Last week was a big week for the dogs of the Pac-12, with underdogs going 4-0 against the spread. I was on top of that trend, except when it came to the Dawgs, where I failed to pick Stanford, the dog. Altogether, three of the four underdogs won outright and Cal kept it much closer than expected against Oregon. Will the rush to the middle continue for this muddled conference?
Colorado @ Oregon (Friday), ORE -20.5
The hype train slowed down very quickly for the Buffs after their home loss to Arizona. Is it fair for a team with two wins over ranked opponents (Nebraska and ASU) to be a three-TD dog? Oregon’s defense continues to dominate. Devin Modser only managed seven points, which was the fourth consecutive single-digit output for a Duck opponent. Steven Montez put up another strong game against Arizona without Laviska Senault in the lineup, due in part to the emergence of Tony Brown. Alex Fontenot has quietly become one of the more consistent running backs in the conference. Justin Herbert continues to play it safe for Oregon as TE Jacob Breeland has emerged as a favorite target. It looks like CJ Verdell will be healthy this weekend to keep the Oregon run offense on schedule. The Ducks have totaled 38 points in their last two games combined. They’ll need to bypass that to have any hope to cover because Colorado will break the single-digit streak.
Oregon 41 – Colorado 21
Washington State @ Arizona State, ASU -1
One could argue that the wheels came off the Cougar defense when they gave up 105 points in consecutive losses, leading to DC Tracy Claeys leaving the program over the bye. On the other side of the ball, Herm Edwards has Eno Benjamin and a solid defense playing steady, respectable football. ASU is fourth in the conference in yards per pass attempt allowed, trailing only Oregon, Cal, and UW. They haven’t been creating interceptions so far, but that’s still the right way to approach WSU’s game plan. Anthony Gordon has multiple interceptions in each of his last two games. The fly in the ointment is Arizona State’s offense. They have to score more than their 22.8 average to compete in this game. Does Jayden Daniels have a more explosive game in him?
ASU 31 – WSU 28
USC @ Notre Dame, ND -11
The arguments for USC in this game are mostly theoretical. Notre Dame is 4-1 ATS and their only loss was an 18 point victory over Louisville as a 19 point favorite. Kedon Slovis was cleared to practice this week, but Notre Dame’s pass defense has been outstanding and should make things hard for the Trojans. USC also has a huge number of players listed as questionable for this game and they will have an even tougher time if any of Vavae Malepeai, Talanoa Hufanga, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Isaac Taylor-Stuart, and Olaijah Griffin end up not playing. The soft spot for the Irish has been occasionally erratic play from Ian Book, especially against tougher opponents. At this point, it’s hard for me to classify USC’s defense as anything close to Georgia’s, and they probably don’t even measure up to Virginia’s. Unless USC reverts to total entropy, Notre Dame looks like a strong bet here.
Notre Dame 35 – USC 21
Utah @ Oregon State, Utah -13.5
Don’t look now, but the Beavers finally have something to feel good about. There were some moral victories when they covered three straight spreads, but an actual win against a real Pac-12 team is even better. The knock on OSU all year has been that the defense has given up too much for a decent offense to overcome. The defense gave another 31 to UCLA (same total they gave up to Stanford and Hawaii), but this time Jake Luton, Artavis Pierce, and Isaiah Hodgins torched the Bruins for 48. Last time we saw Utah, they bounced back nicely with a 25-point thumping of WSU after a frustrating loss at USC. The line on this year’s Utes is that they finally have enough offense to take advantage of their stingy defense. The output hasn’t been drastically greater than previous years, but they are over 30 PPG for the first time since 2015. In other words, a more explosive Utah offense means more like 30-35 points than 40+. That might be enough to carry them to a conference title this year. But I’m a believer in the Oregon State offense, enough that I think they can score in the mid-20s against just about any defense.
Utah 35 – OSU 24
Washington @ Arizona, UW -6.5
There are a few simple facts that make this game scary for the Huskies. The first and most obvious factor is UW’s history in the state of Arizona. Even when UW has looked significantly better on paper, both the Wildcats and Sun Devils have made things incredibly difficult. The second is Arizona’s run game. With Khalil Tate back in the lineup next to J.J. Taylor and Gary Brightwell, Arizona leads the Pac-12 in yards per carry and totals over 200 yards per game. As we all know at this point, UW does not have an elite run defense (or even an acceptable one). The third fact is the general feeling of malaise after the Stanford loss. Playing another late game just feels frightening at the moment.
In addition to these obvious factors, there are some statistical oddities that make Arizona hard to predict. To wit: every Pac-12 defense has faced an average of 30.0-35.5 pass attempts per game, except Arizona, who has faced 47.4 (34% higher than any other team!). Some of that has to do with pass-heavy opponents on their early schedule, including Hawaii, Northern Arizona, and Texas Tech. Likewise, Arizona leads the conference in interceptions, including three each from Jace Whittaker and Lorenzo Burns (a lot of that has to do with the huge number of pass attempts they have faced). You would expect a team with that profile to have a great pass rush, but Arizona only has four sacks on the year. Colin Schooler will make plays near the line of scrimmage, but the defense otherwise tends to sit back.
Despite the huge volume of passes, the way to attack Arizona’s defense might actually be in the run game, where they are fourth worst in the Pac in Y/C against. If you can get past the strange play distribution, the overall character of the defense is favorable to the Huskies. They play a conservative pass defense that doesn’t get a great deal of pressure. Think back to how great Jacob Eason looked against a similar profile in the BYU game. Aaron Fuller and Andre Baccellia should have more time to get free, which should lead to a return of the deep pass. The loss of Richard Newton will hurt, but Sean McGrew has proven that he can be a solid runner to complement Salvon Ahmed. Newton became the answer to some of UW’s red zone questions. Will Kamari Pleasant step into that role? Will McGrew get more short yardage attempts? Will we see the Wildcat with a different lead back? A more balanced attack should be able to score points on Arizona. I remain optimistic that UW will score enough to pull out a tough game.
UW 35 – Arizona 28
ND -11 (high confidence)
Last Week ATS – 3-1 (1-0 HC)
Season ATS – 27-21 (6-2 HC)
Last Week SU – 1-3
Season SU – 32-16