Predicting the 10 biggest upsets involving Pac-12 football teams for 2023
Editor’s note: Over the past 2 weeks, Saturday Out West has previewed the 2023 Pac-12 football season with its annual Crystal Ball prediction series. Here are the individual team previews:
With a handful of unenviable matchups with Power 5 non-conference opponents, the Pac-12’s top teams are are ripe for the plucking.
Even in conference play, some overlooked squads are poised to knock off bitter rivals.
Here’s a look at my list of the top upcoming upsets in the Pac-12…
Arizona over Washington State, Week 7
Ward was at his dual-threat best last year against the Wildcats in a revenge game for the Cougars, who wanted to give it to former quarterback Jayden de Laura. Ward completed 25-of-36 passes for 193 yards and a score and ran for a season-high 59 yards and a score in the 31-20 win. Arizona is a team on the ascent this year, though, and I believe de Laura will hand it back.
Colorado over Arizona State, Week 7
Welcome to the Nametag Bowl. Two teams with more transfers than a New York City subway. How can you possibly call this one? ESPN’s FPI only gives Colorado a 23.4% shot on the road, but I like they’re complete teardown over ASU’s slightly less muted version. If you’re going to go for it, go for it.
The Sun Devils do have the historical edge in what is a relatively young rivalry for two teams so close on the map. ASU has a 10-3 advantage in the series, which started in 2006.
Arizona over UCLA, Week 10
The Wildcats pulled off one of the surprise upsets of the 2022 Pac-12 season last year, beating the Bruins 34-28 at the Rose Bowl. And UCLA had Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
With DTR off to the NFL, I’m picking Arizona to pull off a 2nd straight win over the Bruins, even if ESPN’s FPI only gives the Wildcats a 41.2% chance. If Dante Moore explodes out of the gate for the Bruins, I reserve my right to adjust this prediction.
Washington over Oregon, Week 7
This is maybe the top contender for Pac-12 conference game of the year, with the Big Ten-bound Pacific Northwest foes meeting in Husky Stadium for the last time as Pac-12 members. Last year’s instant classic saw Washington erase a late 7-point deficit to win with 10 points in the final 3:07.
The only thing that soured last year’s matchup was a late-game injury to Bo Nix that cost Oregon dearly.
This year, assuming both teams are healthy, we could see 1,000 yards total offense and 10 touchdowns.
Colorado over Washington State, Week 12
Coach Prime and the new-look Buffaloes roll into Pullman for the late season matchup facing 1 of 2 scenarios. By Week 12, the almost entirely new roster may have bonded and actually put their upgraded talent to good use. Or Colorado and its painfully thin depth might have already been exposed. I’m leaning toward the Buffaloes pulling off the surprise upset in after a big game from QB Shedeur Sanders.
Arizona State over Cal, Week 5
A historically even matchup — both teams have won 17 games in the rivalry — Cal and ASU are both trying to work themselves out of the muck. Both are coming off 3-win seasons, though Arizona State’s collapse was perhaps more justifiable. The Bears simply stunk.
But with some nice defensive talent returning, including 73% of its production from last year on that side of the ball, Cal has a decided advantage in ESPN’s FPI model, with the Bears boasting a 72.4% chance of winning.
That is inexplicable to me. Cal’s passing game is in a worse spot than ASU’s and I think Dilly will have the Sun Devils fired up for their first road game.
Colorado over Nebraska, Week 2
So much for a let up. The Buffaloes will be shot out of a cannon to kick off the Coach Prime era, first with TCU and then with Nebraska. Are the Cornhuskers what they once were? No, definitely not. They haven’t been to a bowl game since 2016. That’s why Matt Rhule took over after a failed tenure with the Carolina Panthers.
But after a 7-17 run the past 2 years, I’m a little surprised Nebraska is so heavily favored by the FPI, which gives them a 71.6% chance to win. I’ve got Colorado in this one, not because I expect them to be good, but because the Huskers have been so bad. Let’s not forget, while Rhule is a turnaround master, he went a combined 3-21 in his first seasons at Temple and Baylor.
Oregon over USC, Week 11
Autzen Stadium is the best gameday atmosphere in the Pac-12, and a sacred place for the Ducks, as Oregon has not lost more than one home game since the disastrous 4-8 campaign under Mark Helfrich in 2016.
Yet USC is favored on the road in this one, with the FPI giving the Trojan a 54-46 edge. The Ducks will have to try to contain Caleb Williams and an offense that returns 75% of its production from a year ago. They haven’t met since the 2020 Pac-12 Championship Game.
The hype will be undeniable — could College GameDay visit? — and Nix will outduel Williams in a showdown with Heisman and Pac-12 title implications.
Baylor over Utah, Week 2
Traveling to Waco for another tough nonconference test, I’m less optimistic of the Utes surviving Rising’s absence. I’m not particularly bullish on the Bears, who fell to 6-7 last year after going 12-2 in Dave Aranda’s 2nd season, but they are a bit better than Florida and get the Utes at home. I do think Aranda will clean up some of the mistakes that led to 3 1-score losses last year.
Notre Dame over USC, Week 7
Trojans fans aren’t going to like this one. And had the Irish held onto Tyler Buchner, I may have liked the Trojans in this one. But Sam Hartman’s addition to an already talented Notre Dame roster worries me for a USC team facing the toughest month in college football. Notre Dame, Utah, Washington, Oregon — it doesn’t get much worse than that. I have USC losing 2 of them — the road games — because until I see that defense take a big step forward, I’m agnostic. Good, but not great. This game will be an example of that. Hartman will outduel Williams to deal his repeat Heisman hopes a blow.