Saturday, November 16th
Washington State @ Arizona (-12.5), 11AM PT, Pac-12 Networks
With only 3 games left on their schedule, the Cougars are running out of chances to earn a bowl bid for the first time since 2003. They travel to Tucson this weekend to take on the spread option offense of Arizona; this doesn't bode particularly well for WSU, as Oregon & ASU both tore up the Cougar defense. Granted, Arizona's offense isn't in the same league as those teams this year, but the impressive defensive performance WSU had vs. USC seems like ages ago now. QB Connor Halliday continues to lead the nation in interceptions thrown; if he could cut down on the turnovers, the WSU offense might stand a chance of being decent. There are a lot of talented receivers on the roster, but the Cougs give away too many possessions and the running game continues to be a total afterthought under Leach.
Arizona all but eliminated themselves from the South division race with a tough loss to UCLA last week, but they are bowl eligible and can still jockey for position in the Pac-12 pecking order. Much rides on QB B.J. Denker who has rounded himself into a more complete QB as the season has progressed. The bigger issue in the Arizona passing game is a lack of big-time play-makers at WR. Between Denker and RB Ka'Deem Carey, the rush offense remains the backbone of this offense. It will be interesting to see how the defense fares. They are improved over last year's crew, but they had some issues vs. Cal and that will certainly be game tape Leach studies carefully. On the plus side, the Wildcat defense is tied for 20th in the country in interceptions/game, so they should be licking their chops vs. Halliday. You can never count out the Cougars pulling off a surprise, but this seems like a game Arizona should win with room to spare: Arizona 38, WSU 27
Utah @ Oregon (-27), 1PM PT, Fox Sports 1
Utah is a team that's felt on the brink of a breakthrough this year, highlighted by their big upset win over Stanford. But key injuries and a roster that isn't quite there yet in terms of upper-tier Pac-12 talent have held them back. Their task doesn't get any easier this week as they travel to Eugene to take on a PO'd Oregon squad. Their defense is game, and they should be feeling pretty confident after how they kept ASU's offense in check, but the Ducks present another level of difficulty. Of even greater importance is the condition of QB Travis Wilson - whether it was his finger or just a really off game, he was terrible in the passing game last week and it cost the Utes their 2nd big upset of the season as they let the Sun Devils claw back for the narrow win.
Will Oregon rebound with purpose, or will another tough loss to Stanford and seemingly getting knocked out (again) of the BCS Title Game chase cause the Ducks to lose focus? They have the advantage of licking their wounds in the friendly confines of Autzen Arena, but they'd better not take the Ute defense lightly. If Marcus Mariota is healthy, his mobility is the x-factor that makes the Duck offense almost impossible to stop. If he's hobbled, that gives Utah a chance, because as potent at the Duck run game has been, it can be contained if Mariota isn't a significant factor. The Oregon defense should be insurance enough to avoid the upset though - while Stanford pounded away at them last week, they had to earn every inch and averaged just 4.8 yards/play. Utah has had their moments on offense this year, but Wilson himself looks far from 100%, and the Ducks will be aggressive in coming after him. I suspect Oregon may have a bit of hangover early in this one, but by the end of the game I think they'll have their mojo back: Oregon 42, Utah 17
California @ Colorado (-2.5), 2:30PM PT, Pac-12 Networks
For Cal, this represents their last, best chance to get another win this season and to break a 14 game losing streak vs. FBS opponents. In Colorado, they face a team that looks much the same as themselves - new head coach, true frosh QB, terrible defense. Cal seemingly gained some confidence from a close loss to Arizona and were keeping close to USC through the first 1.5 quarters, but then special teams breakdowns led to the dam bursting and the Trojans wiped the floor with the Bears. Still, I'll give them credit that they didn't appear to quit. QB Jared Goff has been impressive in his poise and ability to take a beating and come back for more. Much like Leach's version of the Air Raid, Dykes has made the running game an afterthought and leaned heavily on Goff and a talented young crew of WR's. They should get a lot of chances vs. Colorado.
While the Buffs have more wins than Cal, they can thank their schedule for that as they've looked just as overmatched against FBS teams. Like Cal, they appeared to gain some confidence from a respectable showing a couple weeks ago against UCLA, but got completely dominated last week in Husky Stadium. Unfortunately for Colorado, their best weapon - WR Paul Richardson - again appears questionable at best to play. He managed to tough through almost 2 quarters vs. Washington and scored their only TD, but aggravated his right ankle injury in the process. Rookie QB Sefo Liufau has shown impressive poise, but without Richardson he's woefully short on weapons. This would be a good week for the Buff running game to really assert itself behind their thunder (Christian Powell) and lightning (Michael Adkins) combo. If Richardson were certain to play I'd probably lean towards Colorado, but with him questionable, I think Cal picks up enough explosive passing plays to earn the win: Cal 34, Colorado 30
Stanford (-4) @ USC, 5PM PT, ABC
You have to give David Shaw a lot of credit - while Jim Harbaugh built this program up, Shaw has done a great job of keeping it going and keeping the identity of this team intact. With their 2nd straight win over Oregon, they are in a position to win the North for the 2nd year in a row if they can finish out. While their passing game has changed a bit as they are no longer stacked with top-level TE talent, they've compensated with a big year from WR Ty Montgomery, and they remain heavily invested in their power running attack with RB Tyler Gaffney taking over Stepfan Taylor's role. Their defense has been improving and seems to finally be matching the pre-season expectations of being an elite unit. The big question will be how much this team - and especially Gaffney - has left in the tank after a tough, hard-fought win last week.
USC probably isn't getting enough credit for how well they're playing lately. When you consider they are typically suiting up only 50 or so scholarship players each week due to injuries and sanctions, you realize just how talented these guys are. And they look like a much different team with Kiffin long-gone. The ASU game clearly looks like an aberration, as the USC defense looks like of the very best in the country - their combination of size, strength, speed and athleticism is one that even Stanford can't match. And the offense has been picking up steam too - the run game was the staple to start the year but was just average; now, it's looking like a real strength, even with a rash of injuries. QB Cody Kessler looks more confident too with WR Nelson Agholor emerging as a big-play threat. These have been close contests the last three years despite the losing streak, and this year the timing seems right to me to call for the upset: USC 27, Stanford 24
Oregon State @ Arizona State (-14), 6:30PM PT, Pac-12 Networks
Things have gotten a lot tougher for Oregon State as they've hit the meat of their schedule. While the combo of QB Sean Mannion and WR Brandin Cooks remains lethal, the lack of a reliable running game and a poor defense has exposed the Beavers as a good team, but not great, and very one-dimensional (though that one dimension is fantastic). They are coming off a bye week after a tough one-two punch of facing Stanford & USC, but now they get to travel to the desert where ASU has been tough. All eyes will be on the Oregon State OL to see if they can keep Mannion upright.
Arizona State survived a major upset scare last week in Salt Lake City, and get to return to the comfy confines of Sun Devil Stadium. Their aggressive defense will be eager to test the Oregon State pass-protection, and while it's basically impossible to stop Cooks from getting his catches, the ASU pass defense has been strong this year, and with the lack of a credible running threat for the Beavers, they'll be able to focus on the pass. QB Taylor Kelly and the Sun Devil offense should find the going easier this week against a Beaver defense that has frequently struggled. This looks like a good week for RB Marion Grice to get a lot of carries. I think ASU wins comfortably: Arizona State 37, Oregon State 20
Record last week:
Vs. the spread: 2-3
Record this year:
Vs. the spread: 37-34-1