Thursday, October 31st
Arizona State (-11.5) @ WSU, 7:30PM PST, ESPN
The Sun Devils head to Pullman for a Halloween night match-up with their 1-game lead in the South on the line. It will be their first exposure to less than ideal weather this season, and the crowd is certain to be juiced. Good thing for ASU that they're a much better team than the Cougars. They're coming off a bye week, which might not be a good thing - they were rolling heading into the break, having gotten their running game into gear against the Huskies and showcasing a potent passing attack. On defense, the return of Jaxon Hood on the DL coincided with a vastly improved performance vs. the run, though they won't be tested in that area vs. WSU. Their secondary will, and that's been a strength so far for the Sun Devil defense, as has rushing the passer.
After their big upset over USC early in the season, WSU's defense has taken a beating vs. Pac-12 opponents. They'll have their hands full again vs. ASU. Their pass defense has relied on getting picks so far this year, but have otherwise been vulnerable, and the Cougar pass rush hasn't had a great deal of success. Their run defense has been hit and miss, and they'll have to hope ASU's big game on the ground vs. Washington was an aberration. On offense, the mission is clear - avoid interceptions, something with which QB Connor Halliday has had real trouble so far. Given the conditions and what should be a raucous atmosphere, I think the Cougars will keep it within shouting distance most of the game, but ASU has too many weapons for WSU to stop: Arizona State 41, WSU 31
Friday, November 1st
USC @ Oregon State (-5), 6PM PST, ESPN2
Trojan fans can be excused if they wonder what the heck happened to their offense this year. While many will point to a big dropoff at QB following the graduation of 4-year starter Matt Barkley, you can place a lot of blame at the feet of the OL - their pass protection has been poor, and while the running game has looked good at times, it hasn't been nearly strong enough to offset a pedestrian passing attack. Good thing for the their defense is very, very good, bordering on elite. Their front 7 are fast and strong, and while Stanford's front gets all the hype, the Trojans might be just as good, if not better. They should be able to completely shut down an anemic OSU running game, but their secondary will be severely tested. And their offense will be facing an improving Beaver defense.
Oregon State has entered the much more challenging portion of their schedule, and their offense suddenly found themselves grounded last week vs. Stanford as QB Sean Mannion was under siege all game. They'll need to fix their protection, because the job won't be any easier against the Trojan pass rush. On the plus side, their defense has picked things up considerably since the start of the season, and while they're not good, they are no longer terrible. The secondary has been opportunistic with 14 picks, and the run defense has been decent, though some of that is opponents having to shift to the passing game to keep up with the Beaver offense. Oregon State has also had the Trojans number of late in Corvallis, and while I think it will probably be another lower-scoring affair similar to their Stanford game last week, the difference will be that Oregon State's defense should be able to keep the Trojans in check: Oregon State 24, USC 16
Saturday, November 2nd
Arizona (-16) @ Cal, 12:30PM PST, Pac 12 Networks
B.J. Denker has made major strides in the last 3 games and is no longer a liability passing the ball. The Wildcats remain a run-first offense, but they can make a defense pay now for over committing to stop Ka'Deem Carey. They are quietly still in the South hunt, just 1 loss back of ASU and the Territorial Cup yet to play. Their defense took a lot of criticism last year, but they weren't as terrible as most thought - the brisk pace of the Arizona offense meant a lot more snaps for the defense to defend. This year the stop unit is a clear strength led by one of the nation's top pass defenses. They'll need it vs. the aerial assault of Cal.
You have to feel a bit for new Cal coach Sonny Dykes - the bad luck they've suffered in the form of injuries has been salt in the wounds of an already young and struggling program in their first year under new coaches and systems. But give credit to Fr. QB Jared Goff - he's taken a lot of hits, but he's stood tall and shown good poise for a guy one year removed from H.S. But while they have some good playmakers at WR and a promising QB, the OL has been terrible and the defense is in shambles. I don't expect things to get any better for them this week back in Strawberry Canyon: Arizona 45, Cal 20
Colorado @ UCLA (-27), 4:30PM PST, Fox Sports 1
If anyone can sympathize with Cal fans this year, it's Colorado fans. The Buffs have been the conference's premier "get-well" team for the last couple of seasons, and they remain so again this year. There is hope that change is afoot under new coach Mike MacIntyre, but it will probably take a few more recruiting classes to really take hold. New QB Sefo Liufau has shown poise and some nice athleticism as a true frosh, but he's still a ways away from being an upper-tier Pac-12 QB, even with a terrific weapon in WR Paul Richardson. The Buffs to do have an exciting young RB in Michael Adkins to team with big thumper Christian Powell. On defense it's been tough sledding, as they've been carved up on the ground and only marginally better vs. the pass, partly due to them generating next to no pass rush.
UCLA wrapped up their one-two tour of doom vs. Stanford & Oregon and get the soft landing of hosting Colorado for their troubles. They can use it, as they have injury issues that are starting to approach Cal in terms of bad luck. Their defense showed terrific athleticism and ability as they held Oregon mostly in check through 3 quarters, but they couldn't maintain that effort as the offense was unable to take advantage and help them out. But make no mistake - the Bruins sport some scary talent in DE Anthony Barr and LB Myles Jack. On offense, QB Brett Hundley will look to get back on track against the Buffs, and a UCLA run game that has struggled with RB Jordon James out should find the yards easier to come by in this one. The Bruins are still in the South race, so they need to make sure they don't overlook Colorado, but even still, they should roll: UCLA 40, Colorado 17
Record last week:
Vs. the spread: 4-1
Record this year:
Vs. the spread: 34-28-1