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

With two weeks in the books, we're starting to get a sense for the teams around the conference. Week three doesn't have a true big game given the struggles Texas has had, but it does feature a few games of interest with USC going back east to take on Boston College and Nevada visiting Arizona, while UCLA travels to Austin hoping to impress voters and hand the Longhorns their 2nd loss of the young season.

QB Brett Hundley leads the Bruins into Austin to take on the foundering Longhorns
QB Brett Hundley leads the Bruins into Austin to take on the foundering Longhorns
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday, September 13th:

Wyoming @ Oregon (-43), 11AM PDT, Pac-12 Networks

A highly successful coach from a smaller school has decided to take on a new challenge at the UW.  Chris Petersen and Washington?  Yes, but also Craig Bohl and Wyoming.  Bohl brings his resume of 3 consecutive FCS titles with him and his pedigree as a Tom Osborne disciple to Laramie.  Gone is the high-flying spread attack of former coach Dave Christensen (now OC at Utah) and in is a more old-school power running attack.  The Cowboys are 2-0 with tough, gritty wins over Montana (17-12) and Air Force (17-13).  A defense that ranked 113th last year at 482.0 ypg has allowed just 315.0 so far in 2014, though they face a monumentally bigger challenge in week 3 vs. the Ducks.  On offense, they have had their struggles - they ran reasonably well vs. Montana but didn't light up the scoreboard; vs. Air Force the run game was stifled, but new QB Colby Kirkegaard led the way with 282 passing yards and 2 TD's.

Oregon passed their first major test of the season with flying colors as they stomped on the accelerator in the 2nd half to score 28 unanswered points and beat Michigan State going away, 46-27.  It was the most points allowed by the vaunted Spartan defense since Alabama put up 49 against them in the 2011 Capital One Bowl.  For the Ducks program, this has become business-as-usual, but for 2nd year HC Mark Helfrich this represents his biggest win to date and sets up Oregon as an early favorite for a CFP berth.  QB Marcus Mariota boosted his Heisman chances with a big game, throwing for 318 yards on 17 of 28 passing and 3 TD's (with no interceptions).  More surprising was how true frosh RB Royce Freeman continues to lead the way for the Duck running attack ahead of incumbents Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner.  Of even more concern for Pac-12 foes is the emergence of Devon Allen and Darren Carrington as suitable replacements for Josh Huff and Bralon Addison.  The Oregon D struggled at times vs. a potent Spartan attack, but they shut them down over the 2nd half of the game.  Keep an eye on the Duck OL though - they've already lost OT Tyler Johnstone for the season and RT Andre Yruretagoyena went down with an injury vs. MSU.  While it's natural to wonder if Oregon will let down a bit after that big win, it's hard to picture a scenario in which the outcome is seriously in doubt:  Oregon 50, Wyoming 13

Army @ Stanford (-28), 2PM PDT, Pac-12 Networks

There's a new coach in West Point, but the venerable triple-option attack remains under Jeff Monken.  They needed every yard and point they could get from that attack as they held off a stubborn Buffalo team that gave them everything they could handle.  The option offense was good for 341 yards on 54 carries, and they added on 125 more yards on a perfect 7 of 7 passing as they overcame 2 lost fumbles.  Defensively they struggled against the Bulls attack - after averaging 394.7 ypg last year, Buffalo racked up 549 vs. the Black Knights with much of that through the air, though Army tipped the scales by picking off Bull QB Joe Licata 3 times to win the turnover battle.

Stanford had to work to gain their 34-20 win over Army last year on the road.  The Black Knights were able to grind out 284 yards on 61 carries to keep the game close, but ultimately the Cardinal offense was able to exert their will as WR Ty Montgomery had a big game with 6 catches for 130 yards and a TD and RB Tyler Gaffney led the way with 132 yards on 20 carries.  At home - and coming off a bitter loss - I would expect Stanford to play with a major chip on their shoulders and not let game remain in question.  The Cardinal offense was able to move on a talented USC defense last week, but 2 lost fumbles were critical as were 2 missed FG's.  And the defense has to be feeling pretty good about holding the Trojan offense to just 13 points and 291 yards a week after the Trojans posted 52 points and 701 yards on Fresno State.  I think Stanford wins big in this one:  Stanford 48, Army 10

UCLA (-7.5) @ Texas (AT&T Stadium, aka "Jerry's World"), 5PM PDT, Fox

The Bruins have struggled greatly in their first two games, beating Virginia and Memphis by a combined 15 points, yet still find themselves ranked 12th - ah, the joys of pre-season polls.  UCLA has had major issues with their OL, surrendering 4 sacks per game so far, and their RB's have averaged just 3.7 ypc.  This has been an ongoing problem since Jim L. Mora arrived as HC, and you have to wonder about the physical abuse QB Brett Hundley is taking.  So far he's carried the offense, completing nearly 69% of his passes for 319.0 ypg.  His favorite targets have been Jordan Payton, Thomas Duarte and Eldridge Massington.  On defense the Bruins have given up a lot of yardage, but they saved the day in week one by taking all three turnovers generated to the house.  There is some raw talent in place, but consistency has been a problem so far.

Texas could be taking some big lumps in year one of the Charlie Strong era.  He's been busy instituting a major culture change, and he's clearly willing to live with the short-term consequences of booting so many players and suspending even more.  While they handled North Texas just fine, they were steam-rolled last week by BYU - in Austin no less - to the tune of 41 points and 429 yards while coughing up the ball 4 times.  The offense struggled mightily with RS-Fr Tyrone Swoopes at QB in place of David Ash who could be forced to retire due to repeated concussions.  Their defensive numbers look pretty good thanks to a dominating performance vs. North Texas, but BYU exposed problem areas.  The way Cougar QB Taysom Hill ran all over the Longhorns has almost certainly been noted by Hundley and the Bruin coaching staff.  This is a big game for both teams - for UCLA, it's the chance to reassure folks that they really are a CFP contender; for Texas, it's a chance to post the first significant win of the Strong era.  I expect the Longhorns will put up a good fight, but Hundley will simply prove to be too much for Texas to handle:  UCLA 30, Texas 24

Portland State @ WSU (no line), 5PM PDT, Pac-12 Networks

Viking HC Nigel Burton - a Husky alum - is no stranger to the Pac-12.  This will mark the 6th time he's led Portland State into a Pac-12 stadium, and despite close calls last year at Cal and in week 1 at Oregon State, he's still looking for his first win.  This might prove to be his best opportunity yet.  Burton has had mixed results so far with a 19-28 record, though that falls in line with what PSU has done since moving up to FCS from Division 2 back in 1998.  The Vikings put a scare into the Beavers in week 1, carrying a 14-13 lead into the half before OSU took control in the 2nd half.  PSU then struggled to outlast D2 Western Oregon in a 45-38 shootout last week.  Their defense - particularly against the pass - has been an issue.  Offensively they prefer a balanced run/pass mix with RB Shaquille Richard their main threat on the ground and QB Kieran McDonagh their starter, though watch out for backup QB Paris Penn who is a major threat with his feet (he has 170 yards and 3 TD's on 14 carries in 2 games).

WSU sure looks like a team on the brink.  Which direction they'll go is unknown, and while a win this week would obviously be nice, a poor showing wouldn't do much to quiet a growing swell of discontent among Coug fans about the direction of the program under Mike Leach.  Four straight losses will do that, especially with 2 of them being classic, painful "come from ahead" losses that WSU fans know too well.  In week 1 it was a porous defense and special teams mistakes that cost them; in week 2 it was turnovers and mistakes by the offense.  The vaunted Air Raid continues to pile up passing yards (1st in the nation at 460.5) but has been completely inept at running the ball (22.0 ypg, next to last in the country).  QB Connor Halliday continues to take a beating behind a suspect OL and his old nemesis - interceptions - reared itself vs. Nevada.  The defense was thrashed by Rutgers for 41 points and 496 yards, but they played reasonably well last week limiting the Wolfpack to 24 points and 324 yards, though they had difficulty with mobile QB Cody Fajardo.  WSU should win this game, but if it's not by a significant amount, it could be a bad sign that things are ready to implode in Pullman:  WSU 37, Portland State 20

USC (-17) @ Boston College, 5PM PDT, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2

USC passed a big early test with their win at Stanford last week.  It wasn't pretty - they were outgained 413 to 291 - but they won the turnover battle 2-0 and the special teams aspect as K Andre Heidari nailed the game-winning 53 yard FG with only 2:36 left in the game as he finished 2-2 on the day; meanwhile Stanford K Jordan Williamson was just 1-3.  It was a much different kind of win than week 1 where the Trojans set a conference record by running 105 plays for 701 yards and 53 points vs. Fresno State.  QB Cody Kessler was mostly limited to underneath routes and throws to the flat as Stanford kept the Trojan passing game mostly contained.  But RB Buck Allen continues to shine, piling up 154 yards and is 15th in the nation in rushing.  The USC defense had some issues with Stanford's passing game but avoided giving up any big plays and were stout against the run.  All-American DE Leonard Williams is still hobbled by an ankle injury, but he played through it last week an ended up winning conference defensive player of the week honors.  More critically, LB Hayes Pullard must sit out the 1st half after being ejected for targeting vs. the Cardinal.

After trouncing in-state foe UMass 30-7 in week 1, BC got run over last by Pitt as RB James Connor bulled for 214 yards on 36 carries as the Panthers won 30-20.  For the Eagles, a couple of things have become clear on the young season: Dual-threat QB Tyler Murphy is the BC offense, accounting for 258.5 of their 393.5 ypg.  His legs appear to be ahead of his arm as he leads the team in rushing - by a wide margin - at 105.0 ypg, but has completed just 51.7% of his passes to go with 3 interceptions for a 102.66 passer rating.  The other is that the Eagle pass defense is playing well, allowing just 45.2% completion on opposing passers and a 110.89 passer rating.  They'll get a much tougher test vs. the Trojan WR group, but of greater worry is what their running attack might do given Connor's career day against BC.  The cross-country trip may slow USC a bit, but with a late start time they shouldn't be thrown off too much - I expect the Trojans to win this one comfortably:  USC 35, Boston College 17

Arizona State (-15.5) @ Colorado, 7PM PDT, ESPNU

Offense figured to be the strength of the Sun Devils in 2014, and so far they haven't disappointed as they've rolled for 595.5 ypg so far in blowing out Weber State and New Mexico.  3-year starter QB Taylor Kelly isn't the physical specimen that Marcus Mariota or Brett Hundley are, but he's nearly as effective as a highly efficient passer (159.61 passer rating) and a sneaky runner.  He has an elite target in WR Jaelen Strong who has picked up where he left off in 2013 as a 2nd Team All Pac-12 selection.  At RB, Jr. D.J. Foster has quickly emerged as one of the top backs in the country, averaging a ridiculous 10.7 ypc and 181.5 ypg as well as ranking 2nd on the team with 7 catches.  On defense the Sun Devils have been a little less impressive as they are replacing a significant portion of their starters from 2013; the overall numbers aren't bad, but considering the quality of competition, there's still work to be done.  They allowed Weber RB Zach Smith to pick up 128 yards on 16 carries, and the New Mexico ground game was able to pick up 207 yards.

Colorado struggled to win on the road at UMass, falling behind 31-20 in the 3rd quarter before rallying to win 41-38.  Give them credit for pulling out the win, but the Minutemen are not a very good team.  Combined with the opening week loss to Colorado State, it's clear that the rebuild is not going to happen overnight for HC Mike McIntyre.  On the positive side QB Sefo Liufau continues to show promise as a future star and has developed a good rapport with WR Nelson Spruce.  On the downside, the running game has struggled (145.0 ypg, 3.58 ypc) and the defense is still an issue, giving up 34.5 ppg, allowing the Rams to run for 266 yards on 45 carries and surrendering 372 yards and 38 points to a UMass team that averaged just 287.0 and 11.7 last year.  Things will get harder this week as they host the potent Sun Devils; unfortunately for the Buffs, this looks like a really bad matchup:  ASU 45, Colorado 20

Nevada @ Arizona (-15.5), 8PM PDT, Pac-12 Networks

Nevada takes on their 2nd straight Pac-12 opponent this week, traveling across state lines into Tucson carrying a 2-0 record after a mildly surprising win over WSU last week.  HC Chris Ault is gone, but his Pistol Offense remains, operated by 4-year starting QB Cody Fajardo.  The dual-threat was mostly held in check through the air by the Cougs, but he burned them with 100 yards rushing including a 55 yard scamper.  The Wolfpack love to run out the Pistol, and have added more traditional offset shotgun looks to their read-option playbook.  WSU did a reasonable job limiting their run game, but Nevada is still averaging 229.0 ypg on the ground.  Defensively they limited the effectiveness of the Cougar Air Raid attack, sacking Connor Halliday 4 times, picking him off twice and holding them to just 13 points.

Arizona returns home 2-0 after scraping by UTSA last week 26-23, a far cry from their 58-13 blowout of UNLV in week 1.  RS-Fr QB Anu Solomon came back to earth after a wildly successful debut, and the Wildcats had to ride the big game from RB Nick Wilson for the win as he carried 30 times for 174 yards.  RichRod's spread-option offense has typically produced big rushing numbers, and this year is no different as they are averaging 288.0 ypg and 6.26 ypc.  And while Solomon was just OK vs. UTSA, he was fantastic vs. UNLV, passing for 425 yards on 25 completions (and he has yet to throw an interception).  The Wildcats boast a deep and talented WR corps with Cayleb Jones, Samajie Grant, Trey Griffey and Nate Phillips supplementing Austin Hill who has returned after an injury held him out in 2013.  On defense Arizona isn't as flashy, but they've been effective so far, allowing 360.0 ypg and 18.0 ppg.  They'll get their biggest test so far of the young season as they host Nevada, but home-cooking should do the trick:  Arizona 30, Nevada 21

Record Last Week:

Straight-up:  10-1

Against the spread:  5-4 (2 games had no line)

Record for the Year:

Straight-up:  20-3

Against the spread:  7-9