Forty percent of last week’s PAC-12 football games resulted in an upset. We all know college football enough to expect more upsets.
It’s like Al McGuire, who once said, “There are no mysteries, well, except one, and that is why kamikaze pilots wear helmets?”
There is excellent upset potential in Colorado over California, Washington State defying the oddsmakers to overcome Oregon State, and Arizona winning on the road against Washington. We’ll get to those in a minute.
If you are interested in my system’s (Savvy Index) predictions for all FBS games across the country, you can see those here.
#8 USC (6-0) at #19 Utah (4-2)
This week’s top game in the Conference is #19 Utah (4-2) hosting #8 USC (6-0).
If it seems a surprise that my Index is calling for Utah to upend the undefeated and higher-ranked Trojans by two points, then you will perhaps be even more surprised to see that betting lines not only call for the Utes to win but by a bigger margin (3 points).
These teams are similar in so many ways that any prediction seems hazardous, but Utah generally gives the Trojans headaches when games have been in Utah, as is this one.
USC’s leading receiver Jordan Addison is questionable, and even if he plays, his time might be limited. The reigning Biletnikoff Award winner and USC’s top receiver has lower back pain, reducing his mobility and effectiveness.
Savvy Index says Utah will win 30-28.
Washington State (4-2) at Oregon State (4-2)
These teams rank in the bottom ten of America’s most interception-prone teams.
Expect plenty of quarterback pressure on both sides since Washington State’s defense is one of the top 15 in America for getting to quarterbacks.
Oregon State is awful at getting to quarterbacks (123rd), but WSU’s offense is equally awful in quarterback protection, so the Beavers should find some success in pressuring Cougar quarterback Cameron Ward.
The Cougar defense is also much better in stopping opponent ball carriers, while Oregon State ranks 106th in yards permitted per rush.
The defense will determine the winner, and Washington State is the better defensive team.
I should also mention that Oregon State has lost to the Cougars eight consecutive times.
Vegas favors OSU by three. The Index favors Washington State, 28-27.
Arizona (3-3) at Washington (4-2)
Betting lines predict the spread on this game will be over 15 points, yet this is one of the most likely upsets on the board in week seven.
Indeed, the Washington Huskies started the season by winning four straight games, and one of their victims was Michigan State, a ten-game winner last year in the Big 10. With those four wins, UW hit the national rankings and seemed destined for the big time.
Since then, they haven’t won a game. Why?
Well, those first four games were against weak opponents. Three were FBS programs combined for just five wins in 17 games, and the other was Portland State from the FCS, which is 1-3 against opponents at least FCS level. (One win was against Lincoln College, which has just 994 students.)
Washington then had the road games and lost at UCLA and Arizona State.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Wildcats come to town with a 3-3 record that was earned against a schedule that included two nationally ranked FBS teams and perennial FCS national champion North Dakota State.
Washington has a more robust roster and a ground game that will be difficult for the Wildcats to stop. Therefore, it is appropriate for analysts to favor the Huskies.
But trend lines on Savvy Index tell a different story. Arizona’s trend lines have been steadily upward all season, whereas Washington has been stable until the past two weeks when they have turned downward dramatically. The converging of those lines signals this as a game with high upset potential.
I agree that the trajectory of those trends will produce an upset. Even so, the Huskies are favored 37-28 by the Index.
Stanford (1-4) at Notre Dame (3-2)
Both of these teams are better than their records reflect, and both are finding their footing and climbing in the Index.
Stanford has begun to fix its turnover problem, while Notre Dame has made scheme adjustments to help new quarterback Tyler Buchner. The results have been vivid as Stanford came within seconds of upsetting Oregon State last week while Notre Dame has won three in a row, the last two against top 25-caliber teams North Carolina and BYU.
I expect to see Notre Dame win this on the ground against a Stanford rush defense that ranks 123rd for yielding yards per carry (5.63).
There isn’t much reason to expect an upset, so Savvy calling for a Notre Dame win is solid, although the projected 38-17 seems a bit high.
California 3-2 at Colorado 0-5
Savvy and most other analysts believe California is a “lock” to win this game; I don’t see it that way, and here are some reasons why:
1) Interim head coach Mike Sanford Jr. has pumped new hope and energy into a team that has seemed uninspired most of this season.
2) Colorado didn’t play last week, so the Buffaloes have had two weeks to prepare for Cal and will likely have some new wrinkles for which Cal has not been able to prepare.
3) Cal has yet to win on the road.
4) Owen McCown took over at quarterback for Colorado two games ago, and in both games, the Buffs scored more than twice as many points as they had been averaging. McCown is among the nation’s top five most accurate passers, which I suppose should be expected since he is the son of former UCLA and professional quarterback Josh McCown.
Colorado has renewed hope by installing former Boise State quarterback Mike Sanford Jr. as the Buffs’ interim head coach. Sanford has enough history with power five programs (Notre Dame, Minnesota, Stanford) to suspect that he might become the Buffaloes’ permanent head coach. Certainly, Sanford is eager for that opportunity, and Colorado might benefit from not having to hire an entire set of coaches. Hiring from within often has cost-cutting benefits as well.
Of course, if your primary focus is saving a few bucks, then you might be setting yourself up for some vexation, as astronaut John Glenn noted when he said, “While I hurtled through space, one thought kept crossing my mind. Every part of this rocket was supplied by the lowest bidder.”
The three problems Sanford needs to fix for his Buffs are stopping rampant fumbling, stopping opposing running backs who get seven yards per carry and stopping opposing passers who complete 67% of their passes. That’s all—just those three things.
During the off week, Sanford focused on the fumble issue. Still, I’m not sure new defensive coordinator Gerald Chapman has had either enough time or enough experience to make a notable difference in the defense.
But Sanford’s change in the spirit of Colorado football seems similar to the dramatic shift Jedd Fisch made at Arizona last year, and that change is why I think Colorado will win this.
Savvy Index sees it as a 36-17 win by Cal.
Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona State are all idle this week.