Picking the Pac-12 - Week 4 (plus TV schedule)

David Shaw's team will need a better effort this week than they had vs. Army - Ron Antonelli

It's the last big weekend of non-conference games for the Pac-12, and the slate isn't as impressive as last week. The big games are the "Holy War" between Utah and Brigham Young and a key early conference match-up between Stanford & ASU.

Saturday, September 21st

Utah State @ USC (-6.5), 12:30PM PST, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2

If not for a surprise onside kick, the Aggies might be sitting at 3-0 entering this game; instead, they lost a heart-breaker to in-state rivals Utah in week 1. They bounced back and whipped Air Force 52-20 (on the road) and destroyed FCS Weber State 70-6. A big reason has been QB Chuckie Keeton who ranks 9th in the country in pass efficiency and has racked up 307.7 ypg passing and another 62.3 on the ground. He'll need that running ability to escape pressure from the terrific USC front 7. Utah State's defense has feasted against their last 2 opponents, but the Utes picked up 450 yards on them.

USC got some much needed confidence last week as they bounced back from a rough week and rolled over Boston College 35-7. Once Kiffin committed to QB Cody Kessler, good things happened; Trojan fans have to be wondering what took him so long to do so. The USC defense has looked terrific under new DC Clancy Pendergast, but they'll get their stiffest challenge to date against the potent Utah State offense. Their ability to contain Keeton will be key, and they have the athleticism to do so. The Aggies will give the Trojans a good fight, but I think USC turned a corner last week and the offense will no longer be a major liability. USC 27, Utah State 20

Arizona State @ Stanford (-7.5), 4PM PST, Fox

While most of the focus on the end of last week's game centered on the controversy over how the refs let the clock tick away in confusion to let ASU escape with a narrow win over Wisconsin, what gets forgotten is that poor clock management by Todd Graham on the last Sun Devil drive gave the Badgers enough time to drive the field and set up what could have been a game-winning FG. Now they have to go on the road to take on a better version of Wisconsin in the form of Stanford. The good news for ASU is Stanford doesn't have a RB as dynamic as Melvin Gordon, who's averaging a mind-blowing 13.0 ypc so far this season on 37 carries. QB Taylor Kelly was not as efficient as ASU fans hoped, continuing a trend from last year against upper-tier competition, though he did find success late in the game with the back-shoulder fade to Jaelen Strong.

Stanford was underwhelming last week at Army, winning by 14 against a team that had lost by 26 the prior week to Ball State. The good news for Cardinal fans is that the East Coast noon start time likely played a role. The bad news is ASU is a much more talented opponent than Army. A plus for Stanford was the big-game by WR Ty Montgomery (6 catches, 130 yards, 1 TD) and another solid effort from RB Tyler Gaffney (20 carries, 132 yards, 1 TD). But the key will be Stanford's physical defense and how they deal with the up-tempo spread attack of the Sun Devils. I think both of these teams are a bit over-rated at this point, but it should be an entertaining game, with Stanford able to slow ASU just enough to win: Stanford 31, ASU 27

Oregon State (-11) @ San Diego State, 4:30PM PST, CBS Sports Network

It's been a disappointing start to the season for Rocky Long's San Diego State team. With a veteran defense and a top RB returning, they were expected to be contenders in the MWC this year, but that's looking iffy just two games in. Sure, a loss in week 2 at Ohio State wasn't unexpected, though the score was maybe more lopsided than they figured. What really hurt was a week 1 loss to FCS Eastern Illinois 40-19. A poor showing by the defense (533 yards allowed) and a terrible first start for new QB Adam Dingwell (27 of 63, 4 int's) doomed them. Both will need to improve significantly in this one.

Oregon State bounced back from an embarrassing loss in week 1 to Eastern Washington to knock off a bad Hawaii team and then squeak by Utah last week in OT. With a veteran QB playing lights-out in Sean Mannion, this squad has some resemblance to past Mike Riley teams that started slow, but the defense on those teams were much better than what these Beavers have shown so far. They currently rank 109th in yards/game and 115th in yards/play, and they haven't even hit the meat of their schedule yet. It's put a lot of pressure on Mannion to bail them out, and so far he's been fantastic, ranking 2nd in the country in passing yards and 11th in pass efficiency. He hasn't had much help from his running game (just 70.0 ypg), and now RB Storm Woods is out indefinitely with a concussion after a scary hit last week in pass protection. Mannion to Brandin Cooks should be enough this week though as the Aztecs don't appear to have the horses to slow down Oregon State's offense - call it Oregon State 41, San Diego State 27

Utah @ Brigham Young (-7), 7:15PM PST, ESPN2

I think a clear sign that we are now living in a bizarro universe is the fact that BYU is now all about a running QB that can barely throw the ball. The Cougars are a long way from LaVell Edwards, that's for sure. After a tough, mistake-filled loss to start the season at Virginia, BYU rallied to run roughshod all over Texas (and get their DC fired in the process) to the tune of 550 yards on the ground, with QB Taysom Hill accounting for 259 of them (and 3 TD's). The Cougars are running at a frenetic pace, leading the country by averaging just 17.8 seconds per play, but still playing tough defense. With a break in the Holy War after this year, they'll be extra eager to snap a 3-game losing streak to the Utes.

Utah lost a heart-breaker last week in OT to Oregon State, or they'd be looking at a 3-0 start to the season. They have clearly benefited from new co-OC Dennis Erickson as the offense ranks 17th in yards/game (539.0) and 7th in yards/play (7.85), and So. QB Travis Wilson has shown significant growth over last year. He's been a weapon on the ground (244 yards on 24 carries, 5 TD's) and ranks 26th in pass efficiency. The defense has had their issues vs. the pass, but they've been stout so far against the run (though some of that is due to a strong pass rush helping their numbers). I think the Utes will give Brigham Young a tough game, but ultimately I see the Cougar defense harassing Wilson enough to turn things in their favor and Hill and the BYU offense will wear down the Utes: BYU 27, Utah 24

New Mexico State @ UCLA (-42.5), 7:30PM PST, Pac-12 Networks

We have a new visitor to the blog that's a fan of New Mexico State, so I'll try to be kind here: The Aggies are not very good at football. New head coach Doug Martin has taken over a perennially downtrodden program, one that last had a winning record in 2002, and has had just four of them in the last 40 years. Martin himself doesn't have a great track record from his prior stint as HC at Kent State, and things aren't looking so hot in his first year at New Mexico State, as they are 0-3, rank 124th (out of 125) in total defense and 88th in total offense. They are riding a 14-game losing streak (17 if you only count FBS teams) and are taking on the Bruins in the Rose Bowl. Yeah, their chances aren't looking so hot in this one.

The Bruins of course are coming off an emotional win in the wake of Nick Pasquale's untimely death as they overcame an early 21-3 deficit at Nebraska to rattle off 38 unanswered points and score a major non-conference win. They feature one of the most explosive offenses in the country, ranking 5th in yards/game (575.5) and 18th in yards/play (7.19), led by So. QB Brett Hundley. He's gotten help from Jr. RB Jordon James stepping up and making sure there's been little drop-off with the graduation of Jonathan Franklin. More surprising has been the defense showing few weaknesses despite major turnover in their secondary and the graduation of stud DE Datone Jones. Their pace of play inflates their overall numbers some, but the Bruins rank 13th in the country on defense in yards/play (4.20). Basically, the only thing that UCLA needs to worry about in this game is avoiding an emotional hangover from last week and playing sloppy. Even then, they should win - it's just a matter of by how much. I'll say UCLA 48, New Mexico State 13

Idaho @ WSU (-31), 7:30PM PST, Pac-12 Networks

I mentioned above that New Mexico State isn't very good at football. Idaho can give them a run for their money in that regard as they are currently riding a 9-game losing streak, their last victory coming against - wait for it - New Mexico State. New coach Paul Petrino has his work cut out for him in the Palouse. The Vandals rank 121st in total defense (554.3), 112th in pass efficiency defense (162.5) and 119th in run defense (268.33). He's found a bit more success on offense as they rank 77th at 383.7 yards/game (1 spot ahead of Washington State), but those numbers have come against North Texas, Wyoming and Northern Illinois - not exactly a murderer's row of opponents.

I mentioned the bizarro universe we're in right now - the other bit of proof you need is that the Mike Leach coached WSU Cougars are winning with a mediocre offense and a terrific defense. They are excelling vs. the pass, ranking 1st in yards/game (99.7) and 4th in pass efficiency (81.9). Their run defense hasn't been as good, ranking 77th (169.0 yards/game), but overall they rank 11th in the country (268.7 yards/game). Leach's teams are usually known for their record-breaking passing offenses, but that hasn't been the case in Pullman so far. Jr. QB Connor Halliday has picked up decent amount of yards, but his accuracy is not ideal for the Air Raid and he's been reckless, throwing 6 picks so far. Still, the Cougars shouldn't have much trouble in this one as they romp in this battle of the Palouse: WSU 41, Idaho 13

Record last week:

Straight-up: 8-2

Vs. the spread: 5-5

Record this year:

Straight-up: 23-6

Vs. the spread: 16-12-1

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