The first week of conference play means a crowd of competitive contests with the chance for the thrilling finishes that define the PAC. Today, the blog is bringing coverage of three inter-divisional matchups and one between division rivals to go with an out-of-conference gimme for Washington State. Tomorrow, you’ll get in depth analysis of Washington at Colorado (Saturday kickoff 8:00 pm Mountain, 7:00 Pacific) our Game of the Week.
Utah (-3.5) at Arizona:
8:30 pm Mountain, 7:30 Pacific.
G.A.W.P.: Arizona 61.8% to win.
Utah and Arizona each rolled right over their substandard G5 opponents last week, with a 47 point win for the Wildcats over UTEP and a 38 point victory as the Utes topped the San Jose State Spartans.
Arizona has demolished two inferior opponents this season, but were unable to stop Ed Oliver and a powerful Houston defensive line, who slowed down the ‘Cats running attack and ultimately defeated Arizona 19-16. Utah has a history of fielding dominant defensive lines, and this year is no different- Utah has allowed just 1.66 yards per rush so far this season, the best rate in the country.
Arizona’s punt returner Shun Brown is an x-factor in every game, and a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Utah’s Mitch Wishnowsky is coming off of a Ray Guy winning season and is off to a hot start as one of the best punters in the nation. This matchup between two special teamers at the absolute top of their respective games is definitely one to watch.
Tyler Huntley and Utah’s new look offense will look to prove themselves against a legitimate defense, but the story of this game will be Arizona’s running attack, designed by spread run guru Rich Rodriguez, up against the dynamite front 7 of the Utes. While Utah has struggled with the Wildcats in the past, defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley had it figured out last year- and is working with perhaps the most talented defensive line since Utah joined the PAC 12.
Prediction: Utah 34, Arizona 30
Saturday Afternoon Games:
USC (-17) at Cal
1:30 pm Mountain, 12:30 Pacific.
G.A.W.P.: USC 84.3% to win.
This game raises the hairs on the back of our neck for some reason. The win over Texas was tougher than expected, and USC is on the road and sure to be overlooking a team they outmatch at most every position, perhaps eyeing the tougher PAC 12 North test in Washington State.
Cal is 3-0, although there’s been a lot of ugly football against indifferent opponents to get there. Winning ugly is a crucial part of being a good team, however- being consistently good enough to overcome a rough offensive showing or some turnovers hones the same ability that Cal’s coaches hope to turn into good enough to blow out opponents when you clean up the mistakes. USC presents a new level of test, however- it’s going to take perfect football to beat them.
After an earth-shattering win over a Stanford team everyone expected to be excellent, USC was flying high and the class of the conference. Seven days later, Stanford had been defeated by San Diego State and USC was taken to the wire by a deeply troubled Texas team, although they did ultimately come away with the win. The shine is off the Trojans a little bit, and they’ll look to polish up against the Bears.
A lurking problem for the Trojans is Sam Darnold’s sophomore slump. He’s thrown two interceptions in each of the Trojan’s three games this season, and while USC fans are trying not to be too worried, what looked like a blip a week or two ago is starting to look like a trend. That’s not going to be enough to derail USC’s undefeated march through their schedule, but it may keep this game closer than Vegas thinks it will be.
Prediction: USC 45, Cal 33
Nevada at WSU (-28)
4:00 pm Mountain, 3:00 Pacific.
G.A.W.P.: WSU 99.2% to win.
They can’t all be great games, right? Nevada is not usually a featherweight, but this season the Wolf Pack is 0-3 and looks like one of the worst teams in the FBS, having dropped a game to FCS Idaho State last week.
WSU manhandled the Beavers on offense last week, looking like a Maserati doing donuts around a Yugo as they did so. The defense wasn’t perfect, but it was more than enough for a win. The near-disaster against Boise State is fading into the rearview, and the expected total destruction of the Wolf Pack should make it even more of a distant memory.
Prediction: Washington State 45, Nevada 14
Oregon (-14.5) at Arizona State
8:00 pm Mountain, 7:00 Pacific.
G.A.W.P.: Oregon 75.4% to win
If ever there was a game with #PAC12AfterDark potential, it’s this one. We’ve got two high flying offenses and at least one incompetent defense, and Oregon’s D has been hot and cold so far this season, although they’ve been flashing a lot of potential. There should be a lot of points and crazy plays in this one.
Oregon’s defense has come in fits and starts, but when it’s worked, it’s worked very well. There was a time when folks thought Wyoming was going to be a good offensive team. A lot of the shine has worn off that prediction, but it’s still impressive to hold a well-coached and talented FBS team to only 13 points. The Ducks won’t be able to keep ASU down that low, but a sub-30 point showing for the Sun Devils would suggest Oregon’s defense is for real.
Royce Freeman is finally playing at his nearly limitless potential, and already has 9 touchdowns and 460 yards on the young season. Making that number even more impressive is his backup, Benoit, has 6 scores of his own. Freeman is putting together a Heisman caliber campaign- or he would be if any of the Heisman voters stayed up late enough to watch these games.
ASU has put up a bunch of points of their own, but has not been able to close the deal against better competition, falling in two of their first three to San Diego State (a loss made less embarrassing by Stanford falling to the Aztecs) and to Texas Tech. The Sun Devils will look to find another gear for their offense, as it’s likely it will be needed to keep up with the explosive Oregon Ducks.
For all that Arizona State has looked good on offense, they’ve undermined themselves with a defense that just can’t get it done. For whatever reason, Todd Graham’s wild, aggressive defense is no longer working the way it used to, and fundamentally sound teams can score on the ‘Devils more or less at will. Oregon won’t stop them every time, but they will stop them enough to win the game comfortably.
Prediction: Oregon 55, ASU 33
UCLA at Stanford (-7)
8:30 pm Mountain, 7:30 Pacific.
G.A.W.P.: Stanford 79.4% to win.
Stanford and UCLA take each other on in the #DisappointmentBowl. These two teams were hoping to hit this game with three wins a piece, not three wins between them. Stanford has dropped two in ugly fashion, first getting blown out of the stadium by USC and then soundly beaten by San Diego State. UCLA spent the first two weeks riding buzz from a big comeback over Texas A&M and a dominant performance against Hawaii, but their defensive challenges were exposed against a Memphis team that was ready to take advantage.
Stanford just got worked in every phase by USC, but their loss to San Diego presents a more nuanced storyline. The Cardinal, in what is becoming a refrain for them since Kevin Hogan graduated, were unable to find a passing game against the Aztecs, and the one-dimensional offense couldn’t score when they absolutely needed to. The running offense has been a strength, however, and that strength runs right into the inability of the Bruins to muster any defense to the run game.
Memphis gashed the Bruins, earning victory with a seemingly endless parade of long run plays and screen passes. Hawaii ran right through them as well, racking up big yards on a number of rushing plays even as they were blown out. Texas A&M spent the first half embarrassing the Bruins rush defense, only to inexplicably abandon the running game en route to giving away a huge halftime lead. Stanford has a better offensive line and a better running back than any of those teams; it’s hard to see how UCLA will stop them.
Prediction: Stanford 38, UCLA 30