Stanford (-6.5) @ Cal
Preseason Pick: Cal
Stanford comes into this game red-hot, having won every game this year other than at Oregon, frequently in dominant fashion. Home, away, it really hasn't mattered; they've been excellent just about anywhere. Meanwhile Cal comes in fighting for their bowl lives; if they don't win this game they still have a likely win against Washington, but they'd be far better off if they can get the win here.
On paper, Stanford is a substantially better football team. They certainly have the better quarterback, they've got better lines, and they're more physical. There are a number of ways that Stanford can win this game: Luck can be on fire; Mansion can have a bad game, either by giving up multiple turnovers or just not being effective enough to force Stanford to not focus on stopping Vereen; Cal's defense can implode like they've done a few times; special teams could give an edge to Stanford, especially if Owusu is playing. To win, Cal probably needs to score a lot of points, because it doesn't seem likely that their defense will hold strong against a very good offense two weeks in a row. Barring a substantial turnover advantage (and it's more likely to go the other way in this one given who's at quarterback), Cal is very likely to lose this game.
On the Other Hand:
All season long, Cal has had completely ridiculous home/road splits… and this one is at home. The simple fact is that they've consistently been playing far better at home and that's a meaningful edge for them in this game. They're probably going to try the same strategy as worked last year: run Vereen as much as possible and try to grind out a win. And if that doesn't work, they'll try to win it with speed on the edges, either with a bunch of screens, short passes or trick plays. If they can keep up reasonably well on offense (and Stanford's defense has certainly had off days), then they've got a real shot of pulling the upset.
I feel a bit like how I was writing last year's preview: Stanford is the better team, they really should win, and they really shouldn't be taking this game at all lightly. If everything goes well for them, this could be another blowout win like they pulled at UCLA, Notre Dame or Washington. However, I think this is going to be a very tough fight for them. Cal showed against Oregon that they can push good teams to the limit at home, and I think that happens again. Stanford finally gets a win at Berkeley… but it won't be easy.
Stanford 31, @ Cal 27
UCLA @ Washington (-2)
Preseason Pick: Washington
It's do or die time for both these teams. Washington, at 3-6, is out of the bowl picture with a loss (5-7 might possibly get them a bowl waiver… but it's probably not great odds). UCLA, at 4-5, can technically make 6-6 if they lose here, but it's going to be very tough to beat one of ASU and USC, much less both, if they can't win this one.
Washington largely seems to go as Jake Lockers goes. Assuming he's going to be healthy enough to play (which seems likely at this time), they have a solid shot at winning this game. UCLA has had some good games, but they've also laid some serious eggs, and the Huskies have the offense to put up points on the board and punish the Bruin D if they get hot.
On the Other Hand:
It seems like every time UCLA's back is to the wall, they come up with a win. When they were 0-2 and reeling after losses to Kansas St and Stanford, they came up with back to back convincing wins against Houston and Texas. When they fell to 3-5 and again looked dead in the water, they came up with a season-saving win against Oregon St. Now they need to do it again… and the history of their season so far suggests that they can. Moreover, Washington still has serious defensive issues, so if (and it's a big if) UCLA has figured out its offense over the bye week and gotten Brehaut ready to play well, they too can put serious points on the board, and have a very realistic shot of winning this game.
I suspect that even if he's playing, Jake Locker won't be at 100%. Against a desperate UCLA team that should have spent the bye week fixing its offense, that's a bad situation to be in. It's a tossup, but I think UCLA finds a way to get it done and keep themselves in contention for the key sixth win.
UCLA 35, @ Washington 31
USC (-3) @ Oregon St
Preseason Pick: Oregon St
After the titanic egg that Oregon St laid last week against the Cougars, their backs are now totally against the wall. At 4-5 with Stanford and Oregon left to go, they desperately need to win this game, and even if they do win here, they're still probably not going to hit six wins. Meanwhile, USC has been solid, 7-3 so far against a very respectable slate, with their toughest games (Stanford, Oregon, Arizona) in their rear-view mirror. If they can run the table, that's 10 wins in a season where they've had to deal with serious off-field distractions, personnel losses, coaching transitions, and scholarship limitations. That would be one hell of an achievement and a testament to the coaching staff. If they can do it.
On paper, USC looks like the better team. They've got the better record, they've certainly been playing better lately, they've got more talent, and they feel like they're really taking off. This is a game they should win.
On the Other Hand:
Until proven otherwise over a substantial time period, USC remains vulnerable to decent teams they aren't taking seriously enough, especially on the road. After Oregon St lost to UCLA and imploded against Oregon St, I doubt that USC is going to be bringing their "A" game to Corvallis. Yes, they've lost a couple straight here, but ultimately, this is the game that's going to capture the least amount of their attention compared to season-ending rivalry games against suddenly resurgent Notre Dame and UCLA.
Oregon St absolutely, positively needs this game. They'll be at home, they'll be pulling out all the stops, and somehow, some way, they'll find a way to get it done. USC is a good team, but they're not good enough to win a game where they're not enormously better than the other guys, they aren't really focused and prepared, and the other team throws everything but the kitchen sink at it.
@ Oregon St 24, USC 21
National Games of the Week:
Ohio St (-3) @ Iowa
Either of these teams could win in a walk, or it could go down to the wire. Iowa has had an unfortunate tendency to beat themselves, and I think it hits them again here. It's a tossup, but Iowa makes a key mistake late to open the door for the Buckeyes.
Ohio St 28, @ Iowa 27
Virginia Tech (-2.5) @ Miami
Virginia Tech is the better team, and can wrap up the division by winning this game. Miami might pull the upset, but the Hokies should win it.
Virginia Tech 28, @ Miami 24
Arkansas (-3) @ Mississippi St
At home, Miss St has a reasonable upset chance, but I think that 3 points is just too low. Arkansas has an outside shot at making a BCS game, and they won't kill that chance by losing this game.
Arkansas 31, @ Miss St 21
Nebraska (-2.5) @ Texas A&M
A&M has been pretty solid at home, and Nebraska really doesn't have anything meaningful to play for. Unless they lose the next two (and the second is Colorado), the only pre-bowl game that really matters is the conference championship game. That's a good recipe for an upset.
@ Texas A&M 27, Nebraska 21
NC St +2.5 @ UNC
NC St is the better team; at most this should be a tossup, and maybe they should actually be favored here.
Rutgers +13.5 @ Cincy
I would consider these teams to be pretty closely matched. I just can't see nearly two touchdowns separating them, even at Cincy. This is close to a tossup and could easily be an upset.
Iowa St +11 vs Mizzou
Other than the butt-kicking they suffered against Utah, Iowa St has been consistently solid at home. Meanwhile Mizzou really doesn't have a whole lot to play for here, since Nebraska has all but clinched the North already. I don't quite think it's a recipe for an upset, but it should be a recipe for a very close game.
UL-Lafayette +10 vs FIU
Despite the record, Lafayette has generally been competitive in the Sun Belt, and FIU has hardly dominated the league. Throw in the fact that it's at Lafayette, and this should be a pretty close game with a legitimate upset chance.
Pac-10: 53-11 SU, 27-30 ATS
National: 22-14 SU, 19-16-1 ATS
Bad Lines: 17-27-3
Mr Pac-10's 2010 Blog
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