The PAC 12 didn't exactly bounce back last weekend from their poor opening week showing. Losses by the Oregon teams to the Michigan teams were disappointing while ASU's struggles with Cal Poly were surprising. At this point, the PAC is already a bit handicapped in the playoff calculus as it wraps up its out of conference game cycles.
But that doesn't mean that there isn't some good football left out there. Here are our weekly picks.
Cal (-7) at Texas
It's hard to tell if Texas head coach Charlie Strong is in the midst of a massive culture overhaul or if he's simply in the midst of being way over his head. Regardless, the Texas Longhorns are a team not in good shape. In fact, I can't ever recall a team the stature of Cal - a team that hasn't been a bowl team in several years - coming into Austin as a touchdown favorite. It's been a veritable mess at Texas and one that doesn't seem like it will clear up anytime soon.
On the other hand, you have a Cal team that seems to be streaking. QB Jared Goff is legitimately one of the better QBs in the nation and he has a great receiving corps to work with. Even with star RB Daniel Lasco uncertain due to a hip injury, scoring points doesn't seem to be a major question here. However, it is important to note that the athletes at SDSU drew up a decent blue print for the athletes of Texas to emulate if they can.
The bigger question is whether or not the Longhorns can score enough points to keep up with the Golden Bears. Strong finally pulled the trigger on a QB change midway through last week's game with Rice when he replaced struggling Tyrone Swoopes with the athletic Jerrod Heard. While not exactly a revelation, Heard did bring instant offense to that game, ending with 96 yards rushing and a gaudy 17 yards per attempt passing.
I think the Bears are going to struggle in this one. I don't think Vegas is valuing the change at quarterback well enough and I have a feeling that Texas will be playing this one with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. Athletically, I don't see Cal having any real advantages against the Longhorns - in particular along the line of scrimmage. While I think Goff will be the best player on the field, I still see Texas defending their honor on their home turf in what should be a very entertaining game.
Gekko's Pick: Cal 28, Texas 31
Stanford at USC (-9.5)
The obvious storyline for this game is that it is the first conference matchup for the PAC 12 this season. The most important storyline for this game may be the fact that it is our first good barometer check on the relative strength of the "powerful" South division against the "undermanned" North. But neither of those would qualify as the most interesting storyline.
This one is personal.
The David Shaw / Steve Sarkisian rivalry was born in 2013 when Sark, then coach of the Washington Huskies, accused Stanford of "faking injuries" (which they almost assuredly did) in a game ultimately won by Stanford. The heat between the two coaches seemed to subside a year later when both coaches declared that they had moved on and with David Shaw noting that their "wives have become good friends".
Hmmm. I wonder how David Shaw's wife feels about Steve Sarkisian now that his drinking and philandering appear to be at the root of his recent divorce. Let's just say that the two are more likely to end up on an episode of Jerry Springer than to be sharing a holiday meal anytime soon.
On the field, this is an incredibly compelling matchup against two teams that ought to be contenders in their respective divisions. Both have experienced quarterbacks and, at least on paper, boast the two best offensive lines in the conference. USC has more young playmakers that they are breaking in while Stanford is simply trying to get into a rhythm with their power offense.
I like the Trojans in this one, but not by much. In fact, I find 9.5 points completely indefensible. I think that USC's young players aren't yet battle tested given their first two easy opening games. Stanford isn't Idaho. They are going to run faster and hit harder than anything that USC has seen to date. That said, USC simply has more playmakers than Stanford. This game might come down to just one or two plays coming from guys like Adoree Jackson, JuJu Smith or Su'a Cravens. Let's call this a close one for USC.
Gekko's Pick: Stanford 27, USC 28
#19 BYU at #10 UCLA (-16.5)
When I first saw this point spread, my reaction was:
Look, I like UCLA. I even have them at #1 in my current Power Rankings. But it isn't like this team has gone out and set the world on fire. Josh Rosen is still a true freshman and the defense is still working out its rotation with star DT Eddie Vanderdoes done for the season. Even if you accept that UCLA should win at home against BYU, that should not be 14 points worth of assuredness.
BYU will be a stout test for the Bruins. Even though they have lost QB Taysom Hill for the season, RS freshman Tanner Magnum has already shown himself more than capable to pick up the slack. In fact, from my perspective, he's a better all around QB right now than Hill. Magnum has great pocket presence and absolute bazooka for an arm. He's been making downfield plays all over the place over his first two weeks, including two game-winning TD passes in consecutive weeks. He's a stud and he plays on an offense with a lot of undervalued pieces at WR and OL.
UCLA will have its hands full in shutting down the BYU offense. But that Bruins defense has played well as the linebacking corps led by everybody's favorite name-caller Myles Jack has become an "elite" unit in the PAC. I think that the Bruins will be able to keep the Cougars in the mid-twenties. While I think that Rosen will go through some growing pains against a BYU team that has already been tested against both Nebraska and Boise State, I think they can do enough to squeak by.
Gekko's Pick: BYU 24, UCLA 27
Rest of the PAC
#21 Utah at Fresno State
The narrative here goes something like: "Ranked team with an injured quarterback goes on the road to take on a one-time rival who is known for knocking off PAC 12 teams every once in a while." Yeah, what could go wrong? I think the Utes could really struggle on this road trip to Fresno State. The Bulldogs have a decent run game and a capable defense. Fortunately, I think the Utes are solid enough on D and capable enough with their own rushing attack to shore up whatever they might miss with Travis Wilson being injured. I'll take the Utes here.
Gekko's Pick: Utah 27, Fresno State 21
Northern Arizona at #20 Arizona
Arizona's somewhat shameful preseason schedule continues with their semi-annual matchup against Northern Arizona. Considering that the boys from Flagstaff rarely put up much of a fuss, I wouldn't expect a lot this weekend. The 'Cats bear down and cruise in this one.
Gekko's Pick: Northern Arizona 10, Arizona 56
Wyoming at Washington State
Yes, we know WSU's defense is questionable. We also know that their special teams is a dumpster fire. But it won't matter in this one. All WSU.
Gekko's Pick: Wyoming 24, WSU 45
San José State at Oregon State (-9)
This has trap game written all over it. If I'm Gary Andersen, I'm going to be looking to really emphasize to my young team the importance of not letting San Jose State get any momentum early in this game. If they do, we could see yet another upset. But, I don't think so. Call this intuition, but Anderson doesn't strike me as the kind of guy to let up on his team in a week like this. I think the Beavs get a few jaw-dropping plays from their young QB Seth Collins and ride the prowess of a better-than-you-think Defense to a win in a close game.
Gekko's Pick: SJSU 13, Oregon State 21
Colorado State at Colorado (-3.5)
Throw out the record books when these two rivals get together. Colorado is just 5-4 against the Rams over the last nine years and only one of those games - a 38-17 win in 2008 - was an "easy" win. This will be the sixth straight time these two have played in Colorado and ninth time in their last ten games. You can expect Colorado State to come out fired up. While I think Mike MacIntyre is doing a good job for Colorado, I'm not loving this matchup.
Gekko's Pick: Colorado State 34, Colorado 31
New Mexico at Arizona State (-28)
Humbled and out of the rankings, Todd Graham's team has a thing or two to prove on Friday night. Unfortunately there won't be a ton of resistance offered up by New Mexico. The Lobos are fresh off a loss to Tulsa and don't match up particularly well. I'm expecting a blowout.
Gekko's Pick: New Mexico 20, ASU 52
Georgia State at #12 Oregon (-46)
The only question about this one is whether or not Oregon can actually cover 46 points. While I think the Ducks will be looking to make a statement, I also think that they are going to want to let some nicks and bruises heal following a very physical battle with Michigan State. Once this one is hand, I expect the reserves to come in and slow things down. Oregon won't cover this one.
Gekko's Prediction: Georgia St 17, Oregon 56