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Pickin’ the PAC: Week 6

The littering of the injured across PAC 12 rosters make weekend picks not so easy.

NCAA Football: Utah at Arizona
Can Troy Williams carry the Utes offense against Stanford this week?
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Huge week for the Gekko with the weekly PAC 12 picks. While I went an ok 3-2 in straight up picks, my performance in predicting scores was off the charts accurate including a prediction of the Oregon/Cal game that was off by just 3 points on the Ducks side (and I’m sure Justin Herbert would have been worth those three points!).

Here is where I stand season to date:

Week 5 Weekly Picks Scorecard

Week 6 means that the hunt for division titles is in full swing. The big contenders in both divisions, and you know who they are, are all playing in “hold-serve” kinds of games with the one big exception being the Stanford/Utah affair.

Let’s jump into the previews. As always, we’ve saved the Cal/UW preview for a separate preview to come later in the week.

Game of the Week

Stanford vs #20 Utah

(Sat 7:15pm, FS1, Stanford -6)

The stakes are getting raised for these two interdivision rivals. For Utah, there is a clear opportunity to sustain the lead in the South that they established during their BYE week. If they can repeat the magic from 2014 when the Utes physically overpowered the Cardinal in a grinder of a game, Kyle Whittingham will have scored a huge win over one of the more difficult matchups on the schedule.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Stanford
Bryce Love looks to build on his Heisman campaign.
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stanford is saddled with a conference loss already and can barely afford one more loss if they expect to compete in the North. If they are going to get past a tough road trip in Utah, they’ll have to bring a little more balance to their offense than what they’ve shown to date. While RB Bryce Love has been the most Heisman-worthy player in the nation to date, he hasn’t faced a defense quite as fierce as Utah. QB K.J. Costello is going to have to use his arm to take some of the load off of Love if Stanford is going to score enough points to win.

Despite this being a road game for them, ESPN’s FPI loves the Stanford Love in this matchup. This could be because there is some doubt surrounding what backup Utah QB Troy Williams can do against the Cardinal D. But Stanford is dinged up in the secondary with both of their starting corners, Alijah Holder and Quenton Meeks, iffy for this match.

The other factor might be this little hidden jewel: the Utes have been mortal in rush defense. In particular, Utah has not met their own standards in a couple of advanced stats categories related to stuff rate and “power” (their success rate in run situations). This doesn’t bode well against a Stanford team that excels in power football.

Still, I’m not buying what FPI is cooking. I like the matchup of the Utah d-line (even sans Kylie Fitts) against Stanford’s front five. I’m sure Bryce Love will get his, but I also think that Utah will get enough stops to put some pressure on Costello. When young QBs have to stand tall in the glare of the bright lights, they can often wilt.

On the flip side, I don’t think Stanford’s D is good enough to completely contain the Williams to Darren Carrington connection. I’m looking for a few big plays from that duo on the way to a Utah win.

Gekko’s Pick: Stanford 14, Utah 17

Rest of the PAC

Arizona at Colorado

(Sat 5pm, PAC 12 Network, Colorado -6.5)

It’s not exactly clear if a 6.5 point spread in favor of the home team is a knock on Colorado or a sign of respect for Arizona.

It could be both.

NCAA Football: Utah at Arizona
Tony Fields is one of the bright young players in the PAC.
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

For their part, the Wildcats are playing better than their record indicates. While limited by the throwing ability of their QB, Arizona has been doing a nice job of bringing along a whole new era of young playmakers on both sides of the ball. Some guys you might see impact this Colorado game are leading tackler/sack man Tony Fields II, freshman safety Lorenzo Burns, sophomore OL Michael Eletise (okay, you may remember him), and freshman TE Bryce Wolma. These guys make mistakes, but they are complementing some of the playmakers - guys like WR Shun Brown and RB J.J. Taylor - and making Arizona anything but an easy out.

Nevertheless, the Buffaloes are due. They’ve had a grinder of a schedule the last two weeks with UW and a and UCLA back-to-back. Along the way, they’ve showed some grit and a willingness to mix it up. It just has not yet clicked for them. I think this is the week their offense pops. Look for QB Steven Montez to have a big game with 3 or 4 TD passes and a couple of big runs.

Gekko’s Pick: Arizona 27, Colorado 42

#11 WSU at Oregon

(Sat 5pm, FOX, Oregon -2.5)

I promise that is not a typical Gekko typo. Oregon opened as a favorite against the #11 team in the nation despite the fact that the Ducks are for sure going to be without their star QB Justin Herbert and could also be without the services of WR Chuck Nelson and RB Royce Freeman (it looks like money moved quickly and the line settled at Oregon +2.5 at the time of publication). If you are a WSU fan, this has to feel like a slap in the face.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Wyoming
Oregon RB Kani Benoit is going to carry a big load against WSU.
Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

That this is WSU’s first road trip of the season (and a trip to Eugene is always a nut grinder) probably stokes a great deal of optimism among Duck enthusiasts, but I’m not sure it is enough to carry the day for Oregon. WSU’s Air Raid presents a severe matchup problem for the Ducks’ young D. While they have the speed to keep up with the moving pieces, I don’t see them having the experience to maintain the discipline required to manage that scheme effectively.

I do worry that the Cougs will struggle containing the Duck rushing attack, even if they are sans Royce Freeman. But Braxton Burmeister is a true freshman QB who will be flummoxed, I’m sure, by a below average receiving unit and a rushing attack that may not be at full strength.

I like the Cougs to keep up their winning ways.

Gekko’s Pick: WSU 41, Oregon 31

Oregon State at #14 USC

(Sat 1pm, PAC 12 Networks, USC -34.5)

That line, folks.

I get that the Beavers are bad. Losing by 35 to the Huskies last weekend certainly had a meaningful impact on setting that line. If UW beat them by that much in Corvallis, surely USC can equal such a feat in the Coliseum.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Washington State
Will USC get back to their running game when they host OSU?
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not too sure about that. Don’t get me wrong. USC is going to win this game. The only question is how they go about doing so. The Trojans are down several key players (star OL Viane Talamaivo was just confirmed to have had his USC career ended by a torn pectoral muscle), are struggling to establish their receivers, and are enduring the plight of a struggling star quarterback. If Sam Darnold doesn’t tap into his inner Heisman, I don’t see this going the way of a huge blowout.

Nevertheless, the Beavers are a mess in their own right. They don’t have a quarterback who could pass a kidney stone, much less a football. I do think that their defense will present USC with a bit more of a challenge than people expect, but it won’t be enough.

Gekko’s Pick: OSU 16, USC 34

BYE Weeks: UCLA, Arizona State