With the Huskies on a bye, it got a little weird in the Pac-12. Sure, Utah continued to look like the class of the conference with a one-sided shutout of Cal. Little went according to script in the rest of the conference. Lowly Colorado and defensively inept Washington State nearly beat USC and Oregon, respectively. The previously inept UCLA bruins won their second straight, this time over a ranked Arizona State opponent. The only thing that looked familiar was Arizona’s defense, which gave up 41 points to Stanford and led to the dismissal of Marcel Yates. We’ll see if things go according to plan this week.
Utah @ Washington, Utah -3.5
On paper, Utah should be a pretty clear favorite. They have been one of the best rush defenses in the country and have a pass defense to match. Their 2.5 yards per rush allowed is such a low number that it’s hard to believe it’s accurate. They have forced 15 turnovers and only given the ball away four times all year (albeit aided to an extent by good luck on fumble recoveries). Linemen Bradlee Anae and Leki Fotu have done the most damage as part of the devastating defensive line. Sophomore linebacker Devin Lloyd has also broken out. The Utes are strong at every level defensively. What else is new?
The thing that differentiates this Utah team from past versions is their offensive output. Led by the wildly efficient Tyler Huntley (10.4 Y/A passing) and Zack Moss (6.6 Y/C), the Utes rank in the top 50 in the country (37th) in scoring offense for the first time since 2010. The balanced passing attack includes eight pass-catchers with at least 100 yards receiving. Bryan Thompson is the big play threat with an average of 26.5 yards per catch. As a team, they have the lowest rate of going three-and-out in the entire country. In aggregate, that adds up to the #21 offense in the country by FEI.
The Huskies have some things going in their favor. For one, the Utes lost their only other truly difficult road game against USC. Additionally, Kyle Whittingham is only 1-4 in his five chances against Chris Petersen’s UW teams. Perhaps most importantly, UW showed significant progress in the passing game against Oregon. Puka Nacua added physicality, Jordan Chin a big play threat, and Terrell Bynum some consistency in the slot. When USC beat Utah earlier in the year, it was built in the passing game, including 368 yards and 3 TDs through the air. Even a really good rushing game can only get the Huskies so far in this game. The offense will have to rely heavily on Jacob Eason. Even if Eason explodes, it might not matter if the defensive front can’t handle Moss. Will Utah manhandle Washington tacklers the way Oregon did in the second half? In my view, that battle will decide the game.
Utah 31 – UW 28
Oregon State @ Arizona, UA -5.5
Arizona’s offense came back to life last week with 34 points against Stanford. They successfully platooned Khalil Tate with Grant Gunnell while J.J. Taylor ran for over 100 yards again. Of course, they surrendered 40+ for the third week in a row and it cost their DC his job. Does that mean the defense is in disarray, or will they get a boost from a new voice? The Beavers travel to Tucson on the heels of their bye week. Their last week was a win over the moribund Cal offense. After early-season fireworks, Oregon State’s offense has been quiet the last two weeks. The triplets of Jake Luton, Artavis Pierce, and Isaiah Hodgins give OSU a diverse offensive attack that has been trending positively after some early season struggles. The Beavers will score some points in this one. If they can score them early and put Arizona in a hole, they have a chance at an upset.
OSU 34 – UA 31
Oregon @ USC, UO -5
The Ducks remain on the fringes of the playoff race, particularly with Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas State. They are three games ahead of everyone in the Pac-12 North in the loss column, but competition for the CFP gives them plenty of incentive to stay on top of their game. They have survived the last two weeks by the skin of their teeth with wins over UW and WSU that made their defense look mortal compared to the early season vintage. CJ Verdell and Cyrus Habibi-Likio have become the focal points of the offense rather than the more ballyhooed Justin Herbert. On USC’s side, the Trojans have looked improved in their three games since their own bye. They lost a close game at Notre Dame and then beat Arizona and Colorado. I would feel better about them if they hadn’t required a late comeback to beat the Buffs. Nonetheless, this Trojan offense functions at a higher level with Kedon Slovis in the lineup. Oregon might be able to pull out another close one, but I suspect it will be quite high scoring. To win, USC will have to minimize mistakes, which is something they haven’t done too often.
Oregon 35 – USC 34
Colorado @ UCLA, UCLA -6.5
This line would have looked absolutely insane a few weeks ago. Even so, we got here because UCLA has back-to-back double-digit wins over Stanford and Arizona State. Colorado has hit the difficult part of the schedule and has lost four in a row. If you look a little deeper, there are signs of life for the Buffs. They nearly pulled off the win over USC last week and Steven Montez bounced back from a mini slump. Perhaps more importantly, Laviska Shenault showed that the minor injuries that hampered him earlier in the year are behind him with 172 receiving yards. The Bruins have found success by running the ball, then running it, then changing things up by running some more. Joshua Kelley had 34 carries and 4 TDs last week. That could be trouble for the Buffs since they are below average against the run for the year. Over the course of the full season, these teams are pretty even, so how you pick it largely depends on how much you believe in recent history and momentum.
UCLA 38 – Colorado 35
Last Week ATS- 1-4 (0-1 HC)
Season ATS- 32-32 (6-4 HC)
Last Week SU- 4-1
Season SU- 45-19