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Picking the Pac, Week 1: But What About the Other Five?

A Depressing Dog Delay Results in Widespread Channel Surfing

USC v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With news hot off the presses that California’s strict contact-tracing protocols have resulted in a cancelation of the UW-Cal game on Saturday, Husky fans will have to look elsewhere for their college football fix. Fortunately, the rest of the conference remains on schedule to play with back-to-back games from 9 AM until late into the night.

The first week of the season is always hard to pick due to the paucity of available data, and lack of a non-conference slate makes it even more daunting to pick winners. With only seven weeks in the Pac-12 season, we get some tantalizing match-ups from the very beginning.

The lines used here are taken from the ESPN game previews.

Arizona State @ USC (-11)

USC’s roster is stacked. On paper, it’s hard to find a flaw. On the other hand, Clay Helton has routinely turned stacked rosters into 8-4 teams. Will the combination of a steady QB in Kedon Slovis and a defense with playmakers at every level be any different? If the Trojans do slip up, the Sun Devils have the impression of a team that could challenge them for the division. Jaylin Daniels gives them their own star QB. They return talent at every level on the defense. Herm Edwards has properly delegated authority to his coordinators and it has resulted in a smart, consistent team. USC is the better team on paper, so I’ll pick them to win until I see evidence of underachievement, but this spread looks too large for me.

USC 30 – ASU 21

Arizona @ Utah (-14)

Like UW, Utah has kept its QB decision under wraps. South Carolina transfer Jake Bentley is the popular pick to win the job and he has talent and a solid resume. Utah must replace Zach Moss and nine defensive starters. Luckily, Kyle Whittingham has made a career of developing new stars on defense. Arizona finished last season in a rut and doesn’t have many reasons for optimism beyond QB Grant Gunnell. The defense was a shambles last season, which should ease the transition for Utah’s new offensive leaders. The path for Arizona to keep it close is to make this game a shootout, but I would rather bet on Whittingham’s defense than Kevin Sumlin’s anything.

Utah 38 – Arizona 17

UCLA (-6.5) @ Colorado

Toward the end of last season, it looked like Chip Kelly had found his groove with Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Joshua Kelley leading the Bruins to three straight wins with 30+ points. Then the wheels came off for a three-game losing streak to finish the year. UCLA lost Kelley, but DTR is back. Colorado has no such stability. They unexpectedly had to replace head coach Mel Tucker, who left for Michigan State, and they just chose a converted DB as their starting QB (at least he had been a QB previously). I don’t have confidence in either of these teams, so I’ll take the home dog to cover.

UCLA 28 – Colorado 24

Stanford @ Oregon (-9)

Stanford has been consistently very good for over a decade and has always played Oregon tough. Those are the best reasons to like them in this match-up because Oregon has better returning talent and more play-making all over the field. Assuming Tyler Shough steps in as the QB, he will have weapons galore surrounding him. Oregon’s defense might be even better than its offense in spite losing multiple DBs to opt-outs. If Davis Mills plays the game of his life, the Cardinal can hang around. The more likely scenario is that the Ducks establish themselves as a conference favorite.

Oregon 35 –Stanford 21

Washington State @ Oregon State (-1.5)

From a distance, there are some similarities between these programs. Both have young head coaches in Johnathan Smith and Nick Rolovich. Both feature new QBs replacing established veterans in Tristan Gebbia and Jayden De Laura. Both have talented, multi-dimensional RBs to lean on in Jemar Jefferson and Max Borghi. Both have significant questions to answer defensively. Oregon State has a bit of an experiential edge- Smith has a two-year head start over Rolovich in building the program and Gebbia has some game experience that true freshman De Laura lacks.

Oregon State 38 – Washington State 34

Bonus Hypothetical Pick!

Before the UW-Cal game was canceled, I spent a lot of time thinking about how it would play out. I see it as a defensive slug-fest with fewer points than the computer models project. It’s also hard to imagine the game would’ve swung by more than a TD in either direction. Both teams lean heavily on their defenses, but UW’s dominant secondary is just a bit better than Cal’s refreshed secondary.

UW 20 – Cal 17