Checking in with the weekend’s Pac-12 picks a little later than usual, I’ve noticed a trend developing: Among the guys I pay attention to, there’s little difference of opinion on the five games involving conference teams. And I’m not bucking that wave in a big way (which may be bad news for the consensus, given my slow start to 2011).
Cal (pick ’em) at Washington – The Bears ought to have plenty of reason for motivation, having been denied a bowl game last year by the Huskies, who essentially took their place in the post-season. But then, they should have had the psychological edge a year ago, for the way the Huskies manhandled them in the season finale of 2009. I’m siding with the home team, and a feeling that Washington will finally play a little better defensively. Pick: Washington, 27-21.
UCLA (plus 5) at Oregon State – If I were a gambler – rather than making a fortune in sportswriting – I’d turn and run away from this game with track spikes on. On one side, you’ve got a winless Oregon State team missing two defensive linemen, Dominic Glover (academics) and Castro Masaniai (suspension); freshman running back Malcolm Agnew (hamstring); and starting a redshirt freshman quarterback, Sean Mannion, for the first time. True, OSU gets back James Rodgers and Joe Halahuni. But check out these two stats on the Bruins: Under Rick Neuheisel, they’re 2-11 on the road in the league, and the two wins came over Washington’s winless team in 2008 and WSU’s feckless 2009 club that went 1-11. They were outscored by 28 points a game on the Pac-10 road last year. And their quarterbacks under Neuheisel have thrown for 31 touchdowns and 50 interceptions. I’m thinking we see freshman Brett Hundley soon. A vote here, a shaky one, for the team more apt to care. Pick: OSU, 24-21.
Oregon (minus 16) at Arizona – This is the biggest spread tagging Arizona as a home underdog since early in the 2006 season when the Wildcats hosted USC as a 21-point ‘dog. There’s a history of the Wildcats playing the Ducks tough in Tucson (including a two-overtime, 44-41 screamer in 2009), but the hard numbers make it tough to side with the ‘Cats, who have simply been outclassed the last two weeks against Oklahoma State and Stanford. The Ducks may be just finding their groove. Pick: Oregon, 43-20.
USC (plus 2.5) at Arizona State – ASU continues to take injury hits, as pass-rushing defensive end Junior Onyeali went down with a knee injury last week at Illinois. The Trojans’ Matt Barkley has bad memories of his last trip to Sun Devil Stadium, when he went 7 for 22 in a tight USC win two years ago. The guess here is that ASU is about ready to end a perplexing 11-game losing streak to the Trojans. Pick: ASU, 27-23.
Colorado (plus 16.5) at Ohio State – The Buffs have been starting slowly, a trend that won’t play well in the Horseshoe. Ohio State’s turbulent year spiraled downward last weekend at Miami (of Florida), where it gave up 240 yards rushing and passed for only 35 yards. I’m figuring the Buckeyes get some of that straightened out this week. Pick: Ohio State, 38-17.
Last week – 8-2 (4-4 vs. spread). Season – 26-6 (10-14).