The next week will tell us a lot about how the Pac-12 is likely to sort itself out by the end of the year. Four teams remain ranked in the conference, two each from the North and South. Those four play each other on Saturday and both match-ups will have a huge impact on who will represent their division in the conference title game. Meanwhile, a couple of the dark horse contenders who have been sidetracked of late- USC and WSU- face tricky home games that could either put them back on track or essentially end their conference title hopes.
UCLA @ Stanford (Friday night), Stan -7
It’s nice that the two teams playing on Friday each got a bye the week before. The two squads headed into those byes going in different directions. UCLA lost at home to Oregon State by giving up 48 points to a Beaver team that hadn’t beaten an FBS opponent. Stanford strung together a pair of wins against those same Beavers and another team (we’ll skip reliving that part). Stanford’s defense has been eons better at home than on the road. Davis Mills and K.J. Costello are both questionable for the Cardinal, as is Dorian Thompson-Robinson for UCLA. If you take out the bizarre second half of the UCLA-Washington State game, the Bruins look like a team with a bad offense and an even worse defense. Even with a spate of injuries, Stanford has shown signs of life on defense.
Stanford 27 – UCLA 17
Oregon State @ California, Cal -11
An 11:30 AM start team between two pacific coast teams is abnormal. Cal has the advantage of having a week to recover after consecutive losses to Arizona State and Oregon. The Beavers reversed their positive momentum on the receiving end of a 52-7 drubbing to Utah. Chase Garbers remains out for Cal, meaning they’re a very defensive team with an anemic offense led by Devon Modster. The early deficit against the Utes took Artavis Pierce out of the equation for Oregon State and forced Jake Luton to do too much against a great defense. Even at 4-2, Cal hasn’t beaten an FBS team by double digits. A week ago, this line would have been a few points closer due to better recent results for Oregon State. I’ll try to avoid being a prisoner of the moment.
Cal 27 – OSU 20
Oregon @ Washington, Oregon -3
We all circled this game at the start of the year. Not only is it Oregon. Not only were they the top ranked team in the conference in the pre-season. Not only do we feel the need to avenge a painful loss in Eugene last year. They’re also they the biggest challenger for Pac-12 North supremacy. Things have not gone according to schedule for the Huskies, who could have been 7-0 coming into the showdown if not for stumbles against Cal and Stanford. Now, the game is more important than ever because the Dawgs need to make up two games in the division and won’t have a chance if that deficit swells to three.
The most impressive thing about Oregon this year has been their defense. They have held opposing teams to 3.94 yards per play and have picked off opposing passers 12 times (versus throwing only one themselves). They are solid against both the pass (4.8 y/a) and the run (3.1 y/a). One stat that will be especially scary for Husky fans is that opponents have only score 8 times in 14 red zone trips against Oregon. Linebackers Mase Funa and Troy Dye have been the most disruptive defenders, but the Ducks have done most of their damage by staying in position and using their team speed to prevent big plays. Offensively, Justin Herbert is a known commodity, but he has not put up eye-popping numbers due to conservative play calls. The loss of security blanket TE Jacob Breeland could result in a rare mistake. CJ Verdell leads a diverse stable of young running backs who have been good but not elite.
Washington’s defense will have to tackle and limit the running game to have a chance in this one. The loss of Breeland leaves Oregon with only two pass-catchers with 10 receptions on the year. The Husky secondary and emerging pass rush should make this game more difficult for Herbert than usual. He only totaled 202 yards on 32 attempts last year and the Huskies would take that again this time around, especially if they can engineer a turnover or two and prevent long, run-centered drives. When the Huskies have the ball, the running game will be crucial once again. Last week reminded us that Salvon Ahmed and Sean McGrew are the lifeblood of the offense. Jacob Eason can pick his spots with Aaron Fuller, Puka Nacua, and Hunter Bryant if the running game can stay ahead of the chains. The Huskies can win this game with consistent offensive execution and enough run defense to get Oregon off the field. I question whether that’s the most likely outcome.
Oregon 28 – UW 24
Arizona State @ Utah, Utah -13.5
ASU had a chance to prove themselves last week against WSU and did it. Sure, they beat Michigan State 10-7, but MSU has struggled since and the Devils promptly lost to Colorado. Likewise, their win over Cal looked to me like it had more to do with the Garbers injury than with great play by ASU. Last week, Jayden Daniels did more than manage the game. Eno Benjamin had another big game as the primary workhorse running back in the conference. It wasn’t the best defensive performance of the season, but they did limit Max Borghi.
Utah was even better against the Cougars three weeks ago and annihilated Oregon State last week. It looks more and more like their Friday night loss at USC was a product of the Pac-12 Schedule Monster. Utah’s defense has rounded into high-end form and the combination of Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss gives the offense more punch than previous versions. So is that enough to beat a legitimately solid opponent by two touchdowns?
Utah 31 – ASU 21
Colorado @ Washington State, WSU -13
The Cougars have lost three in a row and it turns out that it takes more than just the departure of Tracy Claeys to fix a broken defense. Will the wheels come off completely against a middling opponent at home? They did some things well last week against ASU- Anthony Gordon threw for 466 yards and avoided turnovers on the way to 34 points on the road. On the other side, Colorado was the latest team to struggle mightily with Oregon’s defense. The Buffs won 34-31 in Tempe earlier in the year, which is a quality win that now looks like an outlier. Laviska Shenault finally showed up last week, but Steven Montez needs to reverse course to keep it close. I don’t think Colorado is great at anything, but I need WSU to show their defense is alive before I can justify that kind of spread.
WSU 41 – Colorado 30
Arizona @ USC, USC -9.5
The Trojans put up a good fight in a tough match-up with Notre Dame. They lost by three and could have won if they did a better job converting scoring opportunities. Through six games, it seems like USC is just a pretty good- not great- team on both sides of the ball. Kedon Slovis returned at QB and had a solid game against a very good defense. If they could somehow get more than one of their elite WRs to produce in the same game, they’d really be onto something. It’s understandable that Husky fans would look at Arizona as a disaster right now, but the second half last week was easily their worst stretch of the year. Kevin Sumlin said this week he will stick with Khalil Tate at QB after an erratic performance. J.J. Taylor ran the ball well, which gives the Wildcats something to build on offensively. Over the course of the season, they’ve been good enough to keep it within a score against USC, as long as they don’t revert to the sloppy execution that doomed them against the Huskies.
USC 35 – Arizona 27
Last Week ATS – 2-3 (0-1 HC)
Season ATS – 29-24 (6-3 HC)
Last Week SU – 5-0
Season SU – 37-16