It's hard to believe that the PAC is quickly approaching the half way mark of the season. "Say, what?" you ask. That's right.
We are reaching the point in the year where the teams begin to resemble what you can expect them to be for the rest of the season. The sample sizes on individual performances are becoming large enough for us to develop insights and the nature of the competition that each team has faced has somewhat normalized. Theoretically, that should allow us to be more accurate with our game predictions.
Well, that might be true in most conferences. But this is the PAC 12, where no prediction is safe.
This week has a full slate of high-stakes games and opportunities for some teams to not only firm up their odds of getting to the post season but to also make a step towards a divisional championship.
#18 UCLA at #15 Stanford (-6.5) - O/U 54 - ESPN
The only game involving two ranked PAC 12 teams is a potential preview of the PAC 12 Championship game that will play out in front of a national audience on Thursday night. The Bruins are trying to emerge from the shadow of USC's dominance of the headlines while the Cardinal are trying to take advantage of their status as sudden favorites in the North.
UCLA really needs to make a statement in this one. They got pounded by what looks like a mediocre ASU team last week as their freshman QB struggled with the novel pressures that Todd Graham likes to dial up. Going against Stanford will be a bit of a different beast. The Cardinal will try to force Josh Rosen into making mistakes by creating pressure with their front four and daring the Bruins receivers to beat their zones. They'll play tight and not create a lot of open spaces for Rosen to work with. As such, I expect the Bruins to take the game out of Rosen's hands a bit and to work a lot of RB Paul Perkins along with many, many screen passes (as is Noel Mazzone's preference)
On the flip side, the Stanford offense will be looking to take advantage of a beleaguered UCLA D. The Bruins have been surprisingly stout against the pass so far this season, but they've not really been challenged by a team with an experienced QB and a receiver set as collectively big as the Cardinal are. RB Christian McCaffrey is starting to put his name back into the offensive player of the year award race and his emergence has created a lot of opportunity for QB Kevin Hogan to work play action and put points up on the board.
I simply don't see UCLA being able to hang with Stanford in this one. Depth and inexperience in key positions are issues that are starting to vex the Bruins. I like Stanford here. I expect this one to be close in the first half with the Cardinal pulling away - with ease - in the second half.
Gekko's Pick: UCLA 20, Stanford 30 (UNDER, lay the points)
Rest of the PAC
USC at #14 Notre Dame (-6.5) - O/U 60.5 - NBC
I almost made this my featured matchup simply given the drama that has surrounded USC since the upset by UW in Los Angeles. The rivalry with Notre Dame is one of the oldest in all of college football. Under normal circumstances, you'd expect a team as talented as USC to be able to bounce back from an upset like the one they suffered and rally in the face of adversity, not unlike Texas did last weekend against Oklahoma.
But these aren't normal circumstances. Rumors are swirling that there is a big-time power play happening in the USC locker room between the old Sark staff and some of the characters who pre-dated Sark's arrival. It is certainly worth noting that Clay Helton was selected as the interim head coach over DC Justin Wilcox and "Assistant Head Coach" Marques Tuiasosopo.
Given these circumstances, I'm not sure that it matters all that much that the Irish are playing the game missing several key players including their starting QB Malik Zaire. The Irish are organized and managed by one of the top coaches across all of CFB in Brian Kelly. The only intrigue here might be whether or not USC AD Pat Haden manages to offer Kelly the USC job before he leaves South Bend.
Gekko's Pick: USC 20, ND 35 (UNDER, lay the points)
Oregon State at WSU (-8) - O/U 59.5 - PAC12N
The Cougars are flying high after a huge OT upset over the Oregon Ducks in Autzen last weekend. Are they poised to sweep the Oregon schools for the season? To do so would equal a feat that the Cougs haven't achieved in over a decade.
It would be impulsive to take WSU and lay the points in this one, no matter what you thought of how they played against Oregon. The Cougs are clearly playing better at this point in the season than they have at any other time in the Mike Leach era. However, the matchup advantages that so dramatically favored them against the Ducks - particularly the WRs versus the Oregon secondary - aren't as prevalent in this one. In fact, the Beavers are first in the conference in pass defense (yds per game) and sixth in yards per attempt against at 6.4. Given the rebuild that DC Kalani Sitake has underway, those aren't bad stats.
The flip side is that the Cougs might be finding a bit of a rushing attack (finally) in Leach's Air Raid. Against Oregon, the Cuogs put up 136 yards and nearly 5 yards per carry. This is good news because the path to beating Oregon State is via the rushing attack. But are the Cuogs committed to it?
I like the Cuogs in this one, but I do not think that they will commit to the run and, as such, I think that they will expose themselves to some plays from QB Seth Collins and his receiving tandem of Jordan Villamin and Victor Bolden. Take the Cuogs here, but not to cover.
Gekko's Pick: OSU 34, WSU 35 (OVER, take the points)
Arizona (-8) at Colorado - O/U 66.0 - PAC12N
I said a while back that Colorado was going to nip somebody this season. Could Arizona be that team? This one has all the makings of a "where did that come from" kind of upset. They are at home and Arizona isn't at full strength with Scooby Wright still out.
Then there is the issue with what could be the defining matchup of the game: Sefo Liufau and the Colorado passing attack against the Arizona pass defense. Though Arizona's 3-3-5 can slow a passing game down, the Wildcats are really slumping in that aspect right now (don't believe the numbers that they put up against OSU last week). I don't think that they can contain WRs Nelson Spruce and Shay Fields.
Is it enough? It could be, but I can't help but to think not. The Arizona offense still has more fire power and the run game advantage. I wouldn't give away eight points, but expect Arizona to win.
Gekko's Pick: Arizona 34, Colorado 28 (UNDER, take the points)
ASU at #4 Utah (-6.5) - O/U 56.5 - ESPN
So now we get to see if Utah is what many national pundits think they are. The #4 team in the nation will be taking on a rival in ASU that they've struggled mightily with over the years. In fact, the Sun Devils have won 11 straight (sound familiar?) against the Utes going all the way back to 1981. Will history repeat itself or will another 11 game win streak fall by the way side in Salt Lake?
The Sun Devils don't have a lot of matchup advantages in this one. Their QB is streaky, their receiving corps isn't all that effective and their defense is at its best against aggressive passing attacks. On the flip side, Utah is a rush first team behind RB Devontae Booker, they are an excellent pass rushing team and they are at home in the altitude of Salt Lake.
Give me Utah in a big way.
Gekko's Pick: ASU 17, Utah 31 (UNDER, lay the points)
Oregon at Washington (-2) - O/U 58.5 - ESPN2
I've taken a little grief for not ever providing a Washington prediction with this weekly column. The reason for this is that we like to build up the suspense in advance of Kirk's weekly prediction piece. That said, I thought I'd throw you long-suffering Husky fans a bone. It's Ducks Week in Seattle and there is a feeling in the air that we've not felt in a long, long time. Everybody expects UW to compete in this game, if not outright win it.
How are you feeling about Saturday night? Check out our new CrowdsLine feature and submit your prediction. Go Dawgs!