Gold: Final thoughts heading into the Pac-12's Week 9
All 4 ranked Pac-12 teams play in Week 9, but not against one another. This feels like the kind of weekend that has tripped up the Pac-12 in the past, with landmines here, there and everywhere. The most likely candidates to fall from grace are Utah, which travels to Washington State, and USC, which must stop Arizona’s passing game in Tucson.
Should any of the 4 ranked teams lose this week, it could knock them out of title game contention.
Here’s my look at that marquee matchup and other final thoughts heading into Week 9 of the Pac-12 slate.
No. 14 Utah at Washington State, Thursday 7 pm, FS1
Two weeks after Utah drew last blood in a 43-43 shootout with USC, the Utes could be in store for another night of fireworks against Cameron Ward and the Washington State passing game. The Cougars’ improved air attack hasn’t exactly translated on the scoreboard, where they’re averaging just 24.6 points per game, far less than Utah’s 40.7.
Washington State has thrived in the red zone, scoring on 24-of-26 trips, including 19 touchdowns, but the problem is, the Cougars haven’t been in the red zone often enough. The main culprit? A league-worst 26 sacks allowed.
Utah’s pass rush has historically been impressive, but it hasn’t done all that much this year, with just 15 sacks in 7 games. If the Utes get to Ward a few times on Thursday, this one could be over in a hurry.
Prediction: Utes ride Rising to bowl eligibility with 6th win.
No. 8 Oregon at Cal, 12:30 pm, FS1
It might get ugly in Berkeley as the high-powered Ducks come to town.
Cal simply doesn’t have the manpower nor the firepower to contend with an Oregon offense that is averaging a league-best 42.43 points per game. The Bears are averaging just 23.29 points, 2nd-worst in the conference, and they’ve managed just 19 touchdowns this year.
If Cal rededicated itself to the run, the Bears would do themselves some good. They’re next-to-last in the league in rushing attempts per game.
This game is a nice little showcase for Bo Nix, who continues his Heisman campaign with another day game in a favorable window.
Prediction: Ducks rout Bears and the defense gets some mojo back.
No. 10 USC at Arizona, 4 pm, Pac-12 Network
In a week that features 4 ranked teams playing conference opponents, this is the one that worries me the most.
USC’s linebacker corps has been decimated by injuries, and the Trojans are relying on some untested backups. Combine that with Arizona’s much-improved passing attack, and I think this is a scary matchup for the Trojans.
Not that scary, though. USC’s offense is going to be looking to pounce after its 42 points weren’t enough to top Utah. Caleb Williams seems like the kind of kid who’ll really try to rally the troops from an emotional loss to the Utes, the team’s first of the season. USC still has plenty to play for, and I think they’ll come out swinging against the Wildcats.
Prediction: Trojans struggle to contain Wildcats’ passing attack but win a shootout.
Arizona State at Colorado, 4:30 pm, ESPNU
Arguably the worst conference matchup of the season, there’s a reason this one is relegated to ESPNU.
The Sun Devils have reopened the quarterback competition between Emory Jones and Trenton Bourguet and with things so unsettled in Tempe, I can see Colorado pulling out all the stops.
The Buffaloes are likely to be without their starting QB as Owen McCown remains sidelined. Should JT Shrout start for Colorado, he’ll need to take many more chances, but ASU presents an opportunity to go for broke in a way the Buffaloes have hesitated to do.
Prediction: With Sun Devils’ QB position in flux, the Buffaloes pounce to win their 2nd of the year.
Stanford at No. 12 UCLA, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
An 11-game losing streak is nothing to sneeze at, but the Cardinal absolutely owned the Bruins for a decade there.
UCLA has won 2 of 3 from Stanford, though, and it will continue its success this year against an overmatched Cardinal squad.
This feels like a major rebound opportunity for Dorian Thompson-Robinson after he struggled in a 45-30 loss to Oregon. I expect Chip Kelly to give the Bruins some real latitude against a Stanford squad that they should handle easily up front.
Prediction: Bruins bounce back from crushing loss to Oregon to continue recent success over Cardinal