Picks, Predictions and Prognosis for Every Week 6 Pac-12 Football Game
The Washington Huskies are ranked in the Top 15 of the Associated Press Poll for the first time in Steve Sarkisian's five years as head coach, and the opportunity for more presents itself in the fifth-ranked Stanford Cardinal.
Washington's trip to Stanford is the marquee matchup of the Week 6 Pac-12 Conference slate, if not the season to date.
Elsewhere, the No. 22-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils are so hot for their non-conference showdown in Arlington, Tex. against Notre Dame, they're on fire.
Or at least, their uniforms are.
A docket with four in-conference games also starts with a bang Thursday. Undefeated and No. 12-ranked UCLA is gaining plenty of national attention, but Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium has been unwelcoming to Thursday night visitors.
Record Last Week: 5-0 (Against The Spread: 4-1)
Record This Season: 37-3 (Against The Spread: 25-15)
All lines courtesy VegasInsider.com
No. 12 UCLA Bruins (-3.5) at Utah Utes
Thursday, Oct. 3, 10 p.m. ET | FOX Sports 1
UCLA is scoring a staggering 52.7 points through three games. Utah is the best defense the Bruins will have seen to this point in 2013, but the Utes can certainly be had.
Oregon State scored 51 points—45 in regulation—in Utah's first conference foray.
Defensive-minded head coach Kyle Whittingham obviously wants to avoid a repeat, but that means containing one of the conference's best quarterbacks.
UCLA sophomore Brett Hundley is hurting opposing defenses in a variety of ways, unleashing a dangerous dual-threat attack and spreading the ball among a vast array of receivers.
Twenty different Bruins have catches this season, with only Shaquelle Evans and Devin Fuller breaking into double digits. Utah will not have the option of keying in on one target in particular in the passing game.
That leaves Ute pass-rush specialites Nate Orchard and Trevor Reilly responsible for the cumbersome job of limiting Hundley at the line. The sophomore quarterback will get yards, but their job is limiting the impact.
Utah has its own offensive punch this season, behind sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson.
Wilson's individual statistics mirror those of Hundley: Wilson has 1,118 yards passing and nine touchdowns, with another 251 and five on the ground through four games. Hundley's passed for 848 yards and eight touchdowns with 157 rushing yards and two more scores.
However, he must limit his freelancing Thursday. This Bruin defense thrives on blowing up the quarterback in the backfield, and linebackers Anthony Barr and Myles Jack are particularly adept at doing so.
Bubba Poole's ability to parlay the tenacious Bruin blitz defense into gains with the rush can alleviate pressure on Wilson. Poole was effective against the similarly aggressive look offered by BYU in Week 4, rushing for 5.3 yards per carry.
That allowed Wilson to complete 24-of-35 pass attempts with two touchdowns.
Utah can keep it close, but UCLA's tendency to blow away teams in the second half should overwhelm the Utes.
My Prediction: UCLA 42, Utah 27
Washington State at Cal (-1.5)
Saturday, Oct. 5, 4 p.m. ET | FOX Sports 1
Both the Golden Bears and Cougars were left licking their wounds after coming up on the wrong end of sizable beatings against the Pac-12's elite teams, Oregon and Stanford.
Said wounds were of both the figurative and literal variety. Each team's quarterback situation was in doubt after Week 5, as Washington State lost junior Connor Halliday in the second half against Stanford, and freshman Zach Kline substituted for freshman Jared Goff vs. Oregon.
Washington State head coach Mike Leach is mum about all injuries, including Halliday's. Nevertheless, the senior quarterback returned to practice this week, the Associated Press reports. Look for him to get the starting nod over reserve freshman Austin Apodaca.
Cal head coach Sonny Dykes is evaluating both Goff and Kline with the first team during practice this week, Hunter Hewitt of the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Regardless who is taking snaps for either offense, the final score is likely to resemble a basketball game.
Stakes are high for Washington State. The Cougars matched their 2012 win total in Week 4, and are halfway to bowl eligibility. A second road win in the Pac-12 would have them ahead of the curve for snapping the conference's longest bowl drought.
Washington State will score; the Cal defense has been among the nation's most porous thus far into the season. That leaves Saturday's outcome on the Cougar defense.
Cal's "Bear Raid" has been able to put up big points against three-of-four opponents, including Ohio State. Washington State must limit Cal's offense in the same manner Oregon did a week ago—by creating turnovers.
Cougar defensive backs Deone Bucannon and Damante Horton happen to be two of the conference's best in that regard, and one takeaway could be the difference Saturday.
My Prediction: Washington State 49, Cal 45
No. 2 Oregon (-35) at Colorado
Saturday, Oct. 5, 6 p.m. ET | Pac-12 Network
The No. 2-ranked Oregon Ducks are without running back De'Anthony Thomas essentially for a second straight week, Ken Goe of The Oregonian reports.
Thomas injured his ankle on the opening kickoff of last week's win over Cal.
Colorado needs every bit of help it can get. Though the Buffaloes are vastly improved from a season ago, last week's blowout loss at Oregon State suggests Mike MacIntyre's program has considerable ground to make up before it's competing in the Pac-12.
Conversely, conference standard-bearer Oregon proved in its deconstruction of the Golden Bears, the Ducks are not short on weapons even with the explosive Thomas sidelined.
Oregon's underrated defense will make life difficult on quarterback Connor Wood at the line of scrimmage and force turnovers, which has been the hallmark of the Ducks the last two seasons.
Head coach Mark Helfrich can get his reserves plenty of playing time once again, after Oregon builds a lead by five or six touchdowns in the first half.
My Prediction: Oregon 58, Colorado 13
No. 22 Arizona State (-6.5) vs. Notre Dame (in Arlington, Tex.)
Saturday, Oct. 5, 7:30 p.m. ET | NBC
The Fashion Bowl is also the final leg of Arizona State's four-game stretch that included Wisconsin, Stanford and USC.
Most importantly, it's an opportunity to make history. Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham said during his weekly press conference Monday a win would make this team the first in college football history to beat USC and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks.
The Sun Devil spread offense promises to test the athleticism of Notre Dame's defense. Quarterback Taylor Kelly is coming into his own, thanks to two reliable weapons in the pass game: tight end Chris Coyle and wide receiver Jaelen Strong.
Both are big and athletic targets Kelly can use to exploit the growing pains in the Fighting Irish secondary.
Arizona State also has a multifaceted ground game. Touchdown machine running back Marion Grice is the focal point, but Kelly and running back D.J. Foster add a multifaceted look akin to that which the Sooners employed for 212 yards against the Irish in Week 5.
Notre Dame rolled off big chunks of rushing yardage last week against Oklahoma, averaging 7.6 per carry. Defending the run has been the most vexing issue for Arizona State early into this season.
Harassing quarterback Tommy Rees is crucial for the Sun Devils. The senior quarterback is prone to particularly inopportune turnovers—Oklahoma built a quick, two-touchdown lead on Rees interceptions last week.
Arizona State's prolific sack-creators in the front seven started to get loose for the first time all season, as defensive tackle Will Sutton, defensive ends Davon Coleman and Gannon Conway, and linebacker Carl Bradford all brought down USC quarterback Cody Kessler last week.
The Sun Devils are adept at turning pressure in the backfield into turnovers in the secondary. To that end, Alden Darby could be a name Rees learns to rue over the course of the evening.
Brian Kelly may go with running quarterback Andrew Hendrix more to exploit the Sun Devils' struggles in that facet, as Douglas Farmer of Irish Illustrated details. The Irish's ability to establish a consistent rush is the different between a game decided in the final moments, and a lopsided Sun Devil win.
My Prediction: Arizona State 38, Notre Dame 34
No. 15 Washington at No. 5 Stanford (-6.5)
Saturday, Oct. 5, 10:30 p.m. ET | ESPN
Saturday's encounter between Top 15-ranked Stanford and Washington will reveal much about both teams.
For Washington, this game is both a measuring stick and gut-check. Or, as defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha put it to GoHuskies.com's Gregg Bell, Stanford will "challenge us, our manhood again."
The Huskies are averaging a shade under 40 points per game with their new, hurry-up offense. However, the deep and talented Cardinal defense is equipped to slow down such attacks.
National rushing leader Bishop Sankey faces one of the best linebacker corps in college football. The junior running back has a knack for turning short-yardage plays into first-down gains, but he'll need every inch he can muster with Shayne Skov and A.J. Tarpley keyed in on him.
Stanford's smashmouth defense pairs nicely with a balanced offensive approach. Sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan is flourishing, and the Cardinal wide receiver corps is clicking.
Wideout Ty Montgomery is a dangerous deep-ball threat—something Washington didn't face last week against Arizona.
Washington has a similar makeup to Stanford, pairing offensive balance with aggressive defense, but the Huskies may not be ready to break into the Pac-12's upper echelon just yet.
My Prediction: Stanford 31, Washington 21