Posted on November 17, 2023
The Pac-12 enters Week 12 outside of the Top 4 of the College Football Playoff rankings.
That could change this week, though, with No. 5 Washington taking on No. 11 Oregon State on ABC.
A Husky win would likely be enough to catapult the Dawgs into the Top 4.
I preview all five Saturday games across the league here and the picks of our writers and broadcasters appear at bottom.
No. 22 Utah at No. 17 Arizona
Saturday, November 18
11:30 am PT, Pac-12 Network
Day games are extraordinarily rare at Arizona Stadium and the advantage the desert sun gives the Cats is hard to quantify. The sun in the State of Arizona is a different animal. If you have lived here, you know what I mean.
If not, imagine how food inside of a microwave feels like when it’s being cooked. The UV rays zap the life away and can burn after only short exposure.
And the Utes are walking into a trap. Even if it’s a rainy day like some forecasts project.
It’s Senior Day and the buzz around the UA program is at its highest level in a decade. It almost doesn’t matter who lines up on the other sideline.
Jedd Fisch has the pieces on both sides of the ball to get the job done. But more importantly, his team has the motivation to step their game up.
Arizona Football is a fickle program and its fans are notoriously fair weather. Yet, when it’s cooking, it’s cooking. And Fisch is a master chef.
Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley brings a vaunted defense that would probably normally intimidate a redshirt freshman like Noah Fifita.
But the UA quarterback is surrounded by highly skilled players at every position and runs an offense with plenty of check-downs.
The ability of Arizona’s running backs to excel in the passing game, in particular, is what could make the difference.
Fisch’s route trees always provide a check-down option out of the backfield or a short pass to Jacob Cowing in the flats or slot.
If the elite Utah front seven is able to get pressure, the Wildcats’ offensive system has built-in answers. And if Scalley tries to cover those check-downs, Fifita can hit Tetairoa McMillan over the top for shots downfield.
Combined with a four-deep running back rotation with an elite mix of speed and power, Arizona’s offense is for real.
Look for the Cats to play with their hair on fire from the opening series and outwork Utah through the fourth quarter.
UCLA at USC
Saturday, November 18
12:30 pm PT, ABC
Reports have surfaced that this might be Chip Kelly’s last game and USC has fallen spectacularly short of expectations.
There is some drama, though, in the matchup between Lincoln Riley and D’Anton Lynn. The UCLA coordinator has transformed the Bruin defense and arguably has the top defensive line in the Pac-12.
Yet, Riley has a Caleb Williams advantage.
The USC quarterback’s ability to scramble and willingness to run is a dynamic threat that Lynn hasn’t faced this season.
Oregon State’s DJ Uiagalelei might be the closest comparison, but the Beaver quarterback has only six rushing touchdowns.
Williams has 11.
The red zone, in particular, is where the defending Heisman winner is so dangerous. Combined with his 29-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio, Williams is the X-Factor that arguably puts this game out of reach for UCLA.
The quarterback debacle that Kelly engineered doesn’t help either. Nor does the terrible offensive line.
But since the matchup is on ABC and features a glorious clash of jersey colors, it should draw the attention of part of the College Football world.
At the end of the day, USC should handle business and put Kelly out of his misery.
No. 6 Oregon at Arizona State
Saturday, November 18
1:00 pm PT, Fox
Lanning, however, doesn’t play like that.
Tempe has been a troubling place for the Ducks over the last few years and the coaching staff will have their players ready to go.
Kenny Dillingham has been forced to run an unconventional offense with creative formations and personnel decisions.
All those cute plays end now.
Despite UCLA having an improved defense, the players the Ducks line up on the field are not on the same level as the Bruins.
Oregon’s defense is more akin to an SEC team and figures to thrive against Dillingham’s unusual play calls.
It’s all fun and games when the “swinging gate” is working, when the tight end is completing passes, and when the running back is throwing touchdowns.
But this is a different animal. And it’s personal.
Look for Oregon to hold ASU to two touchdowns or less while making life miserable for third-string quarterback Trenton Bourguet.
The deciding-battle, then, figures to come down to Will Stein versus Brian Ward. The Arizona State defensive coordinator has worked wonders with his defense and presents a formidable challenge.
But Oregon has a much more powerful rushing attack than anyone the Sun Devils have faced this season.
Add in Bo Nix who is playing at a Heisman level and you have a recipe for a blowout.
Unless ASU can force turnovers and get creative enough on offense, the game figures to be out of reach early in the second half.
California at Stanford
Saturday, November 18
3:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
California hasn’t lost to Stanford since the 2020 Covid season and has the advantage on paper. The Cardinal defense struggles to keep opponents out of the end zone, entering the game No. 126 in points allowed per game.
But the Bears are worse. Wilcox’s team is No. 127 in points allowed per game, potentially indicating a high-scoring affair.
To continue their winning streak, Cal has to force turnovers. Stanford quarterback Ashton Daniels threw three interceptions against Oregon State last week and has nine picks on the season. He has also been sacked 22 times.
That should spurn defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon to call a blitz-heavy game plan.
But Troy Taylor’s system is creative and uses plenty of pre-snap eye candy. The Bears have to stay disciplined in their assignments or gaps could open up that the Tree take advantage of.
The result could be a reasonable amount of zone defense to mitigate the threat. However Sirmon decides to call it, his defense must force turnovers.
On the other side of the ball, the game plan is as simple as feeding Jaydn Ott and putting Fernando Mendoza into favorable positions. The Cardinal secondary is one of the worst in the country and is ripe for exploitation.
Still, Cal figures to establish its run game as the first priority and then use its threat to take shots downfield.
Look for Mendoza to make several key plays with his legs and for the Cal defense to generate pivotal stops down the stretch.
No. 5 Washington at No. 11 Oregon State
Saturday, November 18
4:30 pm PT, ABC
The stakes are high and the potential ramifications are clear. The Committee is signaling that Washington is not strong enough to get into the Playoff as it stands and a loss could eliminate the Dawgs from contention.
To avoid that scenario, the Washington secondary has to have its strongest game of the season.
The Beavers are deadly from play-action and suck opponents in with a strong ground game. If the UW defensive backs bite, the OSU wide receivers could exploit them for chunk plays through the air.
That would have a snowball effect, simultaneously opening up running lanes with a hesitant defense that doesn’t know where the ball is going.
Blitzing is the key to counteract it.
DJ Uiagalelei doesn’t take many chances and pressure could result in him trying to scramble instead of taking shots downfield.
He has only thrown four interceptions on the season and will try to make plays with his legs if the coverage is adequate.
But if the Husky DBs are overly focused on the run, the Dawgs could be in trouble.
Uiagalelei will take advantage of open space that his wide receivers are given. And his tight ends are substantial threats. Jack Velling has eight touchdowns on the season and is third on the team in receiving yards.
Used in the middle of the field and in the red zone, the Huskies must have a game plan to defend the sophomore tight end.
On the other side of the ball, Kalen DeBoer could keep the OSU defense guessing by breaking tendencies. The Washington run game has emerged as the season has gone on and the focus on the ground could be on full display.
Dillon Johnson has two straight games with over 100 yards rushing and 20-plus carries. The Beavers do have the nation’s No. 16 rushing defense, though, and DeBoer figures to eventually get back to his bread and butter.
Oregon State’s pass defense is poor, entering the game No. 73 in passing yards allowed per contest.
That’s a factor that Michael Penix Jr. and the Husky wide receivers should take full advantage of. As long as the UW defense limits explosive plays through the air, the Huskies should come out on top.
Game Picks from Our Senior Writers and Broadcasters
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