With last week’s 43-29 win at Washington State, the Oregon Ducks (2-0) have the inside track in the PAC-12 North Division because both wins were against North Division foes.
USC (2-0) is the early leader in the PAC-12 South Division after coming from behind at the very end of wins over the Arizona schools. Things don’t look quite as bright for the Trojans this week.
Let’s take a look at the predictions:
Washington State (1-1) at Stanford (0-2)
Washington State’s first half burst against Oregon last week gave Cougar fans a glimpse of how well their team can play.
It was the second half that annoyed them.
In just the fourth quarter, Oregon rang up 29 points. It was a familiar story as one week earlier, the WSU defense gave up to 28 points to Oregon State in the second half.
For WSU, the defensive problem is a combination of not being able to stop the run as well as experienced coverage guys getting beat deep.
The good news for WSU’s defense is that Stanford’s defense looks worse after giving up ten touchdowns in just two games and being ranked dead last in the nation for getting to opposing quarterbacks.
The betting public favors Stanford but Washington State has won the last four games between these two and I believe Washington State will win by two, 31-29.
Arizona (0-1) at Washington (1-0)
Washington coach Jimmy Lake took a verbal shot at Washington State this week by saying he will never sling the ball all over the field like the Air Raid (now run and shoot) that the Cougars use. We’ll see how that kind of bravado works out for him when he plays the Cougars next week.
I think Lake would benefit from taking a closer look at his own offense which failed to produce a single touchdown in the second half against winless Oregon State.
The Huskies didn’t show much of a passing threat in its opening game as freshman quarterback Dylan Morris completed just 58.3% of his passes and averaged only 5.9 yards per attempt.
Improved passing will be important this week because my preseason analytics concluded that Arizona’s defensive front returns one of the best pressure groups in the Conference.
Arizona will win the air battle because ‘Cat coach Kevin Sumlin has full confidence in sophomore quarterback Grant Gunnell who leads a passing offense that NCAA.com ranks in the top 25.
I said in the preseason that last year’s offensive line for Arizona suffered compounded injuries but even if healthy in 2020, it wouldn’t be much better. It was one of the worst in the PAC-12 for giving up sacks last year and after one game, it ranks in the bottom ten of the entire nation now. Washington should be one of the best pressure teams in the West so the battle on this front will have a lot to do with determining who wins.
Arizona was off to a 4-1 start in 2019 before injuries plagued the ‘Cats and led to seven straight losses that began with a 51-27 beating by Washington.
I have Washington as a 16-point favorite at home. However, our system also shows this game with high potential for upset.
USC (2-0) at Utah (0-0)
Is the University of Utah finally going to play a football game?
The reason I ask is because two other FBS programs in the state have already played 12 games yet the Utes haven’t played any.
If they actually get to play this week, expect the Utes to be focused because a win over PAC-12 South leader USC will make the Utes one of only two South teams without a loss.
The other is Colorado.
I mentioned before that UU coach Kyle Whittingham will not reveal who his starting quarterback is until game day. However, I’ve been skulking around some back channels and I’m pretty sure the starter will be red-shirt walk-on freshman Drew Lisk.
In addition to producing better passing stats than others, Fisk also has the advantage of being in the Utah system for four years whereas Utah’s other two quarterbacks are recent transfers-in who may soon become transfers-out.
Lisk was a multiple-sport star in high school who brings athleticism and an ability to run. He appeared in four games last year and attempted nine passes.
The Utes need to find some help at offensive skill positions after losing a ton of talent through graduations and early departures. Tight end Brant Kuithe is excellent but the receiver group looks terribly thin behind Bryan Thompson who had 461 yards in 2019.
Even though USC comes to town with an undefeated record, this might be a good opponent for Utah’s skill players to test their bites since the Trojan defense is in the bottom half of the FBS.
I don’t see Utah’s defense being able to hold opponents under 20 points as it has the past two seasons because, like USC, its ability to cover the long ball is suspect. However, I trust Utah to deal with that problem better than USC which has never solved it in five years under coach Clay Helton.
Oddsmakers favor USC by about three.
Give me Utah, 29-24.
California (0-1) at Oregon State (0-2)
Oregon State was competitive in two games against the Washington schools and finally should get a win this week against the California Golden Bears.
The Beavers continue to move the ball on the ground with running back Jermar Jefferson who is averaging 126 yards per game.
Quarterback Tristen Gebbia has been effective in a short passing attack however he will have to get some long-ball success if OSU is going to keep opposing safeties out of the box.
Cal’s offense was abysmal last week against UCLA. The Bears could muster just 176 total yards against a Bruins defense that gave up 40 or more points in eight of its prior twelve games.
As I suggested in the preseason, Cal’s offensive line would be a problem. However, I didn’t imagine the Bears would open the season by giving up five sacks and reduce Chase Garbers’ passer rating to 79.54 which is second in the FBS only to Matt McDonald of Bowling Green who has completed just 14 of 50 passes.
With Christopher Brown Jr. at running back, it is appalling that the offensive line couldn’t block better than 1.9 yards per rush.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave didn’t seem alarmed. His post-game comment amounted to, “I don’t think we put our best foot forward.”
The Bear offense should do better this week since Oregon State is giving up more than six yards per carry and the Beavers are dead last in FBs for getting to opposing quarterbacks (tied with Oregon and Stanford).
However at times, this defense can really play as shown by how it held the Washington Huskies to zero touchdowns in the second half.
Oregon State won 21-17 on the road last year and gets this one at home in 2020.
Oregon State 32, California 28.
UCLA (1-1) at Oregon (2-0)
Oregon has won six of the last seven games played between these two teams and in the last five wins, the Ducks have scored, 42, 42, 41, 49, and 60 points.
Although our system has done well in predicting games this season amid cultural craziness, UCLA is the team that no one seems to be able to predict. The Bruins come out cold in the first 20 game-minutes, then sometimes explode.
At Colorado, the Bruins fell behind 35-7 in the first half. Eleven game-minutes later, they were down by just a single touchdown. It would be a mistake for the Ducks to think that any lead against these Bruins is safe.
This will be the first game in which either of these teams faces a running quarterback. Dorian Thompson-Robinson of UCLA and Tyler Shough of Oregon are both rushing for about eight yards per carry but I suspect UCLA will deal with that better than Oregon since the Bruins have generally defended the rush better.
Oregon’s Shough is completing more passes for longer yards per pass than Thomspon-Robinson but both quarterbacks are throwing nearly 4% interceptions which is nearly twice the national average.
Even so, Shough is currently ranked as the 16th most efficient passer in the nation.
Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorehead opened up more of the offense last week and the Ducks now lead the nation for most yards per rush attempt (7.1). Now that we know that Shough can handle the full playbook, expect Moorhead to continue to expand things.
Oregon has an advantage in running backs with C.J. Verdell averaging about six yards per carry and Travis Dye averaging twice that. Together they put up about 200 rush yards per game compared to UCLA’s Demetric Felton and Brittain Brown who produce about 117.
In reviewing four-year recruiting results, it’s easy to see that Oregon has better talent. But talent doesn’t always win. In this game, there are two factors that could turn this game on a dime.
First is turnovers. Both teams rank in the bottom five for fumbling the football.
Second is pass defense. The Ducks are yielding 268 yards per game to opposing air attacks and must now defend UCLA tight end Greg Dulcich who is averaging an astounding 29 yards per reception.
For now, I see Oregon as a 43-20 favorite.
Arizona State and Colorado don’t have games this week.
To see all FBS predictions for week 12, please visit us here.