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Picking the Pac — Week Eight

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One prediction you can take to the bank: Fireball will flow like water this weekend across the plains of the Palouse.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Oregon Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Week seven was a tough one for the college football fan in me on account of several reasons, not least of which was watching my beloved Dawgs fall to the Ducks. My mood did not improve later in the evening as I watched both my straight-up and against-the-spread records fall to 1–3 on the weekend. (Seriously, going worse than .500 on straight-up college football picks is a mark of shame I desperately hope to avoid repeating anytime soon.) Unfortunately, this week doesn’t offer any easy gimmes, as every game but Washington’s is projected to be decided by one score.

Ryan’s 2018 record straight up / against the spread: 41–13 / 20–23–2

Game of the Week

No. 12 Oregon Ducks vs. No. 25 Washington State Cougars (Saturday, 4:30 p.m., FOX)

Washington State -2.5, o/u 66.0

Fresh off of their biggest win of the season, the Ducks need to avoid the stereotypical letdown after a big win to stay in control of their destiny. That task won’t be made any easier by what promises to be a raucous environment at Martin Stadium, thanks to ESPN College GameDay’s first-ever trip to Pullman that caused the city council to declare a preemptive emergency on account of the expected crowds.

In terms of Xs and Os, Oregon’s passing defense has proven susceptible to explosion plays all year long, having given up 22 plays that have gained 20 yards or more. That’s hardly a recipe for success against Wazzu’s air raid attack, which under Gardner Minshew (7.7 yards per attempt, 19 touchdowns and four interceptions) has shown a good ability to capitalize on taking what opposing defenses are willing to give him. Meanwhile, Justin Herbert is as good as any quarterback in the Pac this year, but he’s never played in a game away from Autzen Stadium as important as this one, and my guess is that the rowdy atmosphere at in Pullman will result in a least a handful of mistakes that will ultimately prove to be the deciding factor. Washington State 38, Oregon 35.

All the Rest

Thursday

Stanford Cardinal vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (6 p.m., ESPN)

Stanford -3.0, o/u 56.0

Stanford’s bye week could not have come at a more opportune time, with the Cardinal in the midst of a two-game losing streak and falling out of the polls for the first time since last November. David Shaw will undoubtedly need a healthy Bryce Love down the stretch if his team is to finish the year out in respectable fashion; even so, Love remains questionable for the ASU game following nearly three full weeks of inactivity. At the same time, Herm Edwards is desperately searching for a way to staunch the bleeding as the Sun Devils have dropped three of their last four, beating only woeful Oregon State in the midst of three one-score losses. Whichever coach loses this one is all but destined for a long offseason punctuated by grumbling fans wondering about their program’s direction. Arizona State 24, Stanford 20.

Saturday

California Golden Bears vs. Oregon State Beavers (1 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

Cal -7.0, o/u 58.0

Under first-year head coach Jonathan Smith, a date with Oregon State has become the cure for the common offense. The Beavers defense has given up an astounding 55.0 points per game to Power Five opponents, including a nationwide-worst 31 touchdowns. (By comparison, Cal’s 30.0 points per game to Power Five teams looks downright stingy.) The only question in this one is whether or not the Golden Bears allow a late OSU touchdown for a backdoor cover. Cal 42, Oregon State 31.

USC Trojans vs. Utah Utes (5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

Utah -6.5, o/u 48.0

The Utes have got to be feeling all but on top of the world right now after downing Stanford and Arizona by a combined score of 82–31. Tyler Huntley in particular shined in those victories with his two strongest performances of the year, earning 10.0 yards per attempt for 400 yards, three touchdowns and one interception between them. The Trojans have tallied three consecutive wins against Pac-12 opponents going back to Sept. 21, but unless they can show marked improvement in their red zone defense (opponents have scored touchdowns on nearly 69 percent of trips inside the USC 20-yard line), it’s hard to favor the Trojans to bump off the Utes on the road. Utah 28, USC 24.

Arizona Wildcats vs. UCLA Bruins (7:30 p.m., ESPN 2)

UCLA -8.0, o/u 56.0

Just a few short weeks ago, UCLA was just short of the laughingstock of the Pac-12. Now, after giving Washington a scare and dominating Cal on the road, they suddenly find themselves eight-point favorites at home against a team that fielded a legitimate preseason Heisman contender. Thanks to Arizona’s porous defense (5.73 yards per play, better only than Oregon State among Pac-12 programs), the Bruins’ newfound offensive prowess under Chip Kelly should continue to flourish. UCLA 35, Arizona 24.