It’s a weekend of big-boy football in the Pac-12, one that will shape perception the rest of the season. There are seven games pitting Pac-12 teams against BCS-conference opponents, which makes for a Saturday (and a Friday night) of reckoning for the Left Coasters.
Utah at Utah State (plus 7.5) — Gary Andersen, the Utah State coach, is an expat of the Utah staff, having spent two stints there. If there’s a tendency to think of the Aggies as a small-time outfit, remember that they just sent two rookies to the Seahawks roster: Running back Robert Turbin and linebacker Bobby Wagner. The Aggies also have what most people think is the best QB in the state of Utah, Chuckie Keeton. I think this could be a very good Utah team, but I’m also wondering if it might be looking a week ahead to a game with BYU. Utah 31, Utah State 24.
USC-Syracuse (plus 26) at the Meadowlands — Syracuse, at home, allowed Northwestern 35 points in 2 1/2 quarters last week, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the Orange. Meanwhile, Marqise Lee has 608 receiving yards in his last three games for USC. That’s when he isn’t returning kicks for touchdowns. USC should win easily, but going three time zones east, and with Stanford ahead next week, might not do it in dominating fashion. USC 40, Syracuse 21.
Wisconsin at Oregon State (plus 8) — “We’re in the world’s longest training camp, I feel like,” OSU coach Mike Riley said this week. It’s not exactly an enviable position, losing out on getting in the opener against Nicholls State with the Badgers due in, but I see the Beavers hanging in. I’m guessing they cheat safeties up to stop Montee Ball, let Jordan Poyer and Rashaad Reynolds play one-on-one in the secondary and on the other side of the ball, get some things done offensively. Wisconsin 34, OSU 31.
Sacramento State at Colorado (no line) — Sac State went 4-7 last year, proving just how dreadful Oregon State was in losing that season opener. The Hornets were schooled by New Mexico State 49-19 last week, which means the Buffs have no excuse for not winning this one. Colorado 42, Sacramento State 13.
Nebraska at UCLA (plus 5) — There are concerns around the UCLA athletic department that the Bruins might not have much of a homefield advantage. There should be; this matches one of the most tepid fan bases against one of the most rabid. And the Huskers didn’t look bad in scoring 49 points last week on Southern Miss. Nebraska 30, UCLA 20.
Fresno State at Oregon (minus 34.5) — You’d really have to be foolish to wager on these non-league mismatch games involving the Ducks. You’re trying to figure out how their second- and third-string guys are going to hold up against the other team’s starters. Last week, Oregon led 50-3 midway through the second quarter and didn’t cover the spread. I think the Ducks do this week (but only if they’re not looking ahead to Tennessee Tech). Oregon 55, Fresno State 17.
Duke at Stanford (minus 15) — The Cardinal gets suspended linebacker Shayne Skov back this week, and he must be chomping at the bit, also coming off almost a year’s inactivity with a knee injury. Duke isn’t incapable offensively with Sean Renfree at quarterback. I’m guessing the inclination to look forward to the USC game next week will be overridden by the dissatisfaction with the way the Cardinal performed against San Jose State. Stanford 38, Duke 17.
Southern Utah at Cal (no line) — After losing to Nevada, the Bears this week find themselves in the position of the husband/wife who royally blows it with a spouse. Nothing they can say will make up for it — at least not until next week at Ohio State. Cal 45, Southern Utah 14.
Eastern Washington at WSU (no line) — These teams are about 70 miles apart, and they haven’t played each other in 104 years. Eastern no doubt will be smarting, looking for revenge for a pair of blowout victories WSU administered in 1907-08. The fact the Eagles beat Idaho, and WSU fell heavily at BYU, should have the Cougars ready. WSU 34, Eastern Washington 24.
Washington at LSU (minus 23.5) — If I’m a Washington fan, what I fear most — not just this week — is the possibility of a weak running game now thinned by Jesse Callier’s absence in combination with an offensive line that looked iffy last week against San Diego State, and what that could do to Keith Price and the passing game. I’m projecting Washington’s skill guys to get some things done, though not enough to produce a victory in the Bayou. LSU 38, Washington 22.
Illinois at Arizona State (minus 3) — Tough call here, since the status of Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase — a difference-maker — is up in the air because of his sprained ankle. In what figures to be a grind-it-out game, I’ll assume Scheelhaase is limited and Todd Graham wins the battle of first-year coaches over Tim Beckman. Arizona State 23, Illinois 16.
Oklahoma State at Arizona (plus 10.5) — There’s lots left to the imagination here, as in: Are Arizona’s 624 yards last week an indication that it’s better than an overtime win over Toledo would suggest? What do we attach to Oke State’s 84-0 — yes, 84-0 — victory over Savannah State, in which the starting freshman quarterback, Wes Lunt, played only four series? Oke State trounced Arizona twice in the latter Mike Stoops years; maybe this one will be closer. Oklahoma State 38, Arizona 28.
Last week — 10-1 (overall), 5-4 (against the spread).