As you may have seen, a website called Pregame.com came out late last week with early college football spreads. Not early spreads, as in opening-weekend spreads, but early as in all the season’s major games.
This is, of course, a fairly ludicrous idea, inasmuch as you can’t go to Nevada right now and bet, say, Stanford-Oregon State on Oct. 26. So it’s all in fun – the epitome of the disclaimer that you often see accompanying “picks” during the season, that they’re for entertainment purposes only.
It’s not out of the question that, especially once you get a month or so into the season, that a line could be even 10-14 points different from what you see on Pregame.com – mostly because of injuries or major under- or overachievement by one team.
But strictly for kicks, I thought it might be fun to pick out selected games during the Pac-12 season and assess, in brief, the Pregame.com line. There’s no particular rhyme or reason to the games I plucked out, other than a lot of them either involve Washington or Washington State, or they shape up as some of the big games in the Pac-12 race.
Washington State plus 11.5 at Auburn – So whose 3-9 is superior, WSU’s or Auburn’s? That’s what each finished in 2012. I expect the Cougars to be improved in ’13, but you’d figure a lower-rung Pac-12 team going to play in the SEC would be a big underdog, and I’d have to side with Auburn here. Having said that, there are reasons to smell an upset, among them that Auburn has a new coach (Gus Malzahn) and uncertainty at quarterback.
Boise State at Washington minus 2 – What sticks out to me here is the respect that Boise State gets; essentially, it’s a pick-‘em game in one where Washington is widely seen as on the brink of something big, and opening in its renovated stadium. But that’s a credit to the Broncos and their well-documented prowess in big games. I’d favor Washington.
WSU plus 21 at USC — I think WSU has a chance to have a solid defense, and if you picture the Cougars as more adept at slinging the ball in the second year of Mike Leach’s offense, this is a lot of points against a USC team that will be starting an unproven quarterback, whoever he is, and with some major questions in the secondary.
Oregon at Virginia plus 21 – Virginia went 4-8 last year. No matter what questions might surround Mark Helfrich’s capability as new coach and the specter of a possible bowl ban, I don’t want a 4-8 team trying to defend Marcus Mariota.
Wisconsin at Arizona State (pick ‘em) – On the biggest non-league weekend of the season for the Pac-12, this is one of the headliners. My initial gut feeling was Arizona State, but then I remembered Wisconsin gets back QB Joel Stave from a mid-season 2012 injury, and that much of ASU’s cachet in 2012 was built on beating inferior teams. So a lean to the Badgers.
Ohio State at Cal plus 21 – Here’s how things can change in a relatively short span of time: Last year Cal, as about a 16-point underdog as I recall, played Ohio State right to the nub in the Horseshoe, in the Brendan Bigelow breakout game (unfortunately, Cal never seemed to realize Bigelow had broken out). Cal even had a puncher’s chance to win the thing in the fourth quarter. Then the Bears proceeded to go 3-9 and got Jeff Tedford fired. Seems like a ton of points here, but with Braxton Miller at quarterback for Urban Meyer’s team, a new coach and quarterback on the scene at Cal, I’d lay ‘em.
UCLA at Nebraska minus 6 – This must be Taylor Martinez’ 11th season as Huskers quarterback, isn’t it? Nebraska will be spoiling for revenge after the Bruins got them in Pasadena last fall. I’d probably be inclined to take the six merely on the strength of Brett Hundley’s prowess and Nebraska’s defensive problems last year.
Arizona State at Stanford minus 10 – You could regard this as the gap between the Pac-12 North and South, since both teams are looked upon as virtual co-favorites to win their respective divisions. ASU has traditionally been a tough matchup for Stanford, but I’ll side with the Cardinal here.
USC at Arizona State (pick ‘em) – How are we supposed to look at USC, as the feckless outfit that couldn’t complete a pass in the Sun Bowl, or the fearsome squad of yesteryear? This is way oversimplifying, but on one side, you have Marqise Lee, who might win the Heisman Trophy, and on the other, you have major questionmarks at receiver. So, USC.
Arizona at Washington minus 5 – I’ve noticed the Wildcats getting major respect from Pregame.com here, and I’m not buying it. RichRod did a very nice job in year one, but now he doesn’t have Matt Scott anymore, and the defense still has questions to answer, although I’m figuring it will make strides. Thus, the Huskies are the logical play here.
Stanford-WSU plus 18.5 (at CenturyLink Field) – Second year in a row the Cardinal are playing a game in the Seahawks’ stadium, and they’ll be hoping it goes better than it did against the UW last fall. With this many points, I like the Cougars.
Washington at Stanford minus 10 – The Huskies’ recent trips to Palo Alto have tended not to go well, and I wouldn’t expect this to be much different, especially with the Cardinal on the alert because of what happened last September.
Arizona at USC minus 7 – Again, lots of respect from Pregame.com for Arizona, it seems to me. Look at it this way: Both teams are going to be breaking in new quarterbacks, so it’s a leap to think Arizona deserves this much credit, notwithstanding the Wildcats’ upset last year in Tucson. I like USC.
Oregon minus 14 at Washington – Around the Puget Sound area, grandfathers are bouncing kids on their knees and telling them of a day when Washington used to beat Oregon. I’m thinking maybe that will happen again, possibly even this season. If the two teams were opening the year against each other in Seattle, I can’t believe the line would be this high (then again, I’m reminded of the recent scores in this series). Washington gets the nod.
Oregon State minus 13.5 at WSU – If you believe last year’s game is credible evidence, you tend to like the Cougars here. The two teams played a grudging defensive struggle in Corvallis, OSU prevailing, 19-6. This one’s in Pullman.
UCLA at Stanford minus 10 – Call this a referendum on the final two games between the clubs last year, the end of the regular season and the Pac-12 title game. Stanford dominated the first game in Los Angeles, but the Bruins came back and took it to the wire in the rain at Stanford for the championship. For no particular reason, I’d think the points would be advisable here. UCLA.
Washington at ASU minus 5 – Here’s one in which the line could be quite different by game week, depending on whether the Huskies are really about ready to blossom and whether ASU is championship material. Without knowing either, the points look like the better play. Washington.
UCLA at Oregon minus 20 – The Bruins have the most challenging two-week gauntlet in the conference this year, having to play at Stanford and Oregon on back-to-back weeks. So a Saturday after a physical head-knocker on the Farm, they have to deal with De’Anthony Thomas. I’m saying Oregon.
Stanford at OSU plus 3 – Although the Beavers are an underdog, this seems like considerable respect for OSU. I’m going with Stanford, although the whole thing feels like a bit of a trap.
USC at Oregon State minus 2 – Wow, Friday night in Corvallis, the night after Halloween. No matter the setting, I wouldn’t discount Mike Riley’s team playing at home against USC. Beavers here.
Arizona at Cal plus 11 – Hard to discount the value in Cal at home against a team that I think might take a small step back this year. Bears.
Oregon at Stanford plus 4 – Tempting to say that Stanford won in Eugene last November, and now it’s getting points. But remember that on this field in 2011, Oregon won by three touchdowns, and Andrew Luck was Stanford’s quarterback. Still, I think I’d take Stanford.
UCLA at Arizona minus 4 – This line seems to forget the fact UCLA won 66-10 on the first weekend of November last year over the Wildcats. Either that, or Pregame.com is really wedded to the revenge factor. I’m saying Bruins.
Washington at UCLA minus 2 – Close your eyes and try to envision where each team might be 2 ½ months into the season. It’s Jim Mora’s first game against his alma mater, and the school where fans were widely clamoring for his hire back during the Tyrone Willingham regime. A slim nod here to Keith Price, Washington’s receivers and a UCLA secondary in doubt.
Stanford at USC minus 1 – Ah, for the days of “What’s your deal?” at midfield. Could be a make-or-break kind of game for Lane Kiffin’s regime at USC. I’ll take the tack that if Stanford could win last season with Josh Nunes at quarterback and Matt Barkley there for USC, the Cardinal gets it done with Kevin Hogan against Barkley’s replacement.
Cal at Stanford minus 22 – It’s hard to think of a Pac-12 team surrounded by more enigma than Cal. Is 3-9 (last year’s record) representative of the talent on hand? What impact will first-year coach Sonny Dykes have? Will Zach Kline be a revelation at quarterback or have a steep learning curve? I’d opt for Stanford.
Arizona State at UCLA minus 3 – These are the two teams widely projected to battle it out for the Pac-12 South title, and if the home-field advantage is worth three points – usually the oddsmaking standard – then the Sun Devils and Bruins are seen as dead even on a neutral field. I think UCLA projects better.
Washington at Oregon State minus 5 – A lot of UW fans get overheated thinking about Oregon and Stanford and (in years they’re playing) USC, while it’s programs like little old Oregon State that are, in their own way, just as challenging. Consider: OSU has won seven of the past nine meetings with Washington, and the two UW wins were in overtime and by three points. And OSU has won the last three in Corvallis by an average of 18 points. I was inclined to take the Huskies before looking all that up; make it the Beavers instead.
WSU at Washington minus 14 – You’d figure the Huskies would be primed for this, after what happened in Pullman last season. And there could be a lot riding on it for the UW. But in a series that has featured a lot of suspense, I couldn’t lay this many points. Cougars.
OSU at Oregon minus 16 – If you watched Oregon mutilate OSU last November in Corvallis, you wouldn’t be afraid to take the Ducks in Eugene this year. I’m not, either.
UCLA at USC minus 7 – Seems like far too much respect for a Trojans team — even one with payback on its mind — that doesn’t know who its quarterback will be, playing somebody pretty good that does.