This week, the Washington schools begin to get a taste of the new Pac-12, as both venture east to check out what the new members, Utah and Colorado have to offer.
There’s been a lot of back-and-forth about whether the Pac-10 should have taken on the two newbies, whether it should go to 16, whether it’s perfect at a dozen. I can’t vouch for the tradeoff in financial impact (vis a vis what kind of TV contracts the league would have commanded at 10), but I think the expansion was, on balance, a good move. The two new schools are respected academically, the 12-team league provides a championship game which should be worth a lot of buzz, and I think the two new sites will be appealing for fans.
On with the order of the day:
Washington (plus 7.5) at Utah — The Utes are getting major respect from the linesmakers; it’s obvious this is a homefield advantage to be reckoned with. The test will be interesting for the Washington defense in that Utah — notwithstanding its 54-point outburst against BYU, aided by seven turnovers — isn’t one of the offensive juggernauts typically associated with the Pac-10. If the Utes march up and down the field, it’s going to tell us something about this UW defense. The Washington offense against the Utah defense will be the enticing matchup. I figure the Huskies should be able to keep it close. Pick: Utah, 30-24.
WSU (plus 3) at Colorado — The Buffs have been starting slowly, falling behind 43-3 cumulatively halfway through second quarters. The Cougars, somewhat fragile themselves, need to keep it that way. A victory here would be huge for their collective psyche. Pick: Colorado, 33-24.
Oregon State (plus 18) at Arizona State — It should follow that James Rodgers and Joe Halahuni, who returned last week from injuries for the Beavers, would be better the second week. And there’s this: OSU has three consecutive wins over the Sun Devils. But injuries continue to dog the Beavers, as this week, O’Dea product Grant Enger (“I love that guy,” OSU coach Mike Riley told reporters this week), himself a replacement at guard for injured Josh Andrews, came up with a shoulder problem, and freshman tailback Malcolm Agnew again tweaked his hamstring. The key variable here seems to be OSU redshirt freshman QB Sean Mannion having to deal with all that defensive speed. Pick: ASU, 38-10.
UCLA (plus 20.5) at Stanford — Finally, Rick Neuheisel settled upon a strategy at quarterback last week against Oregon State — he just didn’t use one. Well, he had Richard Brehaut throw a mere 11 passes, while running the ball on 49 snaps. It’s hard to see that working against the Cardinal, which — even as it copes without injured linebacker Shayne Skov — is ranked No. 1 in the country in run defense. The difference at quarterback in this game is the difference between ground chuck and beef wellington. Pick: Stanford, 41-17.
Arizona (plus 12.5) at USC — It would be a lot easier to pick this if you could dial in on each team’s mental state of mind. How are the Wildcats after three straight one-sided losses? What’s inside USC’s head after a daunting loss at Arizona State, and no bowl game on the horizon? The vote here is that while Arizona will give up rushing yardage, Nick Foles should also be able to find enough places to throw to keep it interesting. Pick: USC, 30-23.
Last week — 4-1 (5-0 vs. spread). Season — 30-7 (15-14).