The action begins early this week with Cal playing at Oregon on Thursday night — the first of what begins some Thursday night ESPN games for the conference the rest of the season.
It’s also a week in which we could start to see some real definition in the Division races, especially in the South where Arizona State travels to suddenly reeling Utah. With no team having played more than three games, every South Division member except ASU already has one loss. By contrast, only Cal and Oregon State of North teams have a loss, illustrating early on that the strength in the Pac-12 appears to be in the North.
An ASU win would mark it as a strong favorite to win the South and clinch a berth in the Pac-12’s initial conference title game. However, a Utah upset and things would suddenly get interesting as this week marks the beginning of a tricky part of the schedule for the Devils, who will play four of their next five on the road, including next week at Oregon.
Stanford and Oregon, meanwhile, are heavily favored to remain undefeated in the North, and if WSU can pull off the mild upset in Pasadena, there could still be four undefeated teams in that division by the end of the weekend, with Washington having a bye.
On with the picks:
CAL AT OREGON (Ducks by 24): This is the biggest spread against the Bears in the Jeff Tedford era, but Cal won’t catch Oregon sleeping after the close call (15-13) the Ducks had in Berkeley last year. Cal hasn’t played since losing at UW, a game that further revealed some weaknesses in the team’s secondary. Cal has made some personnel adjustments in the back end since then. The bigger question will be if Cal’s defense can slow down Oregon’s running game in any way — the Bears are allowing 78 yards per game while Oregon is rushing for 299.5. And Cal QB Zach Maynard, after a shaky outing at UW, now has to face an Oregon secondary allowing the lowest completion percentage in the conference (56.4). Rested Ducks should again roll. OREGON 49, CAL 17.
ARIZONA AT OREGON STATE (Wildcats by 1): Interesting line in this one, favoring a team on the road that has lost nine straight games against FBS foes. But then Oregon State hardly inspires confidence, having scored just seven touchdowns in four games this season — every other Pac-12 team has scored at least 14. That makes this an intriguing matchup of the worst offense against the worst defense (Arizona is allowing 37.6 points per game). Arizona, though, at least has one thing it can rely on — the passing of Nick Foles — and if it can slow down the Beavers at all (which statistically shouldn’t be that hard to do) the Wildcats would seem likely to get their first win. ARIZONA 34, OREGON STATE 24.
ARIZONA STATE AT UTAH (Devils by 4): Devils catching a big break here in getting Utah as it has to go with backup QB Jon Hays. Figure Utah to try and lean even more on the run. ASU, meanwhile, should be able to get some big plays in the passing game against a Utah secondary that got exposed a little bit last week by the Huskies. If ASU starts slow — as it did last week against Oregon State — an upset is possible. But hard to see Utah with its backup QB scoring enough to keep up with ASU. ASU 27, UTAH 14.
COLORDO AT STANFORD (Cardinal by 29): Cardinal rightly a big favorite in this one against a Colorado team already off to a tough start and now gets games at Stanford, at UW, home to Oregon and at ASU in its next four. Sounds like there’s been a lot of soul-searching in Boulder this week, and that may lead to an inspired effort. But Stanford is simply too good. STANFORD 42, COLORADO 17.
WASHINGTON STATE AT UCLA (Bruins by 3.5): Maybe the most intriguing game of the weekend, and one that is especially critical for the Bruins and embattled coach Rick Neuheisel — hard to imagine saving the season (and subsequently his job) without winning this one. This game will be a real test of whether WSU is really getting better up front on defense — early returns are encouraging but the one thing UCLA can do is run the ball, averaging 199.4 yards per game out of its Pistol. WSU, meanwhile, should be able to throw the ball all over the place on a UCLA defense ranked 10th in pass defense efficiency. This is truly one that will come down to turnovers and who can make the least amount of mistakes. Neuheisel, though, has always been at his best with his proverbial back against the metaphorical wall. UCLA 35, WSU 32.
Last week: Straight up, 4-1; against the spread, 2-3
Season to date: Straight up, 36-6; against the spread, 20-22.