Saturday, November 23rd
Oregon (-20.5) @ Arizona, 12:30PM PT, ABC/ESPN2
It took 2.25 quarters, but Oregon shook off a tough loss to Stanford and finally pulled away from a game Utah squad looking for their 2nd big upset of the year. Oregon wasn't at their best in this one and questions continue to linger about the normally potent Duck run game, but the talent mismatch was far too much for the Utes to neutralize. Oregon is in position to win the conference for the 4th time in 5 years, and if they catch some breaks, possibly even climb back into the BCS Championship Game picture. But one game at a time, and next up is Arizona. While the run game is showing some vulnerability, Marcus Mariota continues to prove he's the best passer in Eugene since Joey Harrington. And the Duck defense remains one of the better ones in the country, with the speed and athleticism to match up well with a spread attack that bears a lot of similarities to their own.
Arizona blew a great chance to assure themselves of a bowl by losing to WSU at home last week - now they face the very real prospect of losing their last 3 games of the season and finding themselves on the outside looking in when bowl bids are issued. While the Wildcat running attack remains potent behind the 1-2 punch of Ka'Deem Carey and B.J. Denker, the passing game is still below-par despite in-season improvements from Denker. And while the defense isn't terrible, in-conference it still ranks in the bottom third, and is particularly vulnerable to the run. This could be a get-well game for Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and De'Anthony Thomas. Oregon 42, Arizona 17
Utah @ Washington State (-1.5), 12:30PM PT, Pac-12 Networks
Being a QB for Utah in the Pac-12 is starting to look a lot like being a drummer for Spinal Tap. The latest QB curse victim is Travis Wilson - after earlier battling a sprained finger, he suffered a concussion, and the resulting tests revealed an issue that could end up forcing him to retire from the game. While he had his ups and downs this season, the Utes had their best success offensively when he was healthy and starting. Without him, the run game looks pedestrian and the passing game is more miss than hit. Their defense (as usual) has emerged as the strength of the team, and while it's not quite at the level of USC, Stanford or Oregon, they are pretty good, and they excel at rushing the passer.
WSU is now just one win away from bowl eligibility, though in this year's Pac-12 six wins might not be enough to guarantee a spot. The Cougs are coming off their best game since their big upset of USC, downing Arizona in Tucson. Connor Halliday was accurate and only threw one pick, and the defense was opportunistic, gathering in 2 fumble recoveries. But he was also sacked 4 times against a team that has struggled in that department - not a good sign as they face off against an aggressive Utah front. And WSU has had a bizarro year in conference, as they are 0-3 at home and 3-1 on the road. If they can keep Halliday from getting killed out there, they should pull out the win, but I have a feeling Utah is going to force him into a bad day: Utah 20, WSU 17
Cal @ Stanford (-31.5), 1PM PT, Fox Sports 1
To say this year hasn't gone as Sonny Dykes and his boss Sandy Barbour hoped would be a colossal understatement; while a winning season was probably not realistic, I doubt they expected the cascade of injuries and utter collapse of the defense that leaves them looking at a 1-11 season which would represent the worst record in school history. It's not often a coach finds himself on a hot seat after just one year, but Dykes is under a lot of duress already, and would probably be in worse shape if not for the financial mess that Cal is in. The defense is awful, completely undermining a decent passing game. The off-season can't come soon enough for these guys.
Stanford is licking their wounds after a tough loss to USC that very likely knocked them out of the Pac-12 Championship game and probably cost them a shot at a BCS bowl. But they are still looking at a possible double-digit win season which would mark their 4th in a row a making the case that this is the best stretch of Stanford football history, surpassing the glory days under Pop Warner in the '20's. The defense has worked out some early season kinks and is among the nation's best, the run game is your typical Stanford smash-mouth unit, and while Kevin Hogan isn't quite the superstar Cardinal fans might have though heading into this season, he's unlikely to face a defense as good as USC's the rest of the way. Stanford 45, Cal 10
Arizona State (-2.5) @ UCLA, 4PM PT, Fox
Maybe it's the grind of the season, but Arizona State has looked a little more ordinary the past two weeks, barely escaping Utah with a 1 point win and then securing a solid but not inspiring win at home last week against Oregon State. QB Taylor Kelly has looked a little shaky, probably due in part to taking 8 sacks in those two games. Marion Grice has continued to step up and the defense has been making their case as one of the better ones in the country. But I have some doubts about their ability to win a big road game.
UCLA is still in position to earn their 3rd straight South Division crown, but they face a tough final stretch with ASU and USC on the docket. The Bruins caught some breaks last week and weathered a big comeback attempt in downing the Huskies but it wasn't without some costs, as Jordon James was unable to go and Malcolm Jones was knocked out of the game with a concussion, meaning the novelty of Miles Jack at RB became more of a necessity than a gimmick given their dearth of healthy bodies at the position. Anthony Barr has had a good year, but the hyped OLB/DE has not quite lived up to lofty expectations - he'll be looking at the recent pass protection issues for ASU and licking his chops. This is a tough game to call, and when in doubt I typically go with the home team: UCLA 30, Arizona State 24
USC (-22.5) @ Colorado, 6:30PM PT, Pac-12 Networks
Don't look now, but the Trojans under Coach Orgeron have managed to keep themselves in the hunt in the South division. Sure, they boast 4 and 5 star talent across the board, but injuries and sanctions have taken a big bite out of their depth. But that frontline talent is shining bright, and nowhere brighter than their defense which is making the case for being the best in the conference and among the very best in the country. They have size, speed and athleticism all over the field. And QB Cody Kessler continues to blossom, benefiting no doubt from the maturation of WR Nelson Agholor and return to health of WR Marqise Lee. The Trojan running game was stifled vs. Stanford, but they have talent there too in Buck Allen and (depending on their health status) Tre Madden and Silas Redd. They will likely use this game though to rest up for what could be a very important rivalry game next week vs. UCLA.
Colorado still faces a long climb back to respectability, but at least they can lay claim to no longer being the worst team in the conference as they thrashed Cal last week. It was the best game yet for QB Sefo Liufau as WR Nelson Spruce joined Paul Richardson as a big play threat in the passing game. And while the defense wasn't exactly stout, they did manage to seriously slow down a potent Cal passing attack, though it came at the expense of surrendering - by far - Cal's best effort on the ground. This week should return the Buffs back to normalcy as they host USC and are reminded of the talent gap between them and the upper tier of the conference. USC 48, Colorado 13
Record last week:
Vs. the spread: 3-3
Record this year:
Vs. the spread: 40-37-1