A bit of a dud week for the PAC 12 is coming, with four of the five contests having lines over 10 points. The great thing about the PAC is the way it’s always surprising us. We’ll see which game is the shocker this time. The game of the week is a battle for the second string, as UCLA takes on Arizona Saturday night in the PAC 12 Game of the Week.
Friday Night Lights:
Washington State (-14.5) at Cal:
8:30 pm Mountain, 7:30 Pacific.
G.A.W.P.: WSU 81.1% to win.
Last week featured two teams going in opposite directions, and now they run right into each other. White-hot after a triumphant victory over USC, Washington State rolled into Autzen Stadium and ran the Ducks out of their own house, putting together an impressive 23 point victory in a game that was expected to be close.
They are doing this with a defense. The Mike Leach offense is what fans have come to expect, but the defense continues to deliver in tough environments and against good teams. The Ducks QB had 2 picks and 145 yards, and Royce Freeman was held to 62 on the ground. This production has separated the 2017 Cougars team from others in the past, and there is no mistaking that WSU has the College Football Playoff in its sights.
Cal, meanwhile, has not looked like that surprisingly good team that took USC to the wire in a while. Oregon manhandled the Bears, and Washington took no prisoners, racking up a 31 point win. Cal had found a way to win ugly, finding a way to hang in games they should have fallen out of. Whatever was the cause for that, it seems to have slipped away, and other teams are simply having their way with the Cal Bears. Whether it’s ineptitude on offense or a sieve of a defense, Cal is looking like a pretty bad team.
It’s not just the recent trajectory of these teams that sets them apart; Washington State is living up to expectations as a very good team, and is even beginning to exceed them. Cal, on the other hand, was suggesting they might be better than expected but instead have fallen on hard times as they hit the teeth of their conference schedule. The Bears won’t win this week.
Prediction: Washington State 35, Cal 17
Saturday Afternoon Games:
Colorado (-11) at Oregon State
2:00 pm Mountain, 1:00 Pacific.
G.A.W.P.: Colorado 77.3% to win.
A tough week is behind both of these teams, with Colorado taking a loss thanks largely to a record-setting quarterback rushing performance, and Oregon State getting blown out and subsequently losing their head coach in sudden and unique fashion. Who bounces back from these tough showings is anyone’s guess, but the Buffs have more talent on hand to accomplish it.
Colorado is 0-3 in conference play, and that’s bad. What isn’t bad, however, is their football team. They are a middle of the road team nationally, and have the players and coaches they need to be a threat to win most of the games that they will play in. They got worked by Washington, but lost their other two games by 3 and 4 points. There are plenty of opportunities for the Buffs to win games moving forward, but at 3-3 it’s bowl eligibility, and not conference laurels, that are their objective.
Oregon State is in total meltdown mode. Their beleaguered head coach, Gary Andersen, walked away from $12 million in guaranteed money, apparently deeply frustrated, upset, and hurting from his own performance and the work of and relationship with his assistants. Turning his back on that kind of money is surprising, and that surprise no doubt percolates down to the team and staff, who are scrambling to find an identity and direction. Of course, they were scrambling beforehand, too.
Oregon State has better athletes than they have demonstrated thus far, and it will be interesting to see if they come together in this trying moment, find new energy, and field a more competitive product. We’re not holding our breath.
Prediction: Colorado 31, Oregon State 17
Utah at USC (-12.5)
6:00 pm Mountain, 5:00 Pacific.
USC 22% to win.
Injuries loom large for both of these teams, as Utah is struggling to find an offensive rhythm with the arm of their backup quarterback, Troy Williams. USC’s quarterback is healthy, but he’s about the only position that the Trojans have at full strength. This makes this game a particularly uncertain one, as key players on both sides of the ball for both teams may or may not return and will likely play a huge part in determining the outcome.
The talk in Utah is about quarterback Tyler Huntley, and it’s easy to see why- he was an electric, dynamic player to open the season and the Utes have fallen flat since a shoulder injury derailed his season. However, it’s worth noting as well that Utah came into the Stanford game down both their left and right defensive ends- a crucial absence for their four man front in a game in which they did not sack the quarterback.
USC is particularly banged up in the front seven, and will be starting a host of freshman offensive lineman as well. Finally, while their running backs are expected to play, they are all fighting nagging injuries, a severe weakness in a team which expected running back depth to be a major strength. USC has played 75 players so far this season; they played 72 in the whole of last season. This is not the same team that blew out Stanford in the first part of the season.
This game is relatively low-certainty, but USC is still packed with talent at every level and has performed better than the Utes up to this date, despite similar records. The line feels a bit wide, but USC should win this game fairly comfortably.
Prediction: USC 27, Utah 21
Washington (-18) at ASU
8:45 pm Mountain, 7:45 Pacific.
UW 80.3% to win
The Huskies are still seeking a true test, but ASU won’t provide it. Washington has been puffing up it’s resume by blowing out good-not-great opponents. ASU has done some good things, but they definitely fall squarely into the ‘good-not-great’ camp. The ‘Devils had a glimmer of hope when they knocked off Oregon, but the immediate future looks grim for this struggling team.
Washington just hasn’t shown a weakness yet. With the best defense and the best offense in the PAC, the Huskies have a high probability of finishing the season undefeated, or at least 11-1 and squarely in the playoff race. We won’t know just how good they are, however, until they take on a real opponent. The Huskies have the 87th most difficult schedule so far, so there is still a lot to prove.
If the Sun Devils are going to start winning, they have to start stopping the run. The ‘Devils are 126th in the nation in yards per carry- no one wants their run defense measured after they go up against Bryce Love, but that’s not the only game where ASU has struggled. Washington is not a good game to try and put the wheels back on, with Myles Gaskin averaging over six yards per carry.
It’s hard to see this one being close. The Huskies should run all over the ‘Devils, and ASU’s offense will be stymied by what has been an extraordinary Washington defense up to this point. THe Huskies should win this one going away.
Prediction: Washington 42, ASU 20
Oregon at Stanford (-10.5)
9:00 pm Mountain, 8:00 Pacific.
Stanford 75.1% to win
Brew yourself a cup of coffee for this installment of one of the more interesting rivalries in the PAC 12. An intensely late start should not keep this from being an interesting game, but if last week was any indication, the absence of Oregon’s starting QB might have a chilling effect on the competition.
Braxton Burmeister is probably the starter, although with a performance like he had against Washington State (15/27, 145 yards with a TD and two picks) it’s entirely possible that third string QB Taylor Alie will take over the job as the week rolls on. Herbert was perhaps the best quarterback in the PAC 12 headed into his injury, so this kind of performance is a huge step down. What was disappointing about Oregon’s performance last week, however, was the lack of help- 33 points surrendered on defense and 2.9 yards per carry is not how you support a backup QB.
Stanford looked good against a quality opponent last week, going into Utah’s challenging environment and coming away with a W. The UTes mostly held Bryce Love in check, but he escaped their containment twice, and picked up over 100 yards and a touchdown on those two carries alone. The only way to stop Bryce Love is to be perfect, and that’s a tall order for Oregon’s defense, still finding their way.
Stanford’s early losses are starting to fade, and the Cardinal are meeting expectations at this point, winning tough defensive battles and running the ball exceptionally well. This game would be fascinating if Oregon had a full roster of healthy players, but in their current condition it’s hard to imagine how they will hang with the Cardinal.
Prediction: Stanford 38, Oregon 31