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Pickin’ the PAC: Week 3

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WSU, Oregon State and USC headline the weekend.

Maryland v Texas
Tom Herman brings his Longhorns to Los Angeles for a key matchup against USC.
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

For those of you keeping score, it has been a very good preseason for the Gekko. With another 10-1 run in week 3, I’m a stellar 21-3 on the season. In addition, my prowess at picking final scores has got me inside of 5 points toward my 70% stretch goal (I’m at 66%) in the accuracy index (a calculation on how close I guess to each team’s actual score for every game).

Gekko Picks - week 2 scorecard
Chris Landon

Things are looking good for both the Gekko and for the conference. With just four losses in out of conference matchups so far, the PAC 12 ranks just behind the SEC (.840 to .826) in out-of-conference win percentage at this point in the season.

Not bad.

Things get a lot more interesting this weekend as the conference wraps up the bulk of its non-conference games. Let’s dive in.

Game of the Week

Oregon State at #21 Washington State (Saturday 2:30pm PT, PAC 12 Networks)

Line: WSU -21

There are some other compelling matchups in the PAC this week. But the in-conference game between OSU @ WSU is probably the most interesting to conference followers. These are two teams that seem to be going in divergent directions with a point spread that seems to indicate as much.

But are the Cougs really worthy of being spotted 21 points against a key divisional rival? I’m not so sure.

There is zero doubt in my mind that Luke Falk will be motivated by watching what reserve QB Tyler Hillinski did in pushing the ball down the field while Falk was effectively benched during WSU’s comeback win over Boise State. Falk has been overly conservative in playing the check-down game for the better part of the last two seasons. Whether or not seeing Hilinski eat his lunch with Leach’s Air Raid translates into a better performance remains to be seen.

If it doesn’t, then I would consider WSU not only a candidate to not cover, I’d consider them an upset target. The WSU offense under Falk has basically been all about James Williams. Shut him down - and Oregon State has enough linebacking talent to do so - and it’s not clear where the points will come from. But if Falk is willing to stretch it out a little bit, Hilinski already demonstrated that the receivers are capable of making a little noise.

The tie-breaker here is the WSU D. They’ve been better than I would have expected. The D-line has been active and the secondary - thanks to the mini breakout of safety Jalen Thompson - has been a pleasant surprise. Even with Falk dinking-and-dunking to the tune of 5 yards per play, that defense is enough to keep the scoreboard under control. It is a luxury the Cougs have not enjoyed in years.

Given that, I like WSU.

Gekko’s Pick: Oregon State 20, Washington State 35

Rest of the PAC

Friday 9/15

Arizona at UTEP (7:15pm, ESPN)

Line: Arizona -21

Finally, a game that Wildcats should win handily.

I’ve been trying to pay attention to RichRod’s crew given how low expectations have been and how many young players are getting into games. The net sum for me has been that there has been more positives than negatives. The defense has been better than I expected, the receiver play has been respectable and there are some signs of life coming from the running back rotation, especially if Nick Wilson comes back this weekend.

The big question is the QB play which has put a damper on all the progress being made around the rest of the roster. I’m not totally sure that Brandon Dawkins will get the chance to start at UTEP given how poorly he has played to start the season. Still, it is probably a good bet that he’ll be given the chance to work things out on an overmatched UTEP team.

Gekko’s Pick: Arizona 52, UTEP 17

Saturday 9/16

#25 UCLA at Memphis (9am, ABC)

Line: UCLA -3

If you are looking for a trap game, look no further than UCLA traveling to the Liberty Bowl to take on the sneaky good Memphis Tigers.

Hawaii v UCLA
TE Caleb Wilson could once again be a difference maker for a UCLA offense facing a tough road test.
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

From a tools perspective, the Tigers matchup surprisingly well against the Bruins. Their front seven - particularly their linebackers - are fast and good enough to make the Bruins one dimensional. In addition, there is enough speed on the back end of that Tiger D to at least slow down the Josh Rosen air attack.

What really has me paying attention, though, is the Memphis offense. They have shifted to a run heavy attack and boast two really good backs in Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor, Jr. If they can use that run attack to play keep away from Rosen, they might make this a more interesting game than what some UCLA fans might expect.

UCLA has survived their early season test and I expect they’ll find a way in the end.

Gekko’s Pick: UCLA 31, Memphis 27

Northern Colorado at Colorado (11am, PAC12N)

Line: no line

Not much to preview here. I think that we are getting a sense for Colorado. The defense is better than expected. The offense is a bit sluggish but working itself out. This ought to be a pretty easy one for Coach Mac and crew.

Gekko’s Pick: Northern Colorado 9, Colorado 41

Oregon at Wyoming (2:30pm, PAC12N)

Line: Oregon -14.5

It’s been hard to get a gauge on the Ducks so far. I’m totally on-board the Justin Herbert train and I think that the Oregon offense is pretty good. But the second half shutout by Nebraska of that offense reminds me that the O-line is far from a finished product and that the receiving corps has gaps. It is also clear to me that the entire defense remains a work in progress.

Still, it’s not like Wyoming is in a position to test many of those weaknesses. They’ll be doing well just to keep their breath after chasing all of those Oregon RBs in the thin Laramie air. Look for Oregon to beat the spread and open PAC 12 play as a ranked team.

Gekko’s Pick: Oregon 49, Wyoming 30

Arizona State at Texas Tech (5:00pm, no TV)

Line: ASU +7.5

Ugh. Not only is this game not on television, but the Sun Devils are getting 7.5 points from the Red Raiders. I suppose this is a reflection of just how much faith has been lost in Todd Graham’s defense.

New Mexico State v Arizona State
Can Manny Wilkins keep ASU’s season afloat against Texas Tech?
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

This might be a closer game than Vegas thinks. The one capability that ASU has shown on defense is the pass rush led by blitz-maniac Koron Crump. Going against Texas Tech’s pass-happy offense might afford the Sun Devils a chance to create some turnovers and maybe get some easy scores. QB Manny Wilkins has definitely matured since last season and has some tools to work with. If his line - which has been horrible - can give him a little time, he can score.

Nevertheless, I like Texas Tech in a shootout.

Gekko’s Pick: ASU 38, Texas Tech 43

Texas at #4 USC (5:30pm, FOX)

Line: USC -15.5

DON’T SLEEP ON TEXAS!

Seriously, don’t sleep on Tom Herman and his Texas Longhorns. This is a big game for a team that has the talent to go toe-to-toe with the #4 team in the nation. The Trojans handed the Longhorns some extra motivation by essentially wiping away Texas’s victory in the 2005 Rose Bowl from the record books.

But USC is a 15.5 point favorite for a reason. Namely, their offense looks like it has a huge advantage over that Texas Defense. Look for the Longhorns to put up a fight but ultimately succumb to the power of the Ronald Jones / Stephen Carr rushing attack.

Gekko’s Pick: Texas 24, USC 34

San Jose State at Utah (7pm, ESPN2)

Line: Utah -27

I don’t know about a 27 point spread, but this is a pretty favorable matchup for the Utes. You don’t need to do a lot of fancy analysis to comprehend the fact that the Spartans don’t have too many options available to them to move the ball consistently against the tough Utes defense.

On the flip side, the extra dynamic that QB Tyler Huntley brings to the Utes offense with his legs looks like it will be a big advantage for Utah. Mix in a little Darren Carrington sizzle on the perimeter and you have the perfect recipe for a stress-free Utah win.

Gekko’s Pick: San Jose State 10, Utah 28

#19 Stanford at San Diego State (7:30pm, CBSSN)

Line: Stanford -9

San Diego State presents a real challenge for David Shaw and offers us all the opportunity to get a real good sense of what the Cardinal really will be as the season goes along. Of particular interest will be the play of QB Keller Chryst whose natural state is probably somewhere between the dart-throwing, DB-slaying fireballer that we saw in Sydney and the bumbling, stumbling, junkballer that we saw last weekend in Los Angeles.

San Diego State v Arizona State
Containing Penny will be Stanford’s first order of business.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

SDSU is coming off a big win against ASU which undoubtedly gives the Aztecs some confidence. Nevertheless, I like Stanford in this one. The Stanford D should be able to win most of their one on one matchups and, frankly, I think the coaching staff will do a better job than ASU’s in coming up with a plan to contain RB Rashaad Penny. The presence of Bryce Love on the Stanford sideline lends confidence that the Cardinal will put enough points on the board. This will be a good one.

Gekko’s Pick: Stanford 24, SDSU 21

Ole Miss at Cal (7:30pm, ESPN)

The deathmarch that is the Cal Golden Bears schedule continues with a brutal matchup against the Ole Miss Rebels in Berkeley. The Bears have done well to get to this point 2-0, but the tale of the tape doesn’t bode well for Justin Wilcox and his team.

The big issue for Cal is containing the Rebel passing attack. Sophomore QB Shea Fields - a former 5-star prospect - set a single game passing record for Ole Miss last week (489 yards). If he is looking at the film of a Weber State team that just put 431 yards on the Cal secondary, he is probably already dreaming of breaking his own record.

But Cal has shown some resiliency this season. If they were to hold on to any hope, it would be rooted in the fact that Ole Miss has been somewhat sloppy in both of their early season wins (South Alabama and UT-Martin). In fact, it is pretty clear that the Ole Miss D can be scored upon.

Can Cal take advantage and put some points on their SEC foe? I think so, but probably not enough.

Gekko’s Pick: Ole Miss 38, Cal 28