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Picking the Pac, Week 8: Somewhat Quiet on the Western Front

A shorter slate of games, but UCLA-Oregon should pack a punch

Washington v UCLA Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

No result has surprised me more this year than Colorado pulling out a 20-13 win at home against Cal. The Bears aren’t anything special, and a 14.5 point spread likely won’t be the largest one to be beaten straight up this season, but Colorado was so hopeless in all phases through their first five games that it was hard to envision them putting together enough working elements to actually get a win. Can Cal rebound from such a terrible loss? Can Colorado build some momentum, or did they just win their Super Bowl?

As always, the lines come courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook. Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.

UCLA @ Oregon, Oregon -6

Stanford v Oregon Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images

It’s a light slate for Pac-12 games this week, but the earliest one on Saturday is one of the prime matchups that the conference will feature this year. Last week, Utah did just enough to give USC their first loss of the season in a tough road game. This week, the other LA undefeated will have their own stiff test on the road. Both teams are coming off an early bye and should be rested and healthy for the showdown. Both teams rank near the top nationally in offensive EPA and success rate, but both defenses are somewhere between “below average” and “bad.” In both cases, it’s the pass defense that has been particularly problematic. Both teams have a slight preference for the ground game over an aerial attack, so it will be interesting to see which play-caller is more willing to adapt to the opponent’s weakness. I don’t see a huge gap in talent here, so I will side with the home team, but the spread looks a little wider than it ought to.

Oregon 38 – UCLA 35

Arizona St. @ Stanford, Stan -2.5

A win over Notre Dame doesn’t mean what it used to. As Marcus Freeman’s squad continues to freefall, Stanford doesn’t even get the customary FG advantage at home against a team with an interim coach. For what it’s worth, ASU was somewhat competitive with USC three weeks ago, beat UW two weeks ago, and comes off a bye. Stanford did not get that rest and had to travel across the country to get their narrow win over the Irish. Emory Jones left early against UW but will return for ASU in this game. Like the UCLA-Oregon matchup, these two teams struggle defensively, but Stanford’s slower pace should keep the point total a bit lower. Tanner McKee can be the difference in this game. If he can distribute the ball to his big receivers without turning it over, I see a small offensive advantage for the Cardinal.

Stanford 30 – ASU 27

Colorado @ Oregon St, OSU -23.5

It’s always hard to try to tap into a team’s collective mindset. Is Colorado going to be satisfied with a single win or are they on an upward trajectory? They got the victory last week with a more functional ground game, including some positive yardage from Owen McCown to go with Deion Smith as the leading rusher. They don’t have the QB talent to become a dangerous passing team, but OSU is better against the pass anyway. The bigger issue is that Colorado defends the run poorly and Oregon State runs very well. DeShaun Fenwick and company should be able to blow the doors off the Buffs if they get steady QB play. Chance Nolan has thrown 8 interceptions already despite missing time with an injury. They won’t beat this spread with multiple Nolan turnovers, but they also should know going into the game that they don’t need to risk as much.

Oregon State 38 – Colorado 13

Washington @ Cal, UW -7.5

“That’s like a 40-degree day. Ain’t nobody got nothing to say about a 40-day day.” That’s how The Wire’s Stringer Bell described the sort of bland mediocrity that doesn’t even warrant complaint. Cal football has settled dangerously close to 40-degree day territory in 2022. Never too high, never too low, and hardly worth a second look.

Idris Elba, Who Portrays Russell Stringer Bell on The Wire, Farewell Party Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage

At one point, it appeared that Cal might be on track for something greater. After beating Arizona 49-31 in week four, they stood at 3-1 with the only loss on the road to a Notre Dame team that still looked quite formidable. They have since dropped consecutive games to Washington State (28-9) and Colorado (20-13 in OT) and look like they’ll have to nail the second half of the season to qualify for a bowl.

Offensively, Jaydn Ott is the bellwether for the squad. Cal is 31st in EPA/rush, which is a sound foundation for an offense. Unfortunately, most of the goodness clustered in a 354 rushing day against Arizona. Since then, the team has run the ball 47 times for 67 yards (1.42 yards per carry) and the points have disappeared. It’s not that the Bears are unwilling to throw the ball. Jack Plummer is averaging over 37 attempts per game, topping out at 52 last week. It’s just that the results have been very pedestrian- 60.5% completions and 6.6 yards per attempt. Plummer also lacks mobility and has negative total rushing yards on the year. In a matchup with UW, the main thing you want is a QB who can move around in the pocket and buy enough time for the receivers to separate from sub-par DBs (see: DTR, Jayden de Laura). When the defensive line can hunt a statuesque passer, like Tanner McKee, the back-end does not struggle nearly as much. The run defense has leaked yardage at times, but not to the degree that cost Arizona their game in Berkeley.

On the surface, Cal’s defensive numbers look sturdy, but that has a lot to do with an unimpressive slate of offensive opponents. The two solid passing offenses the Bears have faced- Arizona and WSU- have hammered them for 401 and 343 passing yards (on an even more impressive 8.9 and 8.6 y/a). Michael Penix has been even better than those passing offenses and there’s no reason to expect his strong play to get side-tracked at Cal.

Arizona v California Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Add it all up and there aren’t the sort of blaring alarm bells that would scream “upset alert.” Yes, it’s a road game, and yes, Justin Wilcox defenses have given other UW offenses problems. But if we’re looking at what the teams have put on tape this year and the quality of opposition, UW has the better resume and the better players.

Washington 35– Cal 26


What will be the result of the UW-Cal game?

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    UW wins by more than seven points
    (252 votes)
  • 17%
    UW wins by seven or fewer
    (61 votes)
  • 11%
    Cal wins
    (40 votes)
353 votes total Vote Now