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Picking the Pac, Week 9: Mismatch Mania

Dawgs rest while the top of the Pac faces the bottom

NCAA Football: Washington at California Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called the bye week. But I’m here to tell you, there’s something else: Week 10. In the meantime, here are picks for the five Pac-12 games that will take place while the Huskies get some much-needed recovery time.

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

Thursday Game: Utah @ Washington State, Utah -7

NCAA Football: Southern California at Utah Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Interestingly, the Pac-12 Conference standings break down with no teams at .500 and only the bye teams (UW and OSU) within a game of .500 (3-2 each). That means that this week features four games between teams at least two games over .500 against teams at least two games under .500, as well as a Toilet Bowl contender between 1-3 Colorado and ASU. Utah is 5-2 without a bad loss (@ Florida and @ UCLA). They beat USC two weeks ago and are coming off a bye week and WSU played in Corvallis prior to their bye [edit: a previous version incorrectly stated that WSU did not have a bye]. Utah’s defense has not been up to its normal standard, so Cam Ward could make things interesting for the Cougs, but WSU’s offense has just been too inconsistent for me to pick them to keep up with Cam Rising’s elite crew.

Utah 37 – WSU 28

Oregon @ Cal, Oregon -17

In broad strokes, Oregon has looked a lot like UW in 2022, but with slightly better overall results. Both teams have elite offenses led by transfer QBs who have surpassed expectations. Both teams have questionable defenses that are especially vulnerable to the pass. Oregon is probably a bit more consistent running the ball; Bucky Irving has been a more complete back than anyone from UW’s deep stable. Does that mean Cal will keep it within a TD against the Ducks? Keep in mind that UW left quite a few points on the table in the first half. Oregon will study the game film and it likely won’t take a half to adjust to Cal’s soft zone shell. If Bo Nix is as willing to take what Cal gives him as Michael Penix was in the second half, Oregon should blow past 30 points and possibly 40. Even against another questionable defense, I suspect that Jack Plummer will not find the same success a second week in a row. Lots of things broke right for Cal to hang with UW. I won’t predict those things to go as well for them this week.

Oregon 41 – Cal 20

USC @ Arizona, USC -15.5

NCAA Football: Southern California at Utah Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Sticking with the trend of teams with much better offenses than defenses (a theme in the top half of this year’s Pac), Caleb Williams and USC will likely have a shootout with Jayden de Laura’s Arizona. The best argument for Arizona is that the Trojans have been much worse away from LA- a three-point win over OSU and a loss to Utah. The week off for both teams gives USC more time to prepare for the trip and should offset the disruption to some extent. USC’s defense, while vulnerable, is better against the pass than the run. They won’t shut down Jacob Cowing, Tetairoa McMillan, and company, but they will limit them enough to pull away.

USC 45 – Arizona 28

Arizona State @ Colorado, ASU -13.5

I questioned last week whether Colorado would experience a letdown after an emotional win against Cal that helped them dodge a winless season. Indeed, they laid a big egg against a merely pretty good OSU team and lost 42-9. ASU backslid, too, with a 15-14 loss at Stanford after the surprising win over UW. Emory Jones threw a pick, fumbled, and failed to finish drives. Consequently, it appears that Trenton Bourguet might get another chance to lead the offense. The Buffs have their own QB questions. Owen McCown remains injured and likely won’t play. He has provided enough of a passing threat to open up some space for a competent running game. JT Shrout has not had enough accuracy in his stead and the Buffs have struggled to score points without McCown. Both of these teams are quite bad. Arizona State has the talent to be much better. Colorado likely isn’t there yet.

ASU 30– Colorado 14

Stanford @ UCLA, UCLA -16.5

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Stanford D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Stanford has taken a page out of another academic powerhouse’s playbook and used a version of the Princeton offense. What the Cardinal lack in explosiveness and talent they are trying to make up for in limiting opponent opportunities. At times, it has paid off. Consecutive wins over Notre Dame and Arizona State have come back to their ability to slow the game down and make the result come down to a few key plays. In a way, it worked the prior week against Oregon State but the Beavers came up big on that deciding play at the end. On the other side, UCLA’s defensive vulnerability finally caught up with them in a 45-30 loss at Autzen. They will score points against Stanford, but I suspect the Cardinal might take enough air out of the ball to make the final result a bit closer than the true talent.

UCLA 35 – Stanford 23