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Picking the Pac: Rotten to the Core

Dawgs head into an Apple Cup with a very different feel

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Arizona State at Washington Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2021 Pac-12 Picks

0 1 0 1 0 48 43 0 63 28
1 4 8 8 4
2 4 6 6 4
3 7 4 7 4
4 3 3 5 1
5 3 2 3 2
6 3 1 3 1
7 3 2 4 1
8 4 2 3 3
9 2 4 3 3
10 3 2 3 2
11 2 3 5 0
12 5 1 4 2
13 2 5 6 1
14 2 0 2 0
15 0 0 0 0

All Betting Lines provided by DraftKings Sportsbook

Friday Games

Colorado (+23.5) @ Utah

I am loathe to lay so many points in a conference game, especially when the underdog has somehow won two of their last three games. Of course, Colorado’s win over UW came with a 426-183 total yardage deficit and four back-breaking UW turnovers. The Utes have been dominant at home this year and Tavion Thomas should be able to exploit a questionable Buffs’ run defense.

Utah 41 – Colorado 14

Washington State (-1) @ UW

The way the season has gone for these two teams, it’s hard to justify a betting line that assumes the Dawgs are better on a neutral field. The Cougs already did what the Dawgs have mathematically disqualified themselves from doing in qualifying for a bowl game. WSU also maintains flickering hopes of a Pac-12 North title and a trip to the conference championship game. After a slow start, they’ve won five of seven and scored 30+ in all five wins. During that stretch, their only losses were to very solid BYU and Oregon teams. Firing Nick Rolovich seems to have removed a distraction rather than creating a leadership vacuum.

Washington State v Washington Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the Huskies have basically gone off the rails. At 4-4 after back to back road wins over Arizona and Stanford, it looked like UW still had a chance to finish strong. Instead, Jimmy Lake and John Donovan have been future endeavor’d, Dylan Morris has (probably) lost this grasp on the starting QB gig, and UW has nothing but pride to play for on Friday.

And yet…

Washington has dominated the series for the last decade. UW has won seven straight and ten of eleven Apple Cups. Most of those players (and coaches) are long gone, but the element that might have some lasting effect is the WSU offensive system’s match-up with UW’s defensive system. The Cougars moved from an Air Raid to a Run and Shoot style after Mike Leach’s departure, but many of the fundamentals remain the same. The QB makes quick, simple reads to get the ball to a receiver who can make a play in space. UW’s defense is basically designed to counter this specific sort of offensive philosophy. The one consistent bright spot this year has been Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon blanketing receivers, tackling in space, and making it extremely difficult to sustain drives through the air. Yes, Max Borghi is a talented runner, but WSU has neither the scheme nor the players to physically dominate up front in the way that has often been UW’s Achilles heel this year.

Will Sam Huard start and play the full game at QB? If he does, will he be able to get the ball to a rapidly improving receiver group enough for a respectable point total? Is there any chance to establish a run game against a rush defense that has had its ups and downs? Inexplicably, I feel pretty optimistic this time around.

UW 27 – WSU 21

Saturday Games

Oregon State (+7) @ Oregon

The Ducks’ decisive loss to Utah corrected their ranking in a way that will induce fewer eye rolls when looking at the subscript in front of their name on the scoreboard. The loss didn’t change the foundation of what Oregon is- a very good running team with a solid but unspectacular defense. Oregon State’s win over Arizona State maintained a wacky trend- the Beavs are now 7-0 at home and 0-4 on the road both SU and ATS. If this game were in Corvallis, it would probably swing my choice. As it is, I think the Ducks bounce back.

Oregon 35 – OSU 27

Arizona (+20) @ Arizona State

Utah v Arizona Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images

This is the sort of game where it becomes tempting to try to guess at a team’s collective mindset. ASU can’t catch Utah in the South and has already qualified for bowl eligibility. Although it’s a rivalry game, they’re playing a 10-loss rival, so it’s conceivable that they might come into the game with less than 100% focus. The Wildcats have a strange statistical tendency to struggle on early downs (90th in the country on defensive EPA on 1st and 2nd) and tighten up on late downs (38th). ASU runs the ball so well that they shouldn’t get into many long third down situations. Since the recipe for ASU’s success resides on the ground, it could slow the pace of play, which will help Arizona keep the score semi-respectable, even if they don’t seriously challenge for the win.

ASU 35 – Arizona 17

Notre Dame (-19) @ Stanford

The Irish have flown under the radar somewhat after their loss to Cincinnati put them on the outer fringes of the CFP conversation. In the meantime, they have piled up some excellent defensive stats, including three straight wins with a total of nine points allowed. Stanford has gone severely in the opposite direction and has probably been the worst team in the Pac-12 in the second half of the year. The Cardinal offense has sputtered against mediocre defenses. It will be even worse against an elite one.

Notre Dame 35 – Stanford 10

BYU (-7) @ USC

It’s a funny scheduling quirk that USC has to play an insignificant non-conference game after the UCLA rivalry game so the Bruins can play their UC rivals in Berkeley. BYU plays at a slow pace, so it masks the fact that there’s a big gap between their very good offense and their bad defense. If USC sticks to the run game- which has been quietly successful for them this year- they could score enough points to keep it close. Given the Trojans’ tendency, my bet is that this game ends Donte Williams’s interim stint with a whimper (unless the conference subjects us to a Cal-USC rescheduled game to see if either team can get to bowl eligibility).

BYU 37 – USC 28

Cal (+6.5) @ UCLA

UCLA v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

UCLA has run the gamut from resurgent conference powerhouse to Chip Kelly hot seat this year. If they pull off this win over the Bears, it will all have amounted to one big 8-4 shrug emoji. Perhaps the 62 points Kelly hung on his cross-town rivals was meant to remind his AD that there are reasons to keep him around. But Cal should not be taken so lightly. Other than the loss to Arizona (which tells us next to nothing about the team since so many important players were in Covid protocols), the Bears have been on a steady upward trend over the last 1.5 months.

UCLA 30 – Cal 24