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Pickin' the PAC - Elimination Saturday

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Close races in both the Pac-12 North and Pac-12 South mean half of the conference games this weekend have direct implications for the Pac-12 Championship Game. UCLA and Oregon are fighting to stay alive in their divisions while Stanford looks to clinch the North and USC & Utah hope to stay on top in the South.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Wild upsets last weekend not only severely damaged the Pac-12's hopes of getting a team in the College Football Playoff, it left the division races in the conference wide-open.  The losses for Stanford and Utah left commissioner Larry Scott feeling all:

Meanwhile, the slate of meaningful games in the conference this weekend has TV execs feeling all:

Stanford's loss to Oregon had major implications for the Pac-12 North, keeping the Ducks alive in the race.  Stanford can still clinch the division with a win in the Big Game this weekend, but a loss to Cal would keep Oregon's hopes alive should they win out.  Meanwhile in the South, Utah's unlikely loss to Arizona last weekend means both USC & UCLA control their own destinies.  Utah is in a must-win situation as they host the Bruins this weekend while USC has the tough task of taking on the Ducks in Autzen.

Featured Matchup:

#24 USC @ #23 Oregon (-4) O/U 79.5 - Saturday, 12:30 PT, ESPN

The Vernon Adams experiment continues to pay off for the Ducks as they knocked off Stanford last week to stay in contention in the North.  It was sweet payback for the Ducks after Cardinal wins in 2012 & 2013 helped dash Oregon dreams of playing for a national championship.  With Adams at the helm the Duck offense remains a dangerous and explosive unit, if not as consistently effective as under Marcus Mariota.

Defense has been a different story as DC Don Pellum has been under fire for a unit that has played poorly just about any way you slice it.  That has to make Clay Helton, Cody Kessler and the rest of the USC Trojan offense smile with glee at the opportunity to rack up points.  But defense hasn't exactly been a strong point for USC either, as DC Justin Wilcox has himself come under fire for a unit that is under-performing their perceived talent level.  While they haven't been bad, they have had notable breakdowns that cost them vs. Stanford and at Notre Dame and allowed for much closer games than most figured against Arizona and Colorado.  And Husky fans can recall how his defenses fared against Oregon when he was the DC for Washington.

While S&P likes the Trojans in this one, I think that's because it's not properly accounting for the VA factor.  The Ducks offense simply wasn't as good with Jeff Lockie at QB, and I think he's the difference in this one as Oregon puts a big dent in USC's hopes of winning the South.

Kirk's pick: Oregon 38, USC 35

Rest of the PAC:

UCLA @ #13 Utah (-2) O/U 56.5 - Saturday, 12:30 PT, FOX

This one could really be billed as the co-Game of the Week along with USC @ Oregon.  It's elimination time for both teams, as a loss drops each from the race to win the South.  And with both teams coming off of disappointing losses, it's fair to say that motivation will be sky-high for each team in this one.

With ten games in the books it's clear that Bruin QB Josh Rosen is the real-deal.  He's not a finished-product by any means, but you can see why he was so highly-rated coming out of high school.  He's not the runner that Brett Hundley was, but he's better at throwing the ball all over the field and hitting downfield routes.  He's got plenty of talent around him too, including one of the top backs in the conference in Paul Perkins and a very dependable receiver in Jordan Payton.

UCLA's defense has taken some big hits with injuries, and they'll be tested by Utah - especially RB Devontae Booker.  He's an old-style workhorse back, leading the nation (by a fair margin) with his 26.8 carries/game.  His ability opens up the Utes offense and QB Travis Wilson is athletic enough to make teams pay for overplaying Booker on the zone-read.  The question has always been his passing, and when he takes care of the football good things typically happen for Utah.

Utah's defense has the physicality to limit the Bruin run game, and UCLA has shown a tendency to favor the pass anyway, so I think this will come down to how much pressure they can get on Rosen and how well their secondary can still with the athletic Bruin receivers.  I see a close game in this one, so I'm going with the Utes and the advantages of playing at home at altitude.

Kirk's pick:  Utah 31, UCLA 27

Arizona @ ASU (no line) - Saturday, 12:30 PT, Fox Sports 1

Thanks to the quirks of scheduling created by the conference expanding, the Territorial Cup game will not be the last game of the season for ASU, but it does conclude the regular season for the bowl-eligible Wildcats.  RichRod's team made like Lazarus and pulled off an improbable win last week against Utah to break a 3-game losing streak and get to 6 wins on the season.  Meanwhile the Sun Devils rallied in the 2nd half against Washington to break their own 3-game slide and regain some confidence.

Thanks to the concussion suffered by Arizona QB Anu Solomon and his uncertain status, there's no official line on this game.  Solomon had a big game in the win over Utah both in the air and on the ground and was the key for the Wildcat offense.  If he can't go, Arizona gets very run-heavy with backup Jerrard Randall.  He's a terrific runner but a very erratic passer, and that could play right into the strength of ASU's defense, though they have to be wary of losing contain on him when they blitz.

Arizona State looked like they'd given up the season in the first half last week, but their rally may have fired them up to finish the season strong.  They have a pretty good run game with Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, and while QB Michael Bercovici can be erratic, he's got some playmakers in Devin Lucien and D.J. Foster.

These Territorial Cup games live up to the cliche that "anything can happen in a rivalry game", but I'm going to go with what I consider the better team here: ASU.  Especially with the possibility that Solomon can't go.

Kirk's pick:  Arizona State 37, Arizona 28

Cal @ Stanford (-11.5) O/U 64.5 - Saturday, 7:30 PT, ESPN

The Big Game is the other rivalry game taking a hit due to Pac-12 scheduling, as Stanford will play Notre Dame to close out their season and Cal will host Arizona State next week.

The Bears got their needed 6th win last weekend against woeful Oregon State as they busted out of their 4-game losing streak in a big way.  Now reality returns as they visit a Stanford team that has to be pissed at missing a good chance of earning their way into the 2nd CFP.  Add in that David Shaw has never lost to either the Air Raid or Bear Raid and things don't look good for Old Blue.

This will present an interesting comparison of quarterbacks.  Jared Goff was widely viewed as a high 1st round NFL pick prior to the start of the season while Kevin Hogan was given much less attention than your typical 4-year starting QB.  Yet it's been Hogan who has been the best QB in the conference this year, with his steady play and all-around game helping power a potent Stanford offense.

I don't think Cal's defense - while improved - will be able to do enough to slow down the grinder that is Stanford's offense, and I see the Cardinal doing enough to rattle Goff into multiple mistakes.  This should be a comfortable win for the guys in red.

Kirk's pick:  Stanford 38, Cal 20

Colorado @ WSU (-15) O/U 62.5 - Saturday, 7:45 PT, ESPN2

I have to give credit to both of these teams.  Colorado is still trying to work their way out of a decade-long funk, and while progress is slow and difficult, you can see the strides the Buffs are making under Mike McIntyre.  While just 1-6 in the conference so far, they have played tough and gave both L.A. schools all they could handle.  It will take continued patience from Colorado fans to let McIntyre build this program as a quick turnaround is not in the cards, but as the team becomes more and more 'his' you can see the performance out-pacing the talent and experience.  Colorado is no longer an easy out in the Pac-12, and they are not far from working their way up the ladder in the South.

As for WSU, I thought they were doomed after their embarrassing stumble in week one vs. FCS Portland State.  While they re-grouped after, close wins over the weaker part of their schedule didn't overly impress me.  Even the win over Oregon was tainted a bit with Adams and Carrington out.  But starting with the Stanford game where they took the Cardinal down to the wire, they have stepped up their game and are now legitimately playing at a high level.  A combination of Mike Leach's Air Raid becoming 2nd nature for his guys in their 4th season in his system plus an upgrade on the defensive side with the hiring of young Alex Grinch at DC have turned the Cuogs into a dangerous team that nobody wants to play.

While you don't want to sleep on the Buffs in any game, WSU is on a roll and you can feel their confidence brimming.  While this could be a trap game as the the Cuogs look ahead to the Apple Cup, I just don't see Colorado having enough talent (yet) to take advantage, though they could make this uncomfortably close for the fans in Martin Stadium.

Kirk's pick:  WSU 38, Colorado 30