For most of the Pac-12, conference season is finally starting. Nobody benefits from that development more than me, who no longer has to study a handful of non-conference teams every week to try to pick their games. Now I just have to figure out what is going on with Arizona State. If you like home underdogs, then you will love this week’s slate of games. As always, odds from Vegas Insider.
Utah @ USC (Friday), Utah -3.5
If we’re getting the Trojan team that struggled at home against Fresno St or the one that lost in overtime to BYU last week with a -3 turnover differential, it’s pretty easy to pick Utah. But that 25-point demolition of a quality Stanford team looms large and makes it hard to rule them out completely. Kedon Slovis took a step back in his second start due to ball security issues. Those are the types of growing pains one would expect form a young QB thrust into a difficult situation. I’m ultimately picking Utah for three reasons: a) their powerful defensive line will make the Slovis learning curve even steeper this week; b) Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss have both been efficient and explosive in a way that Utah’s offense usually isn’t; c) as is often the case in USC’s games, they will operate at a coaching disadvantage.
Utah 30 – USC 24
Cal @ Ole Miss, Ole Miss -2
Justin Wilcox has Cal back in the top-25 shockingly soon after they became a laughingstock under Sonny Dykes. Are they good enough that we can expect them to win a road game in SEC country? Odds are their defense will keep the game close, especially because the Rebels have struggled to move the ball at times this year. Still, look to last week when Chase Garbers struggled to throw the ball against North Texas and Cal’s ground game could only get to 3.1 YPC. They’ll have to do better this week, and doing so at 9am Pacific time will be challenging.
Ole Miss 27 – Cal 21
Washington @ BYU, UW -6
In a normal year, I would look at a Washington defense that has had problems with run-first opponents as a major problem against BYU. Strangely enough, BYU has leaned on Zach Wilson and the passing offense more than Ty’Son Williams and the run game in wins over Tennessee and USC. The Huskies have a better secondary than either of those teams, so BYU will have to either buck a recent trend or play to UW’s defensive strength. On that side of the ball, BYU is competent and UW’s defense seems less dominant (at least so far) than it has been in recent seasons. Don’t expect UW to come close to holding BYU to single digits.
There are two related variables that I think will decide this game- UW’s receiver play and the red zone execution. If the Husky receivers are taken out of the game by BYU’s defensive backs the same way they were dominated by Cal, the three-headed running monster will not be enough to get into the end zone consistently. If Jacob Eason can continue to use Hunter Bryant, Cade Otton, Puka Nacua, and his running backs in the passing game to complement Aaron Fuller and Andre Baccellia, this game is certainly winnable. My hope is that Eason has taken real steps forward since the Cal game and the offense will hang well over 30 on the road. My more realistic expectation is that the Dawgs will find enough offense to pull out a tough road win.
UW 28 – BYU 23
Oregon @ Stanford, Oregon -10.5
This game and the next one involve the two Pac-12 teams I have the hardest time reading. Maybe Stanford isn’t actually hard to read; maybe they’re just a team in a down year that also happened to lose their best player (LT Walker Little). The return of K.J. Costello was not enough for the Cardinal to put up a fight at UCF while the defense cratered to give up 45 points. Oregon has bounced back from the tough loss against Auburn by outscoring Nevada and Montana 112-9. Sure, Justin Herbert gets headlines, but we’ve seen a legitimately tough Duck defense for 11 out of their 12 quarters so far. The Bo Nix fourth-quarter comeback is the only thing keeping them from crazy hype at the moment. The current Stanford offense is probably not the unit to break through against Oregon’s defense.
Oregon 38 – Stanford 24
Colorado @ Arizona St, ASU -7.5
Speaking of quietly productive defenses, the Sun Devils have given up exactly seven points in each of their three games so far. Kent St and Sacramento St probably shouldn’t have scored many more, though Michigan St only mustering a single TD at home catches the eye. S&P+ rates ASU’s defense as the 8th best unit in the country. The offense, on the other hand, ranks outside the national top 100. Defenses have challenged Jayden Daniels to beat them by selling out against the run (ASU averaging 3.0 yards per carry). Daniels has been fine, but hasn’t done enough to punish defenses.
Colorado has been a mirror image- a surprisingly good offense and a miserable defense. The Buffs are another week removed from their road win over a ranked Big 10 team (Nebraska rather than Michigan St). That extra week took the shine off with a loss to a decent, balanced Air Force squad. Altogether, ASU’s defense has been slightly better than Colorado’s offense. Coupled with home field advantage, that edge should help them pull out a very tough win.
ASU 28 – Colorado 27
UCLA @ Washington St, WSU -18.5
This spread might not stand out so much because college lines can get pretty lopsided (UCLA failed to cover a 23-point spread at home last week). In conference, though, it’s a pretty wide gap. If you consider the resources that each program has at its disposal, it’s embarrassing for UCLA to be this far behind the Cougars. After two lopsided blow-outs, WSU got a tougher challenge in their 31-24 win against Houston last week. The Bruins lost 48-14 at home and it would have been worse if Oklahoma didn’t ease off through the second half. Dorian Thompson-Robinson continued his war with accuracy. He is miserable in every passing stat this year- accuracy, yardage, turnovers. It almost seems like a trap to take WSU here. Logically, though, UCLA has done nothing well enough to date to hang in this game. Their best chance is probably to play slowly and try to get the Cougars off the field on third downs, but we know that’s not the Chip Kelly style.
WSU 38 – UCLA 17
Ole Miss -2 (high confidence)
Oregon -10.5 (high confidence)
Last Week ATS: 5-7 (1-0 HC)
Season ATS: 21-12 (4-0 HC)
Last Week SU: 8-4
Season SU: 25-8