The PAC 12 is entering the stretch run. Over the next few weeks, we are going to see teams push to clinch divisions and either punch or pass on their ticket to the postseason.
The big storylines of the weekend:
- Hot seats: Jim Mora can pretty much seal his fate if he cannot find a way to beat Utah. His southern soulmate Todd Graham will find himself in a similar bind if his team gets blown out by Colorado.
QBs: Luke Falk and Keller Chryst are two QBs under fire whose teams happen to be playing this weekend. That should make for some interesting TV fodder.
In other news, Oregon looks to be returning Justin Herbert from injury while UCLA fans wonder if Josh Rosen will be available to play after having his manhood questioned by a nation all week.
Division races: WSU, Stanford, and UW all control their own fates in the North. The Cougs, if they lose to Stanford, would lose such control even if, technically, they wouldn’t be eliminated from the race.
In the South, well ... more on that in a moment.
- Postseason Dreams: The PAC 12 already has five bowl eligible teams. Two more (Oregon, Colorado) can clear that bar with wins this weekend. Nobody is in danger of elimination this weekend. That said, the loser of UCLA/Utah will be a team that immediately moves into jeopardy while a 6th loss by Cal would be just one step up from a death blow.
There is a lot to get to. Let’s jump into the previews.
Game of the Week
#22 Arizona at #17 USC
(Sat 7:45p PT, ESPN, USC -7, o73)
The over on this game is 73. And USC is favored by a TD.
Needless to say, Vegas is expecting a shootout. And why shouldn’t they? Between QBs Khalil Tate and Sam Darnold, there will be a whole lot of offense in LA on Saturday night. In fact, a quick glance at the S&P numbers reveal that Arizona is ranked 5th in the nation with USC a respectable 23rd.
But a closer look at the numbers reveals what I think is the key to the game. USC has excelled in staying ahead of the chains but been penalized by a ridiculous turnover rate. On the flip side, Arizona has feasted on explosive plays, but has otherwise done poorly in overall offensive efficiency on a play-by-play basis.
The question here is which offense will exert its will?
This one is tough to project. I do like that USC’s offense seems be on the upswing. The rushing attack is coming back into the offense while the emergence of Tyler Vaughns has given Darnold a legitimate #2 to target after Deontay Barnett. There seems to be a correlation between that development and reduction in Darnold’s INT rate.
That said, I don’t believe for a second that USC has either the capability or the want-to to shut down Khalil Tate. I might be proven wrong. It’s only the South division that is on the line. But I have my suspicions.
Still, I have to give the advantage to USC here. The home turf seems like a key advantage - Arizona’s two road trips since Tate took over (Colorado and Cal) have been games that were decided by a total of four points.
I like USC to take this one and to come as close to winning the South as one can come without actually having done so.
Gekko’s Pick: Arizona 42, USC 48
Rest of the PAC
UCLA at Utah
(Fri 6:30p, FS1, Utah -6.5, o54.5)
It’s been a tough week in Westwood. The locals are calling UCLA’s loss to UW the worst in the Jim Mora era. Mora himself thrust the issue of Josh Rosen’s toughness into the spotlight by calling out fellow UW alumnus and ESPN analyst Brock Huard. An offensive line commit decommitted. A day later, so did a key DB recruit. And now our friends in Bruin Nation have already begun speculation on who the next coach to take over ought to be.
It’s all par for the course in a high profile program that is underachieving.
But what about Utah? They aren’t exactly killing it right now. Their offense is in the doldrums (that is not that unusual). But now we have to worry about a defense that, all of a sudden, seems to have fallen off a cliff. Check the S&P rankings and you’ll find Utah sits behind other defensive stalwarts such as Oklahoma State, Wake Forest, Virginia, and UTSA (that is University of Texas - San Antonio, in case you were wondering).
This one could get ugly.
Fortunately, Rosen’s injury doesn’t seem too serious. If he’s at full strength, I suspect he’ll find a way to get back into a groove with his receivers and put some points on the board.
On the flip side, I do think Utah has been getting progressively better as Tyler Huntley has mounted his comeback. If you read between the stat lines, your eyeballs should be telling you that there seem to be more plays coming out of RB Zach Moss, WR Raelon Singleton and, of course, WR Darren Carrington.
Utah is going to win this one. I fear all-out mutiny for the Bruins is to follow as their post-season hopes fade.
Gekko’s Pick: UCLA 24, Utah 31
#21 Stanford at #25 Washington State
(Sat 12:30p, FOX, WSU -2.5, o55)
If you are a Coug fan and you want to catch a game in Martin this season, you better make your way out to Pullman this weekend. This is WSU’s last home game of the year. And what a matchup it will be.
I’m really interested in this one. On one side, you have all of the drama surrounding WSU’s QB situation and the meltdown of the Coug D last weekend. On the other side, you have a team with its own QB controversy whose best player (and only offensive weapon) is questionable for the game.
It’s hard to call this one without knowledge of a) whether or not Love is going to play and b) whether or not Stanford will switch to KJ Costello at QB. If both of those were true, I’d have a hard time picking against Stanford given that I think they have the kind of defense that can control WSU. If it is just one of them, it becomes more of a 50/50 proposition. If neither, give me WSU.
As it is, I’m going to guess that the biggest shoe to drop will be Bryce Love making an appearance. Given that, I’m guessing Stanford in a close one.
Gekko’s Pick: Stanford 23, WSU 20
Colorado at ASU
(Sat, 6p PT, PACN, ASU -3.5, o58.5)
The Buffaloes found a resurgence in confidence following an air show against Cal last weekend. That QB Steven Montez was able to get out of his slump and rain Texas hellfire down all over the field was a welcome sight for a Colorado team that was in danger of completely falling out of the post-season. Colorado now just needs one win to become bowl eligible.
On the other side of the field, ASU is licking their wounds following a vicious beatdown at the hands of USC. Whatever magic the Sun Devils had found on D after huge wins over UW and Utah completely disappeared against the Trojans. That’s bad news going into this weekend because Montez has the tools to be a real problem for ASU.
I think we are seeing two teams on divergent paths right now. While I expect that ASU will score some points as they work to get N’Keal Harry featured on offense, I don’t think they’ll be able to keep Colorado from scoring more.
Gekko’s Pick: Colorado 38, ASU 27
Oregon St at Cal
(Sat, 2p PT, PACN, Cal -7.5, o58.5)
You can just tell that OSU is itching to get just one game. The team has taken on the intense, take-no-prisoners personality of interim head coach Cory Hall and they are flat-out balling. You can really see this intensity translate on the field on the defensive side of the ball. Against Stanford, that D was aggressive in overcommitting to the run and putting their bodies into offensive players.
I’m not sure that strategy will work against a Cal team that is playing with a similar kind of grit for its new coaching staff. The Bears are down a lot of bodies - I’m not sure that any team outside of UW has been hit harder by injury in the PAC - but they are showing up to play on just about every down.
I think this game is going to be tight, physical, and maybe a little sloppy. I do think Ross Bowers has it in him to make a few more plays than he gives back. That ought to be the difference in the game.