The only undefeated teams in the PAC-12 Conference are both in Los Angeles.
USC and UCLA are both 5-0, but that might not continue as USC hosts league-leading Utah (4-1) and UCLA hosts surging Washington State (4-1).
Let’s take a look at all five of the Conference games this week and see how my Savvy Index system rates those games.
For the year, the Index has been 77% accurate in predicting winners (291-87) compared to 75% by the oddsmakers. The Index is nine games worse in predicting over/under point spreads but 44 games better than betting lines in determining over/under total points.
#6 Utah 4-1 at #19 UCLA 5-0
These two are headed in opposite directions when it comes to trend lines on the Index. Utah is rising while UCLA is not. The cambers of those trend lines are enough to confidently project Utah as a 35-24 favorite.
Utah is having difficulty stopping opposing rush attacks (78th) but pass defense has been spectacular as Ute cornerback Clark Phillips III already has four interceptions and, as a team, Utah has nine.
UCLA will try to make this a ground game because the Bruins are pretty good at running the football and even better at stopping the run.
The Bruins are also pretty good (10th nationally) at stopping the run. For perspective, the national leader is twice as good, which is odd because that leader is James Madison, a group that was still in the FCS for less than a year.
Utah should move the ball against that stiff UCLA ground defense since the Utes have a top 25 rushing attack of their own.
If it becomes an air game, Utah has the advantage both on offense (4th most efficient) and defense (top 10 fewest yards). Add in the Ute pass defense as fourth in the nation in getting interceptions and Clark Phillips III as the national leader, and you can see why UCLA will want to keep the ball down.
UCLA’s pass defense yields over 235 yards per game which is 77th in the nation. Although UCLA’s defense has produced better sack numbers, that advantage has been neutralized in games against mobile quarterbacks like Utah’s Cameron Rising.
UCLA has outperformed Savvy expectations just once this season, and that was last week. Utah has underperformed Savvy expectation just once, and that was in the very first game of the season, and that makes Utah a double-digit favorite.
Washington State 4-1 at #10 USC 5-0
This is an upset just waiting to happen.
Apart from an absurd late-game collapse at home against Oregon, Washington State would right now be undefeated and nationally ranked.
The Cougar offensive line continues to be — well — offensive, and that is why quarterback Cameron Ward continues to run for his life, get sacked and throw interceptions. Against Cal last weekend, Ward was sacked once, intercepted twice, and netted minus eight yards in two rushing attempts. Those interceptions now make Ward one of the most intercepted quarterbacks in FBS.
And rush blocking isn’t any better since Cougar running backs mustered just 2.9 yards per carry against Cal and not much more against everyone else.
On the positive side, aggressiveness on the part of WSU’s defense sacked Cal quarterback Jack Plummer four times. Unlike Ward, Plummer faced the pressure without throwing any interceptions.
Washington State’s defense gives plenty of reasons to think the Cougars could upset the Trojans. WSU’s defense will probably stop USC’s rush attack and influence the Trojans to the air. When opponents have made that choice, the Cougars have been terrific in bringing pressure.
Not only has USC’s defense been abysmal at stopping the run (105th), but it is getting worse.
The question for WSU is whether or not this is the week that the Cougar offensive line finally produces some open holes for running backs. If that happens, Washington State will win this game. Since that has not happened all year, then USC must be considered the favorite.
Divergent trends between these two teams make this a game with a high chance of an upset.
Only in WSU’s opening game against Eastern Washington have the Cougars had a game that was net-negative in Savvy metrics. In contrast, the Trojans have produced just one net-positive game all year, and that was coincidentally also the first game of the season.
This is such an excellent opportunity for Washington State, and others are coming up on the schedule as well. But until WSU’s offensive line shows some effectiveness, all of those opportunities will be wasted, and the Cougars will lose at least four games.
Betting lines say USC by 11 at 61 total points. My Index points to more of a ground game than usual and fewer total points. USC is Savvy-projected to win 33-24.
#11 Oregon 4-1 at Arizona 3-2
It’s no secret that beating Arizona comes pretty quickly if you keep the ball on the ground. Although the Wildcats are statistically one of the best in keeping passing yardage down, they rank 128th for defending the rush. as they yield nearly six yards per carry.
The Oregon running game has been magnificent.
That brings me to a question:
Oregon’s offense averages six yards per rush, and Arizona’s defense gives up six yards per rush, so does that mean Oregon is certain to get six yards per rush, or does it mean 12 yards per rush?
Leading the way is quarterback Bo Nix who averages over eight yards (6th nationally), and exciting Minnesota transfer running back Bucky Irving, who is just one-half yard behind.
It is the PAC-12’s premier rush attack and one of the ten best in America.
Jayden De Laura of Arizona is fifth in the nation in total passing yards with 1627, and he’s 11th in the country for throwing TDs (14), so the Wildcats are sure to put some points on the board.
Wildcat receiver Jacob Cowing is third in the nation for number of receptions (40), second for number of touchdown receptions (7), and fifth for receiving yards (566).
Cowing is not a surprise as the former UTEP three-year starter was on every major award list last year as a receiver, including the Biletnikoff and Maxwell awards. When he hit the transfer portal last December, he was recruited by a dozen high-profile programs such as LSU, Notre Dame, Oregon, etc. Although only 5’11”, Cowing has proven to be unstoppable.
Neither Arizona nor Oregon has been good defensively. Each ranks 100th or lower in overall yards-per-play defense.
Both teams will score well. Oregon will score more. Ducks win this 45-24.
Washington 4-1 at Arizona State 1-4
Washington kicker Peyton Henry is tops in the nation for field goal accuracy since he has made all eight of his attempts. Teammate Michael Penix Jr. continues to lead the nation with 1733 passing yards, and he’s fifth for throwing touchdowns (16).
Arizona State is one of the worst in the nation when it comes to defending the pass, so I expect Penix to have a great game.
Fans in Tempe are crying out for Sun Devil coaches to turn Florida transfer quarterback Emory Jones loose to run the ball. He is a genuine dual threat, but the leash has been drawn in on him all year. I expect to see that change under the new coaching group, and that might become an effective surprise against the Huskies.
Even so, Washington will win this. The Index says 38-21, while betting spreads were about 13 points early in the week.
Oregon State 3-2 at Stanford 1-3
This game promises to be exciting. Not well played, but exciting.
Both of these groups are in the top 20 for committing the most turnovers. For Stanford, it’s roughly four fumbles per game. For Oregon State, it’s two interceptions per game.
OSU listed quarterback Chance Nolan and tight end Luke Musgrave on the “day-to-day” injury list as late as Monday.
Nolan and his replacement Ben Gulbranson have combined for seven touchdown passes and ten interceptions. The interception rate between those two is more than three times the national average, and that puts the Beavers far above any in the nation for passing futility. That is a shame when fans see a roster filled with outstanding receivers.
I think it may be time for Oregon State to do two things: 1) shorten the routes and 2) give Tristan Gebbia another shot.
Oregon State rates as 14 points better than Stanford, but OSU’s metrics have been dropping steadily over the past three weeks while Stanford’s have been rising. The mesh point of those lines is close enough to list this as a very high chance of a Cardinal upset.