The Pac-12 breaks down somewhat nicely between the teams that are and are not bowl eligible after 12 weeks. Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Oregon State, USC, Utah, and UCLA are the teams with 6+ wins and are all pretty clearly superior to the teams below them: Cal, Arizona State, Stanford, Colorado, and Washington State. These groups also line up pretty nicely with the preseason expectations, with the notable flipping of Arizona and WSU, who have gone in opposite directions. Interestingly, these bottom 5 teams have only beaten each other in conference, with the exception of WSU’s win over OSU early in the season, which now looks like a bizarre anomaly. Of course, at this point in the season, it doesn’t matter so much who is “good” or “bad” as how they will match up over the last couple weeks of the regular season, so let’s get to the picks.
Colorado @ Washington State, WSU -5
What is it, exactly, that has earned the Cougs this five point advantage at home? Is it the six straight losses? Is it the fact that they have dropped three straight against three other bad teams (ASU, Stanford, Cal)? If I’m being charitable, I could point out that they lost their last two by a FG each, and that Colorado has also dropped four in a row. Playing against this version of the Buffs, which has deteriorated into the Shedeur Sanders one man show, makes me feel a little more charitable. The Cougs lost last week to Cal when Jaydn Ott continued his trend of pulverizing the conference’s weaker teams. Cam Ward contributed to that result with four turnovers. Colorado hasn’t been great at forcing turnovers or running the ball lately, so things might just work out in WSU’s favor.
WSU 30 - Col 24
Utah @ Arizona, Arizona -1
The Wildcats have become the most unexpected story of the year in the Pac-12 with four consecutive wins in conference and bowl eligibility in Jedd Fisch’s second year. Improved defense and the emergence of Noah Fefita have been the keys to the turnaround. Even after the loss in Husky Stadium last week, Utah poses a different sort of challenge for Arizona. The Utes have lost to UW, Oregon, and Oregon State, probably the conference’s three best teams. Now, the two-time defending Pac-12 Champs are no longer in the mix to play fo the conference title. Arizona has a balanced enough offense to avoid being totally overwhelmed by Utah’s defense, and they defend the rush reasonably well, which will force Bryson Barnes to throw. As long as they can move the change with Jonah Coleman, I think they can keep their momentum rolling.
Arizona 27 - Utah 24
UCLA @ USC, USC -7
While USC’s season has publicly gone off the rails, at least they have failed against good teams. Losses to Notre Dame, Utah, Washington, and Oregon are respectable, whereas UCLA’s 17-7 home loss to Arizona State was purely embarrassing. Both Ethan Garbers and Dante Moore missed the game for the Bruins and Collin Schlee played poorly in their stead. The lack of a passing threat allowed Arizona State to crash down on Carson Steele so the Bruins couldn’t find consistent room to run. This week’s QB situation is still up in the air, which gives me pause. I obviously like UCLA’s rush attack against the non-existent USC run defense. I also worry about UCLA’s ability to make enough explosive plays to keep up with Caleb Williams if their down to their third-string QB. I wouldn’t bet this game without better injury information, but in the meantime, I’ll take the Heisman QB over the third-stringer.
USC 38 - UCLA 28
Oregon @ Arizona State, Oregon -24
I will admit that I have trouble with some of the bigger spreads Oregon has had this year. Sometimes, they come out and pulverize the opponent (+44 against Cal, 29 against Utah) and other times the opponent hangs around to keep the game moderately close (+14 against WSU, 9 against USC). ASU doesn’t make it any easier to make that guess since they have also shown inconsistency, with a 52 point loss sandwiched between two surprising wins. Looking at the individual units, I think Oregon’s offense is balanced enough that ASU can’t sell out against either the run or pass, and it’s hard for me to see ASU moving the ball consistently against Oregon’s defense. Kenny Dillingham’s revenge will have to wait until another year.
Oregon 49 - ASU 21
Cal @ Stanford, Cal -7
I wrote at the start of this post that the conference has sorted itself into good and bad categories. Although there are obviously differences within those categories, it’s still a bit surprising to see one of the bad teams favored by a TD on the road. The line opened at 4.5, so bettors have agreed that Cal is the better play here. Stanford gave up 62 points to Oregon State last week. It was the fourth time in five games that they surrendered at least 42. Somehow, in the fifth game, they allowed 7 to WSU. Cal’s defense has also been bad. Probably the worst of the Justin Wilcox era. Their offense has been more productive than Stanford’s, though. Stanford is exactly the sort of team that Jaydn Ott tends to get 200 yards against. Elic Ayomanor will probably make an impressive contested catch or two, but I tend to think Cal is the better of these two bad teams, and in a high-scoring game, the seven-point line doesn’t seem so big.
Cal 45 - Stanford 36