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Picking the Pac — Week Two

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One compelling matchup, a couple of interesting games and a whole lot of dreck await.

UNLV v USC Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

If I were in Vegas, I’d be on the run from loan sharks right about now, praying to whatever god would listen that my femurs never meet their Louisville Sluggers.

After putting my wholehearted faith into the Pac-12 last weekend, I find myself a jaded man today. After all, my projected outright winners — let alone against the spread — included Arizona (downed by BYU), Washington (bested by Auburn) and UCLA (embarrassed at home by Cincinnati), leaving my ATS winning percentage at a shameful .364.

Thankfully, there are opportunities for redemption this week. In addition to a ranked conference opener for last year’s division champions, we’ve got Arizona and Houston competing in an early nationally broadcast game, Colorado and Nebraska teeing off in a rematch of former Big Eight rivals, and the Bruins heading to Norman for what I can only assume will be the college football equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals.

(Ryan’s 2018 record straight up / against the spread: 8–4 / 4–6–1)

Game of the Week

No. 17 USC vs. No. 10 Stanford (Saturday, 5:30 p.m., FOX)

Stanford -5.0, o/u 56.0

This week’s only contest between ranked teams is an easy pick for game of the week, as the Cardinal look to avenge its two 2017 losses to the Trojans that came in the regular season and the Pac-12 championship game. While Stanford leaned heavily on Bryce Love in both games against USC last year (the Heisman runner-up averaged 7.3 yards per carry for 285 yards and two touchdowns against the Trojans), David Shaw showed another dimension in last week’s victory over San Diego State through the air, particularly in exploiting the connection between K.J. Costello and JJ Arcega-Whiteside (six catches for 226 yards and three scores).

As for USC, the defending Pac-12 South champions took a bit longer than expected last week to get into a rhythm against UNLV — the Trojans led 19–14 at the end of three quarters before scoring 24 in the final frame — but true freshman quarterback JT Daniels looks like the real deal, and sophomore running back Vavae Malepeai looks like he could be a real weapon in goal line situations, particularly against a rebuilding Stanford front seven. On the other hand, Clancy Pendergast has got to be sweating bullets thinking about what Bryce Love is going to do to his defense that yielded 308 yards on 43 carries last week to the Rebels. Stanford 38, USC 31.

All the Rest


Arizona vs. Houston (9 a.m., ABC)

Houston -4.5, o/u 72.0

Harsh words from Mr. Woods, to be sure, but there’s no denying that Khalil Tate looked positively pedestrian in Arizona’s opening week loss to the Cougars of BYU. After averaging 9.22 yards per carry (including sacks!) and scoring 12 rushing touchdowns in his breakout 2017 season, Tate was contained for 26 yards on seven non-sack carries and averaged 5.8 yards per attempt against last year’s No. 87 passing defense. On the other hand, the Cougars of Houston looked shaky in their season opener against the woeful Rice Owls, who claim only two wins in their last 15 games. This has all the makings of a sloppy, turnover-filled contest that will be decided by whichever team gets the luckier bounces on fumbles. Houston 42, Arizona 34.

UCLA vs. No. 6 Oklahoma (10 a.m., FOX)

Oklahoma -30.0, o/u 64.0

Last week, I gave Chip Kelly the benefit of the doubt in thinking that he would have his historically talented but undisciplined program ready to play his crisp brand of football in week one. I won’t make that mistake again.

Even the most diehard of Bruins fans have to feel crestfallen by UCLA’s season opening loss to Cincinnati, a Group of 5 team that last year claimed the nation’s No. 111 scoring offense. It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to see that Oklahoma’s offense (44.6 points per game during the 2016 and 2017 seasons) is going to run roughshod. Oklahoma 63, UCLA 24.

Portland State vs. No. 23 Oregon (11 a.m., Pac-12 Networks)

No line

The only thing we’re going to learn about the Ducks this week is which players are absolutely going to redshirt this season, because if they don’t see the field in this one, they aren’t seeing the field until 2019 at minimum. Enjoy seeing Justin Herbert and Tony Brooks-James while you can in the first 20 minutes, because unless something has gone horribly awry, they’ll be wearing ball caps by halftime. Oregon 49, Portland State 13.

Colorado vs. Nebraska (12:30 p.m., ABC)

Nebraska -5.0, o/u 66.0

Both founding members of the Big Eight have gone their separate ways — Nebraska to the Big 10/14, Colorado to the Pac-12 — but fans on boths sides will tell you that it won’t take much to turn this smoldering rivalry into a bonfire. This week’s game marks the first matchup between the programs since they ended their streak of annual games that stretched from 1948 to 2010, and there’s no question that the Buffs badly want to make up ground in a series the Cornhuskers lead 49–18–2. Colorado made a bold season debut last week against Colorado State, while Nebraska’s game against the Akron Zips was cancelled on account of biblical weather. Gimme the outright upset at Colorado takes advantage of Nebraska working out the kinks in Scott Frost’s first game as the Cornhuskers’ head coach. Colorado 38, Nebraska 35.

Utah vs. Northern Illinois (4:30 p.m., ESPNEWS)

Utah -11.0, o/u 47.0

Another week, another opportunity for Kyle Whittingham to fine-tune his team in preparation of welcoming the Washington Huskies for the Pac-12 opener on Sept. 15. The Huskies didn’t show anything in their 33–7 week one loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes that should give Utes fans any serious cause for concern, so unless Tyler Huntley and Co. are caught looking ahead, this one should be in the bag by the opening whistle of the fourth quarter. Utah 28, Northern Illinois 12.

Southern Utah vs. Oregon State (5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

No line

One week after traveling to Columbus and putting up a surprisingly potent offensive showing against Ohio State (not that it made much of a difference, as the Buckeyes rolled up 721 yards and 77 points of their own), an evening matchup in Corvallis is just what the doctor ordered for head coach Jonathan Smith. If starting quarterback Jake Luton is unable to play — he’s being evaluated in concussion protocol since leaving the Ohio State game on the Beavers’ first offensive series — the Beavers will want to give as many game reps as possible to Conor Blount, who played well against the Buckeyes down the stretch. Expect to see the backups get plenty of game experience in this one by the midpoint of the third quarter. Oregon State 49, Southern Utah 13.

California vs. BYU (7:15 p.m., ESPNU)

BYU -3.5, o/u 46.0

After easily handling North Carolina in the season opener (the Golden Bears led the Tar Heels 24–3 until 6:31 remained in the game), Justin Wilcox’s team figures to give the Cougars a much stiffer fight than they received last week at the hands of the Arizona Wildcats. However, Cal is still very much a work in progress — quarterbacks Ross Bowers and Chase Garbers are splitting reps, and running back Patrick Laird needed 29 carries to earn 95 yards against the Heels — and BYU showed a balanced attack against Arizona that will keep defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter from keying on any one player. BYU 31, Cal 24.

No. 15 Michigan State vs. Arizona State (7:45 p.m., ESPN)

Michigan State -6.5, o/u 55.0

What exactly are we to make of Michigan State last week being taken to the wire by Utah State, one of the Mountain West’s mid-tier programs? After watching Aggies quarterback Jordan Love complete 11 yards per completion, it’s hard not to imagine that the Sun Devils will find success in getting the ball to N’Keal Harry. At the same time, the Spartans’ pass defense contributed 14 points last week, as Love’s two interceptions resulted in a pick-six and first-and-10 for the Spartans’ offense from the Aggie 42-yard line. My gut tells me that Michigan State leans on LJ Scott to wear down the ASU defense and pull out the W, but that the Sun Devils make this a close game that comes down to the final drive. Michigan State 45, Arizona State 41.

San Jose State vs. Washington State (8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

Washington State -34.5, o/u 65.0

Don’t expect much in the way of #Pac12AfterDark action from this one. The Spartans have lost 10 of their last 12, beating only Wyoming and FCS Cal Poly last year. San Jose State yielded 589 yards from scrimmage last week to FCS UC Davis, including 446 yards and three touchdowns through the air, and there’s no reason to think that the Wazzu air raid should be any less successful. In short, this is a line so vast that not even the Cougs should be able to screw it up. Washington State 49, San Jose State 7.