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Picking the Pac — Week Three

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Once again, it’s the Pac-12 versus the Little Sisters of the Poor.

NCAA Football: Texas at Southern California Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

You know you’re in for an exciting weekend when Oregon State vs. Nevada is one of the conference’s most compelling games.

Seriously, aside from Washington vs. Utah and USC vs. Texas, there’s almost no reason for any casual fan of Pac-12 football to tune into what should by all rights be a bunch of blowouts by halftime. On the bright side, this is the last week we have to deal with these jokes masquerading as collegiate athletics contests before we get four conference games in week four of the 2018 season. Let’s wade through the muck together, shall we?

(Ryan’s 2018 record straight up / against the spread: 17–6 / 8–9–2)

Game of the Week

No. 22 USC vs. Texas (Saturday, 7 p.m., FOX)

Texas -3.0, o/u 48.0

The Trojans are one half of my featured game for the second week in a row, and for their sake, they need to do a whole lot better than they did in week two against the Cardinal. USC’s three points against Stanford was the team’s lowest score in any game since 1997, and took a considerable amount of wind out of USC’s sails that resulted from JT Daniels’ promising debut two weeks ago versus UNLV. As for the home team, Texas is off to a shaky start in Tom Herman’s sophomore season, having lost at Maryland in the season opener before dispatching a Tulsa program at home that scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to make the final score a seven-point affair. Two games doesn’t exactly make for a great sample size, but Longhorn fans can’t exactly be encouraged by their defense, which is yielding 5.3 yards per play and 4.0 yards per carry. I see the Trojans pulling out a gritty road win that makes Texas fans’ memories of Tom Herman’s 22–5 record at Houston all the more distant. USC 31, Texas 27.

All the Rest

Saturday

UC Davis vs. No. 9 Stanford (11 a.m., Pac-12 Networks)

No line

The Cardinal defense has given up a stingy 6.5 points per game through two contests this season, and there’s no reason to think that trend changes in any meaningful way against the FCS Aggies — even with Heisman runner-up Bryce Love having been ruled out with an undisclosed injury. Stanford 42, UC Davis 10.

New Hampshire vs. Colorado (2 p.m., Pac-12 Mountain)

No line

Colorado is riding an emotional high after upsetting Nebraska in Lincoln last week, which means that their No. 1 priority needs to be avoiding a cliché let-down on Saturday against FCS New Hampshire. While Buffs fans are rightly encouraged by the team’s 2–0 start, the team’s lackluster production on the ground (4.0 yards per carry, ranked 85th in the nation) could spell trouble during conference play if Mike McIntyre isn’t able to work out the kinks in the weeks ahead. Colorado 38, New Hampshire 14.

San Jose State vs. No. 20 Oregon (2 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

Oregon -42.0, o/u 68.0

Oregon’s pillow-soft non-conference schedule comes to a blissful end Saturday against the Spartans, whose 0–2 start to the year has been marked by a 31-point shutout against Wazzu and a six-point loss to FCS UC Davis. The Ducks get to name their score in this one, before thing snap back to reality when they host No. 9 Stanford next Saturday. Oregon 59, San Jose State 13.

Idaho State vs. California (3 p.m., Pac-12 Bay Area)

No line

The Golden Bears should have no problem getting halfway on the road to six wins and bowl eligibility against FCS Idaho State, who dominated Division II Western State (Colo.) two week ago in the season opener. One of Justin Wilcox’s primary goals in this one will be to simply get redshirt freshman Chase Garbers more quality reps as Cal’s starting quarterback, especially considering that the program next welcomes the Ducks into Berkeley for the kickoff of conference play. Cal 34, Idaho State 14.

Oregon State vs. Nevada (4 p.m., ESPN 3)

Nevada -3.0, o/u 69.0

Oregon State has already taken some positive steps in the opening weeks of Jonathan Smith’s debut season, and this weekend’s game against Nevada is a winnable game that could set the tone for how high of a ceiling the Beavers have the potential of reaching in 2018. Artavis Pierce and Jermar Jefferson have quickly established themselves as one of the most potent running back duos in the Pac-12 — they have combined for 544 yards and seven touchdowns on 52 carries — and Nevada is just two years removed from surrendering 6.1 yards per carry, second-worst in the nation. However, Oregon State has plenty of their own weaknesses, particularly against competent passing attacks, and there’s little question that Wolf Pack quarterback Ty Gangi fits that description. The Beavers will put up a valiant effort in this one, but they’ve got a ways to go before I’m ready to pick them for an upset on the road. Nevada 35, Oregon State 27.

Eastern Washington vs. Washington State (5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

No line

The Cougars should put up a better fight against the Eagles than when they last played in 2016, if only because it seems fair to expect that the different levels of Wazzu’s defense will actually be running the same scheme this time around. This week, we find out what happens when an unstoppable force (WSU’s strong start to the season, including a shutout last week against woeful San Jose State) meets an immovable object (the Cougs’ predilection for losing eminently winnable games against FCS opponents). For this weekend, at least, my money is on Washington State starting their season with a shiny 3–0 record, albeit with some fourth-quarter drama. Washington State 28, Eastern Washington 24.

No. 23 Arizona State vs. San Diego State (7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)

Arizona State -6.0, o/u 48.0

Two games into the season, and N’Keal Harry has already shown why he is a potential first-round draft pick. Harry’s 27-yard touchdown reception midway through the fourth quarter was the only time the Sun Devils found paydirt last week against Michigan State, and was a vital turning point in the game that culminated with a game-winning ASU field goal as time expired. The Aztecs were exposed two weeks ago by Stanford, as the Cardinal completed four touchdown passes en route to a 31–10 victory; expect Manny Wilkins to follow that same playbook to great success. Arizona State 31, San Diego State 21.

Fresno State vs. UCLA (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1)

Fresno State -2.5, o/u 50.0

Two weeks into the season, we have just about no idea what to make of Chip Kelly’s team in Westwood. Quarterback Wilton Speight’s status for Saturday’s game is a question mark, and the Bruins haven’t been able to get anything going offensively (two of their five touchdowns on the season came in garbage time last week against Oklahoma) to the point that a neutral observer would have any reason to have faith in the UCLA offense. Meanwhile, Fresno State is looking to all the world like a team ready to build on last season’s breakout 10-win campaign, despite last weekend’s thrilling loss on the road against Minnesota. Long story short, the bottom is going to fall out of this Bruins season sooner rather than later, and I think a loss to Fresno State is only going to accelerate that process. Fresno State 31, UCLA 24.

Southern Utah vs. Arizona (8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

No line

Arizona’s first season under Kevin Sumlin is off to a remarkably bad start, especially considering that preseason Heisman dark horse candidate Khalil Tate has been a complete non-factor in the Wildcats’ two losses to start the year. Fortunately for fans in Tuscon, a week three game against the Thunderbirds should offer enough of a respite to at least put a tally in the win column. More importantly, though, this week should offer the Wildcats a chance to get their heads on straight and figure out just what the heck is going wrong and how they might fix it before the wheels come off. Arizona 35, Southern Utah 10.