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Picking the Pac-12 - Week 5 (plus TV schedule)

Conference play begins in earnest in the Pac-12 this week, and we'll start to get some clarity on which teams are legit contenders and which are pretenders. Besides the UW/Arizona clash, the most interesting matchup will be USC visiting ASU - can the Trojans stay in the hunt in the South?

USC WR Marqise Lee has been largely bottled up this season - can he break out this week?
USC WR Marqise Lee has been largely bottled up this season - can he break out this week?

Saturday, September 28th

Colorado @ Oregon State (-11), Noon PST, Pac-12 Networks

Colorado returns from an unexpected week off due to the devastating floods in Boulder and surrounding regions. The Buffs were hoping to deliver some payback to Fresno State before the game was postponed, and now they travel to Corvallis for their first conference game of the year. They'll hope that WR Paul Richardson resumes his terrific play against a Beaver defense that has been among the nation's worst. Colorado has had a similar offensive profile so far to Oregon State, relying heavily on the pass and struggling to run the ball.

Oregon State used to feature a balanced offense under Mike Riley, with Ken Simonton, Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers all providing a strong running option. No more - with Sean Mannion at QB, they've been much like the Cody Pickett led Huskies under Rick Neuheisel. Granted, with a target like Brandin Cooks they've been quite effective at it, but they are rather one-dimensional. They've also needed to pass to keep themselves in games, as their defense has been quite bad, ranking 93rd in yards/game (432.0) and 108th in yards/play (6.50). They needed OT to beat Utah, and a big 4th quarter comeback to beat San Diego State, but both of those games were on the road. Back home at Reser Stadium this week, I suspect they'll feel a bit more comfortable, though I expect Colorado to make them work hard: Oregon State 38, Colorado 31

Stanford (-10) @ WSU [Century Link Stadium, Seattle], 7PM PST, ESPN

Stanford's lukewarm performances in their first two games of the season cast significant doubt on their status as a top-5 team, but the convincing win last week vs. ASU showed why so many are high on them. Until the 4th quarter that is. Still, they are what we expected - a strong, physical, disciplined team that relies on a tough defense, a strong running game and steady game management by QB Kevin Hogan. That formula can win a lot of games, but it's not without cracks. WR Ty Montgomery has provided the Cardinal a dangerous weapon in the passing game, but the days of Stanford being TE-University may be over (or at least on hold). If they encounter a team that can slow down their run game, can the passing game step up?

WSU continues to display a much-improved defense, one that currently ranks 9th in yards/game (264.8) and 10th in yards/play (3.97). They've needed it, as the offense has struggled. As is typical with Mike Leach's Air Raid attack, the run game is an afterthought, and the passing game - normally among the best in the country under his direction - is mediocre at best with the erratic Connor Halliday at QB. At his best, his strong arm and aggressive nature lead to big plays, but too often he's reckless, with 8 picks already on the season. I think WSU's defense gives them a chance in this game, but they are likely to lack a true home field advantage in C-Link, with reports listing just 35K tickets sold. Stanford 27, WSU 16

USC @ ASU (-6), 7:30PM PST, ESPN2

With a stifling defense, a decent run-game and a questionable passing attack, USC is in many ways Stanford-lite this season (and who would have ever figured USC to be a lesser version of Stanford in football?) The Trojans have been relying on a highly athletic and dominating defense so far, ranking 4th in the country in yards/game (230.5) and 3rd in yards/play (3.70), and they've been tough against both the run and pass. The old-school I formation offense has relied on establishing the run game with RB Tre Madden and a conservative approach through the air as USC has settled on Cody Kessler as the starting QB. The struggles in the pass game have led to a (so far) disappointing season for WR Marqise Lee, thought to be a possible Heisman candidate.

Arizona State has thrived on pummeling weaker opponents while struggling against good ones. Getting throttled for 3 quarters vs. Stanford didn't help that reputation, but they showed some heart and grit in making a late 4th quarter charge that forced the Cardinal to reinsert their starters. Now they face a crucial test as they try to avoid falling too far behind UCLA in the South, and they do it in the comforts of Sun Devil Stadium. Offensively they've struggled running the football and have relied on QB Taylor Kelly to carry them. Defensively they've struggled against two of the top power-rushing teams in the country in Wisconsin and Stanford. They should have a little more luck against USC, and their pass defense should keep the Trojans contained. The question is how well their own offense will fare. This should be a fairly low-scoring affair, and I think the homefield advantage will carry ASU: ASU 20, USC 17

Cal @ Oregon (-36.5), 7:30PM PST, Pac-12 Networks

Cal has certainly provided a lot of entertainment so far in the season, with high-scoring affairs and some close games. But while the offensive pyrotechnics have been fun to watch, the defense has been terrible, ranking as one of the very worst in the country so far. Behind the arm of true Fr. Jared Goff, the passing offense has taken quickly to Coach Dykes' "Bear Raid" attack, but they've surprisingly struggled to mount a consistent run game despite the presence of the electric RB Brendan Bigelow. And all of the highly-rated DL talent recruited to Berkeley in recent years hasn't translated into much production on the field.

Oregon comes off a bye week, which is pretty much the only thing that can stop the Duck offense. QB Marcus Mariota answered critics of his passing by shredding Tennessee in his last game to the tune of 456 yards and 4 TD's on 33 attempts. But teams still have to stop the run, as the Ducks rank 2nd in the country in yards/game (355.33) and 1st in yards/attempt (8.46), and combined with Mariota's arm they are 2nd overall in offense only to Baylor. Their ability to score quickly and in bunches allows their defense to play very aggressive, and despite the fast pace of their games their defense ranks 30th in yards allowed (319.0) and 11th in yards/play (3.99). They'll be pinning their ears back going after Goff in the noisy confines of Autzen Stadium. Oregon 59, Cal 20

Record last week:

Straight-up: 6-1

Vs. the spread: 2-5

Record this year:

Straight-up: 29-7

Vs. the spread: 18-17-1