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Pickin’ the PAC: Something to Play For

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Several teams are putting their seasons on the line this weekend. We pick ‘em.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Cal wants to get bowl eligible.

So does UCLA. Even ASU can still reach that goal.

Colorado wants to stay on track to win the South.

Ditto Utah. And USC.

Cal, UCLA, Utah, USC, ASU, and Colorado. This is your contingent of teams left in the PAC that have something left to play for. Sure, teams like Stanford and WSU have bowl positioning on the line. Arizona and Oregon State still have pride. Oregon has a young QB to prep.

Not counting UW, there are still six teams with something big left to play for. Bowl eligibility. A division championship. A chance to run for roses or a playoff bid. There is a lot left out there for a lot of Pac-12 teams. Some of those dreams will continue after Saturday. Some of them will be dashed.

Such is the case in November. Let’s jump into the picks.

Game of the Week

#22 Washington State at #10 Colorado (-4.5)

Number...ten...Colorado. Let that sink in for a moment. Kind of remarkable, ain’t it?

The Buffs are the #10 ranked team in the college football playoff picture. Given where they were a year ago, this makes Mike MacIntyre the hands-down coach of the year in my mind. They have a huge challenge this weekend with the surging Washington State Cougars bringing their newly multi-dimensional offense to town.

Make no mistake, the Buffaloes have what it takes to beat WSU. The Cougs own the second-longest win streak in the nation right now, but they’ve had the luck of playing a Pac-12 schedule with no Utah and no USC on it. In fact, over their seven wins, they’ve beaten just one team (Stanford) that is currently bowl-eligible. Along the way, they’ve feasted on benched and backup QBs as well as teams playing without some of their best players (like Stanford). That isn’t to say that they’ve not earned their wins; they’ve been far better than anybody could have imagined after the EWU loss. Still, this is not a team that is going to intimidate anybody on paper.

The Colorado defense has been particularly impressive so far and presents WSU with their stiffest test of the season. Based on aggregated stats, the Buffs have the Pac-12’s top defense, surrendering less than 310 yards of total offense per game. I expect the Colorado defense to really emphasize their experienced back seven and to play a form of bend-don’t-break defense that keeps WSU out of the end zone for much of the night.

On the flip side, I don’t have a good feel for what Colorado will be able to do against that WSU defense. WSU’s defense hasn’t been disappointing this year. Shalom Luani is a particular nuisance to opposing OCs given his sense for opportunity in the passing game and his strong support in rush defense. Still, S&P (which adjusts for strength of opponents and overall efficiency) has WSU ranked as the 67th best D in the nation. On paper, a multiple offense like Colorado should be able to move the ball on a defense that isn’t particularly excellent in any single phase of the game. I think that they will.

This will be the first ranked team that WSU will face since they lost to Boise State in September. This one doesn’t feel good to me. I think the Buffs take this one. In doing so, I think that they effectively eliminate USC from the playoffs (based on my Utah and USC picks below) and set up a “for the marbles” contest with Utah next week.

The Pick: WSU 23, Colorado 38

The Rest of the PAC

Oregon at #12 Utah

We don’t need a lot of analysis here. Utah racked up 11 sacks last week against the worst offensive line in the conference (Arizona State). This week, they go against the second worst offensive line in the conference. Young Justin Herbert is a great talent, to be sure. I’m very bullish on what kind of QB he is going to become as Oregon morphs to a passing offense.

But he’s going to get destroyed this weekend. I hope he survives it intact. Or at least not injured seriously.

Oh, and Joe Williams against the Oregon rush D. Bwaaaaaa haaaaa-haaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

The Pick: Oregon 20, Utah 33

#24 Stanford at Cal (+11)

Did anybody notice that Stanford popped back into the top 25? Good for Washington. Bad for Cal.

A few weeks ago, the Bears were holding out hope that they might have a shot at outscoring the Cardinal. But with Christian McCaffrey back to health, Bryce Love emerging, and a confidence-building game at the back of QB Keller Chryst, the prospects look dim for Cal. The only real question is whether or not the Bears can hold Stanford under 600 yards of total offense.

Hey, small victories.

Either way, they will lose this one and watch their bowl aspirations tank along with it. Queue up the Sonny Dykes hot seat rumors.

The Pick: Stanford 42, Cal 31

#13 USC at UCLA (+13.5)

Love him or hate him, you cannot deny that Jim Mora has a flair for the dramatic. That creates an interesting subplot in this vitriolic rivalry game. Does Mora have the juice to rally his UCLA team for one more big win and keep them on a track towards bowl eligibility? He’s going to have to overcome the huge distraction of his divorce and the bitter taste of what is no less than the most disappointing season by any team in the Pac-12, Oregon included.

On a matchup basis, USC looks every bit the prohibitive favorite. Their offense is anchored by the biggest and, dare I say it, the best line in the conference. Zach Banner and crew are creating huge opportunities for young QB Sam Darnold to beat defenses in the RPO game and driving gaping lanes for RB Ronald Jones.

UCLA will provide a stiff defensive test, which I think will keep them in the game. Jayon Brown is easily the best LB left in the conference now that Azeem Victor is out with a broken leg. I think his anchoring presence and that physical UCLA secondary will challenge the USC offense.

Beyond that, I also think the Bruins will have an emotional advantage given how down on their luck they have been and given how fat and happy USC might be feeling after last week’s win over Washington. UCLA has the athletes to compete here, and they have the prize of bowl eligibility in front of them. Is it enough?

Yes.

The Pick: USC 17, UCLA 22

Arizona at Oregon State (-6.5)

In what qualifies as breaking news, the Beavs are a favorite.

And deservedly so. They’ve got more pieces working for them in this one. The defense is a key advantage for the Beavs, particularly in that matchup of their D-line versus the porous Arizona offensive line.

I like how hard the Wildcats are playing, and I always believe that where there is effort, there is a chance to win. The athletes in the PAC are just too evenly matched for that not to be the case. But I don’t think this one is going to go too well for the Wildcats. They’ve got too little left in the tank.

The Pick: Arizona 13, Oregon State 20