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Pickin' the PAC: USC Hanging by a Thread

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Its desperation time for the beaten and psychologically battered USC Trojans as they host the #3 team in the nation.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

It's time for our run down of weekly P12 picks.  You'd be wise to read carefully what I'm about to write.

Or not.  It's up to you.

Featured Matchup

#3 Utah @ USC (-3.5) - O/U 59.5

It seems apropos that the school that produced the creative mind behind Star Wars, which dropped it's final, epic teaser this week, should get featured in this week's most compelling PAC 12 matchup.


(oh, you haven't seen the trailer?  Here you go)

Over the past two weeks, they've suffered two crushing defeats, the indignity of losing their head coach in a most unsightly manner and the embarrassment of falling out of contention for the PAC 12 South.  The program and its AD have become the butt of late night jokes.  Recruiting commits are dropping like outerwear at the annual ASU Undie Run and the coaching staff is now struggling under the weight of the "interim" label now being applied to their job status.  Things are bad in L.A.

The Trojans enter this one a team at a crossroads.  With the undefeated Utes coming into town, the Trojans can go one of two ways here.  A win could rejuvenate the program and, believe it or not, put them right back into the middle of the P12 South race.  A loss would essentially end all hope of a P12 championship in 2015 and surely mark the unofficial end of the line for most of the coaches left on coaching staff.

Which way will they go?

On paper, USC still has the talent to give the Utes a major challenge.  In fact, Vegas sees this as a straight-up affair with the 3 point home field advantage swinging the way of the Trojans.  Utah has faced some good ones, but hasn't yet faced an offense as diverse as USC's.  The Trojans still boast what I believe to be one of the two best offensive lines in the PAC and can beat you with any combination of QB Cody Kessler moving chains, WR JuJu Smith generating explosive plays, or a RB committee of Ronald Jones, Justin Davis and Tre Madden gashing soft zones.  Utah has a stout defense, but their D-Line hasn't yet faced an O-line remotely as good as USC's and may find themselves on their heels early in the game.

USC does have some handicaps here.  The biggest is that WRs Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell look to be out for this one.  As such, the explosive Adoree Jackson is expected to play mostly on offense. This will weaken a USC defense that has been relatively good over the course of the season, but has had a tendency to run out of gas in the second halves of games.  The Utes are well-positioned to exploit USC's lack of rotational depth with their Davonte Booker led rushing attack.  QB Travis Wilson has enough senior savvy to exploit the absence of Jackson in the secondary for a couple of big plays that could swing this game.

I'm having trouble organizing my thoughts on this.  On one hand, I like Utah's more disciplined approach and the potential that they have to move the sticks with the rushing attack.  USC is going to be more prone to mistakes and could easily lose the field position contest in this game.  On the other hand, Utah doesn't have a ton of tape to work from on a team that is 100% under the control of Clay Helton.  You have to think that USC will have an emotional advantage which could translate into some momentum-gaining plays early in the game.

With that, I'm going to call the upset.  I like USC to take out the last undefeated team in the PAC on their home turf in the Coliseum.

Gekko's Pick:  Utah 23, USC 24 (UNDER, take the upset)

Rest of the PAC

WSU @ Arizona (-7.5) - O/U 74

I love WSU right now.  Why shouldn't I?  They are an unlikely entry at #4 in my most recent power rankings.  Their fans are obsessed with the notion that UW and Oregon "are NOT rivals" (am I right Ian Furness?).  They are always involved in games where Vegas sets the O/U line somewhere around where the earth's stratosphere gives way to it's mesosphere.  And, just for good measure, they continue to exist as a flawed team that nobody really buys into and one that bettors have no remorse about laying points on.

It's comical stuff.

But, let's give the devil his due.  The Cuogs are 2-1 in conference play including a win over a team that they most certainly were not supposed to beat.  They've accomplished it with their typical effective passing game as their defining strength.  They've complemented that with better than you think offensive line play, very effective defensive line play and a rushing attack that is just good enough to keep a defense on its heels.

Truth be told, I like how the Cuogs matchup up against an Arizona team that I think is really playing at a subpar level.  The circulating rumors of Rich Rodriguez being a top target to replace Steve Spurrier at the other USC has become a distraction for a team that already has a percolating QB controversy between Anu Solomon and Jerrard Randle and has been missing their best RB in Nick Wilson.

Oh, and there is that defense.  That back seven is leakier than the nose of the three year old kid sitting next to me on this plane.

(yes, you little sh*t, I'm writing about you.  I think the only solution here is to sanitize you is a Purell bath.  On second thought, we'll need something stronger.  Anybody know where I can get my hands on some napalm?)

I hate to say it, but I'm feeling the Cuogs here.  It won't be terribly easy, and I do think that WSU will have trouble containing RichRod's RPO heavy offense.  But I'm going with the Cuogs in a shoot out.

Gekko's Pick:  WSU 45, Arizona 43 (OVER, take the upset)

#20 Cal @ UCLA (-3.5) - O/U 70

The Bears, who have now achieved their highest ranking in this decade, bring to Westwood the #8 passing offense in the country behind the talented arm of QB Jared Goff.  Despite a difficult loss to Utah two weeks ago, they enter this one rested and confident, knowing that another 5 INT performance from their star QB is about as likely as CraziDawg ever accurately spelling "Nick Saban".  With a defense that is performing squarely in the middle of the conference, one would have to expect that the Bears have a good shot on the road against a UCLA team that is missing several key defensive players and is in the midst of a brutal slump.

But Vegas doesn't quite see it that way.  I admit it, I'm having a difficult time interpreting Vegas's signals in this one.  Not only are the Bruins favored in this one, they are expected to win it in a shootout.  For a team that is starting a true freshman QB, is built around a strong rushing attack with Paul Perkins and emphasizes defense as an advantage, it's hard to see how UCLA wins this game in the manner that Vegas expects it to.

In truth, I don't see how UCLA is going to win this one at all.  I like Cal straight up.  In fact, if the Bears don't win in relatively easy fashion, I'll let Lear and Joe start their own UW DawgPound Podcast.  I think we could call it "Mad and Madder".

Gekko's Pick:  Cal 35, UCLA 24 (UNDER, take the upset)

Colorado @ Oregon State (-2) - O/U 59.5

The only thing that will be pretty about this game is the clean uniforms that you can expect to see each team adorn in the pregame warmups.  Oregon State is registered as the slight favorite despite the feeling here and across much of the blogosphere that Colorado is probably the more dangerous team at this moment in time.

The Beavers are coming off a beat down at the hands of WSU last weekend in Pullman.  The OSU defense got killed in a first half explosion of offense that saw the Beavs surrender 31 points in the 2nd quarter alone.  However, the Beavers rebounded to shut out the Cuogs in the second half and were able to find a little rhythm in their offense behind their dynamo true freshman QB Seth Collins.  This is a team that does have some momentum coming into the weekend.

The Buffaloes, on the flip side, are coming off of a heartbreaking home loss to the Arizona Wildcats in a game that saw them surrender a fourth quarter lead.  Ironically, this is a team desperately looking for a kernel of momentum and a chance to register an elusive conference victory.  The Buffs have some weapons - particularly on offense - to get it done.  QB Sefo Liufau has been good enough in the passing game to move the chains while the Buffs rushing attack has had its moments so far this season.

Unfortunately, I think that Colorado is simply too beat up - physically and emotionally - to pull this one out.  I think the Beavers will mix it up with them for three quarters and pull away with a couple of big plays in the fourth quarter.

Gekko's Picks:  Colorado 23, Oregon St 27 (UNDER, lay the points)