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Picking the Pac — Week Five

The Cardinal faces a pivotal non-conference opponent, while the Ducks and the Golden Bears duke it out in a ranked Pac-12 North matchup.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Stanford Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

After a relatively subdued week four slate, the entire Pac-12 is in action this weekend, starting with tonight’s game between UCLA and Colorado.

While each game’s spread usually makes sense to me, I have to admit that I’m wondering why the Cardinal are nearly a touchdown underdog against Notre Dame, considering that Stanford has one of the most productive receivers in all of college football and that they own a three-game winning streak against the Irish, with each win being more dominant than the last. Oregon’s status as a two-point favorite over home team Cal is another head-scratcher, considering what we’ve seen Justin Herbert do to this point and how he played in regulation last week against a good Stanford defense.

Besides, after going 4–0 last week and 3–1 against the spread, I’m basically infallible, right?

Ryan’s 2018 record straight up / against the spread: 30–8 / 12–15–2

Game of the Week

No. 7 Stanford Cardinal vs. No. 8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Saturday, 4:30 p.m., NBC)

Notre Dame -5.5, o/u 53.0

Stanford and Notre Dame have played each other 31 times since 1925, and have played annually since 1988, but Saturday’s game will be the first in which both teams are ranked in the AP top-10. Notre Dame began the year with three one-score victories before blowing the lid off of Wake Forest last week, during which junior quarterback Ian Book threw for an impressive 9.6 yards per attempt. Brian Kelly hasn’t made an official announcement regarding Notre Dame’s starting quarterback role, but it seems likely that Book’s strong showing against Wake Forest will earn him the first snaps against Stanford.

Meanwhile, the Cardinal own a 4–0 record of their own, and are featuring a newly reinvigorated offensive attack thanks to quarterback K.J. Costello and wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside, whose seven receiving touchdowns ranks first nationally among Power Five programs. And if he’s healthy — which, admittedly, is a big ‘if’ — Bryce Love seems poised for a big game against an Irish program he torched for 125 yards on 20 carries a year ago.

In other words, I think the Irish (ranked 72nd and 18th in offensive and defensive yards per play, respectively) are pretty clearly overrated at No. 8. Moreover, 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.

All the Rest


UCLA Bruins vs. Colorado Buffaloes (6 p.m., FS1)

Colorado -10.0, o/u 58.0

UCLA’s week-three bye couldn’t have come at a better time, with the Bruins in the midst of a three-game skid. On the other hand, nothing about UCLA’s play to this point suggests that they’re going to avoid continuing their losing streak Saturday against Colorado, as the Buffaloes have suddenly become legitimate contenders for the Pac-12 South as preseason favorites like USC and Arizona have shown signs of imploding. Colorado wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. (26 catches for 455 yards and three touchdowns) has been one of this season’s early success stories, and he should connect with quarterback Steven Montez often enough against UCLA’s porous pass defense (Bruins opponents have earned a passer rating of 131.72, 10th in the conference) to secure an easy win over the beleaguered visitors. Colorado 38, UCLA 24.


Utah Utes vs. Washington State Cougars (3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

Utah -1.5, o/u 50.0

The Cougars lost a close, winnable game last week against USC in the Colosseum, but have a great opportunity to get back on the right track Saturday against the Utes. At this point, we’ve seen enough out of Gardner Minshew II (1,547 yards, 11 touchdowns, three interceptions, 7.1 yards per attempt) to know that Mike Leach’s quarterback is the real deal. On the other hand, Utah’s allowing just 3.5 yards per attempt to opposing quarterbacks, best in the nation by a full 1.1 yards, even though that number is buoyed substantially by Utah’s performances against overmatched Weber State and Northern Illinois teams. Like last week, I expect Washington State to be in this one until the end; in that scenario, I’m giving the edge to the team with a quarterback who has shown he can consistently move the ball. Washington State 23, Utah 20.

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

Arizona State -22.0, o/u 64.0

One week after losing a closer-than-expected game to the Huskies, Arizona State should be able to wash the bad taste out of their mouths against an Oregon State team that has shown precisely zero ability to stymie opposing offenses. Keep an eye on N’Keal Harry in this one, as ASU’s star receiver can take out the frustration of his 20-yard game against Washington by exploiting a Beaver pass defense that’s yielded 11 passing touchdowns in four games. Arizona State 42, Oregon State 28.

No. 19 Oregon Ducks vs. No. 24 California Golden Bears (7:30 p.m., FS1)

Oregon -2.0, o/u 58.0

The Ducks will face their second Bay Area opponent in as many week Saturday when they head to Berkeley to face the Golden Bears, who boast a number next to their name for the first time since October 2015. Despite snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the Ducks looked like a legitimate threat to win the Pac-12 last week against Stanford, and Justin Herbert is being talked about nationally as a serious contender to be selected No. 1 overall in next year’s NFL Draft. Cal survived a tougher test on the road against BYU three weeks ago than we gave them credit for at the time, and the Golden Bears pass defense (5.2 yards per attempt, three touchdowns and seven interceptions) has got to be regarded as one of the Pac-12’s most surprising early returns of the 2018 season. On the other hand, they haven’t faced an opponent yet like Justin Herbert, whom I expect will experience much more success than failure Saturday. Oregon 38, Cal 27.

USC Trojans vs. Arizona Wildcats (7:30 p.m., ESPN2)

USC -3.5, o/u 60.0

The Trojans are 2–2, and Clay Helton is firmly on the hot seat after needing a blocked field goal to secure a victory at home against Wazzu. Fortunately for the Trojans, they should have little trouble moving the ball against an Arizona team that has allowed at least 392 yards to every team it’s played this season not named the Oregon State Beavers. The Wildcats were able to begin righting the ship last week in Corvallis, giving Kevin Sumlin his first Pac-12 conference win, but USC owns a talent gap that Arizona probably can’t do enough to overcome, particularly if the Wildcats’ misguided effort to confine Khalil Tate to the pocket continues on its wayward path. USC 34, Arizona 27.