This is nearly a semi-final week in the chase for the PAC-12 Conference championship game. USC plays UCLA and Utah travels to Oregon. Three of these teams have a chance to advance to that championship game.
UCLA does not.
However, Bruin fans shouldn’t lose their excitement because the Sun Bowl is still in play.
This week’s biggest game will be in Eugene, Oregon, where the Ducks will host Utah. The loser will be out.
If USC gets to 11-1, it will join the playoff discussion, but unless the Trojans fix their 87th-ranked defense, not much will become of it, and we’ll hear another sad trombone for the PAC-12.
Rivalry games populate this week’s schedule so let’s get to those and see what we might expect.
#7 Utah 8-2 at #12 Oregon 8-2
Utah and Oregon come into this game with just one loss in the Conference. Utah has an inside advantage since the Utes have already defeated USC. Oregon doesn’t play USC in the 2022 regular season.
The winner of this game must win next week to ensure a trip to the title game, and Utah also has an advantage since the Utes face lowly Colorado and Oregon must travel to 19th-ranked Oregon State.
As of Sunday, my Savvy Index and the betting public favored Oregon by three points or less, so this game is virtually a toss-up.
After reviewing trend lines for these times, I think Utah has had greater momentum than the Ducks in the past three weeks. The Utes are 2-1 against ranked opponents, while Oregon is 1-2, but playing at home against Utah has generally been good for the Ducks.
The status of Oregon’s Heisman candidate quarterback Bo Nix is still undetermined after he went down with a right leg injury late in the Ducks’ loss to Washington. Coach Dan Lanning reported on Sunday that evaluations have not yet been conclusive.
Backup quarterback Ty Thompson has been unable to move the ball in previous games, so Nix’s availability is critical for the Ducks. If Nix is unable to play, predictions will reverse to favor Utah.
Bookmakers think this game will have 62 total points, but my Index says the odds are 61% to 39% that this game will exceed that total.
#14 USC 9-1 at #24 UCLA 8-2
National pollsters have USC in the top 10, and with a 9-1 record, it would seem the Trojans deserve that acclaim.
However, performance trend lines on my Index point to Troy’s decline. Of course, I’ve been commenting on those negative trends for a month, and the Trojans haven’t lost. It’s not likely they will this week either, despite UCLA’s comparable 8-2 record. The Bruins have performance issues of their own, particularly in pass defense.
USC averages 317 passing yards per game, so we can see how the Trojans plan to get to Las Vegas. USC also leads the nation in turnover margin, so it would take an odd day to think the Trojans will give this game to the Bruins through mishandling the ball.
Both teams have top-15 rush attacks, but USC has consistently been lethal through the air. UCLA’s passing attack has been better than average, but in recent games, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s effectiveness has dropped.
Betting lines and my Index favor USC by less than three points primarily because inter-city rivalry games involving two capable teams tend to be toss-ups.
#19 Oregon State 7-3 at Arizona State 3-7
Oregon State’s three losses this season have all come against ranked teams (USC, Utah, and Washington).
Arizona State is not a ranked team.
However, OSU also has not played well on the road. The Beavers have won two road games, and neither was up to expectations.
Arizona State won’t see much advantage from Oregon State’s road problems because the Sun Devils have gotten over their initial surge following the firing of Herm Edwards and have once again settled into mediocrity. They will be better next year once a permanent head coach is hired, but fans shouldn’t expect ASU to have much success against the Beavers.
Arizona State has four offensive players on the injury list from last week, and none have yet been cleared for the game this week.
One of those injured players is starting quarterback Trenton Bougeth.
Oregon State should have little trouble problem running the football against ASU’s 117th-ranked rush defense, and that should lead the Beavers to a 36-19 win.
Washington State 6-4 at Arizona 4-6
Arizona quarterback Jayden De Laura faces his former team this week as the Wildcats finally get a breather from playing nationally ranked opponents. Since October 8th, U of A has played Oregon, Washington, USC, Utah, and UCLA in succession. The ‘Cats knocked off UCLA last week and came within one possession of doing it to USC two weeks earlier, making this outfit the best four-win team in America.
Both of these teams are suffering on their offensive fronts, but Washington State’s defensive pressure has a better ability to capitalize.
Washington State is one of the best programs in America for scoring through the air. The Cougars have 21 passing touchdowns. Arizona’s pass defense is one of the worst in America regarding giving up touchdowns through the air. The Wildcats have given up 21 passing touchdowns. We don’t have to look far to see where WSU will put the ball.
This game has a high-risk factor, but the bookmakers and the Savvy Index favor Washington State. Savvy is projecting a 33-28 margin.
Stanford 3-7 at California 3-7
Not that anybody will notice, but there is a game in the Bay Area this week.
How many “anybodies” won’t notice?
Well, the average attendance this season for home games at Cal will be about 100,000 fewer fans than it was before coach Justin Wilcox took over the program. That’s a drop of about 30%.
That’s enough drop to suppose that it’s primarily students coming to games. We should forgive their misplaced priorities because, after all, they live in the Bay Area, and too much second-hand vaping will do that to you.
With attendance plummeting and Cal guaranteed another losing season, it’s time to wonder about the future of Wilcox. Fans question if he has lost his team’s confidence since Cal is on a six-game losing streak.
A win over Stanford this week is predicted by most analysts, and that win would ease some pressure on Wilcox, but UCLA comes to town next week, and that is likely to be the eighth nail in a low season.
If Stanford had an offense, it would likely be favored in this game against Cal, but the Cardinal can’t run the ball (3.4 ypc) and can’t hang onto it (119th in FBS). The other side of the Stanford approach is just as anemic as it ranks 111th for total defense.
Cal is the prettiest of two ugly sisters and will prevail 27-24.
If Cal does indeed lose next week to UCLA, it will be the seventh loss in the past eight games. With so many experienced coaches looking for opportunities, it’s hard to think Wilcox will still be at Cal a year from now.
Colorado 2-8 at #20 Washington 8-2
So guess who’s picture shows up on today’s Coloradobuffaloeswire.usatoday.com coaching search.
Mark Helfrich, former head coach of the Oregon Ducks. Although he was an assistant at Colorado 15 years ago, I don’t think the job is Helfrich’s to lose, so it seems odd that he is the featured picture.
One thing seems clear. The original hype by fans for interim head coach Mike Sanford has worn off. Giving up an average of 47 points in the last four games will do that to you. And it will get worse because the Buffaloes have nationally ranked Washington this week and nationally ranked Utah next.
No one expects Colorado to compete with Washington this week. Bookies have the Huskies winning by 31.5 points, and my Index has it 43-14, with the probability that UW backs off somewhat in the second half.
Savvy Index has performed remarkably well in the past three weeks. I’m excited about how a significant change in one primary algorithmic scheme late in October has finally given the Index the advantage over betting lines in predicting point spreads. The Index is still beating betting lines in predicting game winners and total points, so it now has the advantage in all three areas of predicting accuracy.