions (though 4 of them were tipped and not really his fault). Utah has been struggling on defense this year - normally an area of strength under coach Whittingham - but they had a good showing vs. the Bruins and were able to blitz their way into the backfield on a regular basis. They've also been pretty stout vs. the run, and rank 17th in the country in yards/carry allowed (3.14). Their issues have been defending the pass, where they are below average. But thanks to the quick maturation of Wilson and the oversight of wily offensive guru Dennis Erickson at offensive coordinator, the Ute passing game has made huge strides - no more do they rely on the running game and hoping for the best when they have to pass. This is a flawed but dangerous team, and they are capable of putting a real scare into Stanford: Stanford 27, Utah 24
Colorado @ ASU (-25), 7PM PST, Pac-12 Networks
After a positive start to their season, Colorado has come back to Earth in a big way the last two weeks - a reminder that the rebuilding job under Coach MacIntyre isn't going to be quick. They've leaned heavily on their lone star, WR Paul Richardson, but he can't do it all. The Buffalo running game has shown flashes of potential, but remains a well below-average unit. QB Connor Wood had an abysmal day last week vs. the Duck defense, finishing just 11-33 on the day with 2 picks. Their defense hasn't been much better, getting shredded by both Oregon schools to the combined tune of 1295 yards and 101 points.
Arizona State remains a frustrating tease of a program - just when you think they have the roster to become a serious contender, they continue to stumble over themselves and show they're not quite ready for prime time. Their offense has become surprisingly one-dimensional this year, with the run game not much of a factor (outside of a few flashes from Deantre Lewis). However the passing game has picked up some of the slack and ranks as one of the better such attacks in the country (359.4 yds/game, 9th) as QB Taylor Kelly has developed a strong rapport with WR Jaelen Strong. The Sun Devil defense has been surprisingly porous so far, especially vs. the run (4.91 ypc, 104th; 182.8 ypg, 87th). Fortunately for them Colorado doesn't appear to have the weapons to really exploit this weakness, and I expect them to rebound from a disappointing loss last week to Notre Dame with a big home win: ASU 49, Colorado 20
Cal @ UCLA (-24.5), 7:30PM PST, ESPN2
While Sonny Dykes probably had a good idea he was facing the nation's toughest schedule, he certainly couldn't have predicted the rash of injuries his team has suffered in his first season in Berkeley. And even with the injury woes, I don't think he expected his defense to be among the very worst in the country. Well, things don't get any easier for him and his Bears this week as they travel to Pasadena to take on UCLA. So far Cal has done only one thing well - pass the ball, thanks to the wide-open "Bear Raid" scheme of Dykes and the prodigious arm of Fr. QB Jared Goff (and a stable of young, talented WR's). What they haven't been able to do is run the ball effectively, and they really haven't been able to stop anyone, ranking 123rd - out of 125 teams - in total defense.
UCLA is dealing with injury issues of their own, and while it's unlikely to slow them down much this week, it could be a factor next week in their big showdown with Stanford. The Bruin OL took some lumps last week vs. Utah, especially after losing LT Torian White for the season with a broken ankle, but thanks to dynamic QB Brett Hundley and one of the better offensive minds in the country in OC Noel Mazzone, UCLA was able to keep rolling. Their defense continues to impress, displaying a lot of athleticism across the front led by all-everything OLB terror Anthony Barr, and their young secondary got into the act vs. Utah as they came up with 6 picks. They'll get plenty more opportunities to terrorize the QB this week with Cal coming to town. They'll also have payback on their minds after getting trounced in Berkeley last year, which should counter any fears of UCLA letting down before next week's big game: UCLA 51, Cal 20
Oregon State @ WSU (-1), 7:30PM PST, ESPNU
While Mike Riley remains one of the few pro-style holdouts in the conference, his play-calling is decidedly biased towards the pass. Which is understandable given the presence of QB Sean Mannion and WR Brandin Cooks - each ranks among the national leaders at their positions, and each is playing as well as anyone in the country right now. The Beavers would love to be able to run the ball, but their OL has not obliged with great blocking, and the injury to RB Storm Woods has not helped. No matter - even with a highly unbalanced attack, they rank 20th in scoring (41.6) and 24th in yards/game (488.6). The chink in the armor has been a porous defense that has been prone to big plays (6.05 yards/play, 98th), and their pass defense (139.62 pass efficiency, 86th) is a concern vs. the Air Raid.
Mike Leach's crew has shown significant progress over last season, and after getting flattened by Stanford two weeks ago, they bounced back with a decisive win at Cal. Granted, that's a major swing in the quality of opponent, but they offense certainly picked up some confidence with their best showing (by far) as Connor Halliday 41-67 for 521 yards, 3 TD's and only 1 pick. On the flip side, their defense has now surrendered back to back games of well over 500 yards, and what looked earlier in the season like a real strength has become more of a question mark. They appear to be above-average vs. the run, but more shaky vs. the pass. They have feasted off of interceptions so far, but they are otherwise vulnerable through the air. They'll almost certainly be aggressive in blitzing Mannion & the Beavers knowing they don't have to worry much about the running game. This is a tough game to call, so I'll side with the home team: WSU 38, OSU 34
Record last week:
Vs. the spread: 3-2
Record this year:
Vs. the spread: 24-21-1