Friday, November 29th:
Oregon State @ Oregon (-21.5), 4PM PT, Fox Sports 1
What may have been the most surprising thing to come out of Washington's curb-stomping of the Beavers this past week is the fact that the 69 points the Huskies scored constitutes a new record for OSU opponents. I watched the Beaver teams led by Craig Fertig, Jerry Avezzano, Dave Kragthorpe and Jerry Pettibone, and I'm genuinely shocked none of those teams allowed more than that. This team is not that bad, but they are one-dimensional on offense and if you have a strong secondary and good pass rush, they can be stopped. Defensively they've had their ups and downs, but Washington exposed them much worse than any other team this year up front. The Beavers looked like a defeated squad, and once the game started to get away from them the starters weren't going to mount any kind of comeback, though the backups looked pretty spirited.
You've probably heard about the comments that De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff made prior to last week's game where they talked of being disappointed with the prospect of another Rose Bowl. While I doubt that attitude represents the majority of the team, you do have to wonder how much it has permeated the locker room. Was the stomping at the hands of Arizona a sign that Mark Helfrich is not the equal of Chip Kelly? I hesitate to make that call so early in his career, but I do wonder if the rise in the talent level recruited by the Ducks has also led to a more entitled attitude among players - perhaps they are missing some of the fire and determination of the 2 and 3-star kids looking to earn respect. It's hard to know which team will want this game more, as both programs are facing disappointing finishes compared to their expectations. Still, Oregon is at home and is significantly more talented. Washington showed them a blueprint, and while I doubt we'll see a similar level of beat-down, I do think the Ducks will take out some frustrations on their rivals: Oregon 49, Oregon State 17
Saturday, November 30th:
Colorado @ Utah (-16.5), 11AM PT, Pac-12 Networks
While no program is really ever going to be happy with moral victories, Colorado fans should be able to take some solace in the fact that the Buffs are clearly better than they were the past two years. That's perhaps damning with faint praise, but there is some upward trajectory. Nobody expected them to keep up with the Trojans, and the game was not a contest, but there's something to be said for how Colorado kept battling and managed to "win" the 2nd half 29-24. Sefo Liufau continues to pay his dues, and while I'm sure he wishes he had Paul Richardson for another year, you can see some flickers of hope for the Colorado offense in the coming years. Defensively they still have a loooooong ways to go though, and that will have to be an area of extreme focus in recruiting.
Utah went into Pullman with a former walk-on pressed into duty as starting QB, and if not for 2 early pick-sixes, might very well have emerged with a win. It was an odd game for the Utes - their defense, which has been playing very well in conference, was torched by the Cougars as they shockingly were unable to sack Halliday even once; meanwhile, the offense put up nearly 500 yards and 37 points, which probably speaks more to WSU's struggles on defense than Utah. If you can believe it, Utah is 1-7 in the conference with their lone win against Stanford. Fortunately for Utah they face an even worse defense this week in Colorado, and their own defense should bounce back. The Utah fan base will be very frustrated at missing a bowl again this season, but they should end the season on a positive note: Utah 38, Colorado 20
Notre Dame @ Stanford (-14.5), 4PM PT, Fox
After a season where (nearly) everything went right for the Irish, this year they've regressed to the mean. This is still a good team, but by Notre Dame standards, perhaps a bit disappointing. Injuries and the dismissal of Everett Golson have hurt, but this offense is better than you might think. While QB Tommy Rees has had some issues with his accuracy, he's also capable of some big plays. His line has kept him clean, and the Irish passing game has been able to find receivers deep, with Rees averaging over 15 yards per completion so far. The run game is solid behind the duo of RB's Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson. On defense, they miss their star DT Louis Nix, and they've been mediocre to decent (depending on which metrics you prefer) as a result.
With the Pac-12 North wrapped up and the Big Game in the books, this matchup is mostly just for show for Stanford, though it could prove important in terms of bowl slotting if the Cardinal lose the Pac-12 Championship Game. While nobody really expected Cal to put up much of a fight last week, it was an impressive win by Stanford, especially seeing how effective their passing game can be (when Ty Montgomery isn't dropping passes that is). Kevin Hogan had a huge game, the beneficiary of Montgomery shredding a terrible Bear secondary as Cal stacked the box to try to contain Stanford's run game. Tyler Gaffney was effective regardless, but was only needed for 16 carries before the backups took over. Stanford's defense continues to play very well, but it will be interesting to see if their biggest strength against the passing the game - their pass rush - will be neutralized by a Notre Dame line that ranks 2nd in the country in fewest sacks allowed per game. I think the Irish will hit a few big plays in the passing game to keep things interesting, but in the end the Cardinal are just too good: Stanford 27, Notre Dame 21
UCLA @ USC (-3.5), 5PM PT, ABC
Despite a furious 2nd half comeback, the Bruins fell just short against ASU and thus lost their shot at a third straight appearance in the Pac-12 Championship game. Normally that might be grounds for a let-down game, but UCLA takes on their bitter cross-town rivals to close out their regular season, so motivation should remain high. The bigger problem is they remain beat-up - with OT Simon Goines going down for good against ASU, they are back to three true frosh starting on their OL, and RB Jordon James still doesn't appear healthy, necessitating Myles Jack to go from novelty to full-time RB. QB Brett Hundley had better hope that Jack and Paul Perkins can sustain some kind of reliable run game to take the pass-rush pressure off of him as the Bruins again rank among the worst in the country in allowing sacks. On the defensive side, they'll have to do better than they did vs. Stanford, the team most similar to USC; they were gashed in that game by Tyler Gaffney and picked apart by Kevin Hogan.
The joyride continues for Ed Orgeron and USC football as the Trojans continue to have fun and look the part of a highly talented bunch. Offensively they've made great strides as the season has progressed, with QB Cody Kessler maturing rapidly and moving the USC passing game from liability to strength; he's been helped by the emergence of Nelson Agholor at WR to balance out their attack and give defenses someone else to worry about besides Marqise Lee. The running game has been steady, whether it's been Tre Madden, Silas Redd or now Buck Allen carrying the ball. On defense, the Trojans have proven themselves elite, and it's a toss-up as to whether they or Stanford possess the best stop unit in the conference (and among the 5 best in the country). With a fast and very talented front 7, they should cause a lot of problems for UCLA's OL and keep Hundley under duress all game. With the momentum the Trojans have and playing this one in the Coliseum, I like the chances for USC to reclaim the city: USC 31, UCLA 24
Arizona @ Arizona State (-12), 6:30PM PT, Pac-12 Networks
How a team can go from losing to WSU one week and then stomping Oregon by 26 the next boggles the mind, but that's the parity in the Pac-12, and that's the inconsistency Arizona has shown this year that has been driving RichRod mad. RB Ka'Deem Carey has been amazingly consistent, racking up 14 consecutive 100+ yard games on the ground, and it's powered a strong rushing attack for the Wildcats along with the nimble feet of QB B.J. Denker. It's been Denker's arm that's been less consistent, and though he's improved greatly over the course of the season - and was fantastic vs. Oregon - he's had some clunkers too. The defense has been up and down too, though they are better than you probably think and are coming off what should be a confidence-building showing vs. the Ducks. Unfortunately for Arizona, Denker aggravated an ankle injury in that one and Carey had 48 carries, which makes me think both will be something less than 100%.
Arizona State has already wrapped up the South and are the defending Territorial Cup winners, so their motivation level might not be as high as it's been most of the season. But rivalry games tend to provide enough motivation on their own, and the Sun Devils have proven themselves to be a very good team this year - combine that with playing at home and you can understand the spread. Taylor Kelly has again been very efficient and effective in this system and found a great rapport with WR Jaelen Strong, while in the backfield Marion Grice has come on strong of late on the ground and has been a big weapon in the passing game all season. He gets overlooked in a conference with Carey, Bishop Sankey & De'Anthony Thomas, but he's a fantastic RB. On defense the Sun Devils play fast and aggressive with playmakers all over the field; last week it was former UW commit Chris Young who turned in a monster game from his LB spot. Their front 7 will get a big test from the Wildcat running game and a QB that can escape pressure. I think this will be closer than the oddsmakers think, but Arizona State should hang on to win: Arizona State 31, Arizona 27
Record last week:
Vs. the spread: 2-4
Record this year:
Vs. the spread: 42-41-1