Pac-12 picks: USC comfortably, Oregon big
Luckily, I became The Tribune's Pac-12 blogger in time to pick only last Saturday's games, and delivered stunningly accurate forecasts. I can't say I would have done the same regarding the Thursday contest, Washington's upset of Stanford. Here are this week's picks:
USC at Utah, 7 p.m. MDT, ESPN
The biggest question about this game is how much value we can place on the way Utah played at USC last season, trailing only 17-14 in the final seconds before a blocked field-goal attempt was returned for a touchdown. The Trojans were efficient that night, but not overwhelming. Utah moved the ball fairly well, with the help of some big plays. Can the Utes deliver that level of performance again, on both sides of the ball? USC improved considerably throughout last season, but has not been dominant this year, except against lowly Hawaii. This one could be reasonably close, going into the fourth quarter. USC 34, Utah 17.
Arizona at Stanford, 1 p.m. MDT, Fox
Every game Arizona plays in the Pac-12 will provide a good gauge of the opposing defense. Stanford shut down USC, but gave up some big plays in the second half of a loss to Washington. On the other side, the defense that Wildcat coach Rich Rodriguez describes as undersized will have a tough time with Stanford's power running game. Then again, everyone thought the same thing about Washington last week. Stanford 28, Arizona 24.
Washington State at Oregon State, 4 p.m. MDT, Pac-12 Networks
The surprising Beavers have played only one home game, so Reser Stadium should be revved up for their return. OSU's next two games are against BYU and Utah, so there's considerable local interest in this game, especially considering how BYU throttled WSU 30-6 to open the season. The Cougars should have trouble stopping OSU's offense, but figure to score a bunch of points themselves after the Beavers gave up 35 to Arizona. This should be fun. Oregon State 42, Washington State 28.
UCLA at Cal, 8 p.m. MDT, Pac-12 Networks
UCLA is No. 4 in the country in total defense. That status is going to change eventually, once the Bruins run into the Pac-12's better defenses, but Cal's defense is not one of those. As for the Bears, they need much more from quarterback Zach Maynard, who completed only 9 of 28 passes last week. Yet Cal trailed Arizona State only 20-17 in the fourth quarter before giving up a touchdown drive, so this game should be closer than you might believe. UCLA 27, Cal 24.
Washington at Oregon, 8:30 p.m. ESPN
Here comes another Oregon game that will end after midnight in Utah, as the Ducks rack up yards and points. I was not kidding about needing to praise Washington's defense while the opportunity was there, because the Huskies are facing a much more dynamic attack than Stanford's. Actually, the story might be how Oregon's defense has improved. Oregon coach Chip Kelly dismisses talk of the Ducks' slow starts in the last two games, but you just know he'll want to get going early against UW. Oregon 42, Washington 21.
â Kurt Kragthorpe