Saturday, November 8th
Notre Dame @ Arizona State (-2.5), 12:30PM PT, ABC
For those that can't stand Notre Dame, this has been a tough year, and it could get worse - with their only loss a close one to top-ranked Florida State, they have a pretty good shot of making the initial CFP field if they can win out. For those that don't want to see Oregon in that field, rooting for the Irish might be a Faustian bargain they're willing to make (though I suspect Oregon gets in regardless if they win out). HC Brian Kelly has this team playing quite well, featuring a strong all around team led by QB Everett Golson. By advanced measures this is a balanced team, with a good offense (#35 FEI, #17 S&P) and good defense (#16 FEI, #27 S&P), and even a decent special teams (#40 FEI). Golson is the guy that makes them go, dangerous with both his arm and legs, but he's not an elite guy - he ranks 27th in pass efficiency and his running is most effective near the goal line. While Notre Dame has just the one loss, they've only blown out Rice & Michigan and have had close shaves the rest of the way. That may help them mentally as they take on a tough ASU team, but it's also hard to gauge just how good this team really is.
HC Todd Graham is working some magic down in the desert of Tempe. While everyone expected the ASU offense to be terrific - and they have been (#8 FEI, #34 S&P) - they've weathered a rough start to the season by the defense and now find that unit starting to show signs of being at least decent, if not pretty good (#40 FEI, #33 S&P). The Sun Devil passing game has been quite good with an elite WR in Jaelen Strong providing a consistent mismatch. QB Taylor Kelly is running the show again after sitting out a few games with injury, and if anything the passing game has taken a small step back with his return. But he also provides enough of a threat with his feet - and makes terrific decisions on his reads - that the run game has been much better with him taking the snaps. Of late the beneficiary has mainly been true frosh Demario Richard, a tough inside runner that appears to be supplanting D.J. Foster as the main ball carrier (Foster remains a major threat in the passing game). The defense is maturing, though we have to take into account the (lack of) quality of the last two offenses they faced. While the game will have no real impact on the Pac-12 race, any hope ASU has of sneaking in to the CFP discussion will require knocking off Notre Dame - both to keep alive the possibility of winning out as well as removing the Irish from contention. Whether that will be enough motivation is hard to say, but I'll give the Sun Devils the benefit of homefield advantage and say they'll pull out another tough win: Arizona State 27, Notre Dame 24
Washington State @ Oregon State (-8), 1PM PT, Pac-12 Networks
Pity the Cougar fans that have seen a possible bowl season dim in likelihood and now their record-setting Sr. QB out for the remainder of the season. The only things left to look forward to on the season are A) watching the younger players progress and B) hoping to knock off the Huskies in the Apple Cup. QB Luke Falk didn't look bad in taking over for Connor Halliday, but it's hard to imagine that this doesn't diminish the offense a bit. While the advanced metrics disagree about how good the WSU offense is (#14 FEI, #47 S&P), it's still a pretty good offense and it's all about the passing attack. A bigger question might be the Cougar defense - most of the season they have been rather poor. They did flash some pass-rush potential vs. Oregon (without LT Jake Fisher it should be noted) and they'll get another chance vs. Oregon State to get after the QB. Will this team rally in the wake of the nasty injury to Halliday, or was that the last straw that has killed their motivation?
This appears to be a crossroads game for the Beavers this season - if they are to return to a bowl, this is a game they'll need to win. It's been a tough Sr. season for QB Sean Mannion. The strong-armed pocket passer has suffered a down year as his WR group has had a hard time making up for the departure of Brandin Cooks to the NFL, and now they're also down Richard Mullaney. Victor Bolden and Jordan Villamen have improved, but the passing attack isn't what it was the previous two years. Part of that rests on a shaky OL that has allowed 3.0 sacks/game, good for 111th in the country. The run game has improved though, and the advanced stats suggest HC Mike Riley should lean on them more than he does. The defense looks on the surface to be pretty good, but the advanced metrics disagree (#75 FEI, #85 S&P). The good news is their pass defense looks much better than their run defense, so that should serve them well vs. the Air Raid. I think they'll do just enough to squeak out win #5 and keep their bowl hopes alive: Oregon State 37, Washington State 30
Colorado @ Arizona (-17), 5PM PT, Pac-12 Networks
Colorado this season feels a bit like the little engine that could - they keep believing in themselves and playing hard, and while the wins haven't come in conference play, they aren't rolling over. Unfortunately for them they face a tough home stretch against 3 of the 5 ranked Pac-12 teams. Their offense is sneaky effective - they're not going to hit a lot of big plays, but between catching machine Nelson Spruce and just enough running from Tony Jones, Michael Adkins and Christian Powell they'll sustain drives and pile up a surprising amount of yards. QB Sefo Liufau does a good job of taking what's available to him, but he needs to cut down on the interceptions - he now has 12 on the season and at least 1 in each of the last 8 games. The Colorado defense has not helped out the offense much, though as bad as the raw numbers are, the advanced metrics suggest they aren't quite as terrible as you might assume (#86 FEI, #89 S&P). Still, they're not good and they're roughly equally not good vs. the run and the pass. Until the defense improves, the Buffaloes are going to have a hard time escaping the conference cellar.
It was a rude dose of reality that hit Arizona last weekend as they saw their high-flying offense almost completely shut-down by a previously under-performing - but very talented - UCLA defense. They couldn't get anything going offensively either through the air or on the ground. It was a huge aberration for a group that has otherwise been a very good - and balanced - offense so far this year. I would expect QB Anu Solomon to bounce back with a big game and find his group of talented receivers for some explosive plays downfield. I would also expect to see a steady dose of RBs Terris Jones-Grigsby and Nick Wilson pounding away at a struggling Colorado run defense. On the other side of the ball the Wildcats have been surprisingly effective this year. I don't expect them to shut down the Buffalo offense - they'll get their yards and string together some drives - but I do expect them to stiffen in the red zone and get enough stops to allow their prolific offense to take their shots. This should be a rebound game for Arizona, though I do think Colorado will make them work for it: Arizona 38, Colorado 27
Oregon (-8) @ Utah, 7PM PT, ESPN
That sound you heard last weekend in Eugene was a Stanford-sized monkey falling off the backs of the Ducks. Taking advantage of a down year for the Cardinal, QB Marcus Mariota got his first win against them in three tries, and it was classic Oregon - they got off to a quick start, saw Stanford claw back into contention, and then the Ducks kicked in the afterburners and blew them away. With Mariota rolling, Royce Freeman establishing himself as a top-flight power back, Thomas Tyner rebounding and a bundle of receivers stepping up (Devon Allen, Pharoah Brown, Dwayne Stanford) Oregon's offense is humming at an elite level right now (#2 FEI, #1 S&P) and it's carrying a defense that is as athletic as any they've had but has not played up to that talent level. However they've picked it up of late, and while traditional statistics don't love them, advanced ones say they're pretty good (#36 FEI, #23 S&P). They have a 2 game lead in the North and seem certain to make it to the Pac-12 Championship game. After a big win at home over Stanford last week, you wonder if there might be a bit of letdown this week on the road at Utah.
Utah missed a golden opportunity to continue controlling their own destiny in the P12S last week as K Andy Phillips had a rare miss in OT that allowed ASU to claim a hard-fought win over the Utes and take control of the division. It was the kind of game we've come to expect from Utah this year as their defense was excellent, RB Devontae Booker was a stud and their passing game was a mess. The Utes rely on relentless pressure to lead the nation in sacks and stop drives. Their front is good enough to slow down most rushing attacks, but the sack yardage inflates the perception of their run defense. And when they're not getting to the QB, they can be had (126.8 pass efficiency allowed, #65 in the country). Still, combined with a strong running game, it's been enough to win most of their games, and their two losses are by just 4 points total. If they could find something - anything - in their passing offense, they could be a CFP contender. But with star WR Dres Anderson done for the year, it's going to be tough for either Ute QB to have consistent success. I think their defense keeps things interesting for a while, and they'll try to follow the Stanford formula of the previous couple of seasons, but the Ducks simply have too much talent to be shut down all game and will pull away late: Oregon 31, Utah 17
Record Last Week:
Against the spread: 4-2
Record for the Year:
Against the spread: 36-25