Finally, a week when outside of one game, there seems some real drama and intrigue up and down the conference.
Frankly, that’s been missing a little bit this year. I read a lot of prediction-type columns, and everyone has glittering records picking Pac-12 games this year because there have been few upsets and a pretty clear delineation of two really good teams (Stanford, Oregon), three that appear pretty good (ASU, UW, USC), four that are sort of okay but haven’t shown much ability yet to stick with any of the ones at the top (UCLA, WSU, Utah, Cal) and three bordering on pretty bad (Oregon State, Arizona and Colorado, which unquestionably is).
So far, the top five teams are a combined 16-2 in Pac-12 play, the two losses coming against each other (ASU at Oregon, USC at ASU) while the bottom six are a combined 2-17, the only wins coming against each other (WSU at Colorado, Oregon State against Arizona). In the middle is UCLA, with close wins against WSU and Oregon State and a substantial loss against Stanford, proving mostly just to be the best of the worst so far.
Maybe that will begin to change this week. But so far, it appears there’s a reason the favorites keep on winning — that they may simply be better.
Anyway, on with the picks (and as always, the UW prediction will come on Friday):
UCLA AT ARIZONA (Wildcats by 4): A big game for UCLA, and maybe bigger for Rick Neuheisel — win this one, and with Cal at home next week, a 4-1 league record going into a home game against ASU on Nov. 5 is more than reasonable, and a bowl game (that would definitely muddy the should-he-stay-or-should-he-go waters) also becomes much more likely. Indicative of UCLA’s uncertain status, however, is that it remains an underdog to a team that just fired its coach. I wrote last week but worth repeating that if there’s ever been a team that could thrive after firing its coach mid-season — which usually just begins a dreadful death march to the end of the schedule — it’s this Arizona team. More than enough talent here to win a few games, and the schedule also softens a lot now. I’m thinking the emotion, some luck due to come its way, and the fact that there may really not be that much separating these two teams, will lead to an Arizona victory. ARIZONA 31, UCLA 27.
OREGON STATE VS. WASHINGTON STATE AT CENTURYLINK FIELD (Cougars by 3): Here’s another big coach-on-the-hot-seat game as Paul Wulff needs a win here with Oregon on the horizon next week — falling to 3-5 would obviously make it pretty darn hard to get to six with ASU and UW on the slate after that. Fortunately for Wulff, he should have a much healthier and sharper Jeff Tuel, and Oregon State is reeling after a somewhat surprising loss (more in manner than that it actually happened) last week to BYU. OSU’s secondary gives up a lot of big plays, and that’s what WSU’s offense thrives on. WSU’s been surprisingly unable to get big plays out of its passing game the last two weeks, but should be able to this week. WSU 35, OSU 27.
OREGON AT COLORADO (Ducks by 30.5): Not much analysis needed of this one. Colorado lost another few players this week and is reeling and Oregon could probably bring its “C” game to Boulder and win this one fairly easily. OREGON 55, COLORADO 17.
UTAH AT CAL (Bears by 3): A really intriguing game here of two teams that are 3-3 overall and 0-3 in Pac-12 play. Obviously, something will give, and one team or the other will remain in decent shape for a bowl game. The stats (and the quarterbacks) indicate a defensive struggle — Utah is actually second in the Pac-12 in total defense and Cal is third. Cal should have the best player on the field, in receiver Keenan Allen, and the guess here is he’ll do just enough to lift the Bears to the win. CAL 21, UTAH 17.
USC AT NOTRE DAME (Irish by 9): Irish seem to be finding their stride, winning four in a row, while USC also coming off a nice win at Cal. The Trojans, though, have been so scatter-shot that it’s hard to have much confidence in their ability to go on the road and win against a decent team. I’ll call for USC to cover but the Irish to win. NOTRE DAME 28, USC 24.
Last week: Straight up, 3-2; against the spread, 2-3
Season to date: Straight up, 44-10; against the spread, 25-28.