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Picking the PAC 12 - Week 11

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Bowl eligibility is still within reach of eleven PAC teams.

Washington State v California
The road has been unkind to the Cougs and Mike Leach.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

I had to go back and look. By week 11 of last season, the PAC 12 had six teams bowl eligible. As of right now, they have almost as many with five teams already eligible for postseason.

On the flip side, there was only one team (ASU) who entered week 11 with a chance to get bowl eligible and just one other (Cal) who had a mathematical chance to get eligible at all. The chance that the PAC 12 would not be able to fill out their bowl contracts was a real possibility. And I wrote about it.

Contrast that to today. There are five teams who could achieve bowl eligibility with a win on Saturday. There is one other team (UCLA) who still has a mathematical chance. It is conceivable that the PAC could have eleven teams bowl eligible. Every single team other than OSU controls its own destiny in that regard.

That’s a remarkable situation going into week 11 of a college football season.

A quick perusal of the college football standings confirms that no other conference is as “middle-heavy” as the PAC. The ACC is close, but even they have a few teams who could have their eligibility extinguished this weekend.

There is not a single team playing this weekend in the PAC that still doesn’t have a shot at eligibility if they happen to lose this weekend.

We talk much about parity in the PAC and all that ‘any given Saturday’ stuff. But the proof is right in front of us. This conference is as balanced competitively as any in America. And this might be the most balanced year we’ve had in a long, long time.

Of course, the championship is out of reach for all but the top four (maybe three) in the conference. But the allure of a bowl bid is not lost on the fanbases or the coaching staffs for the remaining seven teams who still have a shot.

It’s time to close strong. Expect some exciting football this weekend.

Game of the Week

#19 WSU at Utah

(Sat, 230pm PT, PACN, Utah +1, o52)

The mission for Washington State is simple: win and you are in. To be more precise, “win out” and you are in the PAC 12 championship. It isn’t their only scenario for qualifying for the big one, but it is the only path that affords them the opportunity to not have to rely on another team doing something else.

The road trip to Salt Lake is, therefore, a critical test for the Cougs.

San Jose State v Utah
Darren Carrington is the best playmaker on the field when Utah hosts WSU.
Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

On paper, WSU looks to match up favorably. The key for them is the performance of their defense. Believe it or not, the Cougs have a top 10 defense in keeping opposing teams playing behind the sticks (referred to as “success rate” in advanced stats parlance. Much of this performance has been driven by a defensive line that has wreaked havoc for opposing lines all season. Hercules Mata’afa, Frankie Luvu and Daniel Ekuale have been the collective straw stirring the martini all season.

But the Cougs are aggressive and prone to getting torched on the occasional big play. Their 14 scrimmage plays of over 40 yards surrendered is better than just Colorado and (gasp) UCLA in the PAC while their defensive explosiveness prevention is ranked at 123rd in the nation.

Utah may not be in a position to exploit that chink in the Cougs’ armor. While they were able to generate some big plays against UCLA, it just hasn’t been their MO all season. WR Darren Carrington and QB Tyler Huntley have been making strides in that regard and might yet find a rhythm at home. The emergence last week of RB Zach Moss as an “every down” kind of back may also have given a boost of confidence to the rushing attack.

I do like Utah’s defense against the WSU offense. While they’ve not created the same kind of pressure along the D-line as they did last year, they still have some big bodies who will be difficult for WSU to handle. I’m expecting big games from Kylie Fitts and Lowell Lotulelei in particular.

This is a true 50/50 kind of game when you just look at the matchups. When you consider that WSU has dropped their last two road games in spectacular, dumpster fire fashion, it is hard to be optimistic about the Cougs’ prospects.

I’m going with Utah here. I think there are going to be more points put on the board than conventional wisdom assumes and I’m picturing big plays from both sides. I think this could be a real thriller.

Gekko’s Pick: WSU 30, Utah 37

Rest of the PAC

#15 USC at Colorado

(Sat, 1pm PT, FOX, Colorado +13.5, o62.5)

After Colorado dropped their first couple of conference games, I began postulating that they were going to make a good spoiler in the South. My logic then was that they still have the tools to be a good offense and enough talent on defense to be a tough out.

Washington v Colorado
Steven Montez can change the entire trajectory of this season if he can guide Colorado to an upset over USC.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

This weekend, we get to see if that logic has a chance of materializing.

Crazy things can happen on senior nights in the PAC. Colorado will be saying goodbye to a number of beloved players, the most notable among them being LB Derek McCartney and WR Devin Ross.

For the Buffs to win, they are probably going to have to outscore the Trojans in a shootout. QB Sam Darnold seems to have stabilized in the last few games while RB Ronald Jones has picked up his overall production. A full stable of receivers that includes the rising Tyler Vaughns has helped to make USC a difficult offense to defend.

My head says USC, but I’ve got a feeling about this one. The heart says that Darnold is going to give up a few extra possessions and that I ought to go with the Buffs.

Gekko’s Pick: USC 35, Colorado 41

Arizona State at UCLA

(Sat, 6:30p PT, PACN, UCLA -2.5, o67.5)

If you had asked me about this game a week ago, I would have told you that ASU wasn’t really in a position to match up well against a UCLA - a team whose strength is in the aerial attack and whose major weakness is the run defense. ASU has tended to perform better in run defense and has excelled offensively when Manny Wilkins is airing it out to guys like N’Keal Harry and Jalen Harvey.

But then ASU put up 380 yards rushing against Colorado. And then we observed that UCLA was dealing with injuries to QB Josh Rosen, backup QB Devon Modster and WR Darren Andrews.

Arizona v UCLA
Jim Mora needs two wins in his last three for a chance to save his job.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Uh, that’s not good.

It appears that Rosen is back at practice and preparing to start. That’s good. The Bruins still have something to play for with bowl eligibility still out there and their coach’s job hanging by a thread.

I just don’t think they can do it.

Gekko’s Pick: ASU 30, UCLA 24

Oregon State at Arizona

(Sat, 7:15p PT, ESPN2, Arizona -22, o71.5)

Look, I know that we can all see what it is going to happen here. OSU is not going to make it easy for the Wildcats. Cory Hall has that team wound up and irritable.

But, c’mon, they can’t do a thing about Khalil Tate.

Gekko’s Pick: OSU 24, Arizona 49

BYEs: Oregon, Cal