It’s the third straight week ESPN has a Thursday-night offering from the Pac-12, and the Worldwide Leader has to be hoping for better than it got in the Oregon-Cal and USC-Cal matchups.
UCLA (plus 4) at Arizona – Conventional wisdom is that Arizona comes ready to play, energized by a new coaching staff led by Tim Kish. The dynamic on the other side is interesting: UCLA (3-3) would be 3-1 in league games with a victory, and yes, in the Pac-12 South race. Or, with a loss, Rick Neuheisel is squarely in the crosshairs – he’d be losing to a team that just fired a coach in mid-season. I can’t ignore the fact Arizona (1-5) is 116th in total defense nationally, and 100th in run defense (196 yards a game). Pick: UCLA: 27-26.
Washington (plus 20.5) at Stanford – I watched the first half of the Pitt-Utah game last week, and what I saw helps build a case for Washington; Utah absolutely stuffed the Panthers’ offense, which (although Pitt doesn’t throw very well) leads me to be more impressed with what the Huskies (5-1) did Oct. 1 in Salt Lake City. So Washington should put up some points in Palo Alto. I just don’t see the Huskies having much success stopping Stanford. The Cardinal (6-0) has a crunching running game, and oh yeah, Andrew Luck at quarterback. Pick: Stanford, 45-27.
Oregon State (plus 3)-Washington State at CenturyLink Field – Look at what’s happened in the short span since fall camp: Oregon State (1-5), presumed to go with Ryan Katz at quarterback, turned to Sean Mannion in a clumsy transition, and he’s throwing it all over the place. WSU’s (3-3) Jeff Tuel went down after a couple of snaps against Idaho State, and only now is getting back into the flow. How smoothly he operates Saturday night might be the most critical factor here. Pick: Washington State, 31-29.
Oregon (minus 30.5) at Colorado – The Ducks’ offensive stars are beat up. LaMichael James is likely still out with a dislocated elbow and Darron Thomas has a banged-up knee. Thomas says he can play, but indications are he hasn’t practiced much if at all, so Oregon (5-1) likely leans on Bryan Bennett, who acquitted himself fine against Arizona State. Colorado (1-6) is a mess physically and probably mentally as well. Still, it’s at home, and I don’t see an astronomical score here. Pick: Oregon, 41-20.
USC (plus 9) at Notre Dame – Seemingly a high spread here, which probably indicates a sense that the Irish may be more ready for this one than the visitors; USC has won four straight in South Bend and eight of the last nine overall, having dropped one a year ago (literally, on a muffed touchdown pass in the late going) in LA. Tailback Marc Tyler (shoulder) says he’s feeling fine. I have a hunch the Irish are primed to put a hurtin’ on the Trojans. Pick: Notre Dame, 34-17.
Utah (plus 3)-California at AT&T Park – Getting to be late October, and both teams are winless in the Pac-12, and both playing quarterbacks trying to get traction – Utah’s Jon Hays and Cal’s Zach Maynard. Cal linebackers Mychal Kendricks (shoulder) and Chris McCain (leg) may be out, or slowed, which augurs well for the Utes’ hard-running John White. His 36 carries at Pitt tied for third-most in Utah history. Pick: Utah, 24-23.
Last week — 5-1 (4-2 vs. spread). Season — 43-10 (24-21 vs. spread).