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Picking the Pac — Week Six

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We’ve got a pivotal South Division matchup lined up Saturday, as well as Stanford and Utah looking to turn their fortunes around from their week five losses.

NCAA Football: Colorado at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Despite one glaring couldn’t-be-more-wrong-if-I’d-tried prediction last week (“I think the Cardinal run up a fourth consecutive victory over Notre Dame Saturday, and I don’t think it’ll be particularly close. Stanford 35, Notre Dame 21”; actual score: Notre Dame 38, Stanford 17), week five was surprisingly helpful for me as I continue to dig out of my early-season hole. Thanks in part to my correctly picking Wazzu to outright upset the Utes, I posted a 6–1 / 4–3 record in week five, and am finally back within striking distance of .500 against the spread. This week doesn’t feature much in terms of compelling matchups — the Pac-12’s next nationally meaningful game won’t come until Washington plays Oregon in Eugene — but three one-score spreads might presage some entertaining #Pac12AfterDark action late Saturday.

Ryan’s 2018 record straight up / against the spread: 36–9 / 16–18–2

Game of the Week

Arizona State Sun Devils vs. No. 21 Colorado Buffaloes (Saturday, 1 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

Colorado -3.0, o/u 65.0

Six weeks ago, it would have been crazy to think that this game might be one of the season’s most important contests in terms of deciding the eventual Pac-12 South champion. Thanks to a series of notable early losses, however, the south division seems ripe for the taking, and Colorado — picked to finish fifth in the preseason media day poll — currently stands as the division’s only ranked team.

One of the reasons that this game looks so intriguing is that it could very well pit the conference’s two best wide receivers against one another. Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry, of course, is as much of a known quantity as anyone in the conference, and his preseason All America hype has mostly borne out as he’s averaging 6.2 catches for 83.8 yards and 1.0 touchdowns per game. On the other side is Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr., a rising sophomore who leads the Pac-12 in receptions (38), yards (581) and yards per game (145.3; that figure also leads the nation by a healthy degree).

Logic dictates that this game should come down to which defense can more effectively disrupt the opposing team’s passing offense. Colorado appears to have a slight edge in that regard (the Buffs give up 5.6 yards per attempt versus Arizona State’s 6.6; CU has yielded four touchdowns and gained three interceptions, while ASU has given up six TDs against gaining three picks), but certainly not to a degree that we should expect it to prove decisive. Since both teams look so evenly matched up, it seems like the smart bet is to side with the home team, even though I feel as unconfident about this pick as any I’ve made all season. Colorado 31, Arizona State 24.

All the Rest

Saturday

Washington State Cougars vs. Oregon State Beavers (6 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

Washington State -17.0, o/u 64.0

You’d have to go all the way back to Oct. 21, 2017, when the Cougs shut out Colorado 28–0, to find the last time Wazzu beat a Power Five opponent by at least 17 points. On the other hand, the Beavers have dropped their three games this season against Power Five competition by margins of 46, 21 and 28 points. Considering what we’ve seen from a surprisingly potent Oregon State offense (running back Jermar Jefferson’s 105 attempts, 727 yards and eight touchdowns all pace the league, as do his 20 rushes of 10 yards or more), this one has “backdoor cover” written all over it. Washington State 35, Oregon State 21.

California Golden Bears vs. Arizona Wildcats (7 p.m., FS1)

Cal -3.0, o/u 57.0

Cal’s time as a ranked team didn’t last long, as the Golden Bears are on the outside looking in after dropping last week’s game to the Oregon Ducks in convincing fashion. The Bears should have an advantage in running the ball against the Wildcats — Cal averages 199.5 yards per game, while the Wildcats have yielded 204.6 yards per contest — but Arizona’s combination of running back J.J. Taylor and quarterback Khalil Tate are too talented to not land their share of punches throughout the evening. I’m thinking that Arizona pulls this one out in a sign that the Kevin Sumlin era is not in nearly as bad of shape as we all thought just a few short weeks ago. Arizona 27, California 24.

Utah Utes vs. No. 14 Stanford Cardinal (7:30 p.m., ESPN)

Stanford -5.5, o/u 46.0

Stanford has gone through a two-week stretch as emotional as any team in the nation, and must surely be relieved to find themselves back in Palo Alto following a pair of physically and mentally draining trips to Eugene and South Bend. Despite an anemic offensive showing against the Irish, the Cardinal still possess one of the conference’s best QB/RB/WR trios in the form of K.J. Costello, Bryce Love and JJ Arcega-Whiteside, and they should pose a formidable challenge to Utah’s capable defense. Maybe I’m unduly influenced by what I saw from Tyler Huntley’s game against the Huskies, but I just have no confidence in Utah’s ability to move the ball against Stanford’s defense, which is by no means great but has at times shown flashes of potential. Ultimately, I think this one comes down to which team can more quickly shake their hangover from losing a winnable game last week, and put points on the board first. Stanford 27, Utah 24.