This is just about the least interesting weekend of college football games I can remember. Other than USC-Oregon, there just isn’t much out there that’s particularly compelling, either within the Pac-10 or around the country.
Oregon (-7) @ USC
Preseason Pick: USC
This is pretty clearly the game of the week. Oregon has been rolling lately, dominating almost all comers, and almost certainly control their national title destiny. In an abrupt change of fortunes, USC is left to play the spoiler role, hoping to score a big upset and throw even more chaos into a season that’s so far been full of it.
Against an outstanding Oregon team, that’s going to be a very tall task. This will be especially difficult since USC’s big weakness is defensive depth, and Oregon’s offense is pretty much built to attack defensive depth, with their very fast-paced offense (nicknamed the “blur” by some). If USC wants to pull the upset, they’ll have to do what they did against Cal: shut down the opposing offense and either grind clock or score so many points that it becomes an insurmountable lead. Either is much easier said than done; the Ducks are hard to stop and boast a very good defense themselves.
On the Other Hand:
USC still has an enormous amount of talent, and they’ve had an extra week to prepare (don’t forget, all three of Oregon’s losses last year came to teams who had extra prep time). While it’s not like Oregon has some sort of special weakness that an extra week of prep time can exploit, one thing Oregon does very well is attack defenses that aren’t ready for the spread option, that don’t know their assignments and that aren’t disciplined. With the extra prep time, it’s unlikely that USC will fall into that trap, which means that the Ducks have their work cut out for them.
It’s also worth noting that Oregon has really struggled on the road. They were down early and tied at the half against Tennessee (though they blew them out in the 2nd half), they only beat ASU by 11 (despite a truly ridiculous number of Sun Devil turnovers, including a couple egregious ones), and only beat Wazzu by 20 (though in fairness, injuries were relevant in that game). If they hold true to form, this will either be an extremely close game or actually a loss.
USC has a solid shot at pulling the upset. Oregon is still the better team, and I’ll take them to win… but I think it’s pretty close to a tossup. There’s a chance the Ducks blow this game open, but I’d consider it pretty unlikely.
Oregon 34, @ USC 31
Cal @ Oregon St (-2.5)
Preseason Pick: Oregon St
So, which Cal team is showing up this week? We know they play better at home than on the road, but is this going to be the Cal road team that nearly won at Arizona, or the one that gagged badly at Nevada and USC? If it’s the first, then they are absolutely capable of winning the game. If it’s the second… it’s going to get ugly. Especially since the Beavers are themselves a quite good team, even without James Rodgers. They’ve had a week off to prep for this game, and as usual have started to improve after their typical slow start. They should be especially fired up to redeem themselves after suffering a tough defeat at Washington two weeks ago.
On the Other Hand:
Cal still has a substantial amount of talent, especially on offense. Kevin Riley is up and down, but when he’s up, this is a very good attack. And Shane Vereen is an excellent back. And, while Beaver quarterback Ryan Katz has done quite well so far this year, he’s still a young QB, and you just never know when one of those is going to suffer a bad game. And the Beavers will continue to miss star wideout James Rodgers, who was an important part of their offense.
Oregon St looks like the better team, and they’re at home. That should be enough to win this game, though it should still be a good one.
@ Oregon St 24, Cal 21
Arizona (-9) @ UCLA
Preseason Pick: UCLA
You know what this game reminds me of? Houston-UCLA. A team largely led by the quarterback and the passing game comes into the Rose Bowl, everyone just assumes they’re going to win… and yet UCLA is capable of pulling the upset (plus, the main QB of the other team is already hurt before the game even started; it took Keenum until the 2nd quarter to get knocked out against the Bruins). If they can get the running game going, they can move the ball against the Wildcat defense, and I think they actually match up reasonably well against the Wildcat attack. Plus, having a couple extra days before this game can only help their preparation, especially against a mobile quarterback like Matt Scott.
On the Other Hand:
Arizona is still the better team. They’ve got the better quarterback, at the least a comparable running game, and the better defense. Plus, their head coach is less likely to do something as insane as kick a field goal on 4th and short down 15-0. While this line may be a touch high, the Wildcats are absolutely capable of winning another blowout like they’ve done against Toledo and Washington, or at least a double-digit win like they did in Pullman.
This line is inflated after Arizona rolled over Washington and UCLA rolled over at Oregon. The Wildcats are the better team… but they’re not double-digits better on the road. UCLA has a shot at the upset, but Arizona will probably pull it out in the end.
Arizona 28, @ UCLA 24
Stanford (-7) @ Washington
Preseason Pick: Stanford
This is a tough game to peg. Can Stanford keep winning on the road? Is Locker healthy enough to carry this team? Is Washington as bad as they looked last week against Arizona? The easy pick here is Stanford without too much trouble, since they’ve got an enormous number of offensive weapons, and their defense has generally been decent (though it really looked bad in garbage time last week against Wazzu). Washington doesn’t really have the defense to hold down a good offense, and if Locker is off
On the Other Hand:
Washington always does seem to play better at home, and there’s no question that this is a very important game for them to win. It’s not a total desperation game… but it’s close. If they can’t pull the upset here, they need to sweep UCLA and Wazzu (doable) and pull an upset at either Oregon or Cal (a much tougher task). Given that they won at USC, I wouldn’t bury them with a loss this week… but it’s going to be a very tough road ahead if they can’t get it done against Stanford. That means that they’re going to be especially fired up, that the crowd will have extra energy, and that in general they’ll have a solid intangible edge over a Stanford team that could very well be looking forward to the key game next week against Arizona.
Twice Washington has faced teams which have looked top-ten quality (at least arguably). Both times they got totally crushed. I don’t think that’s going to happen here, but with Locker not looking 100%, I have a hard time seeing this one being especially close.
Stanford 31, @ Washington 17
Washington St @ Arizona St (-21)
Preseason Pick: Arizona St
This is a really weird line. ASU hasn’t done anything to suggest they should be a 3-touchdown favorite over anyone with any kind of a pulse… and the Cougars really have gotten better and better the last few weeks. I can’t decide if this is a trap line of if Vegas is just banking on lazy bettors automatically assuming Wazzu is horrible.
No, this doesn’t mean that I’m picking an upset, and yes, I would be surprised to see the margin at only 10 points like the Cougars managed last week… but 21 points is just too high. An upset isn’t totally impossible here, especially the way ASU has managed to implode from time to time. The Sun Devils should win, but it’s at least plausible for Wazzu to pull the stunner here. And if I’ve fallen into a clever Vegas trap… then so be it.
@ Arizona St 31, Washington St 17
National Games of the Week:
Missouri @ Nebraska (-7.5)
This line looks a touch high, though I’d still pick the Huskers to win at home.
@ Nebraska 31, Missouri 27
Michigan St @ Iowa (-6.5)
I’m just not a Spartan believer. Iowa is the better team, at home, and desperately needs the game.
@ Iowa 28, Michigan St 17
Utah (-7) @ Air Force
It’s one week before the huge game against TCU… and you know Utah is going to be looking ahead a bit. I don’t think they get dropped… but it’s going to be very close.
Utah 28, @ Air Force 27
Kansas St +5 vs Oklahoma St
I’m not sure Oklahoma St is even the better team when everyone’s healthy. Throw in the injury to their WR, and it being in Manhattan… this smells like a tossup to me.
Miss St -6 vs Kentucky
Miss St is the better team, at home. I think people are over-valuing Kentucky’s win against South Carolina and close loss to Auburn, while at the same time giving too much weight to Miss St’s weirdly close win against UAB. A 2-2 SEC team is hosting a 1-4 SEC team and laying less than 7. Yes, it really is that easy.
Texas Tech +7.5 @ Texas A&M
Beyond the way Tech has controlled this series historically… the best team A&M has beaten is Kansas. They beat FIU by LESS than this spread. Tech has beaten Colorado, Baylor, and SMU. In other words these teams look matched a lot closer than the spread indicates, even if it is at A&M. An upset wouldn’t surprise me very much, and while A&M probably wins it, a fair line is probably more like 4 rather than over a touchdown.
Wyoming +10 vs SD St
This line is just too high. SD St has only covered it against Utah St and NM St, both of whom are much worse than Wyoming, and couldn’t even cover it last week against New Mexico. It’s also worth noting that Wyomign covered this at home against Air Force (better than SD St), covered it at BYU (worse than SD St… but not by as much as flipping home field is worth), won at Toledo (same story as BYU), and while they’ve gotten totally trashed a few times, the teams who have done it (Texas, Boise, TCU, Utah) were all substantially better than SD St. Basically, this line is high. This should be less than a touchdown, not more.
Pac-10: 42-8 SU, 18-25 ATS
National: 15-12 SU, 11-15-1 ATS
Bad Lines: 9-23-2
Mr Pac-10's 2010 Blog
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