Every Thursday during the football season our writers bring you previews and predictions for each of the Pac-12 football games. Ten teams are engaged in Conference play this week; two have byes.
Stanford (3-4, 4-5) at Washington State (1-5, 4-5)
Saturday, November 16
1:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network
Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
Straight-Up Pick: Washington State in a Close Win
Against the Spread: Stanford (+10.5)
By Jace McKinney
What the Cardinal Must Do to Win
Stanford has been inconsistent all season. Senior quarterback K.J. Costello, who enters this matchup with a 56.9 QBR, has not played well. But not all the blame can be laid at Costello’s feet; the Cardinal have battled injuries all season, particularly on the offensive line. To have a chance in this game they need to exploit Washington State’s primary weakness—its run defense—and establish a ground attack early. Stanford needs to use its physical advantage with the Cougars to wear them down defensively. That should also open up play-action passes for Costello, allowing him to take some deep shots on Wazzu’s suspect secondary. On the defensive side, Stanford needs to force turnovers and make prolific Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon throw balls into double coverage. If the Cardinal wins the turnover battle, they will have an excellent chance of winning the game.
What the Cougars Must Do to Win
Washington State is still stinging from a tough loss at Cal, where they were favored, and expected to win. Wazzu’s defense played poorly, and its offense was rendered one-dimensional. The Cougars seemed to have been making strides in recent weeks, though their record didn’t reflect it. The loss proved WSU is still struggling. Now the Cougs find themselves needing to find a new identity to get back on track and become bowl-eligible. Specifically, Wazzu needs to return to what worked early in the season. It all starts with giving sophomore running back Max Borghi multiple touches, whether on the ground or through the air. When the offense runs through him, it opens up everything else. Gordon also needs to take some deep shots downfield, stretching out the Cardinal secondary, particularly with wideout Brandon Arconado, the team leader in receptions and yards with 51 catches for 721 yards. On defense, the Cougs must limit Stanford’s effectiveness on the ground to keep Costello from getting on track. Above all Wazzu’s team leaders must set a tone for the rest of the team.
What Happens on the Field
This is going to be a close game, with both teams feeling each other out early. Each will play to its strength. That means pounding the ball and being physical for Stanford, and throwing the ball all over the field for the Cougs. Ultimately, the contest could come down to who wins the turnover battle. Both teams have lacked initiative this season, especially in Conference matchups, and momentum could be the deciding factor. Gordon will once again put up video-game type passing numbers, picking apart Sanford’s injury-riddled defense. Stanford will pile up plenty of yards rushing, but it won’t be enough. Wazzu pulls away in the second half for a close victory.
Notes: Stanford leads the all-time series 40-28-1, and has won three of the last five. Last year, the 14th-ranked Cougs beat the 24th ranked Cardinal 41-38 on a game-winning field goal by Blake Mazza with 19 seconds left. Gordon leads the nation is passing with 3,794 yards to go with his 34 touchdown passes. Last week, Costello became the ninth player in Stanford history to eclipse 6,000 career passing yards. Arconado set a career-high against Cal with 12 catches for 130 yards, his 5th 100-yard game this season. A total of 17 true freshmen have made their first career appearances for Stanford so far this season.
Arizona State (2-4, 5-4) at Oregon State (3-3, 4-5)
Saturday, November 16
4:30 p.m. PT, FS1
Reser Stadium, Corvallis, OR
Straight-Up: Oregon State in a Close Win
Against the Spread: Arizona State (-3)
By Nicholas Bartlett
What the Sun Devils Must Do to Win
ASU needs to get back to their roots and run the ball with Eno Benjamin. The senior running back floundered against the Trojans, finishing with 52 yards and two fumbles, losing one. If Benjamin can get going against the Beavers, that would take a lot of pressure off Jayden Daniels. The true freshman quarterback missed last week’s contest with an injury, and may be sluggish in his return. It may also prove wise to target wideout Brandon Aiyuk early and often, as he can change the game in an instant. On defense, The Sun Devils would benefit by pressuring OSU quarterback Jake Luton, who faltered under the intense pass rush of Washington last week. The sixth-year senior has played phenomenal this year, and can take over a game when given time to set his feet. ASU must also find a way to contain Beaver receiver Isaiah Hodgins, who has 928 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. The Sun Devils have the talent to win, but must return to their early-season form.
What the Beavers Must Do to Win
The most important thing OSU can do is forget about what happened last week. The Huskies have one of the most imposing defenses in the conference, and it took the Beavers out of their game. Oregon State should fare much better against ASU, given the lessons learned. But for that to happen, the Beavs need to mix up their offensive game plan, running the ball more effectively with running backs Jermar Jefferson and Artavis Pierce. The duo has been tough to stop this season, and their production tends to open up the passing attack. The Sun Devils defense will likely focus on containing wideout Hodgins, so other OSU receivers, namely Champ Flemings and Kolby Taylor, need to step up. On defense, Oregon State can’t allow Daniels to gain confidence with easy throws. ASU’s offense has struggled lately, and will be relying on their recently injured signal caller to pull them out of a rut. The Beavers may consider sending multiple blitz packages to keep him under fire, forcing him to make key mistakes that change the outcome.
What Happens on the Field
This will be a tight game throughout, but the Beavers will make enough plays in the fourth quarter to win. Luton will continue on his torrent pace this season getting big chunks of yardage through the air. Hodgins will outsmart the defensive scheme, causing problems in the Sun Devils secondary. The duo of Jefferson and Pierce will find holes upfront and keep the ball moving on the ground. ASU will play extremely well behind the combination of Daniels and Aiyuk, and Benjamin to light up the scoreboard. But Daniels will make one or two mistakes that swing the contest drastically. Expect the Beavs to win in the final two minutes.
Notes: Arizona State leads the all-time series 29-13-1, and won last year’s matchup 52-24. ASU’s defense has held FBS opponents to 9.4 points in the second half of games this season. OSU linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr. has 18.5 tackles for loss, good for first in the nation. Sun Devils defensive lineman Jermayne Lole has not missed a tackle this year. Sun Devil quarterback Joey Yellen ‘s four touchdown passes against USC were the most ever by an ASU true freshman in his first start. The Beavers remain the only team in the nation not to have lost a fumble. Omar Speights’ 18 tackles against the Huskies was the ninth-best single-game total in OSU history.
UCLA (4-2, 4-5) at #7 Utah (5-1, 8-1)
Saturday, November 16
5:00 p.m. PT, FOX
Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT
Straight-Up: Utah in a Comfortable Win
Against the Spread: UCLA (+21)
By Andrew Corbett
What the Bruins Must Do to Win
UCLA has the wind at its back after three straight wins, most recently against Colorado. But none of those victories came against a team the caliber of Utah. The Utes are undefeated at home, and it will take flawless execution on the part of the Bruins to take them down. UCLA’s strength is its running attack, which must find a way to penetrate Utah’s stout interior rush defense. Dorian Thompson-Robinson needs to pass the ball effectively, especially with short checkdowns that allow Bruin running back Demetric Felton to leverage his speed and agility in space. Straight-ahead, power football will not win against the most physical defense in the Conference. Most importantly, DTR must not make any big mistakes: A single turnover could kill whatever chance the Bruins have of pulling off an upset. Defensively, UCLA must keep the Utes from imposing their will on the ground with sustained drives spearheaded by Utes running Zack Moss. The Bruins also need to pressure Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley into a turnover or two.
What the Utes Must Do to Win
Force the Bruins to pass: That’s the game plan in a nutshell. UCLA’s rushing attack, which averages 170.8 yards per game, is one of the best in the Conference. If the Utes can keep Felton in check, it will be much easier to anticipate and defend the pass. The Bruin passing attack is not explosive, so expect press coverage from the Utes, forcing Thompson-Robinson to make poor decisions. If Utah is successful in that regard, it should easily be enough to prevent big plays on the ground. On offense, the Utes need to test the UCLA run defense early. If they can force UCLA to stack the box, Huntley could have a field day passing the ball. The Bruins are blitz-happy, so the Utes will need to take care of the football. Thus far, the senior quarterback hasn’t been rattled by pressure, even in the face of Washington’s Death Row. A typical day at the office ought to get it done for Huntley and Utah.
What Happens on the Field
The Bruins have turned their season around, and are playing with tremendous confidence. But that will only take them so far. While this may appear to be a trap game for the Utes, they’re simply too physically dominant to lose to UCLA in Salt Lake City this season. UCLA will keep it close early, but a few big plays from Utah in the second half will sway the momentum. Expect plenty of short and intermediate passes from both teams, but Utah does enough late, with Moss ripping off a long run or two, to fend off a hungry Bruins squad by a pair of touchdowns.
Notes: UCLA leads the all time series, 11-6, but Utah has defeated the Bruins in four of the last five meetings, including a 41-10 victory in the Rose Bowl last year. The Utes are 8-1 for the first time since 2015, and have started 8-1 or better for the fifth time in Kyle Whittingham’s 15-year tenure. UCLA has won three consecutive games for the first time in the Chip Kelly era, and the first time overall since 2015. The No. 7 spot for the Utes is their highest in CFP poll history. The Bruins are averaging a conference-best 37.0 points in conference games only.
Arizona (2-4, 4-5) at #6 Oregon (6-0, 8-1)
Friday, November 16
7:30 p.m. PT, ESPN
Autzen Stadium, Eugene, OR
Straight-Up: Oregon in a Blowout
Against the Spread: Oregon (-27)
By Dane Miller
What the Wildcats Must Do to Win
Arizona needs to start strong on both sides of the ball, scoring on its first possession and forcing the Ducks to punt. The Wildcats should start Grant Gunnell and allow him to make mistakes without pulling him when he does. The offensive line must protect the quarterback, creating holes for J.J. Taylor, and giving Arizona receivers enough time to get open. In particular, Jamarye Joiner needs to be targeted heavily, especially in Run-Pass option plays designed to make the defense bite on the run. Tayvian Cunningham and Brian Casteel must be given opportunities on fly sweeps, bubble screens, and passes to the flats. On defense, the Cats need to channel last year’s performance against the Ducks, hitting aggressively and swarming the ball. Arizona’s defensive backs need to generate interceptions by anticipating routes, and the defensive line must rotate heavily to stay fresh. It’s imperative that each defender’s effort level be above and beyond what is expected of them, keying on tendencies and formations.
What the Ducks Must Do to Win
Oregon needs Justin Herbert to play efficiently, spreading the ball around to multiple receivers and running when needed. Herbert must expose the porous Arizona secondary with deep throws and easy passes across the middle. CJ Verdell and Travis Dye need to contribute significantly, breaking out long runs to crush the spirit of the Wildcats, while also converting short yardage plays to keep the UA defense on the field. The Ducks can use long, sustained drives to break an Arizona defense giving up an average of 37.3 points per game. On defense, Oregon must bring pressure on the edges to overwhelm a banged-up offensive line. Linebacker blitzes and pre-snap movement should be used to confuse the Cats into missing assignments. Heavy pressure will force poor throws, and lead to tackles or loss. The safeties should jump routes, and the corners can be left in one-on-one battles with Arizona receivers, who have not been able to burn defenses. The linebackers can then focus on shutting down Taylor, making the Wildcats one-dimensional.
What Happens on the Field
The Ducks start strong and never look back, doing essentially anything they want through the air and on the ground en route to racking up more than 500 yards of total offense. Herbert has a Heisman-caliber performance and Verdell gashes the Cats for more than 150 yards rushing. Arizona won’t be able to get going offensively. Taylor will struggle to run the ball effectively, and the offensive line will surrender numerous sacks. Oregon logs a statement win for the College Football Playoff Committee.
Notes: Oregon leads the all-time series 26-18, holding a 13-6 advantage in Eugene. The Ducks have won seven of the last 10, though the Wildcats routed them 44-15 last season in the biggest upset of the Kevin Sumlin Era. The Cats have beaten Oregon each of the last three times when UO is ranked and Arizona is unranked. Arizona won back-to-back games in 2013 and 2014, including a game at Autzen Stadium. This will be UA’s first match-up against an AP Top 25 team this year. Oregon can clinch the Pac-12 North Division title with a win. The Ducks are outscoring their opponents 211-54 in Eugene this season and have allowed only 24 second half points at home. UO leads the nation with 17 interceptions.
USC (5-2, 6-4) at California (2-4, 5-4)
Saturday, November 16
8:00 p.m. PT, FS1
Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, CA
Straight-Up: USC in a Close Win
Against the Spread: California (+6.5)
By Kamron Azemika
What the Trojans Must Do to Win
Coming off a near-collapse win in Tempe, the Trojans are looking to avenge last year’s loss to Cal. To do so, they will need quality performances from running backs Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai, who are expected to return from injuries. Quarterback Kedon Slovis suffered a calf strain against ASU, but should be able to direct USC’s high-octane passing attack against one of the better Pac-12 defenses. Defensively, the Trojans should also benefit from the return of defensive lineman Marlon Tuipulotu. The unit needs to make the return of Cal quarterback Chase Garbers unwelcome, if he starts. Regardless of who takes the field as signal caller for the Bears, the Trojans need to keep him on his heels by applying the same kind of pressure that bothered ASU’s Joey Yellen last week. USC’s front line needs to outman Cal in the trenches, limiting the effectiveness of Bear running back Christopher Brown Jr., as it did against Devil running back Eno Benjamin. Forcing Garbers to make errant throws will be vital to a USC team that leads the Conference in turnovers committed.
What the Golden Bears Must Do to Win
Cal must continue its improved offensive line play under the leadership of Mike Saffell, giving whoever starts at quarterback a chance against a fearsome USC defensive front headed by Christian Rector and Drake Jackson. Cal’s play-calling will be heavily dependent on the personnel decision made between Chase Garbers and Devon Modster. If Garbers gets the nod under center, and he’s durable enough to play his typical style of taking hits out of the pocket, then Cal might not need to win the game in the trenches. Modster’s selection would require the Bears to hold their own at the line of scrimmage for four quarters, giving him enough time in the pocket to take deep shots downfield. Defensively, Wilcox will get another look at the Air Raid this week, after shutting down Mike Leach’s version in Berkeley. Graham Harrell is a less familiar matchup, but Cal’s defensive unit has turned in some of its best defensive performances against the unorthodox system.
What Happens on the Field
This game could go either way. If you’re a gambling man, I’d advise you to hold your chips on this one. There are more question marks than periods in this game, but the talent gap clearly favors USC, as it often does. The Trojans could end up physically dominating Cal on defense, prompting skill position players to miss assignments. However, consistency hasn’t been USC’s strong suit, and a late-game comeback isn’t out of the question. The Bears hope the trend of excessive USC penalties and turnovers continues, giving them some additional opportunities on offense. I’ll take USC by a field goal.
Notes: USC leads the all-time series 70-31-5. Cal’s win last year in Los Angeles broke a 14-year streak by the Trojans. Cal linebacker Evan Weaver continues to lead the nation in tackles with 137. USC wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown collected eight receptions for a career-high 173 receiving yards against ASU. Cal ranks third in the Conference in points allowed per game with 20.7. USC is second in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game with 311. Cal scored 30 or more points for the first time this season against WSU last week. Slovis threw for a career-best 432 yards in his home town vs. ASU.
*This story was originally published at sportspac12.com. Syndicated with permission.