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Picking the Pac — Week 12

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On Saturday, we find out if Chip Kelly’s first game versus Clay Helton will also be his last.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Southern California Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

With just two games remaining in the Pac-12 regular season, we’re finally starting to get some clarity with regard to the conference pecking order. While the upcoming Apple Cup will be for all the marbles in the North division (assuming the Huskies take care of business against Oregon State), Arizona State is now the sole South division team in control of its destiny, while a single slip-up on ASU’s part would vault Utah right back into the mix.

Ryan’s 2018 record straight up / against the spread: 54–23 / 30–36–2

Game of the Week

USC Trojans vs. UCLA Bruins (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., FOX)

USC -3.5, o/u 55.0

The latest iteration of the Los Angeles crosstown rivalry gets my pick for game of the week for all the wrong reasons, as a loss to the Bruins would almost certainly represent the final nail in the coffin of Clay Helton’s tenure as head coach of the Trojans. USC has gone from being the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 South to dropping three of their last four and being eliminated from the race for the conference championship following last week’s upset loss to Cal. Now, a year after winning the conference, the Trojans are in the unenviable position of needing to pick up a win against the Bruins just to scrape back to bowl eligibility. (Because let’s face it: If USC can’t beat UCLA, they’re definitely not going to knock off No. 3 Notre Dame.)

If USC have any advantage over the Bruins — and it’s worth considering whether or not the mercurial Trojans do — it will likely come in the form of their defensive secondary. UCLA’s quarterbacks have thrown for a paltry 6.4 yards per attempt and an equal number of touchdowns and interceptions (four) during their current three-game losing streak, while the Trojans defended the pass very well in their loss to Cal, allowing 3.6 yards per attempt and one touchdown. On the other hand, USC has been horrid against opponent rushing attacks in 2018 — they’ve allowed opponents to gain at least 200 yards on the ground three times this year, including giving up 308 to UNLV in the season opener — while UCLA has earned at least one rushing touchdown in every game this season except on the road against Colorado.

I think USC does just enough to eek out a sloppy, low-scoring and turnover-ridden victory against the Bruins (UCLA has the conference’s worst marks in touchdowns scored [27] and points per game [21.9]) that will do nothing to reassure the fanbase of Clay Helton’s long-term viability as their head coach. USC 17, UCLA 14.

All the Rest

Saturday

Utah Utes vs. Colorado Buffaloes (10:30 a.m., Pac-12 Networks)

Utah -7.0, o/u 48.0

The Utes are playing without two of their most important offensive weapons, but the Buffs have looked absolutely lost during their current five-game losing streak, in which their average loss has come by 12.8 points. Expect the Utes to feed the rock to Armand Shyne, as Kyle Whittingham will look to build off of his 26-carry, 174-yard breakout performance last week against Oregon. Utah 34, Colorado 20.

Stanford Cardinal vs. California Golden Bears (4:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

Stanford -2.5, o/u 45.0

There’s good reason to expect this year’s Big Game to finish in the first Cal win since 2009, not least of which is a Golden Bears defense that’s putting up its best yards-per-play numbers (4.70) since the 2008 season. Chase Garbers has hardly been the reincarnation of Aaron Rodgers this season, but he’ll do enough against the regressing Stanford defense to snap David Shaw’s seven-year reign of terror over Berkeley. Cal 17, Stanford 14.

Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Oregon Ducks (7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

Oregon -3.5, o/u 64.0

Last year’s game between the two programs ended in a thrilling 37–35 Arizona State victory, and the Sun Devils seem to have the offensive weaponry necessary to extend that streak over the Ducks to two games for the first time since 2004. Oregon can probably sell out to stop either Eno Benjamin or N’Keal Harry, but I seriously doubt they’ll be able to contain both. Arizona State 38, Oregon 35.

Arizona Wildcats vs. No. 8 Washington State Cougars (7:30 p.m., ESPN)

Washington State -10.5, o/u 62.0

Just one opportunity remains for Wazzu to Coug It before an epic Apple Cup showdown the day after Thanksgiving, but Arizona’s suspect pass defense (7.0 yards per attempt, 19 touchdowns allowed versus seven interceptions) makes me believe that Gardner Minshew will continue to look the part of the Pac-12’s offensive player of the year. Expect the Cougs to keep things vanilla as they surely will play their cards close to the vest as they prepare to take on the Huskies for the right to play for the conference title in Santa Clara. Washington State 42, Arizona 27.