Perhaps the two biggest news items in PAC-12 games last week was Oregon State’s upset of Oregon and Arizona quarterback Grant Gunnell’s injury on the first play of the Wildcats’ game against UCLA.
Oregon’s loss was not crushing as far as the Ducks’ future goes. I mean, Oregon didn’t lose a shot at the CFP because it was out of that race after the first two games. And, the Ducks still have a shot at winning the PAC-12 championship. So really, the loss to OSU changed nearly nothing.
As for Gunnell, we may not know until game time if the talented sophomore will play this week against Colorado. Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin isn’t about to give any clues. He was polite but firm in responding to reporters, “This is college football. We don’t have to say.”
So, what will the loss of Gunnell mean to the winless Wildcats? Let’s take a look at this week’s game.
Colorado (3-0) at Arizona (0-3)
What should have been a promising year for Arizona has turned upside down and much of that has come from another year with roster attrition.
Before the season, a trio of linebackers transferred to other programs and last Sunday, three defensive backs announced their transfer intents as well. Add to that the injury to Gunnell and Arizona is looking like a hot mess.
Sumlin downplayed the transfer issue. “We’ve seen it before,” he said. “Players have announced on social media that they are leaving, yet here they are still playing.”
Compounding Arizona’s Gunnell setback is evidence that his freshman back up Will Plummer is not ready to lead a PAC-12 offense. The 6’1” Arizona recruit completed just 48.6% of his passes while throwing an interception once in every 18 attempts.
Going back to last season, Arizona now has 10 straight losses and a second straight year of roster depletions. Sumlin needs to come up with some answers and do it soon.
Colorado is on quite a different path.
The Buffaloes are ecstatic with their new head coach Carl Dorrell. Many observers said in the preseason that Dorrell would fail at Colorado but I disagreed. I studied Dorrell’s coaching resume very closely and I found more than enough evidence to think he would do quite well.
He didn’t take long to get started as he not only saved a strong recruiting class, but he added to it when he convinced departed Sam Noyer to return as Colorado’s starting quarterback.
Noyer hasn’t set the Rockies on fire but he is a pleasant dose of stability and consistency after four turbulent years of graduated quarterback Steven Montez.
I have Colorado handling the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday although it might be a surprise that the system is only willing to risk four points on that prediction.
UCLA (2-2) at Arizona State (0-1)
It’s been terribly unfair to Arizona State that its conference didn’t get teams going earlier in the season. Because of PAC-12’s lack of leadership and foresight, ASU enters December having played just one game.
Texas State has already played 12.
It’s hard to tell how good the Sun Devils might be. Yes, they almost beat USC in the opener but that was a month ago. We’re also not sure if ASU’s penchant for giving the ball away has been solved.
We know plenty about rising UCLA. It is a team that has been without its 2019 starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson for the past two weeks. Even so, the Bruins have moved the ball well under his replacement Chase Griffen. Two weeks ago, Griffen and the Bruins nearly upset Oregon and last week, they rang up 410 yards in a win over Arizona.
Arizona State has a proven quarterback in Jayden Daniels who had more than 2900 yards passing as a pure freshman last year. He also threw just two interceptions in 338 attempts and he currently leads the Sun Devils in rushing with 10 yards per carry.
Unfortunately, ASU has suspended two defensive backs including key starter Jack Jones who had problems at USC before transferring to the Sun Devils. Jack Jones was a three year starter and Jack Jones was ASU’s leading punt returner and Jack Jones won aGrammy Award in 1960.
Last year, UCLA defeated the Wildcats 42-32 in Los Angeles. This year, it’s Arizona State winning 33-25 in Tempe.
Washington State (1-1) at USC (3-0)
Washington State fans thought that a new coaching staff might solve last year’s defense that gave up 31 PPG, five yards per rush, and the highest opposing quarterback passer ratings since 2014. It became so bad that just one month into the season, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys resigned.
Unfortunately, this year’s defense is worse. It gives up more than 35 PPG and nearly six yards per rush.
Although USC doesn’t have enough rush potency to annoy WSU’s floundering defensive front, it does have a strong aerial attack that is quarterbacked by sophomore Kedon Slovis and he should thrive in a big way against WSU’s permiable secondary.
Not only is Slovis over 70% in completing passes, but his top two receivers are averaging more than 14 yards per reception in a system that is better known for its short, quick passes.
Washington State is reporting a covid condition for quarterback Jayden De Laura who is listed as probable but not certain for Sunday’s contest. No other quarterback on WSU’s roster has ever thrown a pass in a college game. If De Laura can’t go, I expect to see Cammon Cooper as the starter.
After years of under performing, USC’s metrics on our system look very strong this year. Sodoes the Trojan pass defense which seems to no longer be one of the worst for stopping passing plays of 40 or more yards.
Both teams can score. The difference will be USC’s defense proving its ability to deal with the Run ‘n Shoot.
35-27 USC win.
Stanford (1-2) at Washington (3-0)
Gone are the days when Stanford bullied its ground game to six yards per carry. This year’s Cardinal carriers barely get two thirds of that and, as I wrote earlier, Stanford is no longer committed to the run.
In the days when Stanford had double-digit wins, it ran the ball more than 60% of the time and passed 40%. But in recent seasons, including this one, those numbers are reversed.
Stanford is a passing team.
Why is that important right now?
Because the Stanford football team is traveling to Seattle this weekend and will be playing one of the best pass defenses in America.
The Huskies rank in the top ten for pass defense, pass break ups, and in the top 20 for pressure.
Stanford can’t run and Washington won’t let them pass.
Not hard to cipher this one. Washington, 32-21.
Oregon State (2-2) at Utah (0-2)
Utah started the season with three quarterbacks. Two of those were transfers-in from Power Five programs so it seemed like the Utes would be in pretty good shape behind center.
However, even after playing all three of them, coach Kyle Whittingham couldn’t find one who could consistently move the ball or not turn it over. And now, his choices are down to just two because Texas transfer Cameron Rising is out for the season with a shoulder injury.
Jake Bentley will be the starter this week. The former South Carolina starter is completing more than 60% of his passes but for only six yards per attempt. He also has mind-boggling 8% (yes, eight percent) interception rate.
The good news for Utah is that it has found a running back in freshman Ty Jordan who is producing more than seven yards per carry.
Oregon State reports that quarterback Tristen Gebbia’s status for this week’s game is uncertain after a ham string pull. The Beavers are preparing Chance Nolan but Nolan has never thrown a pass in college football.
Both teams have had success in rushing the football so I expect to see a ground battle, at least until the score is separated by two or more possessions and passing becomes essential.
Oregon State should flourish on the ground with spectacular junior Jermar Jefferson who is rushing for 169 yards per game.
Although many analysts suggested Utah would continue to be strong on defense, I disagreed in my preseason preview. The Utes returned less than average talent at all levels and that explains why UU is in the bottom third of the nation for just about every important pass defense statistic.
Utah won 52-7 last season and most experts believe the Utes will win by about nine points this year— as does our Index.
However, I personally think that OSU will hold Utah under 20 points and win by at least four.
Oregon (3-1) at California (0-3)
I’m sure you’ve been told that it’s dangerous to poke a bear.
What about poking a Duck?
We’ll find out this week how dangerous the UO Ducks are after getting their feelings hurt in a loss at Oregon State last week.
Will the Ducks respond with ferocity? How about just responding with some average defense?
Duck defenders have given up nearly twice as many points-per-game as last season and right now rank in the bottom 25 of the nation for allowing defensive yardage.
It should look better this week because the Bears are in the bottom 25 of the nation for producing offensive yardage.
Oregon may be without star running back C.J. Verdell, tight end Spencer Webb, and safety Nick Pickett. All are listed as questionable.
California will enter the game with a complete roster.
In 2017, I suggested that Cal freshman Elijah Hicks would become one of America’s leading defensive backs. Right now, the 5’11”, 200 pound playmaker is third in the nation for pass breakups, second on the Cal team for total tackles, and first for interceptions.
Last year’s game was won by Oregon 17-7 after the teams combined for three interceptions and five fumbles. I don’t expect the turnover issue to go away but Oregon should at least win that margin.
Metrics for each of these teams are net-negative in our system, but California’s trend lines plunge significantly more than Oregon’s.
This one goes to the Ducks, 39-21.
About Last Week ….
Last week, I was quite close in two PAC-12 predictions. I thought Washington would beat Utah 28-24 (final was 24-21) and Stanford over California 27-25 (final was 24-23).
You can see all of our rankings and predictons for FBS teams by clicking here.