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Pickin’ the PAC - Conference play begins

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USC and Stanford start the games that count while Oregon submits to a road test.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Championship Game-Southern California vs Stanford
Things are about to flip upside down as USC and Stanford start PAC 12 play.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The PAC-12 debuts conference play this weekend with the listless ship that is the USC Trojans road-tripping up to Stanford for a game that will tell us a lot about both programs. As delicious as that is, it isn’t even the most intriguing matchup of the week.

Oregon is heading to Nebraska to visit old friend Mike Riley for a Civil War reunion in a game that will reveal clearly what the Ducks really are. Or what they are not.

Oh, and BYU is back in the PAC for another weekend affair. I wonder what that is all about? Let’s get into the picks.

Game of the Week

Oregon @ Nebraska (Nebraska -3.0)

The Ducks head to Lincoln where the conditions are always difficult for visitors. My first instinct was to go right to Oregon. After all, any time Mike Riley faces off against the Ducks, disaster prevails.

But then I started looking at the facts. The Huskers have scored 95 points in their first two games compared to just 27 points surrendered. Senior QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. is averaging 11 yards/attempt. Their defense is surrendering less than 300 yards a game. And they are averaging about 90,000 fans a game.

Those aren’t necessarily “top of the PAC” types of stats (except for the fan attendance…holy smokes), but they might be meaningful in a matchup against the Ducks.

Oregon has gotten off to a pretty good start offensively. Dakota Prokup isn’t nearly as dynamic as his predecessor, but he’s safe with the ball and good enough to get the ball to Oregon’s many weapons. Defense has been - go figure - the problem. The Ducks surrendered 388 yards and 5 ypp to the lowly Virginia Cavaliers last week. That doesn’t seem too bad until you consider that the Richmond Spiders only surrendered 302 yards and 5.5 ypp to that same Cavalier team. On the road.

I think the Huskers can keep up the scoring pace with the Ducks and might have enough defense to get an advantage late in the game, or possibly overtime. I’m going with Nebraska and the homefield advantage.

The Pick: Oregon 34, Nebraska 37

The Rest of the Pac

Arizona State @ UTSA (-19.5) Friday Night!

I’m not sure under what bizarro arrangement Arizona State agreed to make a trip out to San Antonio. Maybe they thought that they were going to get to play in the Alamo Bowl. Regardless, you’ll remember this UTSA team as one that gave the Wildcats a run for their money in the Roadrunners’ first FBS year just a few seasons ago. I’m not sure if the Sun Devils know exactly what they have on their hands. I actually think that the Roadrunners will be more of a test (at least in terms of the defense they present) than Texas Tech was last week. I also doubt that we’ll see Kalen Ballage score 8 TDs this week. The Devils will win, but they’ll struggle more than you’d expect.

The Pick: ASU 37, UTSA 28

Idaho @ Washington State (WSU -25)

We’ve all seen WSU go through some crazy times. These rank right up there. Players getting arrested. A coach ripping the players. A coach then ripping the cops. A silent AD. A tolerant fan base. An 0-2 start to boot. The good news is that Idaho isn’t very good. There is no way WSU goes to 0-3. Right?

The Pick: Idaho 24, WSU 55

Colorado @ Michigan (Michigan -20)

I know that many of you want me to pull the trigger on the upset. After all, Michigan has struggled in their last few appearances against PAC-12 teams and Colorado happens to be one of the hottest teams in the conference. Unfortunately, this is the weekend that reality grabs the Buffaloes by their Rocky Mountain oysters and slaps ‘em bitches in the face. The Wolverines are stout defensively and, more importantly, have evolved an offense that is simply too much for the Buffs to handle. I expect Colorado to give them a fight – they do have grit – but it won’t be close.

The Pick: Colorado 23, Michigan 35

Idaho State @ Oregon State

Mark my words. The Beavs are going to roll hard on the Bengals. You are welcome.

The Pick: Idaho State 13, Oregon State 45

USC @ Stanford (Stanford -8.5)

This is the big PAC-12 matchup of the weekend. Mano a mano. Red on red. Trench warfare. Bigs on uglies. A battle of two biggest and most physical teams in the PAC this side of Salt Lake. A true heavyweight bout.

It would be easy to call Stanford in a laugher here. The Trojans look like a mess. QB Max Browne has not looked good in his first two games. Starting C Toa Lobendahn is out for the year (again) with an ACL, wreaking havoc with what was supposed to be a good line. Linebackers Osa Masina and Don Hill have been banned from the team pending an investigation in to multiple sexual assaults of the same woman. And coach Clay Helton has started to earn “hot seat” status after earning a Sark-like 5-5 record in his first 10 games as the Trojan head man.

Yeah, it would be easy to go right to Stanford here, but the Cardinal have yet to show themselves as a proven commodity. In their one game against Kansas State, they looked somewhat listless and definitely inefficient on offense. In fact, there is already a bit of a quarterback controversy, as QB Ryan Burns looked less effective overall than backup Keller Chryst. We’ll have to see how that works out.

The Cardinal were better than expected defensively – especially in generating 8 sacks – but they had to blitz a lot in order to make that happen. With weapons like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Ronald Jones on the field for USC, blitzing may not be the best strategy.

I’m not completely sure USC can’t win this outright. However, Stanford is at home, and given all the distractions, I have to stay with them.

The Pick: USC 21, Stanford 26

Texas at Cal (Texas -8.0)

Coach Dykes made some news this week by questioning whether or not it made sense for the Bears to play both Southern California schools every year. I find that ironic given how big a stink the NoCal schools made about that issue during conference realignment. I also find it unwise given that Charlie Strong is coming to town with his hot young QB (Shane BOOOOOOOOOOO-shell) and a hungry crew of Longhorns. Cal’s attention needs to be on Texas. This smells like a butt-whoopin’.

The Pick: Texas 59, Cal 38

UCLA @ BYU (UCLA -3.0)

Did BYU join the PAC-12 while I wasn’t looking? It seems like I’m writing about them every week.

Regardless, their third PAC-12 game is looking like one that won’t go in their direction come Saturday. The Cougars have shown a lot of moxie under new head coach Kalani Sitake and old-man QB Taysom Hill in their first two games, but this kind of feels like the game where the bubble bursts. Josh Rosen is definitely a better QB than what he has shown in the first two weeks. I’m guessing that he reverts back to a more efficient and less turnover-prone of himself. That spells trouble for BYU. Watch Soso Jamabo roll and the Bruins win this one going away.

The Pick: UCLA 38, BYU 17

Utah @ San Jose State (Utah -13)

Since I published the Week 2 Power Poll, Utah has been rocked with bad news. Star DE Kylie Fitts was lost for the year to an ankle injury while starting tailback Joe Williams surprised everybody by taking a medical retirement. I know Utah fans think that they have the depth to cover those losses, but I do not believe that is exactly true, particularly with Fitts. I’m not saying that Deontae Cooper and his San Jose State Spartans are in a position to win this one, but it might be more close than Ute fans would like.

The Pick: Utah 27, SJSU 17

Hawaii @ Arizona (Arizona -24.5)

Arizona? I guess???

The Pick: Hawaii 31, Arizona 43