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Pickin’ the PAC: Colorado to Take The Test

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It is “prove it” Saturday with Washington, Stanford, and Colorado all trying to prove their relevance.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The craziness of Pac-12 parity continues into Week 6. Several teams, not excluding Washington, go into the weekend with something to prove. Either they need to prove that their early season success is no fluke (UW, Colorado) or that recent blows they’ve suffered don’t define their seasons (Stanford, Utah). Some are looking to prove that it may have been too early to close the book on them (WSU, USC, UCLA).

Let’s jump into the previews.

Game of the Week

#21 Colorado at USC (-4.5)

The Colorado Buffaloes are freshly back in the top 25 since before they joined the Pac- 12. There is not much time to celebrate if you are a Buffalo fan. A road trip to Los Angeles stands between you and staying in the rankings.

This looks like a matchup of freshmen QBs, both of whom were thrown into the mix after incumbents were taken out of their roles earlier in the year. USC freshman Sam Darnold has been a spark for the USC offense since he was inserted two weeks ago. Darnold is a scrappy, scrambling kind of QB. He hasn’t really pushed the ball downfield, but he has made great reads and found ways to incorporate his playmakers into the offense. It is a great development that JuJu Smith-Schuster has become a yard-after-catch machine since Darnold’s elevation. With Darnold directing that chip-and-chunk offense, the rushing attack is starting to get untracked, making the Trojans that much more dangerous.

The Buffaloes have been a phenomenon so far. QB Steven Montez has been brilliant stepping in for an injured Sefo Liufau and for all intents and purposes has seized the job. Unlike the Trojans, the Buffaloes are getting most of their offense via the big play. Montez, in fact, hasn’t done anything all that spectacular beyond showing the cajones to put the ball out there. It has been his receivers - sophomore Shay Fields, senior Devin Ross and senior Bryce Bobo - who have really shown up so far this season.

But the Buffaloes haven’t yet come so far that you can hand them a game on the road against an opponent like USC. The Trojan secondary is probably the strength of the defense and has the kinds of athletes in Adoree’ Jackson and Iman Marshall to win some one-on-ones with those Colorado receivers. However, I remain unconvinced that their defensive line is good enough to put consistent enough pressure on Montez to force him into mistakes.

I can see this really being a tight game. I like Colorado’s toughness as a team and I fully expect them to complete some big shots on the Trojans. On the flip side, I like the offensive line-oriented, efficient offense that USC brings to the table with Darnold at the helm. I’m going to guess that this game is going to come down to a turnover or a special teams play that goes in favor of the home team.

The Pick: Colorado 34, USC 38

The Rest of the PAC

California at Oregon State (+13.5)

You don’t often see double-digit home underdogs in the Pac-12. When you do, there is often a reason why.

The Cal Bears are getting excellent QB play out of transfer Davis Webb and have demonstrated that their offense is not dependent on any given receiver or quarterback. They’ve had a breakout receiver in senior Chase Hansen and have had some young guys really step up; freshman Melquise Stovall is second on the team in receptions while freshman Demetris Robertson already has 5 TDs.

Still, this is a team that has its gaps. Utah showed that if you can take Hansen out of the game, the Cal offense can sputter. Defensively, the Bears rank as the worst defense in the conference notwithstanding their brilliant goal line stand last weekend against Utah. There is an opportunity here.

Unfortunately, the Beavers are in no position to seize it. QB play has been awful so far this season in Corvallis. That has really neutralized what should otherwise be a productive core of skill players in WR Victor Bolden, RB Ryan Nall, and WR Jordan Villamin. In addition, the defense - in particular the secondary - has been caught overwhelmed and out of position in every game so far this season.

Cal is going to cruise in Corvallis.

The Pick: Cal 49, OSU 17

Washington State at #15 Stanford (-7.5)

What an interesting matchup this presents. On one hand, you have the beaten and deflated Stanford Cardinal heading back home after surrendering their position as the “big dog” of the west to the Washington Huskies. On the other, you have the surging WSU Cougars coming into town following an epic victory over the Oregon Ducks that featured 280 rushing yards out of Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense.

I’m having a difficult time getting a read on this game. Stanford is expected to go into this game still banged up following back-to-back games against UCLA and UW. This includes some depth challenges in the defensive secondary. To complicate things, the Cardinal is struggling to find a rhythm in the passing game.

But does it matter? You can expect Stanford to really emphasize Christian McCaffrey in the run game as they try to re-establish themselves as a physically dominating team. They should be able to do that against a vulnerable WSU defense. I’m not sure that they can keep the Cougs off the scoreboard enough to get by without having to pass the ball. The Cougs are showing that this year, maybe more so than any other season in the Leach era, they are ready to leverage the running back grouping of Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks to gash teams that overplay the pass. This definitely makes them more dangerous.

I’m going to stick with Stanford here, but in a close one. Call it a home field advantage between two teams that look good enough to cancel out each other’s strengths.

The Pick: WSU 26, Stanford 28

UCLA at ASU (+10.0)

The Bruins head out to the desert on Saturday to take on the Sun Devils. Tempe has been anything but a city of horrors for the Bruins of late, as UCLA has wins of 62-27 and 45-43 in each of its last two visits.

But this will be QB Josh Rosen’s first visit to what is otherwise known as a pretty difficult place to play. Rosen struggled with ASU’s pressure defense in the Rose Bowl last year and has had a difficult time getting into a rhythm so far this season. Of course, he happens to be coming off his best game of the season last week against Arizona.

The Devils are not in good shape. They’ve lost their starting QB in Manny Wilkins and their defense has already surrendered 23 touchdowns for the season. Their blitz game is a threat to a pocket QB like Rosen, but their secondary isn’t good enough to contain opposing receivers.

I expect Rosen to shred that ASU secondary and am looking for a big day from slot guy Kenneth Walker.

The Pick: UCLA 38, ASU 20

Arizona at #24 Utah (-9.5)

There is not a whole lot to write about this one. The Utes are at home following a bitter loss to Cal that should have been a win. They’ve had their manhood questioned after their inability to score after 10 tries within Cal’s red zone, and they are looking to take it out on somebody.

The Wildcats are a mess right now. They are essentially playing the backups to the backups in several positions across the roster. The defense is in a major rebuild mode and is also not fully stocked. The offense has no passing game to speak of. The rushing attack is down to a running QB (whether that is QB Brandon Dawkins or true freshman Khalil Tate). Did I mention that the ‘Cats lost two O-linemen last week?

The MASH unit isn’t a good situation for Arizona. Utah rolls.

The Pick: Arizona 13, Utah 28