Greetings Dawg fans. I'm writing from 30k feet as I head down to Tempe for this weekends matchup with Arizona State. Unfortunately, I don't have my laptop with me and am compelled to write the Picks piece from my iPad. This means fewer words and no fancy chart highlighting my stellar picks record.
By the way, have I told you lately how thankful I am? I'm thankful for my two healthy, kind, funny children. I'm thankful for my beautiful bride and the success she is having with the publication of her first book (shameless plug).
I'm thankful for the plentiful bounty born of God's great earth. Trees and flowers. Rivers and oceans. Grilled steaks and pan-fried walleye. Ice cream and ... yes ... cupcakes.
But mostly I'm thankful for ESPN. They've given us some of the best among the best. The symphonic tones of Mark Jones' voice, the whipsmart wit of the ever-so-talented Quint Kessenich, and the dreamy blue eyes of eveyone's favorite buttercup, Kirk Herbstreit. I never realized how great it was to be a sportsfan before being exposed to their grandiose productions and their sanctimonious (if a little bit hyperbolic) broadcasters. Where else can you go to find Tim Tebow, Chip Kelly, Digger Phelps and Lee Corso all on the same roster?
Oh, and beer. I think I should be thanking ESPN for beer. For if it were not for their broadcasts, how could I convince my wife that i'm just a sports fan and not a raging alcoholic.
Whew, we should get through these picks so that I can get back to cyberstalking Reese Davis.
Game of the Week
Utah at #13 USC
(Sat, 5pm PT, USC -13, Maybe.o54)
If the Coaches Poll were to be believed, this would be a matchup of ranked teams (Utah remains #23 in that poll). Regardless of rankings, this is a very compelling game between division rivals that will go a long way towards shaping up the situation in the South.
USC is clearly in the driver’s seat given their three conference wins and 1.5 game lead over the three teams tied for second. The Trojans seem to be getting back on track after a few difficult weeks. The key for them continues to be big play prevention on defense and protecting the ball on offense. When they do that, they obviously have enough playmakers with guys like RB Ronald Jones, WR Tyler Vaughns and QB Sam Darnold available. I’m a little concerned that freshman Stephen Carr remains dinged up, but I’m also interested to see the returns of receivers Steven Mitchell and Michael Pittman - two players who can definitely impact a game.
Utah has the physicality to stand up to USC. This observation rings true on both sides of the line of scrimmage, even after you adjust for the injuries that Utah’s d-line has absorbed. I’m concerned that USC’s dinged up offensive line will not be able to give Darnold enough time or Jones enough room to keep the sticks moving for the Trojans.
But can Utah score? Maybe. The Troy Williams to Darren Carrington connection seems fine. But there isn’t much by way of alternative playmakers stepping up for the Utes. At least not yet. We’ll be watching to see if RB Zach Moss or WR Raelon Singleton can be that #2 guy.
Until I see it, I won’t believe it. I’m looking for USC in a close one (take the under!).
Gekko’s Pick: Utah 17, USC 20
Pickin’ the PAC - Week 7
UCLA at Arizona
(Sat, 6pm PT, PACN, Arizona +1, o79.5)
I can’t believe that I’m looking at an over/under of 79.5 and thinking "hmmmm". But that is exactly what is happening as I look at this line right now.
That I’m even thinking about the over here is rooted in the hangover from PAC 12 OPOW Khalil Tate’s record breaking performance against Colorado. RichRod has already hinted that Tate will get the start over a healthy Brandon Dawkins despite the fact that UCLA won’t suffer the element of surprise as the Buff’s did.
But will it matter? Maybe. UCLA has had a horrible rush defense all year. That said, you have to like Josh Rosen’s ability to generate offense even though favorite target TE Caleb Wilson has been lost for the season. Arizona’s young D hasn’t seen a QB as good yet this year.
This is going to be a shootout, folks. I like the team that I expect will give up the fewer turnovers. In this case, that has to be the team with the more veteran QB.
Gekko’s Pick: UCLA 45, Arizona 38
#8 Washington St at Cal
(Fri 7:30p PT, ESPN, Cal +14, o53)
To state the obvious, the Bears are struggling. The injury list is growing and the answers list is shrinking.
On paper, the Cougs have a huge advantage here. Luke Falk hasn’t been as great as his numbers imply, but he has definitely been both efficient and careful with the ball. There really isn’t much reason to think that Cal can match them possession for possession here. They are going to need to generate some Beau Baldwin EWU-era explosives if they are to have any hope. They are a respectable 50th in explosiveness per the advanced stats, but that was before injury took out giys like Demetris Robertson and Kawani Noa.
I do think there is some genuine intrigue in how WSU will do in converting TDs. Cal’s D has been the ultimate bend-don’t-break all year. They also have been middle of the PAC in surrendering passing TDs in the red zone while WSU own ability to create TDs in the red zone is a not-very-good 59%.
That’s just one data point, but enough to convince me that we might see a lot of K Eric Powell on the way to a narrow Coug victory.
Gekko’s Pick: WSU 26, Cal 21
Colorado at Oregon St
(Sat 1pm, PACN, OSU +11, o55.5)
On Sunday I was looking at this game as an interesting matchup between two well-coached teams off to struggling starts looking to jump back in their respective races. The narrative all changed when Gary Andersen separated from Oregon State and left his struggling ball club to fend for themselves. Assistant Cory Hall has the difficult task of refocusing a broken team on the task at hand of beating last year’s South champs.
Ain’t going to happen. Colorado big.
Gekko’s Pick: Colorado 49, OSU 20
Oregon at #23 Stanford
(Sat, 8pm PT, FS1, Stan -10.5, o59)
There is definitely equipoise in this matchup of North rivals. The Stanford Love come into this one as a one dimensional team built around the talents of RB Bryce Love. Normally, I’d consider that a bad thing. But Love is a pretty special kind of home run hitter. He has broken off a 50+ yard TD run in nine straight games and, in my mind, is the clear top Heisman candidate at the halfway mark of the season. Oregon has been better than you think in rush defense - 17th in the nation in "success rate" implies that they keep offenses behind the chains on typical rush plays. But the Ducks have also surrendered several chunk plays throughout the season.
The formula of "Run Love Run" can work here if Stanford’s rotating QBs can protect the ball and if the Stanford D can take away Oregon’s run game. The former is a realistic assumption. The latter depends on if a mediocre defensive line can keep a struggling Oregon offensive line off of their linebackers.
I think that they can.
Gekko’s Pick: Stanford 31, Oregon 21