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Pickin’ the PAC: the Pac-12 paradox

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Regular season struggles give way to postseason glories.

NCAA Football: Colorado at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Thanksgiving, you all.

If you are a Husky fan, then there is much to be thankful for.

If you happen to be one of the millions (ok, maybe hundreds) of frequent guests here to hold allegiances elsewhere, I’m sure you also have much to be thankful for.

One thing that we can all agree upon is that we are not thankful that this rollicking, surprising, and mirthful season is about to come to an end.

Well, maybe not you, Oregon Fans. You’ve taken one on the chin in 2016.

But to an end it must come.

Nietzsche wrote:

“The end of a melody is not its goal: but nonetheless, had the melody not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either. A parable.”

For the players and coaches, the goal is the end. For some Pac-12 teams, that goal might be ending this weekend on a winning note. For ASU it might be keeping its season alive. For others, the end might not be for some time. For UW, that end might be the highest honors of the college football world.

But, for fans, this great parable speaks to us. The end is not the goal. The path to the end is what sucks us in and, once it arrives, leaves us wondering how it all got past us so quickly.

So, yes, be thankful. But if you feel a bit sad, that is ok too. It is, after all, just one great parable.

Here are your last Pickin’ the PAC picks for the 2016 regular season.

Game of the Week

#22 Utah vs #9 Colorado (-10)

The Apple Cup gets its own prediction piece, so the other game of the week takes center stage. Utah travels to Colorado in a matchup of Pac-12 expansion teams that will distribute all of the marbles of the South division. If Colorado wins, they are in. If they lose, Utah opens the door for USC to walk through.

The rise of UW in the PAC has been a tremendous story. Keep in mind that UW was a seven-win team just a season ago. But Colorado doesn’t even have seven total wins since joining the Pac-12, and now here they stand poised to take the mantle of “Pac-12 South Division Champions”—an honor that half of the South has yet to legitimately achieve.

The secret to Colorado has been solid, no-big-play defense combined with an offense that is good for the occasional explosive play. The key components are a secondary that features two big corners, a wily senior QB, and a multi-headed receiver corps with three players who can kill you from anywhere on the field. They will bring all of that to bear in the altitude of Boulder, CO on Saturday.

Utah is used to playing at altitude. This matchup is intriguing for them in that what they do well—block and run the ball—are the two areas of exposure that most vex Colorado. In addition, that big Ute defensive line looks like a very favorable matchup against the gritty Colorado front five. There are enough of these kinds of checks that make this game particularly compelling.

Of course, Utah is going to play to win this game. But one has to wonder how invested the Utes are in making sure that USC is the South division champion. There really isn’t anything Utah on the line for Utah in this road trip. One might argue that this is an excellent opportunity for Kyle Whittingham to seek an opportunity to get reps for younger players in hostile conditions while perhaps doling out a few extra breathers to his dinged-up starters.

All the arrows in this one point to Colorado. I expect Utah to keep it interesting for a half as Colorado works through their adrenaline, but for the Buffs to create separation in the second half.

The Pick: Utah 17, Colorado 28

The Rest of the PAC

Arizona State at Arizona (+3) - Friday Night

Much has been written about how Arizona has “tanked” this year. I’ve seen some debate on sports radio as to whether or not the Wildcats are the most disappointing team of the year. Perhaps these talking heads haven’t actually seen Arizona play this year. Yes, I get that since the Washington game Arizona has surrendered almost three times as many points as they’ve scored. However, this is a team that has weathered a ridiculous onslaught of injuries, and to my eyes has continued to fight and claw throughout this winless regular season.

I have to give props to RichRod for that. The problem is that this team is just about out of gas. Nineteen Wildcat seniors, including key guys like Trey Griffey, Samajie Grant, Paul Magloire, Jake Matthews, and Davonte’ Neal, will enter the last game of their college careers looking for their first conference victory. Do they have enough? Can they muster the emotional investment given that the Territorial Cup is on the line?

I’m guessing not. The Sun Devils are playing for bowl eligibility and also happen to be getting healthier. Their defense, which has just been shredded over the last several weeks, probably has enough juice to contain a crippled Wildcat offense. Their offense, which was historically bad last week versus Washington, has a lot going for it with guys like WR N’Keal Harry and RB Kalen Ballage presenting matchup challenges for Arizona. I think the Sun Devils win this one on the road and punch their ticket to Las Vegas.

The Pick: ASU 34, Arizona 31

Notre Dame at #12 USC (-17)

I’m having trouble digesting USC as a 17-point favorite against the Fighting Irish, but I get it. The Trojans are playing at a very high level as Sam Darnold continues to ascend at QB behind what has become, in my mind, the highest-performing offensive line in the Pac-12.

The problem here is that there isn’t quite the talent advantage that you’d expect to see with a 17-point favorite. Notre Dame is the classic wounded duck underdog. They’ve been hammered by the NCAA with a probation and 21 vacated wins. They are enduring significant coaching change rumors. And they are facing a season with no bowl game.

There are a lot of Notre Dame seniors who didn’t expect to go out like this. Is the Jeweled Shillelagh enough to compel the Irish to play to their talent levels?

Maybe. It’s hard to read. On one hand, I like USC overwhelmingly. On the other, it wouldn’t shock me in the least to see the Irish circle the wagons one last time and knock USC off their Rose Bowl path (in the case that Colorado wins today).

USC by a hair.

The Pick: Notre Dame 34, USC 35

Rice at #24 Stanford (-35)

Rice is a great school with a horrible, horrible football team. The only intrigue in this one is whether or not David Shaw attempts to work out his struggling passing game and young QB Keller Chryst or if he turns the keys over Christian McCaffrey in what may well be his last game in Palo Alto.

I’m guessing the latter. And the results to be epic.

The Pick: Rice 9, Stanford 56

UCLA at Cal (+3)

UCLA at Cal seems like a tragic matchup to end the season. First of all, these two teams are not rivals. You can elaborate all you like on how these two UC schools are in constant competition for sports accolades and academic honors, yada yada yada, but it is simply not right that UCLA and Cal do not finish up against the natural rivals in USC and Stanford. That they both wrap up just one week after having bowl eligibility taken from them from said rivals is just salt in the wound.

This game has the potential to be more depressing than Leaving Las Vegas.

Still, somebody has to win it. Who it might be I have not a clue. I continue to be amazed at how poorly UCLA’s offensive line and running backs have played all year. On the flip side, there may not be a worse overall defense in the nation than the one in Berkeley.

If I had to venture a guess, I’d go with Cal in this one. The potential for Davis Webb to be a difference maker in his last game, even against a pretty decent Bruin secondary, is too tantalizing. Plus, I apparently have a compulsion to want to place Cal too high in my power rankings.

The Pick: UCLA 23, Cal 31

Oregon at Oregon State (+3)

The Beavers have not won a Civil War since they won two in a row in 2006 and 2007. Before Oregon’s stunning upset over Utah last weekend, many Beavs fans were sure that this was going to be year. Now? Not so sure.

The Ducks still present a quandary for defenses. Though they don’t have all of the same kinds of players they used to have, particularly on what is still a really bad offensive line, they have plenty of speed. The introduction of QB Justin Herbert into the mix is starting to mature the offense to the point that you can see Mark Helfrich’s strategy for turning Oregon into more of a balanced run/pass team (like they were with Marcus Mariota) starting to take shape.

The problem for Oregon is that they still cannot stop anybody. The Beavers showed last week that QB Marcus McMaryion does have weapons in the passing game that can feast on inferior competition. Receivers like Victor Bolden and Jordan Villamin are legitimate options for them. And who can forget Ryan Nall’s epic 228-APY performance in Eugene last year? That was just a sign of things to come.

I’m feeling the Beavers here (I have a feeling I’m going to regret writing that statement once of all of you gutter hounds feast your eyes on it).

The Pick: Oregon 40, Oregon State 48