Pac-12 Picks

Pac-12 Picks: Oregon should keep rolling against banged up Bruins

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Note: I do not pick non-conference games and those involving Arizona (since this is an Arizona-based Web site).

Javier Morales 2013 Overall Record: 16-5 (.762).

Javier Morales Against the Spread: 15-6 (.714).

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UTAH at USC

When: Saturday, 1 p.m., Tucson time. Where: L.A. Coliseum. TV: Pac-12 Networks.

Spread: USC by 6.

When does Utah play Arizona?: The Wildcats defeated Utah 35-24 at Arizona Stadium last week.

When does USC play Arizona?: USC defeated the Wildcats 38-31 in L.A. on Oct. 10.

Why Utah will win: The Utes’ defense is good enough to thwart USC quarterback Cody Kessler. They avoid the big play through the air. Arizona’s B.J. Denker threw for only 168 yards last week after passing for 366 against USC in the previous week. It was the third straight game Utah held the opposing starting quarterback to 246 yards or less. Kessler averages only 190 passing yards a game and has only eight touchdown passes through the Trojans’ first seven games.

Why USC will win: The Trojans are the best in the Pac-12, limiting opponents to only 110.3 rushing yards a game. That is bad news for Utah this week because the Utes have yet to find a consistent No. 1 tailback. Look for USC to concentrate on shutting down Utah by crowding the line, forcing potential backup quarterback Adam Schulz to make plays.

Outcome: Utah by 3.

Reason: In Utah’s first three years in the Pac-12 the Utes went a combined 1-11 in their first four games each season. After starting 0-4 in 2011 and 2012, the Utes were 7-3. In other words, Kyle Whittingham’s teams have a brief history of making adjustments after the first month of the Pac-12 season. USC’s season is lost. What do the Trojans have to play for? Last week’s loss to Notre Dame took some air out of USC’s balloon after the Trojans’ win over Arizona on Oct. 10 (one in which the Trojans almost blew a 25-point lead).

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UCLA at OREGON

When: Saturday, 4 p.m., Tucson time. Where: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Ore. TV: ESPN.

Spread: Oregon by 23.5.

When does UCLA play Arizona?: Sat., Nov. 9, Arizona Stadium

When does Oregon play Arizona?: Sat., Nov. 23, Arizona Stadium

Why UCLA will win: Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is a gifted quarterback but he will have to work for all that he can get against UCLA. The Bruins have weathered prolific passers Jared Goff of Cal and Travis Wilson of Utah in recent weeks. The Bruins allowed Kevin Hogan to pass for only 227 yards in last week’s loss to Stanford. UCLA allows 210.2 yards passing a game, which ranks 34th nationally.

Why Oregon will win: The Ducks can keep UCLA’s defense off balance with an effective running and passing game. Oregon is ranked second in the country with 332.4 rushing yards per game and will get a boost if De’Anthony Thomas returns this week after missing the past four games with an ankle injury. Byron Marshall is averaging 106.6 rushing yards per game while Thomas is averaging over 100 yards on the ground in games he has started.

Outcome: Oregon by 30.

Reason: For the first time since 2010, the Bruins averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry in back-to-back games (Cal and Stanford). That’s because UCLA is without starting tailback Jordon James (ankle) and two injured starters on the offensive line. Opposing defenses are loading the box against UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, who must do a better job of handling the pressure in the pocket. That’s difficult to do in the Pac-12’s toughest place to play — Autzen Stadium.

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STANFORD at OREGON STATE

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Tucson time. Where: Reser Stadium, Corvallis, Ore. TV: ESPN.

Spread: Stanford by 4.

When does Stanford play Arizona?: The teams are not scheduled to play in the regular season.

When does Oregon State play Arizona?: The teams are not scheduled to play in the regular season.

Why Stanford will win: The Cardinal’s chief strategy against Oregon State’s passing game will be to hold onto the ball for long stretches with its running game, something it did well against UCLA last week. Tyler Gaffney, who carried 36 times for 171 yards against UCLA, will have a similar workload against Oregon State. The Beavers are yielding more than 4 yards per rush this season.

Why Oregon State will win: Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion leads the nation by a wide margin in passing yards per game, averaging 427.4 yards a game. Stanford’s defense has improved against the pass, but pass defense remains its weakness. The Cardinal ranks 85th in the country in passing yards allowed per game.

Outcome: Stanford by 7.

Reason: Oregon State’s one-dimensional ways will bite the Beavers sooner or later. The Beavers rank 122nd in the nation in rushing, averaging 73.7 yards. Stanford is 18th in rushing defense. Yes, the Beavers are on a six-game winning streak but look who they have defeated: Hawaii, Utah, San Diego State, Colorado, Washington State and Cal. Combined record: 15-25. Two of those games (Utah and San Diego State) could have gone the other way and Oregon State would be 3-3. Stanford is still playing for a national title.

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CAL at WASHINGTON

When: Saturday, 8 p.m., Tucson time. Where: Husky Stadium, Seattle. TV: Fox Sports 1.

Spread: Washington by 28.

When does Cal play Arizona?: Next Saturday at Berkeley, Calif.

When does Washington play Arizona?: The Huskies beat the UA 31-13 in Seattle on Sept. 28.

Why Cal will win: Cal is not in fear of a Washington program on a three-game losing streak. Although the Golden Bears have struggled as a program in the last few years, they have remained competitive against Washington. The Huskies have won the past four meetings, but each of the last three has been decided by eight points or less. Washington won last year’s matchup 21-13 after Cal held a 13-7 lead late in the third quarter.

Why Washington will win: The Huskies figure to bounce back strong after their worst performance of the season last week at ASU. Bishop Sankey will get back on track after gaining only 22 yards against the Sun Devils. Keith Price (sore thumb) is better than what he showed at ASU (16 for 39 and sacked six times). Cal is allowing 44.4 points per game, which ranks 122nd of 123 FBS teams, and has allowed at least 37 points in all six of its games against FBS foes.

Outcome: Washington by 21.

Reason: The Huskies will win easily but they are not in a position to rout anybody. Cal coach Sonny Dykes might start quarterback Zach Kline for the first time this season. Seattle is not a good place to do that. Question is, how raucous will the Husky Stadium crowd be for a game like this after disappointing losses in the last month?

WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report, Lindy’s College Sports and TucsonCitizen.com.

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