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Pickin’ the PAC: let the games begin

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Conference play begins in earnest.

Hawaii v UCLA
Jim Mora is running out of time in Westwood.
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

I can’t recall having too many preseasons like this. My Dawgs have been nearly perfect as they’ve racked up their 3-0 record. My PAC 12 picks have been nearly perfect with a 29-6 overall record and a 69% accuracy rating on game score predictions. My rally beer selections have been nearly perfect with nearly one whole inch added to the waistline and minimal hangover effects.

Accountability Card: All’s well with the UWDP PAC 12 weekly picks so far.
Chris Landon

This is as good as it gets.

Things get decidedly more difficult to pick, even if the preview articles are easier to write, as we get into PAC 12 play. The competition stiffens, the effects of attrition amplify and the stakes increase. Nothing beats conference play.

The storylines that we’ll be tracking this week include:

  • The Todd Graham hot seat watch
  • The UCLA roller coaster
  • Signs of life in Corvallis
  • Whether or not UW is “for real” as they rematch the PAC 12 championship game in Boulder

Game of the Week

(5) USC at Cal (Saturday 12:30p, ABC)

USC -16.5

The Vegas odds on this game are a bit hard to swallow if you’ve been paying any attention to the product each of these two teams has been putting on the field.

Mississippi v California
Can Cal pull off another upset? Who knows?
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

For their part, the Cal Bears have shown a little bit of everything. Against UNC, QB Ross Bowers and the passing game got off. Against Weber State, we got to know a former walk-on RB named Patrick Laird. In last week’s upset over Ole Miss, LB Devante Downs and the Cal D put us all on notice that they won’t be pushed around by even what was at the time the nation’s top offense.

Things are definitely looking up for Cal. But USC is a bit of a different beast.

This will be the most physical offense that the Bears will have seen. The rushing attack behind RBs Stephen Carr and Ronald Jones III sets the tone with repeated body blows against opposing Ds. QB Sam Darnold tends to deliver the knockout blows, just as he did in leading USC’s game-tying drive in the closing seconds of last week’s win over Texas.

The Bears won’t be helpless here. They definitely have enough tools on offense to put up points on what I still perceive to be a middling USC defense. The only question is whether or not their front seven is up to the task of making Darnold beat him with his receiver group. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that it is.

I’ll definitely expect Cal to cover while defending their home turf, but USC should still take it at the end.

Gekko’s Pick: USC 31, Cal 24

Rest of the PAC

Friday 9/22

(23) Utah at Arizona (7:30pm, FS1)

Utah -3.5

If you like dual-threat QBs, definitely tune into Friday Night PAC 12 After Dark. The two top running QBs in the conference will be on full display as the young Wildcats host the surging Utah Utes.

San Jose State v Utah
Darren Carrington is an early candidate for PAC 12 POY.
Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

The Utes have a decided advantage on defense. That could get neutralized a bit by the fact that the Wildcats are so much faster with their offense. In fact, I expect that RichRod’s new twist of starting both JJ Taylor and Nick Wilson could create some chunk play opportunities. Think of it like a modern day triple option.

But Utah’s passing game is also better than that of the Wildcats, even as some of those young, tall Arizona receivers start to get their sea legs. I think Darren Carrington, once again, saves the day in what I expect will be a close one.

Gekko’s Pick: Utah 38, Arizona 35

Nevada at (18) Washington State (3pm, PAC 12 Network)

WSU -28

WSU is favored big in this one. That makes sense to me. Nevada is not a very good football program. WSU has clearly reached a point where it can control the game from either side of the ball. When you get to that point, big blowouts over underwhelming competition often follow.

Look for big games from QB Luke Falk, DE Hercules Mata’afa, RB James Williams and LB Frankie Luvu. I’ll also be continuing to keep an eye on young S Jalen Thompson to see if he continues his growth trajectory.

Gekko’s Pick: Nevada 17, WSU 48

(24) Oregon at Arizona State (7pm, PAC 12 Network)

Oregon -14.5

If there were a game for the Sun Devils to get right, this is the week. First of all, the desert is ALWAYS a difficult place to play, even at night, in September.

Second of all, this is a matchup not unlike last week’s matchup against Texas Tech, that pits ASU’s weak offensive line against a pretty average defensive line. We’ve all seen what happens when Manny Wilkins has time to get into a rhythm with his receivers. N’Keal Harry and Jalen Harvey have both been deadly all year.

The big point spread, however, isn’t about ASU’s offense. It is all about ASU’s perceived inability to stop Oregon’s offense from scoring just about every time it gets the ball. I think that this is certainly going to be a problem. But ASU’s biggest issues have been with its secondary more so than its front seven. While I think Herbert can (and will) beat ASU with his arm, I do think ASU might have a little more fight against the run game.

Probably won’t be enough, though. I’m going with the Ducks in a wild one.

Gekko’s Pick: Oregon 44, ASU 38

UCLA at Stanford (7:30p, ESPN)

Stanford -7.5

Talk about a matchup of two teams in desperate need for a turn of fortunes. I imagine that when ESPN selected this game for their prime time slot, they were imagining a very different story line to broadcast on. I’m afraid not.

Stanford v San Diego State
How many more hits will QB Keller Chryst take before David Shaw pulls the plug?
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The actual storyline will be about relevance. After this weekend, one of these teams will be right back in the discussion for a divisional title while the other will all but be written off as not a factor at all.

So, who will it be?

UCLA has a big edge in my mind. Josh Rosen is still a viable Heisman candidate and he has a variety of offensive weapons to choose from. His offensive line has been poor, but their opponents on the other side of the line of scrimmage haven’t exactly been lights out themselves.

I think UCLA could end up winning by a surprisingly large margin in this one. Of course, Stanford could (and probably will) make a QB change and get a huge boost of energy to complement what RB Bryce Love brings to the table.

Until that happens, I’ll go with my gut on this one.

Gekko’s Pick: UCLA 42, Stanford 28

BYE Weeks: Oregon State