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Picking the Pac, Week 13: Apple Picking

The last full week of Pac-12 games has plenty at stake for teams near the top of the standings. USC hosts Notre Dame with a shot at the CFP not so far away. Oregon and UW play rivalry games and need wins to stay alive in the conference. It’s the kind of race to the finish that the conference hopes to see.

As always, the lines come courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook. Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.

Friday: Arizona State @ Arizona, Arizona -4

It’s a good thing this is a rivalry game because neither team has much else left to play for. While they have taken different routes, both teams have defended poorly and moved the ball reasonably well. ASU is slightly more run-heavy, especially when Emory Jones is under center. Arizona passes a lot. Both teams have lost four of their last five. The matchup is even enough to take the home team as a tie-breaker.

Arizona 34 – ASU 27

Friday: UCLA @ Cal, UCLA -10

After a 6-0 start, UCLA has dropped three of five to fall out of contention for the Pac-12 title game. They have not played much differently during that stretch, they have simply run into offenses that can keep up with their own fireworks. Jack Plummer has played a bit better at QB lately, but it’s unlikely the Bears will be able to keep up offensively. I see a game where UCLA sustains long drives on the ground and pull away let despite a good effort from Cal.

UCLA 37 – Cal 24

Oregon @ Oregon State, Oregon -3

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Self-inflicted mistakes by Utah were largely responsible for Oregon avoiding a second straight home loss last week. The hobbled version of Bo Nix still threw the ball well, but an inconsistent Utah run defense mostly shut down Bucky Irving and Noah Whittington. The Duck’s rushers will need to bounce back against a better rush defense in Corvallis. Oregon State has closed the season strong and can make a major statement (and throw the conference title game into chaos) by closing Pac-12 play with a win at home. As much as my heart will be pulling for the Beavers, it’s hard to envision Ben Gulbranson keeping up in a shootout with a normally explosive Oregon offense.

Oregon 38 – Oregon State 30

Utah @ Colorado, Utah -29.5

The Buffs failed to cover a spread of at least 30 points for the third consecutive week last week against UW. Somehow, that limp outing led to a narrower spread against a very good Utah team. Yes, Cam Rising stubbed his toe against Oregon in the second half, but the track record remains very good. Colorado has seemingly moved on from the season emotionally and I don’t see them keeping up with a team that remains highly motivated.

Utah 49 – Colorado 10

Notre Dame @ USC, USC -5.5

The Trojans clinched a spot in the Pac-12 title game with their exciting win in the Rose Bowl last week. They certainly don’t want to stop there, though, with a CFP berth in sight. Notre Dame’s offense has improved dramatically in the second half of the year, so Pac-12 teams who only saw them slog through games against Stanford and Cal might not recognize this version. The dynamic rushing duo of Audric Estime and Logan Diggs is exactly the sort of run-game problem that has given USC fits. I don’t think it will be enough to outscore Caleb Williams and company, but I think the Irish will keep the game very close.

USC 35 – Notre Dame 31

BYU @ Stanford, BYU -6.5

BYU would fit in pretty smoothly in the Pac-12 in terms of on-field performance. They have a strong offense led by a dangerous passing game and a defense that has trouble against the run and pass. Stanford has come up with big games at unexpected moments, especially the win over Notre Dame. They pushed Cal hard in the Big Game but came up a TD short. I suspect that will be the end of the road for this Cardinal team and more changes may follow after the year.

BYU 35 – Stanford 27

Washington @ Washington State, Washington -2

It’s an uncommon feeling in recent Apple Cup history for the game to feel like a true toss-up. Chris Petersen and Pete Kwiatkowski so thoroughly solved Mike Leach’s air raid that the game lacked some degree of suspense, even in Leach’s best Pullman seasons. In the other direction, the 2021 version of the game was a disaster for the Dawgs before it even started and marked the low point of the Jimmy Lake era, even after Lake had been dismissed. This year feels different; the coaches, the matchups, the location, and the weather have converged to make the game an even affair.

NCAA Football: Colorado at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

At 7-4 and already bowl eligible heading into the Apple Cup, Jake Dicker’s first full season as WSU Head Coach has already been a success. Getting a second win over Washington would catapult it to a much higher status in Pullman. After a three-game losing streak dropped the Cougs to 4-4, the offensive focus for the team has shifted. While the air raid principles are still there, the play calling has taken some of the pressure off QB Cam Ward and moved it to a stable of running backs, led by Nakia Watson. Simplifying the game for Ward has improved his efficiency and led to a three game winning streak, though you could argue that the better team won all six of those games and the inferior opponents just happened to be clustered toward the end. As a Husky fan, I have to say that I would prefer to face an efficient running game than an erratic-yet-explosive passing attack given the way the season has played out. We will see if I live to regret that formulation.

Offensively, UW should be able to fall back on the passing offense that has carried the team all year. WSU’s defense has been one of the better ones in the Pac all year, but the advanced stats show that they are better against the rush (18th in EPA/play) than against the pass (72nd). As always, Michael Penix and Ryan Grubb will have to find the weak spots in the defense and calibrate the weapons to exploit them. After a pair of quiet weeks for Rome Odunze, it would be an ideal time to find a way to get the team’s best play-maker the ball and let him go to work. While there is reason for concern on the road, in the cold, against a good defense, I still feel confident that Penix will find a way to top 300 yards and 30 points. Given WSU’s recent offensive performances, I think that may be enough.

UW 31 – WSU 28

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