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Picking the Pac 12 - Week 3 (plus TV schedule)

It's week 3 in the Pac-12, and the quality of non-conference competition bumps up a few notches. Can Paul Richardson stay red-hot? Can Lane Kiffin turn his seat temp from red-hot to just hot? Does Cal stand a chance vs. Ohio State? Read on...

QB Taylor Kelly & the Sun Devils get their first real test of the season vs. Wisconsin
QB Taylor Kelly & the Sun Devils get their first real test of the season vs. Wisconsin
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday, September 14th

Stanford (-28.5) @ Army, 9AM PST, CBS Sports Network

After two games it appears that this might not be the year that Army catches up with their rivals Navy. A modest win over a middling FCS program in Morgan State followed by a beat-down at the hands of Ball State doesn't inspire a lot of confidence that this will be a strong year for the Black Knights. As per usual they feature an old-school triple-option offensive attack and rarely pass the ball. They've been reasonably effective with it, but their defense has been a weakness, and their style of play does not lend itself well to successful comebacks after falling well behind early. They need to keep things close through 3 quarters if they are to stand a chance.

The Cardinal are becoming an anachronism in the up-tempo/spread-happy Pac-12; where most Pac-12 offenses love to spread out a defense and get as many fast skill guys on the field as they can, Stanford loves to load up on big guys and dare you to stop them. But it's their defense that deserves the most credit for their success of late, and they've got the hosses in their front 7 to control the line of scrimmage, and you'd presume they have the discipline and smarts to play fundamentally sound against the misdirections and options that Army will throw at them. Flying cross-country for an early kickoff might be the biggest hurdle they face in this one. Call it a typical Stanford grind-it-out pummeling: Stanford 41, Army 10

UCLA @ Nebraska (-4.5), 9AM PST, ABC

Consistency, thy name is Bo Pellini. So far in his head coaching career his teams have had 4 losses in each and every season against 9 or 10 wins. His offenses are a run-oriented spread, and his defenses are designed to control an opponents passing game and usually feature very physical play from the corners. Taylor Martinez returns for what seems like his 9th season as starting QB for the Huskers, and while his passing form won't win any awards, he's pretty effective when he needs to throw and is dangerous as a runner. While the narrow win over Wyoming probably isn't as concerning as it first looked, the big win over Southern Miss isn't much to get excited about.

UCLA is dealing with the tragic death of a popular walk-on WR. And while this might sound callous, I have a strong feeling the Bruins will turn their grief into motivation and play with an emotional edge. Like our Huskies, they are coming off an early bye that followed an impressive week one showing. If there were any questions about UCLA still being able to run the ball in the post Jonathan Franklin era, I suspect they've been answered. Their defense will have their hands full with Martinez and the Huskers, and I see this going one of two ways - a wild shootout with UCLA prevailing, or a blowout loss. I'm calling for the shootout: UCLA 42, Nebraska 37

Fresno State (-9.5) @ Colorado, 11:05AM PST, Pac-12 Mountain

The Bulldogs rebounded nicely last year in coach Tim DeRuyter's debut following Pat Hill's firing, and their obliteration of Colorado in week 3 was their pinnacle. Expectations have been raised this year as they are considered a candidate to knock off Boise State and claim the MWC title. Those expectations might be a bit rosy though; while Fresno State is 2-0, they needed a wild, 15(!) OT finish to clip Rutgers and followed that up with a modest win over FCS Cal Poly. The offense has been strong, but the defense has been even more porous.

Colorado comes into this game riding a 2-0 win streak that must feel like nirvana to a starved fan base. While neither win comes against a particularly impressive opponent, Buff fans aren't exactly feeling picky. The offense has found new life under QB Connor Wood, and a big heaping of credit must go to the return of WR Paul Richardson who has been unreal so far, tallying 417 yards on 21 catches. The Buffs will look to combine their new confidence and add in a heaping serving of revenge - losing 69-14 has a way of providing motivation. And I'm not sure Fresno will have an answer for Richardson. Let the good times continue rolling for Colorado: Colorado 37, Fresno State 34

Boston College @ USC (-14), Noon PST, Pac-12 Network

Boston College has already matched their win total from a miserable 2012 campaign that cost Frank Spaziani his job. The level of competition so far hasn't been stellar, but they've played well on defense, giving up 12 ppg and 300.5 ypg. They've needed it, as their offense hasn't been that great, scoring 24 ppg with 363.5 ypg. RB Andre Williams has been their workhorse, averaging 159 ypg and piling up 58 carries so far. QB Chase Rettig has been very efficient, which marks a sharp contrast with his USC counterparts.

Just two games into the season and USC feels like their at the crossroads: get a win - and not just any win, but a win with some style points - and build some confidence that they can make something of this season; or lose, and drive the nails that much farther into the coffin of Lane Kiffin's coaching career. The Trojan defense has been impressive so far, and the offense even more impressively inept. The run game has potential, but the passing game is MIA - inexcusable given the talent on hand, including arguably the nation's top WR in Marqise Lee. All signs in this one point to a low-scoring game, so naturally it will probably end up a shootout. I'm calling it USC 20, Boston College 17

Tennessee @ Oregon (-27.5), 12:30PM PST, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2

Someone in the Tennessee AD screwed-up - they somehow got suckered into playing a real opponent in the midst of their 4 game non-conference schedule. Not only that, they are on the road for this one. Haven't they read the SEC scheduling handbook? The Vols have rolled in their first two against FCS Austin Peay and relative newcomer to FBS Western Kentucky. So their stats look pretty good, but against middling competition. Their run game looks legit though, as they've piled up 555 yards on the ground at 5.72 ypc.

Oregon hasn't appeared to miss a beat with Chip Kelly gone as they've shown themselves to once again be a legit National Championship contender. Talk of the Duck offense going more pass-heavy under Mark Helfrich has thus far proven unfounded - they've piled up 850 yards on the ground at an outrageous 10 ypc so far. Sure, some of that came against hapless Nicholls State, an FCS bottom-feeder, but they were almost as good against Virginia. The only real blemish so far is QB Marcus Mariota completing just 53.1% of his passes, but when they are running the ball as well as they have it doesn't really matter too much. They'll get a little more of a test this week with Tennessee, but I don't expect the Ducks to really break a sweat this season until October 12th at the earliest. Oregon 49, Tennessee 20

Southern Utah @ WSU (-21), 3:30PM PST, Pac-12 Network

Thunderbirds! Southern Utah has already notched a win over an FBS team this year, albeit one in just their 2nd season at the highest level (South Alabama), but they come into this game at 2-0 and with some confidence. They've played well defensively, both in limiting yards and in generating turnovers, which has compensated for an offense that hasn't done a whole lot. They'll need to lean on their defense again and hope they can notch more turnovers, because chances are their offense will struggle.

It's kind of a bizarro-world WSU so far as it's been the defense that has shined while the Mike Leach Air Raid attack has been largely grounded, accounting for just 279.5 ypg with 5 picks already. Connor Halliday has again struggled with his accuracy and dumb throws, though (similar to last year) part of the problem is he's been under a lot of heat from opposing pass rushes. Luckily the defense has stepped to the fore, particularly against the pass as they rank 6th in the nation in pass efficiency defense (and 3rd in yards per game). And while Auburn gashed them for 295 yards on the ground, they were able to largely keep the Trojan running game in check. This should be the easiest game on the Cougar schedule, so it will be interesting to see if the passing game can break through - my guess is he'll be under less rush, and the Southern Utah DB's won't be able to handle the WSU WR's. WSU 34, Southern Utah 6

Ohio State (-14) @ Cal, 4PM PST, Fox

QB Braxton Miller will be a game-time decision for the Buckeyes, but it might not matter - the offense didn't seem to skip a beat with backup Kenny Guiton at the helm. Ohio State is considered a National Championship contender in year 2 of the Urban Meyer regime, and their performance in their first two games has done little to change that view. Meyer's spread-option attack is as dangerous as ever, averaging 262 ypg and 6.2 ypc while posting a 153.8 pass efficiency rating. The defense has been nearly as good, allowing just 269 ypg and just under 4 ypp. Their secondary will get their first major test of the season, and they'll need to show focus on the road.

Cal has certainly been entertaining so far, playing two games that were in doubt well into the 4th quarter as their highly prolific offense has been countered by a defense very nearly as porous. It's all about the passing game so far with Sonny Dykes implementing his "Bear Raid" and leaning on the young arm of true frosh QB Jared Goff. Cal has talent on offense with a trio of dangerous WR's in Bryce Treggs, Chris Harper and Richard Rodgers and a dangerous RB in Brendan Bigelow. But the loss of S Avery Sebastien seems to have taken away whatever wind was tickling the sails of the Bear D, as they've been awful, yielding 530.5 ypg so far - and that includes 553 yards allowed to FCS Portland State last week. Cal will have to hope their prolific offense can keep them in the game, but the guess here is Ohio State pulls away in the 2nd half. Ohio State 47, Cal 30

Oregon State @ Utah (-3.5), 7PM PST, Fox Sports 1

Husky fans can certainly relate to the woes the Beavers are going through with their depleted OL. It hasn't kept the offense from piling up yards and points so far, but it's been mostly the passing game doing the damage as Jr. QB Sean Mannion has shined. The run game has largely been a non-factor so far despite some off-season hype over RB Storm Woods as coach Mike Riley has continued his focus on the passing attack much as he did last year. The Beaver defense rebounded nicely last week after their embarrassing performance in week 1 vs. Eastern Washington, but then again, Hawaii's offense has been tepid the last two years under Norm Chow.

The hiring of Dennis Erickson as co-OC has paid dividends so far for Utah. Granted, last week's demolition came at the expense of FCS Weber State, but 70 points and 628 yards is still quite impressive. So. QB Travis Wilson has shined, both through the air and on the ground, and he's got two explosive targets in Sean Fitzgerald and Dres Anderson to throw to (both averaging over 20 ypc). The Ute defense struggled vs. Utah State's mobile QB Chucky Keeton, but against Mannion they'll be able to pin their ears back and try to take advantage of the Beaver OL situation. Utah 31, Oregon State 27

Wisconsin @ ASU (-5.5), 7:30PM PST, ESPN

The Badgers haven't seemed to miss a beat with Bret Bielema off to the big money at Arkansas, as new coach Gary Anderson has brought his own brand of tough-guy football to Madison. It's tough to argue with the results - three Badgers are averaging over 100 ypg, and as a team they rank #3 in the country at 390 ypg and a gaudy 8.2 ypc. The passing game has been highly effective, if not entirely necessary; they've added another 212 ypg at a 174.7 passing efficiency clip. The defense has pitched two consecutive shutouts to start the season and yielded just 325 yards total. I'd note the quality of competition they've faced so far, but ASU has only played FCS Cal Poly so far, so they're on roughly equal ground in that respect.

Arizona State begins what looks like a 4-game gauntlet of tough teams, where USC currently appears to be the easiest of the bunch. The predictably rolled last week in their opener, but their task will be much harder this week. They did what you'd expect vs. the Hornets, blanking them 55-0 and outgaining them 523-167. QB Taylor Kelly was extremely efficient, picking up where he left off last year. The defense dominated. About the only quibbles from an ASU perspective was recording just one sack and rushing for 158 yards on 44 carries. This will be a great test for the Sun Devils as we'll get to see just how legit they are in 2013 - their 8-5 record last year in Todd Graham's debut was built mostly on beating lesser opponents. Outside of perhaps the Territorial Cup win over Arizona, none of their wins could be considered upsets. This looks like a great matchup, and while ASU is at home, Wisconsin has 1 more game of experience under their belts in this young season - I'm calling for a mild upset here: Wisconsin 27, ASU 24

Texas San Antonio @ Arizona (-26), 7:30PM PST, Pac-12 Network

You might have thought Larry Coker had retired from college football, but oh no - he's been tasked with creating and leading the newly established Texas San Antonio football program. They are in year three now, and they aren't terrible - they went 8-4 last year (against a pretty bad schedule, but still) and knocked off New Mexico in week one. Oklahoma State routed them last week, but they showed some spark and scored 28 points in the 4th quarter against the Cowboy backups and keep the score from getting too embarrassing. While the defense has been poor, they have mostly been gashed through the air rather than the ground, so they've got that going for them in this one.

Arizona has done everything they can this year to ensure a bowl game through weak scheduling, as UTSA represents their toughest non-conference opponent on this schedule. With Matt Scott gone to seek his fortune in the pro game, RichRod's spread attack has been mostly focused on the zone-read option run game thus far, and the results have been stellar. They rank 6th in the country with 351.5 ypg on 6.9 ypc, and only one of those two games featured All-American RB Ka'Deem Carey. The strong run game has masked the struggles that new QB B.J. Denker has had in the passing game - not a surprise given the hits Arizona took to their WR core between graduation, injury and attrition this off-season. The defense hasn't really been tested so far given the quality of competition, but they've been exceptionally strong vs. the pass - they'll get a bit more of a test against Coker's pass-happy Roadrunners. Arizona 48, UTSA 17

Record last week:

Straight-up: 8-1

Vs. the spread: 7-2

Record this year:

Straight-up: 15-4

Vs. the spread: 11-7-1