Stanford @ Oregon (-7)
Preseason Pick: Oregon
It's still early, but right now this looks like the Pac-10 game of the year. Stanford has played lights-out so far, while Oregon was the preseason league favorite and has largely lived up to that billing, scoring around a point a minute in their first four games, and only looking really vulnerable in one game, last week at ASU.
If the question here is which team has actually been playing better football, surprisingly the answer is probably Stanford by a bit. They've been consistently dominant even as the competition level has started to increase, and that 35-0 win at UCLA just looks fantastic after the Bruins went into Texas and waxed the Longhorns. While Oregon has also played very well, there have been chinks in the armor. Tennessee proved that a physical running team could move the ball effectively on the Ducks, and ASU reinforced that lesson, while also putting up nearly 400 yards through the air. If anything, Stanford is a more physical running team than Tennessee, with a better quarterback and receiver group than ASU (especially when it comes to throwing picks; Luck is unlikely to throw four of them in this game). That gives them a very realistic shot at pulling the upset.
On the Other Hand:
It's always brutal to try and win at Autzen in a big game where the team and crowd are paying full attention. And there's no question that everyone is going to have their eyes on this one. With the crowd going full blast, it's going to be a really tough environment for Stanford to operate in, and that's a big edge for the Ducks.
Also worth noting is Oregon's speed. Stanford really hasn't faced a team as fast as Oregon, and while they did have success shutting down UCLA's option game, Oregon's is faster, stronger, and better executed. Stanford hasn't seen an attack like this since they played Oregon last year, and that was a game where they outscored the Ducks rather than really doing a whole lot against the Duck offense. While it's true that Stanford's defense looks improved, this will be a much, much tougher test than anything they've had to face so far.
Put these teams on a neutral site and to be honest, I'd probably take Stanford to pull off a close win. But not at Autzen. The Ducks will ride their speed and their great home-field advantage to a hard-fought win.
@ Oregon 35, Stanford 31
Arizona St @ Oregon St (-3.5)
Preseason Pick: Oregon St
The undercard to the Stanford-Oregon game will be a very important game as well, featuring two teams that are fighting hard for position around the middle of the league. Whoever wins this game will be on track for a bowl game, while the loser will have three losses already at the beginning of October and will be in real trouble in the postseason chase.
At home, Oregon St seems to be a decent pick. Yes, the Beavers haven't looked great so far, but against TCU and Boise they did a number of things well, and it's not fair to slam them too hard given the level of competition. Of course, the Louisville game was a big red flag, but it's reasonable to think that they just let up and got sloppy after going up 21 points in the third quarter. More importantly, they may match up reasonably well with Arizona St. ASU's big weakness is mistakes, especially turnovers, and the Beavers have done a good job taking advantage of mistakes, wining the turnover battle in each of their first three games. That's an advantage that could prove crucial in this matchup.
On the Other Hand:
Arizona St has been an early surprise team, playing both Wisconsin and Oregon very tough. Now that they're taking a bit of a step down in competition, it's entirely reasonable to think that they can start turning close losses into close wins. They've got the defense to do well against Oregon St's run game, and that could force the Beavers into very difficult situations. Moreover, Oregon St has given up over 400 yards in each of its first three games. Against an ASU offense that is showing plenty of life, that's a key weakness.
If Arizona St can play a game without a whole lot of mistakes, they can easily pull off the upset. However, I don't think they can do it. They've just gone through a brutal two-game stretch, and against a team that hasn't had it so rough of late (Oregon St had a bye, then Louisville, then the nasty game against Boise), they're going to make too many mistakes to pull the upset. It'll be another fairly close loss for the Sun Devils.
@ Oregon St 31, Arizona St 23
Washington @ USC (-10)
Preseason Pick: USC
This line seems pretty reasonable to me. USC is the better team, and they're at home. While Washington has struggled to a 1-2 record (and only Nebraska, who slaughtered them, was anything close to a top 25 opponent), USC has gone 4-0 and is finally starting to look like a really strong team. Unless Washington has massively improved during their bye week, it's hard to see this as a competitive game, especially given their road struggles the past few years (and if the BYU game is any indication, that trend appears alive and well).
On the Other Hand:
This is still the same USC team that struggled against Hawaii and Minnesota, and barely held on against Virginia. If Jake Locker gets hot (despite his early-season struggles, he's a good quarterback), and the Husky defense ups its game, an upset isn't impossible. Moreover, this is close to desperation time for Washington. The remaining schedule is too tough for them to be able to fall much below .500 and claw their way back to a bowl game. They really need to go 2-1 in their next three, and that means that USC is likely to see Washington's best effort in this game, lest the Huskies find themselves in a brutal situation to try and get out of.
USC is simply better than Washington. In Seattle I'd give the Huskies a shot, but in LA it's just not going to happen. USC has too many weapons and too much defensive talent to struggle at home against a Husky team that has yet to show it can play much defense or score a lot of points against a quality team.
@ USC 35, Washington 21
Washington St @ UCLA (-27)
Preseason Pick: UCLA
There are some legitimately good arguments here for taking the points and thinking that the Cougars might be able to give the Bruins a halfway decent test. UCLA could easily suffer a post-Texas hangover, especially with a brutal three-game stretch coming up. The Bruins really don't have any incentive to run it up, which at the very least makes a back-door cover a reasonable possibility. Kevin Prince appears to be questionable for Saturday, and Brehaut may have trouble replicating what Prince can do (at the least, it seems safe to assume Prince won't be kept in if the Bruins are rolling).
However, the main point here is that the Cougars simply aren't a good, or even decent, football team. I don't see Tuel having a good game against the Bruin secondary, and without that this simply shouldn't be a competitive football game.
@ UCLA 38, Washington St 7
National Games of the Week:
Florida @ Alabama (-8)
The Tide should win this game at home, but 8 points is a touch too high.
@ Alabama 21, Florida 17
Texas vs Oklahoma (-3.5)
Honestly, 3.5 points seems a touch high here. Yes, Texas looked awful last week, but it seemed more because they were just unprepared for UCLA's offense than because their defense was actually bad. And it's not like Oklahoma has looked fantastic either. I give a slight edge to the Sooners but it could easily be an upset.
Oklahoma 28, Texas 27
Penn St @ Iowa (-7)
I think that Iowa is simply a better team than Penn St. Alabama really seemed to expose the Lions, and Iowa, despite their loss at Arizona, is still a very good team. I don't think this one is very close.
@ Iowa 28, Penn St 17
Wisconsin (-2) @ Michigan St
I'm not remotely sold on either of these two teams. At home, I give the Spartans a small edge, but it's really a tossup.
@ Michigan St 28, Wisconsin 24
Virginia +7 vs Florida St
It's at least possible that Virginia might actually be the best team here. Yes, FSU played well against Wake and BYU, but they also got completely crushed by the same Oklahoma team that's struggled against Utah St, Air Force and Cincy. Meanwhile, Virginia gave a good USC team everything they could handle on the road, and haven't really gotten tested too much otherwise. Compared to a FSU team that just had a stretch of Oklahoma, BYU, and Wake, and will doubtless be looking ahead at least a bit to next week's big game at Miami, intangibles favor Virginia nicely, especially at home. I think this game is around a tossup.
East Carolina +14 @ UNC
The Tar Heels haven't done anything to merit getting two touchdowns against ECU, especially with the Pirates coming off a bye. This isn't quite a tossup, but an upset is entirely possible. Remember, ECU played Virginia Tech neck and neck before a fourth quarter pick six put it away.
Army +6 @ Temple
This line looks a touch high. Temple is a better team than Army, but I'm starting to think that Army is half-way decent (though perhaps I'm overreacting to their big win at Duke). And remember, Temple barely held off Villanova and needed overtime to put away Central Michigan at home. And while it was a nice showing at Penn St, it's at least possible that Penn St simply isn't good this year. The Owls probably win this one close, but they could absolutely lose this game.
Hawaii -8 vs Louisiana Tech
It's at Hawaii, it's an extremely late kickoff, and quite frankly, Tech has simply been lousy so far this year. I'm surprised this is anything less than 13. I think people are overreacting to Hawaii's 18-point loss at Colorado and/or LT's near-win against USM. However, Hawaii still gave USC a game, still won a road trip all the way at Army, and Louisiana Tech still got crushed by A&M (who isn't really that good) and lost by 14 at home to Navy (who looks down this year).
Pac-10: 30-4 SU, 13-14 ATS
National: 9-4 SU, 6-6-1 ATS
Bad Lines: 3-9-2
Mr Pac-10's 2010 Blog
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