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Picking the Pac — Week 11

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With three weeks left in the regular season, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will win the Pac-12 South.

NCAA Football: Utah at Oregon Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when I said last week that the Nov. 3 slate of games should “lend some clarity to the muddled mess that is this year’s Pac-12 standings”? That was a good one.

While the Pac-12 North looks like it will almost assuredly be decided by the outcome of the Apple Cup, the South division is nothing short of a mess, with Utah, USC, Arizona and Arizona State all having legitimate paths to victory and a berth in the title game. Even 2–7 UCLA has a path remaining, albeit an incredibly unlikely one. And because only two South division teams play against each other this week, we could potentially go into week 12 with the conference’s pecking order in nearly as much disarray as we find it in right now.

Ryan’s 2018 record straight up / against the spread: 51–21 / 28–33–2

Game of the Week

Oregon Ducks vs. Utah Utes (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

Utah -4.0, o/u 56.0

Last week, Utah looked poised to secure a path to the Pac-12 championship game with a victory over Arizona State, but the Sun Devils’ upset victory stalled the Utes’ momentum and set up the current three-way tie in the South division between Utah, USC and Arizona, all of whom have 4–3 conference records. (Utah has heads-up victories over USC and Arizona, while USC beat the Wildcats.) As for Oregon, the Ducks snapped a two-game skid by trouncing UCLA at home last week, and need Washington State to lose all three of their remaining games (as well as a Washington loss to Oregon State) to have a shot at playing in the Pac-12 title game. In other words, Oregon’s goals for the remainder of the year realistically include a Civil War win, and spoiling the season for a team like Utah.

Oregon’s offense under quarterback Justin Herbert has been the Ducks’ unquestioned strength of the team, but the Utah defense has proven to be one of the best in the nation this season, allowing just 4.69 yards per play and 19.1 points per game. In addition, Oregon’s offense and Utah’s defense have both been spectacular in the red zone this year, which ought to make for some entertaining shows of strength-on-strength in situations where the Ducks are inside the Utah 20. With Tyler Huntley out due to a broken collarbone and Zack Moss done for the year after injuring his knee in practice, I’ll call for the team with the better quarterback and nothing to lose to score the upset. Oregon 28, Utah 24.

All the Rest

Saturday

UCLA Bruins vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (11 a.m., Pac-12 Networks)

Arizona State -12.5, o/u 60.0

The Sun Devils made a statement victory last week over Utah on the strength of N’Keal Harry’s three touchdown receptions, and there’s no reason to think that UCLA’s secondary (7.4 yards per attempt) will fare any better. After earning their first two victories of the season in consecutive weeks against Cal and Arizona, the Bruins have dropped two in a row to Utah and Oregon, and will now try to break that streak on the road against an ASU defense that gives up just 22.4 points per game. Arizona State 38, UCLA 17.

No. 8 Washington State Cougars vs. Colorado Buffaloes (12:30 p.m., ESPN)

Washington State -6.5, o/u 60.0

There’s a chance that Wazzu gets caught looking ahead sometime in the next two weeks to the Apple Cup, but I don’t see that happening against a Buffs team that’s allowed 17 passing touchdowns on the year and has dropped four in a row. Expect Gardner Minshew to feast. Washington State 42, Colorado 31.

Oregon State Beavers vs. Stanford Cardinal (6 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

Stanford -24.0, o/u 59.0

For a Stanford team that has lost four of its last five, a home date with the Beavers is just what the doctor ordered. Even with JJ Arcega-Whiteside ruled out and Bryce Love questionable to play, there’s no reason to think that the Beaver defense (7.35 yards per play, worst in the conference by a country mile) will be able to give the Cardinal anything resembling a challenge. Stanford 45, Oregon State 23.

California Golden Bears vs. USC Trojans (7:30 p.m., ESPN)

USC -5.5, o/u 48.0

I find it hard to wrap my head around the idea that coach can find himself on the hot seat after winning the Pac-12 and playing in the Rose Bowl in each of the past two seasons, but such is life at the University of Southern California. The Trojans snapped a two-game losing streak with a win over the Beavers last week, and while the Cal defense should hold USC below its 28.3 points per game average, I don’t expect the Golden Bears offense (16 points in their last two games) to do much of anything on the road against a decent opponent. USC 17, Cal 13.