The PAC 12 is not well positioned for a run to the College Football Playoffs one day following the release of the initial rankings by the selection committee.
The Stanford Cardinal and the Utah Utes sit #11 and #12 in that ranking despite combining for just two losses over the course of the season. While it was not expected that either team would show up in the top four, it is a bit of a blow to the conference to see neither one of their two best candidates outside of the top 10.
The implication for the PAC is that one of either Stanford or Utah are pretty much going to have to be perfect down the stretch. In addition, they are going to have to hope that a few of the teams ahead of them (particularly Oklahoma State, Iowa, Notre Dame and one of the SEC teams) slip up ahead of any conference championship game. They also have to hope that no upstarts (I'm thinking about Memphis in the case that Ole Miss somehow finds a way to win the SEC) overtake them.
I'm not sure that the road ahead can successfully be traversed. A lot of things are going to have to break right for the PAC to put a team in the playoffs. Either way, perfection is the requirement and it has to start this weekend.
On to my picks and predictions.
#12 Utah at Washington (-1.5) - O/U 44.5
For the first time this season, Washington will participate in what is the projected to be the most competitive and most significant game of the week.
Utah has not defeated Washington since moving into the PAC and, in fact, has never beaten UW going back to the start of their interconference competition back in 1931. Over that time, UW has won 8 straight contests against Utah, seven of which have happened in Seattle. Kyle Whittingham, the longest-tenured head coach in the conference, has never coached a game in Husky Stadium.
So, is this the year that Utah can end their streak against the Huskies?
On the surface, the answer is a resounding "yes". The Utes have had a successful season that has seen them be as highly ranked as #3 in the nation before a stunning blowout loss to the USC Trojans knocked them out of the top 10. They are tough football team that is built from the LOS out in a way that makes a guy like Jim Harbaugh proud and a guy like Chris Petersen envious. Their MO is to beat you down with their rushing attack and then beat you up with their defensive front seven. What they lack in team speed, they make up for in physicality and a minimization of mistakes.
That is to say, a minimization of mistakes at just about every position but QB. Travis Wilson is a multi-year starter who has had to endure a new offensive coordinator each season. His tenure at QB has been defined by his hot and cold nature. On any given play, he is equally as liable to show off his big arm on a 50 yard go route, demonstrate his gazelle like running on a 20 yard scamper or throw a devastating pick 6 towards a bracketed receiver in the flat. Fortunately for Kyle Whittingham, tough games against USC and Michigan have conditioned his QB and his team for the kind of tough defense that UW will present.
On the flip side, UW will have to contend with that Utah defense. This unit is loaded up front and capable on the back end. Teams that have had success against Utah have been able to run away from the inside duo of Gianni Paul and Jared Norris (and their blitzes) by controlling the perimeter and simply outrunning the slowish Utes. Edge blocking, however, is not a strength for this young Husky offense. Nevertheless, the Huskies will have to find a way to make that work because running into the middle of that Ute front with zone rushes or quick slants is a recipe for disaster.
I'm going to save the prediction for Friday. However, check out our latest Crowdline and let us know how you see the game going.
Rest of the PAC
#11 Stanford at Colorado (+16) - O/U 56
Unlike Utah, Stanford has a much more favorable matchup when it comes to keeping their playoff hopes alive. Colorado is fresh off a difficult loss to a UCLA team that they physically whipped in every area but the scoreboard. It would be understandable if there were some hangover from the sting and pain of that missed opportunity.
Stanford, on the other hand, is coming off a near miss that probably did more to get them refocused on the trap that teams like Colorado can provide than any coach speech could ever provide. On a man by man basis, this is a matchup that radically favors the Cardinal. I don't see how their O-Line doesn't simply dominate the LOS and pave the way for a big Stanford win.
Gekko's Pick: Stanford 41, Colorado 23 (LAY the points, take the OVER)
#12 UCLA at Oregon State (+17.5) - O/U 57
I think Vegas may have created an interesting value play with this line. While there is no way that I can see Oregon State winning this game, I can see enough signals that might lead you to believe that 17.5 points to a home dog might be a bit on the generous side.
The first factor is matchups. Offensively, the Beavers have some weapons that UCLA doesn't have good answers for - particularly on the perimeter with Jordan Villamin and Victor Bolden. If Nick Mitchell can internalize lessons learned from his first start last week, there will be a few plays there for him to hit.
The second factor is the toughness factor. The bottom line for me is that OSU has it in a way that UCLA may not. There is simply a more gritty culture being cultivated at OSU with DC Kalani Sitake leading the charge that UCLA doesn't seem to match. At home, I could see emotion fueling a little extra physicality for the Beavs.
In the end, it won't be enough to win the game. UCLA is just better and they have a huge advantage with Paul Perkins against that weak OSU rush defense. But I like the Beavs to keep it close.
Gekko's Pick: UCLA 27, OSU 17 (TAKE the points, take the UNDER)
Arizona State at Washington State (-2.5) - O/U 66.5
Here is a classic matchup of two teams coming off of brutal games where each gave away a win that was in the bag. Whatever you think of either team, I think it is safe to presume that both teams are coming into it pissed off and with a chip on their shoulder.
The Cougs are favored, and rightly so. Traveling to Pullman is a tough trek, especially for a Sunshine Team like ASU. The Cougs have favorable matchups with their receivers against the ASU secondary and with their D-Line against a struggling ASU O-Line. I also like Luke Falk's ability to make quick decisions as it relates to neutralizing the ASU blitz game.
I do expect Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard to have some success running the ball. But I do think that QB Mike Bercovici will struggle with ball security. I think this one might get a little wild - give me the Cougs in this one ... but put your betting dollars somewhere else.
Gekko's Pick: ASU 38, WSU 45 (LAY the points, take the OVER)
Arizona vs USC (-18) - O/U 65
I admit that I like USC in this one, but 18 points seems like an insane betting line. The Trojans are likely to be missing JuJu Smith as well as a couple of other receivers. As such, I expect them to try to establish the running game as they did last week against Cal when the rushed for 50 carries. Arizona's D won't be able to match up with that Trojan offensive line, so I expect USC to have success with Tre Madden, Ronald Jones and Justin Davis sharing the carries.
On the reverse, I do think that RichRod will have his offense ready to go. They were embarrassed on national TV against UW when they were unable to score even a single TD. I think Anu Solomon will get the ball a lot and I think that Rich Rod will call an aggressive game plan to try to put a little spark into his team. It won't be enough, but it should be entertaining.
Gekko's Pick: Arizona 35, USC 41 (TAKE the points, take the OVER)
Cal vs Oregon (-4.5) - O/U 76
This matchup almost rose up to the "matchup of the week" status because of the implications to each team that come along with a loss.
For the Golden Bears, they have a season that is quickly spiraling out of control. The presumed "first QB taken" in Jared Goff has not been able to get his offense to the top 15 heights that most Cal fans imagined at the start of the season when rumblings of #drop50 started surfacing again mostly because of average O-Line play and a receivingcorps that seems to have underachieved their talent level. A loss to Oregon won't necessarily knock them out of bowl contention, but it will leave them scarred with their fourth straight loss and a sense of a season squandered.
Oregon is in a similar situation, though the sense of squandered opportunity has already settled over their fanbase. Oregon still has a chance (believe it or not) at a North Division title given that Stanford is still ahead of them on the schedule. A loss here would make that pretty much moot, but there is something left for them to play for.
In the end, I like Oregon here. As I noted last week, Vernon Adams clearly is not comfortable in this offense, but is also just as clearly an elite playmaker when the play breaks down and street ball breaks out on the football field. I expect Cal will do ok handling Royce Freeman and it will come down to Adams converting a few broken plays for the big win.
Gekko's Pick: Cal 35, Oregon 42 (LAY the points, take the OVER)