1. Oregon (↔):
Oregon was out of action last week on a bye. The Ducks get a favorable matchup for Justin Herbert to continue his Heisman campaign against a far inferior foe. At the time of writing, they are nearly four touchdown home favorites. While the Ducks remain undefeated, their opponents are far from it. The Ducks should remain unbeaten, barring a spectacular failure in front of their home fans.
The Ducks will face the Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats are on a four-game winless streak. They are conceding far more than they are scoring — and that is never a set up for success against a dominant team at home. The Ducks are 126th of out 130 in defense in the FBS, Oregon should roll.
2. Utah (↔):
Utah was on a bye last week. The Utes will be hoping that the time off was enough for Huntley to get over a nagging leg injury. He’s been playing well enough, having had it, and he’s somehow one of the least talked about quarterbacks in the country. Despite receiving no media coverage whatsoever, he’s completing a ridiculous percentage of his passes and owns a colossal quarterback rating. The Utes are currently three-touchdown favorites but will be unlikely to take this game for granted — the Utes have had unexpected late-season losses (often at home). With a berth in the PAC 12 Championship game on the line, the Utes need to bring their “A-game” for the remainder of the season, any slip-ups let USC back into the chase (remember: USC holds the tiebreaker over Utah if their records are the same).
The Utes will face the UCLA Bruins. Chip Kelly and the Bruins will have had their bye week to prepare for the Utes. The Bruins have a decent running game to offset Dorian Thompson-Robinson, but I still think it could be a long game for Bruins fans. The Utes have the best run defenses in the nation. While Thompson-Robinson has helped the Bruins substantially with his big playmaking ability, he’s also a turn over liability. The Utes boast great cornerbacks that will make the Bruins pay if he continues to give away so many interceptions.
3. USC (↑2):
USC defeated Arizona State after exploding for 28 points in the first quarter. After that, they only managed a field goal in the remaining three. The Trojans maintain their chase on the Utes, waiting to pounce if they come up short. Despite my putting the Trojans at #3 instead of #5 where I had them last week, I still think they are a streaky mess. Coach Helton needs to help them develop an identity going forward that will allow them to put pressure on their opponents. Their explosion in the first was enough to overcome the Sun Devils, but there are several other opponents that might have given the Trojans a run for their money. It will be interesting to see if this USC performance is enough to stave off the boosters that wanted Helton out because of a lack of performance.
The Trojans will face a California Bears team coming off an upset victory over the Washington State Cougars. It always concerns me when teams that have a veritable chasm separating them are only one touchdown underdogs. The Trojans come into this game 5-2 compared to the 2-4 bears. USC had a major win in handing the PAC 12’s best defensive team a loss in a shootout. Cal has a decent defense, but I’m surprised this game is being billed so close. I also don’t think Helton’s job is all that secure; if they come up short against a 2-4 Conference foe, I believe the Helton our boosters will be right back at it.
4. Washington (↓1):
Washington is fresh off a win over the Oregon State Beavers. Washington survived this week despite Jacob Eason not scoring a single touchdown but providing two interceptions for the Beavers’ defense. Salvon Ahmed came up huge for the Dawgs with two touchdowns and approached a 200-yard game. Eason’s propensity for handing out turnovers still worries me, but I continue to think that these Dawgs are one of the more consistent teams in the PAC 12. It also helps that they have a stout defense that helps limit the amount of scoring they need to overcome. Being able to lean on Salvon Achmed in a post-Gaskin world definitely helps them too!
The Huskies are on a bye this week.
5. UCLA (↓1):
UCLA is coming off of a bye last week. Their two offensive powerhouses lead them in Joshua Kelley, who is approaching a 1,000-yard season with ten touchdowns and sophomore Dorian Thompson-Robinson. I think that Thompson-Robinson is a good, mobile quarterback that will fit well in a Chip Kelley system. The problem, right now, is the sheer amount of turnovers (13) he’s responsible for, including eight interceptions and a couple of fumbles as well. While I think Chip Kelley will continue to work on ball security, culminating in a dangerous dual-threat guy, I am not levying expectations that it will happen this year.
The Bruins will face Utah. The Utes have been brutal all season, averaging less than 12 points allowed per game (and 58 of the 103 total points allowed came between Washington and USC). At home, they’ve been even better, averaging less than a touchdown allowed per game (6.6 points/game). The Utes haven’t conceded an actual touchdown at home since the first quarter of the September 28th game against Washington State. That’s about 165 minutes of shutout football, and even though there have been a few field goals, this Utes team will take those any day. I think Chip Kelley will bring in some “wrinkles” to this visit to Rice Eccles Stadium, but ultimately I think it’s going to be a long game for Bruins.
6. Stanford (↑2):
Stanford is coming off a loss to Colorado. This is probably one of the rare cases that a team has lost, and I’ve still moved them up in the rankings. The ceiling for Stanford looks to be so much higher than some of the others (including Colorado). This game actually resembled a David Shaw game, low scoring, and defensive, but they ultimately lost on a last-second 37-yard field goal attempt. The Cardinal also have two games coming up that are definitely winnable against Cal and Washington State. They do, however, wrap up the season by playing Notre Dame. Surprisingly (at least to me), Washington State is favored by 10 points in this one — I think this could be a #PAC12AfterDark sort of game (yes, I know the game is at 1:30 PST).
The Cardinal will face off against the Washington State Cougars next week. Washington State and Mike Leach’s Air Raid style can always be a handful, and Gordon has done a great job with it. The only concern I have is that he has a slightly elevated touchdown to interception ratio, though, at nearly 3:1, it’s nothing to hold against him. I think that a lot of this game will come down to the Cougs offensive line if Gordon has time to pick apart the defense — I think this game goes the way of the Cougars. However, having said that –, I think David Shaw will bring some creative ideas to cause havoc in the backfield to try to avoid precisely that.
7. Oregon State (↔):
The Beavers lost to Washington. I’m at a loss for words honestly; this is the worst offensive output by the Beavers since the Utah beat down. They were out-gained nearly 4-1 on yardage, and honestly, I think the Beavers are really lucky to get away with only a 12-point spread. They just barely managed to surpass 100 yards of offense, granted this Huskies team has a stout defense, but this is not good enough. Jacob Eason even gifted the team with a few interceptions, one of which ended as the lone scoring of the game for the Beavers. Overall, this was a terrible showing for the Beavers, and if they want any hope of beating out the Sun Devils, they have a lot of work to do.
The Beavers will face the Arizona State Sun Devils, who currently hold a three-game losing streak. The Sun Devils were down 28-7 against USC before holding USC to a single field goal the remainder of the game. Besides, they demonstrated great perseverance after going into that big of a hole and nearly working their way back out. Arizona State has no been particularly consistent defensively, but the talent is there if they can play from the beginning. The Sun Devils are currently favored, and based on the offensive output from this last week, I have no reason to doubt the outcome in this one.
8. California (↑4):
California is coming off a big win over the Washington State Cougars. This was a markedly better performance from the Bears as they actually generated some offense to go with their defense. Sure, they were on the receiving end of yet another PAC 12 Officiating error, but you can’t hold that against them. After the Utes shut out Steven Brausch, Cal got a healthy Modster back, and he was a monster. He went 16 for 24, with 240 yards and three touchdowns. As if that wasn’t enough, he also ran for a touchdown.
The Bears will play the USC Trojans. USC has been flying with Kedon Slovis at the helm, but they can’t afford a slip-up. Despite Cal’s dramatic offensive improvement, the USC defense is better at almost every position. USC is also much more consistent, although if Helton cant keep the Trojans focused, this could be a game to watch for an upset. I feel like we’ve seen this narrative before, a team with a poor record that’s always under fire getting up for a massive game against an in-state rival. The Bears would love a chance to derail USC’s title hopes, and this may be it. The odds suggest there might some doubts about the Trojan’s focus in making them only a touchdown favorite.
9. Washington State (↓3):
Washington State is coming off a loss to California. My concerns for Washington State have been and will continue to be defensive. Anthony Gordon has thrown for 34 touchdowns already this year. Yes, Mike Leach always plays the game to outscore opponents, but Gordon could also conceivably throw for 50 touchdowns this year (it’s probably unlikely unless the Cougs beat Stanford and Oregon State thus becoming bowl eligible). Washington State is fifth in the PAC 12 Conference for points scored (meaning that despite a 1-5 conference record, they outscore seven teams. So now that I’ve typed their offense, their defense has allowed 17 more points than the prolific offense has scored. That is not a sustainable place to be in.
The Cougars play Stanford next week. Stanford got K.J. Costello back, but this team still hasn’t played together all that much. Last week was a bit of a reality check as the Colorado Buffaloes roughed them up. It’s also worth noticing that the Colorado offense has scored 70 points less than Washington State, and Stanford had trouble keeping pace. I think this comes down to Shaw’s defense; if Gordon is given time in the pocket, I’m not sure how this stays close. However, David Shaw has made his money on the defense, so I think he’ll apply lots of pressure and some creative scheming to make sure Gordon always hears/feels footsteps.
10. Arizona (↔):
Arizona is coming off of a bye last week. In the previous game they played, although Khalil Tate started the game, Grant Gunnell played the lion’s share. I’ve been calling for Kevin Sumlin to give Gunnell the start because of how much better he has been offensively, but it’s yet to happen. Tate has so far thrown for 12 touchdowns along with eight interceptions; Gunnell has nine touchdowns and a single interception. I’m sure Tate being a senior plays into his selection as the starter at least some, but he’s been a liability for the offense. The Wildcats are scoring a reasonable amount on offense, but their defense is atrocious. It is quite literally among the worst in the nation.
Arizona faces the Ducks next week. The Ducks and Justin Herbert will welcome the Wildcats to Autzen Stadium. Sorry Wildcat fans, but I can’t find a scenario where this game doesn’t get out of hand very quickly. The 126th ranked defense (of 130) in the FBS should only be a minor roadblock for the Heisman-hopeful and the Mario Cristobal’s team.
11. Colorado (↔):
Colorado beat Stanford last week in what was a nice spark. However, this is still going to end up being an ugly season for the Buffaloes, they have a bye while the rest of the conference catches up with games played and then they face Utah and Washington to close the season. The blip of success does not give me hope for the Buffalo being able to secure bowl eligibility as they’d need to win out, and I just don’t see that happening. Some of the other teams in the cellar have already dealt with their gauntlet of challenging games, but Colorado is just getting started.
They are on a bye next week.
12. Arizona State (↓3):
The Sun Devils are coming off of a loss to USC. Arizona State has lost three games in a row, but they are in an excellent position to end the season bowl eligible. They’ll need a win over Oregon State, their archrival Arizona, or the least likely Oregon. Jayden Daniels has been phenomenal this year, but he doesn’t really have any support. Eno Benjamin was a wrecking ball last year but has dropped off considerably this year. He’s on track to only accumulate about 66% of his touches and nearly 50% of his yardage from last season. His lack of touchdown production is what really hurts, last season he scored 16 rushing touchdowns to go with a pair of receiving touchdowns. This year, he’s only recorded two rushing touchdowns along with a pair of receiving touchdowns. His decreased production makes them a little easier to predict and has caused them to be less productive overall.
They will face the Oregon State Beavers next week. Both teams tend to be very heavily pass-first, and both teams have at least reasonable rush defense. Arizona State’s rushing defense allows almost half (100 yards) less per game when compared to the Beavers. I think this is going to be a shootout, and neither offense is great at pass defense. I could see Eno Benjamin making a couple of big runs, but the Sun Devils are only three-point favorites. If you like offense, this should be a good one.