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Picking the Pac Week 4 : Giving Thanks for a Flexible Schedule

An ATS Dive into a Modified Rivalry Week

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 21 Arizona at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2020 Pac-12 Picks

1 3 1 0 2 2 19 13 0 21 11
2 2 3 0 3 2
3 1 3 0 3 1
4 3 2 0 4 1
5 4 2 0 3 3
6 4 0 0 4 0
7 2 2 0 2 2

Happy Thanksgiving! Today is my favorite holiday of the year, so I’ll be busy cooking 11 pounds of turkey for two people and a toddler. At the risk of breaking the fourth wall, I’ll admit that these picks were made on Wednesday, so any late schedule changes won’t show up here (I’ll try to get revised picks on the official UWDP Twitter before kickoff).

Stanford @ California (-1.5)

California v Stanford Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

As the line indicates, the Big Game is close to a toss-up. Unfortunately, it’s because both teams have fallen far short of expectations to date. Both teams looked ragged in their debut and improved all the way up to “narrow loss” in their second game. Stanford sat out last week due a Covid cancellation while Cal missed out on its season opener and has been active ever since. Stanford’s offense showed signs of life against Colorado. Davis Mills’s return to the lineup sparked the pass offense and the combination of Nathaniel Peat and Austin Jones looks like a viable running back duo. Cal’s rebuilt run defense was gashed against UCLA and gave up almost 200 yards to Jermar Jefferson last week. Based on that match-up and the inconsistent start by Chase Garbers, I’ll give Stanford the edge.

Stanford 30 – Cal 28

Oregon (-14) @ Oregon State

What’s so civil about war, anyway? Through three games, both teams likely feel very moderately disappointing with their seasons so far. The Beavers bounced back from a slight upset loss to WSU in week one with a narrow loss to UW and a close win over Cal. The Ducks are undefeated, but have played three weaker teams in Stanford, WSU, and UCLA (two combined wins), and only the game against Stanford’s backup QB was convincing. Oregon’s defense has been penetrable, so Jermar Jefferson alone should be able to put some points on the board. On the other side, the Ducks can use the mutli-faceted run attack that UW used to pound OSU for three quarters, but Tyler Shough has enough juice in the passing game to punish the Beavers if they cheat up defensively.

Oregon 38 – Oregon State 23

Colorado @ USC (-12)

Colorado v Stanford

As of press time, it’s unclear whether USC will make it through Covid protocols to allow this game to take place. If the game does take place, the ATS question is whether USC will have more luck against Sam Noyer, Jarek Broussard, and the emerging Buffs’ offense than UCLA and Stanford had (48 and 35 points, respectively). For all the playmakers USC has on defense, they have given up 25 points per game against non-elite offenses. While I don’t expect Colorado to offer much resistance to Amon-Ra St. Brown and the Trojans’ receiving corps, I do expect them to score enough to make up the wide spread.

USC 38 – Colorado 30

(Theoretical/just-in-case pick: Colorado 35 – San Diego State 23)

Arizona @ UCLA (-10)

Even at 1-2, it feels like UCLA has started to round the corner under Chip Kelly. The win was a dominant one as an underdog against Cal. Both losses were by a single possession, including taking Oregon to the wire. Do they Bruins have the solidity to handle their business against the dregs of the conference? One complicating factor remains the unclear status of Dorian Thompson-Robinson due to contact tracing, though UCLA got a competent performance out of Chase Griffin in his stead last week. The Cats have allowed over 200 rushing yards per game and Demetric Felton will feast on that weakness. Grant Gunnell won’t look as hapless as he did through three quarters against UW’s trenchant secondary, and this game might be Arizona’s best chance at a win this year. Of course, the Bruins know that, too.

UCLA 42 – Arizona 30

Utah @ Washington (-7)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 21 Arizona at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re all learning on the fly about how to evaluate performance under pandemic conditions. One conclusion that seems reasonably clear is that teams underperform in their first game against opponents who have already played. UW’s uninspiring win over Oregon State is one example, and Utah’s very poor showing against USC might be another. For that reason, it’s important not to sell Utah short coming into Husky Stadium under very weird conditions.

When Utah has the ball, there are several key advantages for the Huskies. The Utes had a QB competition as veiled in secrecy as the one Jimmy Lake conducted. Like the UW competition, and underdog emerged victorious, but Texas transfer Cam Rising lasted less than a quarter before a shoulder injury ended his season South Carolina transfer Jake Bentley (at 23, old enough to be Kevin Thomson’s kid brother) was the favorite for the job going into camp, ended up laying most of the game, and threw two interceptions. Between Rising, Bentley, and leading rusher Ty Jordan, Utah turned the ball over five times. Utah will want to rely on veteran receivers Bryan Thompson, Samson Nacua, and Brant Kuithe, but the Husky secondary should be every bit as punishing as USC’s if Bentley continues to err. Like UW, the Utes spread carries between multiple running backs. No one stood out and they will have to do better than 4.0 yards per carry against UW’s weaker run defense to stay in the game.

On the other side of the ball, I’m skeptical of concluding much from Utah’s game with USC. As with Arizona a week ago, the demands of playing the Trojan version of the Air Raid differ significantly from the approach to UW’s Run the Damn Ball offense. With nine new starters on that side of the ball, last year is similarly unhelpful in reading the tea leaves. For what it’s worth, Utah did a pretty good job against USC’s interior runs and put pressure on Kedon Slovis, but they gave up an uncharacteristic number of big plays in both phases. Bru McCoy’s big game leads me to believe that Cade Otton might be primed for another good performance as a safe, big target for Dylan Morris. Likewise, Sean McGrew offers the most explosive ability in the run game, though Richard Newton’s newfound ability to outrun defenders would be very useful here. Morris showed a willingness to try deep shots with mixed results. If he can connect with Ty Jones, Puka Nacua, or Jalen McMillan on a couple of those balls, it could make a huge difference in the trajectory of the game.

Washington 33 – Utah 24