Gold: Final Thoughts and Predictions for Week 4 in the Pac-12
The Pac-12 is in a bit of a pickle this weekend.
All eyes are on the league, off to its best start maybe ever. Heisman contenders line its rosters. Eight teams are ranked for a second consecutive week, with 4 in the top 12.
But 6 of those ranked teams play each other, and the fallout Sunday will be enormous. Do the higher-ranked teams — No. 10 Oregon, No. 11 Utah and No. 14 Oregon State — solidify their Playoff paths? Or do the upstarts — No. 19 Colorado, No. 22 UCLA and No. 21 Washington State — thrust themselves near the top 15?
And what will Week 4 mean for the Heisman bids of Caleb Williams and Michael Penix Jr., whose squads should have light competition this week?
However it unfolds, Week 4 will be fascinating.
Here are some final thoughts and a prediction for every Week 4 Pac-12 game, but first, my Week 3 betting slip …
No. 10 Oregon vs. No. 19 Colorado, 12:30 pm, ABC
A prime slot on national television in the midday window tells you all you need to know about the interest in this matchup. Colorado brings its high-powered passing game to Autzen Stadium, where it will try to keep up with Oregon’s potent offense minus its best player. The biggest problem for the Buffaloes is that player — Travis Hunter — is really 2 players in one, a potential All-American wide receiver and cornerback.
His absence is one only of several storylines dominating coverage of what should be scintillating showdown.
- Which Colorado will show up? The one that eked out a back-and-forth thriller against TCU in Week 1? The one that dominated Nebraska at home in Week 2? The one that needed double-overtime to beat Colorado State, despite being 3-touchdown favorites?
- Can QB Shedeur Sanders hit another level? He has been terrific with his arm (10 TD passes), but a bit careless with his legs, as he’s been sacked 15 times in 3 games. Yes, he’s playing behind a patchwork offensive line, but he’s to blame for a handful of those sacks.
- Will Bo Nix be the hunter with Hunter sidelined? The Oregon dual-threat QB has taken a major step forward in his passing this year, completing 78% of his attempts while throwing 8 touchdowns and 1 interception. Under Will Stein, Nix is running less and hitting the intermediate passing game better.
Prediction: Oregon 42, Colorado 37
No. 11 Utah vs. No. 22 UCLA, 12:30 pm, FOX
Yes, my prediction has a lot to do with Cam Rising likely missing his 4th straight start to open the season after tearing his ACL in last season’s Rose Bowl. But it also has a heck of a lot to do with how UCLA has played so far this year. Dante Moore has been electric and the Bruins’ defense has been better than expected, albeit against a weak nonconference schedule.
Utah, meanwhile, is 3-0 behind Bryson Barnes and now Nate Johnson, but Johnson and the offense didn’t look all that special against Weber State in Week 3. The Utes have a staggering number of injuries all over the field, including to some superstar players. If they don’t heal up in a hurry, they’re in trouble.
That trouble is going to start this weekend against UCLA.
Prediction: UCLA 38, Utah 30
No. 21 Washington State vs. No. 14 Oregon State, 4 pm, FOX
I can’t imagine a more exciting matchup than the inaugural Pac-2 title game, between the forsaken Beavers and overlooked Cougars. Both teams are playing terrific football, both have played at least reasonably difficult schedules and both have passing games that appear improved over last season.
How both teams got to this point is fascinating. Oregon State won 10 games last year for the first time since 2006, despite middling-to-poor quarterback play from Chance Nolan and Ben Gulbranson. They went out and snagged DJ Uiagalelei from the transfer portal, and he’s looked much improved from his 2022 Clemson campaign. Pairing him with the leagues best running game as well as a stout defense gives the Beavers championship aspirations.
Washington State’s offense is similarly improved albeit with Cameron Ward back in the saddle, and despite nearly all of the Cougars’ top targets entering the transfer portal after last season. The retooled passing game has led Wazzu to a 3-0 start, but it gets its toughest test on Saturday, maybe the toughest the Cougars will see all year.
Prediction: Oregon State 30, Washington State 28
Stanford vs. Arizona, 4 pm, Pac-12 Network
The Wildcats haven’t quite turned the corner all the way — a 7-point overtime loss at Mississippi State will linger all year, especially if they come up just short in their postseason bid — but they are clearly on their way. Jedd Fisch has definitely pulled a 180 on the offensive side, but the defense has looked much improved as well.
Stanford shouldn’t put up too much of a fight, not after an embarrassing loss in the final 2 minutes of a 30-23 loss to new head coach Troy Taylor’s former team, FCS contender Sac State. The Cardinal have looked surprisingly bad on offense under a smart offensive coach in Taylor. They need to take a massive leap in the passing game to have any hope for another win this season.
Prediction: Arizona 41, Stanford 17
Arizona State vs. No. 5 USC, 7:30 pm, FOX
USC has already played Stanford in an early Week 2 Pac-12 preview and now gets Arizona State, the equivalent of starting the league season with 80-yard touchdown passes on the first 2 drives. The Trojans have been almost flawless on offense behind Caleb Williams, who is well on his way to retaining his Heisman Trophy. Alex Grinch has tightened up the USC defense enough to instill real hope in the hearts of Trojans fans, and with Arizona State’s passing game in complete disarray, it should be another early day for Williams.
Kenny Dillingham is hopeful that Drew Pyne will be able to go against the Trojans, and that will at least give the Sun Devils some depth, as they were down to 4th-stringer Jacob Conover by the end of a depressing 29-0 loss to Fresno State in Week 4. But Pyne is still not 100 percent, as evidenced by his 5-for-13, 52-yard, 2-interception, 2-fumble performance against the Bulldogs.
Prediction: USC 51, Arizona State 10
No. 8 Washington vs. Cal, 7:30 pm, ESPN
With Michael Penix Jr. and the Washington aerial attack looking like the most potent passing game in the country, the Bears will be lucky if the Huskies don’t rain all over them on Saturday night. The bigger story with Washington is the improved defense, though, which allowed just 1 score in a 41-7 win at Michigan State in Week 3. I’m confident in saying the Huskies have been the best team in college football through 3 weeks, and Washington is totally under-ranked at No. 8.
All that is to say, Cal is in trouble. The Bears spotted Idaho a 17-0 lead before turning on the engine in a 31-17 home win last Saturday, narrowly avoiding catastrophe. Sam Jackson V showed some glimmers of promise in the 2nd half against the Vandals, but the Huskies pass rush will be all over him.
Prediction: Washington 55, Cal 13