Thursday, November 13th:
California @ USC (-14), 6PM PT, ESPN
Before I talk about the game, allow me a slight rant first: for quite a few weeks now, Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News has been ranking Cal ahead of Washington in his weekly power rankings. Wilner is a good writer and a great source of info on conference business. He also rather consistently takes a skeptical view of all things Husky (with the exception of the '91 team which he considers among the all-time best in CFB history). How he rates the Bears above Washington is beyond me - yes, the Huskies are -24 in point differential vs. common opponents compared to Cal's -17, but there's that little matter of the UW beating Cal 31-7 - in Berkeley no less. Sure, Cal has 3 conference wins to our 2, but they've also played (and beaten) Oregon State and WSU. OK, rant over. As for the game? Well, Cal played well in their last outing in beating the Beavers, but overall this is a lower-tier team. The Bear Raid is an above-average offense that does well throwing the ball around and better than you might expect running it, but they also have a poor defense that has again (like last year) been hit by injuries. Cal is just 1 win away from a possible bowl berth, but this probably isn't the week they get it.
USC (like Cal) had a bye last week, but the depleted Trojans probably needed it more as the talented but thin team looks to win out and hope ASU stumbles twice. First up is a Thursday night match up with the Bears that, considering L.A. traffic, will probably mean a rather sparse crowd in the Coliseum. No matter for USC though - short of a massive emotional let-down, they should cruise. Since Sark challenged QB Cody Kessler four weeks ago to attack downfield, the Trojan passing offense has gone from efficient but unspectacular to very dangerous. Coupled with the steady effectiveness of RB Buck Allen, the USC offense should have their way with the Bears. On the other side of the ball the Trojans have the talent to match-up with the Bears high-flying offense. Defending the pass has been the calling card ofdefenses, and the Trojans appear to match-up quite well. I expect Bear RB Daniel Lasco to have some success in this one, but he won't be enough to overcome the mismatch of USC's offense vs. Cal's defense: USC 42, Cal 27
Saturday, November 15th:
Utah @ Stanford (-8), 3PM PT, Pac-12 Networks
That was a valiant effort by the Utes last week as they put a good scare into Oregon. And yet the Ducks still managed to turn on the afterburners and win by 24 points when it was all over. Whether or not Utah would have been able to hold on, there's no doubt that WR Kaelin Clay's brain cramp which represented a 14-point swing was a huge loss of momentum for the Utes. They still managed to pull within 3 points early in the 4th quarter before the wheels fell off. Now the question is, do they bounce back from that or is there an emotional hangover at play? One things seems certain - with Kendal Thompson's injury and the huge game by Travis Wilson, the QB controversy appears to be over. The Utes have to hope that success in the passing game can continue and take some pressure off of stud RB Devontae Booker to give them a balanced attack. Their aggressive defense got to Mariota 4 times as they continue to lead the nation in sacks, but the Ducks were able to find a lot of success on the ground. This is probably the weaker of the two aspects of a very good defense, but against Oregon this was mostly a product of Marcus Mariota's speed and Royce Freeman's 5-star ability.
Stanford has had a bye week to recover from getting overwhelmed by the Ducks and you have to think HC David Shaw has been working feverishly to decide what to do about his offense. The old Cardinal power running approach simply wasn't getting it done, so he shifted to a spread & tempo approach which found success vs. Oregon State but could only muster 16 points vs. Oregon. They'll probably stick with the spread emphasis given the personnel, but it's become clear that QB Kevin Hogan is limited. He's a decent runner but just an average passer, and this year's Stanford OL is just OK in pass-protection - Hogan figures to get a lot of heat from the Utes defensive front. Their security blanket has been a terrific defense which, even if they've fallen off a bit from their early season status as the best in the country, still remains an excellent group. They have few weaknesses - they appear equally adept at stopping the run and the pass, and while they don't have the gaudy sack numbers of Utah, they will put plenty of pressure on opposing QBs. Oregon is the only offense that has found real success against them this year, and Utah is not close to the Ducks when it comes to offensive production. These are fairly similar teams on paper, but the bye week should prove to be the difference in this one as Stanford grinds out a win at home: Stanford 27, Utah 20
Arizona State (-9.5) @ Oregon State, 7:45PM PT, ESPN
ASU notched a critical victory last week over Notre Dame. Not only did it keep them at just 1 loss on the year, it gave the Irish a 2nd loss and essentially knocked them out of the CFP discussion. If the Sun Devils can win out, they are in a good position to creep up into the CFP top-4. They currently sit 6th, so they're in striking distance. They will probably need Oregon to enter the Pac-12 Championship game with just the 1 loss though. First things first however - before they can start dreaming of the playoffs, they have to take care of business each week. And after two critical wins in a row, they have to guard against a let-down - while they have a lead in the Pac-12 South race, they haven't clinched it yet. After a tough slog vs. Utah, the ASU offense rebounded with a better showing vs. Notre Dame, and they remain one of the better such groups in the country (#9 FEI, #29 S&P). RB D.J. Foster bounced back with a big game and teams with true frosh Demario Richard to give the Sun Devils a good run game to balance out a strong passing attack. Defensively these guys have really picked it up after a tough start to the season. The ultra-aggressive scheme by HC Todd Graham is paying off, and the advanced metrics think pretty highly of this group (#30 FEI, #27 S&P). Expect them to continue their blitz-happy ways this week.
A hopeful season for the Beavers is quickly turning sour. Mired in a 4-game losing streak, OSU is running out of chances to pick up 2 more wins to get them to bowl eligibility. It doesn't look good for them this week either, though they do take some hope from ASU not having beaten the Beavers in Corvallis in 9 years. They have also done well in defending Sun Devil QB Taylor Kelly. With that said, this is not a favorable matchup. The Beavers continue to struggle in pass protection, ranking 114th in allowing 3.1 sacks/game. That will have the blitz-happy ASU defense licking their chops. Oregon State will hope to establish a consistent running game behind Terron Ward and Storm Woods and use quick passes and screens from Sean Mannion to keep that pass rush at bay. The Beaver defense looked pretty good earlier in the year, but they've had a tough go during the losing streak and currently rate near the bottom of the conference (#88 FEI, #93 S&P) and won't have it any easier facing the dynamic Sun Devil offense. The Beavers have to hope ASU comes in flat and they can generate some turnovers, because this looks on paper like a possible blowout. I suspect Oregon State will keep it respectable, but the Sun Devils will break their losing streak in Corvallis: Arizona State 38, Oregon State 27
Record Last Week:
Against the spread: 4-1
Record for the Year:
Against the spread: 40-26