Saturday, November 1st:
USC (-7) @ WSU, 1:30PM PT, Pac-12 Networks
Sark is already feeling some heat down in LA as his Trojans already have 3 losses on the season and sit a game back in the P12S standings and would need a lot of help to make the P12 Championship game. None of the three losses are by more than 6 points, but the heart-breaking way they lost their two conference games almost makes it worse, as USC fans can easily say the Trojans should have won both. Fresh off their latest heartbreak at Utah, they visit the Palouse to take on the floundering Cougars. The good news for USC is they appear to have the right ingredients to handle WSU: DC Justin Wilcox builds defenses that are very good against the pass (113.0 pass efficiency allowed, 30th nationally), the Trojans have a run game that can exploit a middling WSU run defense and the talent in the passing game to shred a woeful Cougar pass defense. The bad news is they have little depth thanks to sanctions and have little room to absorb hits like losing starting LT Chad Wheeler for the season.
With 6 losses WSU is now facing bowl elimination - they have to win out if they are to have a chance of making their 2nd straight bowl game under HC Mike Leach. The chances of that happening appear slim, but this team is probably better than their 2-6 record would suggest - FEI ranks them 47th this week and S&P has them at #57. Their Air Raid offense has fully clicked in year 3 as they lead FBS schools in passing yardage by a wide margin (489.9 ypg) and rank 7th in total offense (535.8 ypg). That hasn't fully translated into points however as they rank 31st in scoring at 35.3 ppg. You can probably blame turnovers for much of that as they sit at 118th nationally with a -1.0 turnovers/game margin. Their defense has mostly been poor and they allowed Arizona to race out to an early 31-0 nothing lead that was expanded to 52-16 before WSU scored some garbage-time points to make the final look less cringe-worthy. They are mediocre vs. the rush (4.31 ypc allowed, 73rd nationally) and terrible vs. the pass (151.4 pass efficiency allowed, 117th nationally) and the Trojans have the talent to exploit those vulnerabilities. WSU will get yards and some points, but I see USC getting turnovers and flourishing on offense and winning this one going away: USC 41, WSU 24
Stanford @ Oregon (-8), 4:30PM PT, Fox
With hopes for another Pac-12 title fading given the pedestrian results on offense, HC David Shaw decided to open things up in his playbook and go more up-tempo, no-huddle and spread in an effort to jump-start that side of the ball. Against what had been a pretty good defense in Oregon State, it worked fairly well as they picked up 438 yards, averaged 6.7 ypp and scored 31 points (Ty Montgomery added a TD on a punt return). If Stanford can up their offensive output and pair it with one of the nation's top defenses, they may yet have a chance to go for a Pac-12 three-peat, but it will require an even better performance this week in Eugene. QB Kevin Hogan had a productive game vs. the Beavers, but he won't be able to get away with 2 picks against the Ducks. They may also need to take the wraps off of RB Barry Sanders Jr.. He's only getting 5 carries per game on average, but he's averaging a team-leading 7.25 ypc. They will also need their defense to live up to their lofty praise so far this year to slow down another highly effective Oregon offense. Stanford's defense is one of the best in the country, but that status will be tested this weekend.
After an easy win over Washington, the Duck defense looked like they were starting to turn the corner and convert talent into results. But they had their issues slowing down Cal this past weekend, surrendering 41 points and 560 yards. Everyone knows the Oregon offense remains among the nation's best, but their defense has taken a decided step back this year and could well be the thing that holds them back from being a part of the first CFP bracket. What's still in their favor is that offense though, as they have a terrific mix of bruising running game courtesy of super-frosh RB Royce Freeman, fleet receivers in Devon Allen and Byron Marshall and an emerging big targets in WR Dwayne Stanford and TE Pharaoh Brown and the electric mix of speed and arm in Heisman candidate QB Marcus Mariota. This is a group though that has struggled the past two years against Stanford's defense, and this year the Cardinal might be stingier than ever - can Freeman be the difference? Can the Duck defense rise up and stifle a Stanford offense that may be finding themselves with Shaw expanding the playbook? Will LT Jake Fisher and the Duck OL be able to hold back the Cardinal pass rush? Stanford has had Oregon's number the last 2 years, and I think they have the defense and enough talent on offense to do it again and claw right back into the Pac-12 North race: Stanford 27, Oregon 24
Cal @ Oregon State (-3), 7:30PM PT, Pac-12 Networks
Cal played a very Cal-like game last week vs. Oregon - their offense impressed, but their defense was just not up to the task. So now the 4-4 Bears face a critical game at Corvallis as they attempt to find 2 more wins in their remaining 4 games to earn bowl eligibility for the first time in 3 years. What you see is what you get with Cal - they feature a potent offense led by So. QB Jared Goff and a big stable of talented receivers to power the Sonny Dykes "Bear Raid" passing attack, and they have just enough balance on offense in the form of rising RB Daniel Lasco to keep defenses honest. The Bears are 11th in the country in scoring at 41.5 ppg, 17th in total offense at 504.3 ypg and 26th in yards/play at 6.45 ypp. The problem comes on defense where a change in the off-season from old DC Andy Buh to new DC Art Kaufman has hardly made a dent in on-field production - the Bears are 125th in the country in total defense, allowing 533.3 ypg, a standing that improves only a bit to 102nd when you look at yards/play (6.18 allowed). If Cal is going to beat a team, it's going to be a high-scoring affair with the offense doing just enough to overcome their defense.
Oregon State is coming off a rough patch that has seen losses to USC, Utah and Stanford in 3 of their last 4 games. The Beavers also sit at 4 wins, so this week vs. Cal and next week vs. WSU are big games for their bowl chances. Mike Riley's crew couldn't get much going last week vs. an outstanding Cardinal defense as QB Sean Mannion was sacked 6 times and under duress much of the time. The Sr. QB has had a rough go of it in his final year as he lacks the dynamic receivers of prior years and is now without WR Richard Mullaney, further limiting his passing options. The running game has improved over the last couple of years but is still more a change of pace than a weapon this offense can rely on. What was more concerning was seeing a defense that had performed well most of the year getting taken to task by a previously tepid Stanford offense. They allowed a bevy of big plays both in the run game and passing game and allowed a punt return for a TD to put a capper on a disappointing game. They'll face an even more wide-open offense this week in Cal. While they should find success against the Bears defense, I don't think it will be enough: Cal 38, Oregon State 34
Arizona @ UCLA (-6.5), 7:30PM PT, ESPN
You have to give HC Rich Rodriguez a lot of credit - in his 3 years on the job at Arizona he's had them bowling every year despite a different QB each season, has 2 wins over Oregon and has his Wildcats atop the P12 South standings with an outside shot at the CFP if they can win out. His offenses have been terrific, and despite starting a RS-Fr at QB in Anu Solomon and replacing a consensus All-American at RB, they remain one of the better such units in the country (40.6 ppg, 541.9 ypg, 6.31 ypp). One of the originators of the spread zone-read option offense, he keeps on the leading edge and has embraced the package play concepts to give his offense a true triple-option run & pass threat on most plays. Defensively they are better than you might think - much like Oregon, their pace of play yields some ugly total yardage numbers, but FEI places them 28th and S&P 53rd. Still, this is the area where the Wildcats are vulnerable - they will need to be on their game to contain a talented UCLA offense if they hope to pick up the win and remain in 1st place.
A season that began with much hype for the Bruins ran into the rude reality their OL and defense weren't CFP caliber, and now UCLA is desperately hoping to keep from being eliminated in the P12 South race. They have a great opportunity to re-enter the race with a win over Arizona, but are they up to the task? Close-shave wins over Cal and Colorado - albeit on the road - don't inspire a lot of confidence. As always, the pressure will rest on QB Brett Hundley. His willingness to take what a defense gives him in the passing game and his running ability on the zone-read key the Bruin offense, but he's also benefiting from the emergence of RB Paul Perkins as a major weapon in his own right. A major question mark is the UCLA OL and their ability to keep Hundley upright; they've been much about that of late (and credit should also go to Hundley himself for improving his feel for the rush coming and when to throw or take off running). Also questionable is UCLA's defense - they are talented but inconsistent. Early in the season they had a lot of success generating and scoring on turnovers, but as those turnovers have slowed, their defense has been exposed as mediocre. Perhaps most puzzling is an anemic pass rush - the Bruins rank 114th nationally with just 1.25 sacks/game. UCLA has had Arizona's number the last two years, but I think this may be the year the Wildcats break through as they pull out a close one in Pasadena: Arizona 38, UCLA 31
Utah @ Arizona State (-5), 8PM PT, Fox Sports 1
You can forgive Utah HC Kyle Whittingham if he feels like he's been snakebit at the QB position since joining the Pac-12. Problems at the position have been a big reason the Utes have struggled in their first three seasons in the conference. He thought he had the answer in Travis Wilson only to have a major scare in this past off-season that threatened to end his career. He was cleared however, and Utah started the season on a nice roll and Whittingham probably thought "Finally!". But Wilson then struggled and was ultimately replaced by Kendal Thompson in the win over UCLA. But Thompson subsequently struggled the next week vs. Oregon State and Wilson returned. They beat the Beavers and notched a big win last week vs. USC, but Wilson was just OK. He's the starter for now, but you have to wonder if a QB controversy could brew if he has more struggles, and whether Thompson would really provide any improvement. The good news for Utah is they've found a big-time RB in JC transfer Devontae Booker (120.6 ypg) they can lean on in the offense. The even better news is an always salty Ute defense has emerged as one of the better such units in the country and featuring a fearsome pass rush (5.0 sacks/game, 1st in the country). They'll get a test from a versatile and highly productive Arizona State offense and will need their offense - particularly their run game - to produce sustained drives and avoid falling behind by multiple scores early. With WR Dres Anderson out for the season, the Ute offense lacks explosive play-makers.
It's a bit of a cliche in this conference, but Arizona State is yet another program relying on a great offense and a questionable defense. Other than the UCLA game where it seemed everything went wrong, this formula has worked for the Sun Devils. Even when QB Taylor Kelly went down with an injury vs. in their win over Colorado, Mike Bercovici stepped in and the offense hardly missed a beat, though they did become a more pass-focused group. Kelly has returned, and ASU hopes that this will spark the return of the running game. D.J. Foster had a terrific start to the season, but since that Colorado game he's averaged just 34.5 ypg and 2.46 ypc. The good news is wins over Stanford and Washington (in terrible conditions that limited the passing game) proved this team can win low-scoring grind-em-out types of games, something they could be looking at for the 3rd week in a row as they host Utah. The other good news is the defense has started to step up as well and feasted against the struggling Cardinal and Husky offenses. The bad news is they have shown some vulnerability vs. the run and will be facing one of the top backs in the conference in Booker. I think the last two games have been good prep for ASU and they will notch a key win in a hard-fought game vs. Utah to stay atop the P12 South: ASU 24, Utah 20
Record Last Week:
Against the spread: 3-3
Record for the Year:
Against the spread: 32-23