Well, that was certainly a provocative end to the USC-Utah game Thursday night — not in a way that affected the outcome, which the Trojans had decided early in the fourth quarter, but it definitely had an impact on the gamblers, for the second straight year.
In case you missed it, Utah, a 14-point underdog, was trailing 38-21 in the waning moments, when it decided to punt on fourth-and-6 near midfield, essentially waving the white flag. But USC incurred a running-into-the-punter penalty, making it fourth-and-one, and the Utes elected to go for that, and they made it. Of course, they continued the drive and scored inside the final minute, covering the spread and no doubt leaving those wagering either in ecstasy or agony.
It was the second straight year of such polarity in the Utah-USC game, which had the weird ending a year ago in LA in which the game was ruled done with a 17-14 score, Trojans, but then an hour or so later, the score was changed to 23-14, as officials ruled a late USC interception for a score was allowed to stand despite a flag for celebrating players coming onto the field. That had all sort of implications for gambling players. If you want to revisit it, you can do so here.
But enough of the wagering implications, and on to the rest of the week’s picks:
Arizona at Stanford (minus 9) — Some believe the Cardinal is an unduly heavy favorite, given its difficulty with the passing game and Arizona’s proclivity for putting up points. I’m taking the opposite tack: I think Stanford’s running game will be a logical antidote to the 3-3-5 Arizona defense, Josh Nunes will rebound to complement it, and ‘Zona will feel some hangover from the difficult 38-35 defeat last week at home to OSU. Stanford 34, Arizona 13.
Washington State at Oregon State (minus 15.5) — Speaking of that OSU-Arizona game, I’m expecting the Beavers to have a bit of mental sag after a 3-0 start in which they’ve done just about everything right. Whether the Cougars have enough to make it close is the question. The series has produced two straight surprises, and a third one isn’t out of the question, but I’d figure the home field to pull the Beavers through in what should be a high-scoring game. OSU 41, Washington State 32.
UCLA at California (plus 2.5) — The prime indicators seem to favor UCLA. The Bruins have run the ball to the tune of 243 yards a game, and Cal is right now the worst in the league at stopping it, allowing an average 174. UCLA has 18 sacks, and Cal has surrendered 25. So a UCLA win is completely logical. But what is college football but illogical? Last week, I called for Cal to beat ASU because it was desperate. Now it’s really desperate. Cal 30, UCLA 28.
Washington at Oregon (minus 24.5) — Even as Oregon was putting up 51 points on Washington State last week, I didn’t come away with the feeling the Ducks were as dominant offensively as they have been (but they appear more so defensively). Maybe it’s the apparent lack of a big-play wide receiver (I consider De’Anthony Thomas a hybrid runner/receiver). The question is whether Washington’s defense, so improved in beating Stanford last week, can carry over the same success this week against a much faster, quicker team. Though I think Oregon has the edge on both sides of the ball, something tells me the Huskies will hang around awhile, and make it halfway interesting before Oregon eases in. Oregon 38, Washington 20.
Last week — 3-2 (4-1 versus the spread). Season — 30-13 (18-17 versus the spread).