Welcome back to a final magnificent season of Picking the Pac. With the conference’s looming demise, this fourth season of my picks column will wrap up and likely shift to some version of picking Husky games and other B1G match-ups next year. In the meantime, you get to track the exciting conclusion of whether I can stay above .500 through the final season in ATS picks. I’m 109-101 coming into the year, good for 52%. My SU picks are 160-61, or just over 72%.
USC got me off to a bad start for 2023 by narrowly missing the cover against San Jose State. The Trojan defense did not improve as much as advertised and gave up 28 at home to a poor offensive team with very little returning production. That early misstep will be an important storyline for the conference favorites because they will need to improve much more to truly threaten for a CFP spot.
Florida @ Utah, Utah -6.5
Utah hasn’t lost a non-conference home game since 2007 and Florida is probably at the lowest point in its gradual rebuild under Billy Napier. Still, with Cam Rising’s status up in the air as he recovers from last season’s torn ACL, it’s probably wise to stay away from this one until there’s more certainty on his status. Florida had an anemic offense with high draft picks Anthony Richardson and O’Cyrus Torrence last year. Graham Mertz replaces Richardson and has never made anyone’s jaw drop. I’m going to very gingerly take the Utes as the deeper and more experienced team, though the QB situation makes it highly uncertain.
Utah 31 – Florida 24
Southern Utah @ Arizona State
I do not pick FCS games ATS, but the Sun Devils should have one of very few easy wins on the year in this debut. Watch out for the 94 degree gametime weather forecast.
Stanford @ Hawaii, Stanford -3.5
Troy Taylor gets his first chance to test his high-octane offense against a team known for its own offensive theatrics. The Rainbow Warriors played in Week 0 against Vanderbilt, which is a mixed bag. On the positive side, they only lost by 7 to an SEC team. On the negative, they actually have to do more traveling than the Cardinal this week. After numerous transfers out and very few coming back in, I expect Stanford to struggle to pass 3 wins on the year. But this will be one of them due to the superior depth of talent.
Stanford 33 - Hawaii 24
Colorado @ TCU, TCU -21
Picking Colorado at the moment isn’t much different than trying to pick FCS teams, but for different reasons. When Oregon plays Portland State, the Ducks’ ability to cover has to do with how long they leave in their starters and how much they ease up the offensive play calling. In this game, the confusion comes from virtually the entire Colorado two-deep playing at different schools around the country a year ago. We know a little about Shedeur Sanders- he’s athletic and a better playmaker at QB than the Buffs have had in recent years- and Travis Hunter- the DBs will be very good. What will the lines look like? How will they gel? Until I see the team play, I’m siding with the one who played for a national title this calendar year.
TCU 45 - Colorado 21
Portland State @ Oregon, No Pick (FCS game)
Cal @ North Texas, Cal -7
This game is likely to be played at a temperature over 100 degrees on the field at gametime. Eric Morris will take over at UNT after blowing up the Incarnate Word offense in FCS.It’s the type of game Cal has struggled with in recent years. The Justin Wilcox offenses have not been able to win shoot-outs often enough. Perhaps that will change this year. That’s certainly the idea of bringing in Jake Spavital to call plays. Time will tell if Sam Jackson V can supplement a talented RB room, headlined by Jaydn Ott and Byron Cardwell). I’ll give the Bears the benefit of the doubt with the high-scoring win, but not a cover just yet.
Cal 38 - UNT 34
Nevada @ USC, USC -38
Nevada was rock solid for decades, but that history creates cognitive dissonance with the dreck they put out last year. Jay Norvell left for a less successful MWC team (Colorado St) because he felt the infrastructure in Reno could not sustain a competitive program. He was proven correct, at least in part, when the Wolf Pack went 2-10 last year. There is some intrigue with former Colorado QB Brendan Lewis and Oregon RB Sean Dollars in the backfield. Given how USC made a pedestrian SJSU offense look explosive last week, I’m not picking the Alex Grinch defense to do enough to cover this massive spread.
USC 52 - Nevada 20
Washington State @ Colorado State, WSU -12
Speaking of Jay Norvell, the Fort Collins turnaround didn’t happen all at once. The Rams went 3-9 in his first year and scored under 20 points per game. Poor Clay Millen was sacked about five times per game as a freshman (not a joke!) and the offensive line has been rebuilt with unproven transfers from outside the FBS. I remain skeptical about the down-field instincts of new WSU OC Ben Arbuckle paired with the inconsistent mechanics and accuracy of Cam Ward. Nonetheless, this game will not be the biggest test and the last year’s surprisingly dangerous Cougar defense will feast on the Rams.
WSU 40 - CSU 21
Northern Arizona @ Arizona, No PIck, (FCS game)
Coastal Carolina @ UCLA, UCLA -14.5
Ethan Garbers beat out uber-recruit Dante Moore and transfer Collin Schlee for the QB starting job (sort of, all three will see action). Tim Beck takes over at Coastal Carolina for Jamey Chadwell, who elevated the program to new heights before leaving for Liberty. Beck is a more conventional coach with a long resume of offensive assistant jobs at big programs, but I somehow feel a little flat by his accomplishments. I have a sneaking feeling that UCLA won’t drop off as much as expected with DTR and Zach Charbonnet in the NFL, and that Coastal Carolina is on the wrong side of their generational peak. That doesn’t mean the game will necessarily be a blow-out, but it’s enough for me to take the Bruins at home.
UCLA 41 - Coastal Carolina 23
My UW vs. Boise State prediction will appear in the UWDP prediction post later this week.
Oregon State @ San Jose State, Oregon State -16.5
The big question about Oregon State is whether Johnathan Smith can unlock the physical traits of DJ Uiagaleilei in a way that elevates the offense beyond the respectable, workmanlike level of the last two years. That same question applies this week. Chevan Corderio played very well against a disappointing USC defense last week. Will he be able to match it against a much better Beaver defense? OSU will defend well, DJU will do enough to leave the question about the team’s ceiling unresolved, and we still won’t know if OSU can take the next step.
Oregon State 37 - San Jose State 20