Heading into the stretch run . . .
Notre Dame (plus 2.5) at Arizona State — You have to be impressed with what Arizona State has done this year, rebuilding a depleted defense and keeping the ship afloat in the absence of Taylor Kelly. But Notre Dame has a lot at stake here, just as do the Sun Devils; both teams are squarely in the hunt for the four-team playoff. As good as the ASU defense has been in recent weeks, it’s worth remembering that in shutting down Stanford, Washington and Utah, they’ve conquered three of the worst offenses in the league. The Irish will test them severely. Notre Dame 28, Arizona State 21.
Washington State (plus 8) at Oregon State — Two disappointing Pac-12 North teams collide here, Oregon State (4-4) direly needing the win if it’s to harbor realistic bowl hopes, the Cougars (2-7) prizing a victory simply to return to feeling better about things. We might see a record number of blitzes here — by Oregon State, because WSU is giving Luke Falk his first start, and by the Cougars, because Mike Leach seemed to call out defensive coordinator Mike Breske this week for that unit’s lack of identity. Falk looks like he has a bright future, but much of what he saw last week was soft zone by USC. This week figures to be more of a test. Oregon State 35, Washington State 24.
UCLA (minus 4.5) at Washington — Bruins sustained their Pac-12 South hopes with the win over Arizona last week, and Jim Mora’s first return to Husky Stadium lends a lot of intrigue. I see the Husky defense giving Brett Hundley and the Bruin offense all sorts of trouble. The question is how much Washington’s offense can muster against the Bruins, who were indeed impressive last week in stifling Arizona, shutting out the Wildcats for the final 57 minutes of the game. Under those circumstances, look for a low-scoring game, with the possibility that a big special-teams play might win it. Hard to say what Marcus Peters’ departure means, but it could rally the Huskies. Washington 23, UCLA 21.
Colorado (plus 16.5) at Arizona — Buffs have played most teams competitively but haven’t broken through in Pac-12 action. This one might hinge on Arizona’s state of mind. My hunch is, ‘Zona will be primed to get the taste of last week’s one-touchdown offensive effort out of its mouth and will roll. Arizona 45, Colorado 24.
Oregon (minus 8.5) at Utah — Quietly, this is a very big game for the Pac-12. If Oregon loses, it greatly diminishes the chance of anybody from the league making the playoff. All week, my inclination was that the Ducks’ offense was simply going to be too much for Utah and would roll. About-face: Now I’m of the mind that, with Oregon coming off an emotional win over Stanford and Utah primed, this will be competitive. Ducks to win it, but not easily. Oregon 30, Utah 24.
Last week — 4-2 (4-2 versus the spread). Season — 50-19 (27-33-1 versus the spread).