After an unprecedented Saturday of three unranked Pac-12 teams beating ranked opponents, the league has the challenge of trying to make it stick this weekend, and in the three marquee non-league games – Cal at Ohio State, Arizona State at Missouri and BYU at Utah – the Pac-12 teams are underdogs. So continued respect will have to be hard-won.
Washington State at UNLV (plus 8.5) – I’m conflicted by two forces here: I believe UNLV will be primed to avenge a 59-7 loss in 2011 against the Cougars, and I’m certain the Rebels will play better than in their loss to Northern Arizona. On the other side, I think the Cougars are better on offense than they’ve shown, and Connor Halliday, getting what appears to be a relatively soft landing as the likely starter for Jeff Tuel, might just be the guy to ignite them. WSU 34, UNLV 21.
Cal (plus 16.5) at Ohio State – It’s early for crossroads games, but this feels like one for the 1-1 Bears, who haven’t really played well through most of their first two games. They don’t have to win here, but competing and hanging in would be a good sign. Athletically, they can match up with the Buckeyes. I think a lot depends on the play of Zach Maynard. Ohio State 28, Cal 16.
Arizona State at Missouri (minus 6.5) – Todd Graham is nothing if not quotable. He said this week that ASU “dominated” Illinois. And, good for him, he was right: It was 45-14. The Tigers are banged up on the offensive line, but quarterback James Franklin came of age in 2011 in a 37-30 overtime loss to ASU, and he’s a year older now. Missouri 30, ASU 20.
Portland State at Washington (no line) – The Huskies ought to be able to revive their heretofore feeble run game against an old friend in Nigel Burton. But in the end, I’m not sure what that will prove. Washington 44, Portland State 16.
Tennessee Tech at Oregon (no line) – No back-door cover this week for the gambling populace betting Oregon, because there’s no line. And Tech will probably tell us why. Oregon 72, Tennessee Tech 6.
USC at Stanford (plus 9) – Not to put the whole enchilada on one guy’s shoulders, but I can’t recall a game that seemed so dependent on the play of one figure: Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes. Play well, don’t turn the ball over, and Stanford might be right there. Throw a couple of picks, miss protection changes, miss receivers, and it could be a long night for the Cardinal. USC 31, Stanford 20.
Houston at UCLA (minus 17) – The Bruins offense has fired like a five-alarm warehouse inferno, gaining 1,299 yards in two games, including 431 on the ground by Johnathan Franklin. Coming after a breakthrough win over Nebraska and before a suddenly-interesting league opener against Oregon State, this would be the obvious spot to fall flat, so we’ll learn more about Jim Mora’s motivational powers. UCLA 41, Houston 17.
South Carolina State at Arizona (no line) – I wish I could provide some pungent nugget on State, but I have nothing. So be it. Arizona 49, SC State 7.
Colorado (plus 15) at Fresno State – The loss to Sacramento State last week encouraged speculation that the Buffs might not win a game this year. At the very least, they ought to be able to keep it competitive against FSU, which is under first-year coach Tim DeRuyter. Fresno State 28, Colorado 23.
Brigham Young at Utah (plus 4) – This is an exceedingly bitter series, fueled by the dual split from the Mountain West Conference in 2010. They play again in 2013, but don’t in 2014-15, so it’s destined to be a broken rivalry, as well as a hostile one. Utah is an underdog, but a win would be propitious, because the near-term schedule suddenly has teeth. After this, the Utes go to Arizona State, host USC, then visit UCLA and Oregon State. BYU 26, Utah 17.
Last week – 7-5 (6-3 vs. spread). Season – 17-6 (11-7 vs. spread).