Dane Miller’s 2023 Week 13 Pac-12 Football Previews

From the Civil War to the Territorial Cup, the last game of the season is all about bragging rights

Posted on November 24, 2023

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

The final week in the regular season features rivalry games across the board.

From the Civil War (previewed separately here) to the Territorial Cup, the last game of the season is all about bragging rights.

I preview the five Saturday games across the Pac-12 here and the picks of our writers and broadcasters appear at the bottom.

Colorado at Utah

Saturday, November 25
Noon PT, Pac-12 Network

Shedeur Sanders’ status is up in the air after he left the Washington State game early with an injury.

If he can’t go, Colorado has zero chance of ending its season with a win. And even if he is able to play, Utah’s defense is circling the wagons.

The CU-Utah “rivalry” has always felt like a forced marriage that never gained traction. Still, it’s the final game of the year for the Buffs and the last chance to avoid a six-game losing streak heading into the offseason.

Utah’s bread and butter is its rushing attack. That’s a problem for a Colorado team that enters the matchup No. 99 in rushing yards allowed per game. Only USC has a worse run defense in the Pac-12.

Utah running back Ja’Quinden Jackson | Rick Scuteri/AP

Unless the Buffs can find a way to slow the Utes down, the game could get ugly.

On the other side of the ball, Morgan Scalley is looking to bounce back after the disaster in the desert. He likely has an aggressive game plan for whoever lines up under center for Colorado.

Look for Utah to bring heavy pressure early and often.

One of the only chances CU has at winning is by forcing turnovers. Pivotal plays on special teams would help, too.

But facing one of the top defensive lines in the Pac-12 and an offense built on running the ball, Colorado is in trouble.

Arizona football Pac-12No. 15 Arizona at Arizona State

Saturday, November 25
12:30 pm PT, ESPN

Remember 70 to 7.

That’s the message Jedd Fisch is drilling into his players all week in the build-up to this game. The blowout defeat in the 2020 Territorial Cup is still stamped in the minds of the remaining players that were on that roster.

Michael Wiley and Treydan Stukes, in particular, are key contributors who played in the 2020 game and will have the newer players focused on returning the favor.

Signs seem to be pointing to Arizona State quarterback Jaden Rashada getting the start after missing most of the season due to injury.

If he does get the nod, Arizona defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen is sure to bring plenty of pressure in an attempt to generate mistakes.

Rashada is shifty, highly mobile, and a capable passer. But the Wildcats have one of the top defensive lines in the Pac-12 and are motivated to make a statement.

The UA secondary is buzzing, too, after helping generate two interceptions against Utah last week.

But the key to stopping the Sun Devil offense is controlling their ground game. Cameron Skattebo is one of the top running backs in the Conference and can even throw the ball when lining up as the quarterback.

Arizona QB Noah Fifita | Rick Scuteri/AP

Tight end Jalin Conyers is a multi-faceted threat, too. Able to effectively operate as the quarterback to either run the ball or throw it, Conyers is another weapon Nansen has to game plan for.

Still, many of those threats can be dealt with by blitzing and using variable formations to confuse the offensive line. Nansen is a master at that and should throw multiple formations and personnel at the ASU front line to keep them guessing.

The primary showdown in the matchup, though, is Jedd Fisch versus Brian Ward. No defense has produced an effective game plan to slow down Noah Fifita and Fisch’s modern pro-style offense.

With four running backs and an elite offensive line, Arizona is more than happy to run the ball all day. But Fisch has a crew of elite wide receivers and a quarterback that makes all the right throws.

Look for UA to establish their ground game first and then use Jacob Cowing, Tetairoa McMillan, and Montana Lemonious-Craig extensively all over the field.

Unless Arizona State can contain the Wildcat running backs and force Fifita into bad throws, Fisch and Company should secure the win.

Washington State at No. 4 WashingtonWashington football pac-12

Saturday, November 25
1:00 pm PT, FOX

Unlike last year’s Apple Cup, Washington State enters this season’s rivalry with a capable offensive system.

Ben Arbuckle has ironed out the issues Wazzu dealt with in the middle of the season and the system is back rolling. Almost completely ignoring the ground game, Washington State throws the ball all over the field.

Quarterback Cameron Ward is used sometimes as a runner, though, and the Husky defense must be prepared for those eventualities.

Not many are expecting the game to be close. But the Dawgs have a poor passing defense and are vulnerable to WSU’s style of offense.

Entering the game No. 117 in passing yards allowed per game, Washington is at risk of getting into a shootout. The Cougs hardly run the ball and the entire game plan is to throw the ball all day.

That should be worrying.

Getting into a high-scoring affair with a rival gunning for bowl eligibility is like playing with fire. The longer the game stays close, the greater confidence Washington State will have in posting the upset.

Cougar QB Cam Ward | Young Kwak/AP

Still, Michael Penix Jr. and UW’s future NFL wide receivers should have strong games. Jake Dickert’s defense isn’t on the level that is customary for his teams.

The Cougars are No. 101 in passing yards allowed per game and No. 91 in scoring defense. That’s probably not going to get the job done against one of the top offenses in College Football.

Turnovers, then, are what could make the difference. And that’s a sword that cuts both ways.

At times this season, Wazzu has hemorrhaged the ball and cost itself wins in the process.

The Cougars are No. 104 in turnover margin and can’t afford any mistakes. Rivalry games are always unpredictable, though, and if WSU flips the script on its turnover problem that could give them a chance at the upset.

Even if they do force UW into mistakes, Ward will have to play one of the most efficient games of his career to upset the Huskies in Seattle.

No. 18 Notre Dame at Stanford

Saturday, November 25
4:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

The Cardinal take on Notre Dame in their final game as members of the Pac-12.

The Irish are 8-3 on the season with the three defeats coming to Ohio State, Louisville, and Clemson. Fresh off a 45-7 trouncing of Wake Forest, Notre Dame is geared up for another blowout.

Quarterback Sam Hartman is completing 63.8 percent of his passes and running back Audric Estime has over 1,000 yards rushing this season.

The Irish are No. 14 nationally in scoring offense and boast the country’s No. 7 scoring defense.

Facing such a quality opponent, Stanford could fail to score more than two touchdowns.

It’s an unfortunate way to end the season and begin the official transition to the ACC. But it is what it is.

Stanford QB Ashton Daniels | Stephen Lam/San Francisco Chronicle

To keep the game respectable, the Tree must get their passing game going early. The Irish are No. 3 in the nation in passing yards allowed per game, though, and are No. 7 in interceptions forced.

But if Troy Taylor can use his creative play-calling and pre-snap movement to create open looks in the short and medium range, Ashton Daniels should be able to execute the throws effectively.

Production from the Stanford running backs could help alleviate pressure, too, and open up more space for the wideouts. But the Cardinal’s ground game is primarily through its quarterbacks, making the team mostly one-dimensional.

Matched up against such steep odds, it’s only a question of how many points the Tree will lose by.

California at UCLA

Saturday, November 25
7:30 pm PT, ESPN

Bowl eligibility is on the line for Fernando Mendoza and the Bears.

The turnaround in Berkeley has been dramatic since the redshirt freshman won the job mid-way through the season. With a victory in the Big Game under his belt, Mendoza has the confidence to walk into the Rose Bowl and steal a win.

To do so, Cal’s offensive line has to win the battle in the trenches. UCLA arguably has the top defensive line in the Pac-12 and presents a major challenge.

If D’Anton Lynn’s front seven contain Jaydn Ott and the other California running backs, there’s not much chance for the Bears to get to .500.

Lynn himself has done a masterful job of transforming UCLA’s defense into one of the top in the nation. The elite front seven helps, but his defensive game planning is strong and he likely has answers for Ott and Company.

That could require Mendoza to step his game up even further. It seems unlikely that Ott will be able to go off the way he has over the last handful of games.

UCLA running back T.J. Harden | Keith Birmingham/Pasadena Star-News

Stanford, Washington State, and USC have poor rushing defenses that don’t compare to the quality UCLA brings to the table. In fact, the Bruins are the No. 1 run defense in the country.

Wilcox might be forced to throw the ball more than usual and the game could come down to how effectively Mendoza is against the Bruin secondary.

UCLA is all the way down in 82nd in passing yards allowed per game and could be vulnerable.

But Mendoza can’t make any mistakes. He has thrown a pick in every game he played in this season except for one and can’t afford that in Pasadena.

On the other side of the ball, the Bears have to contain the UCLA running backs. T.J. Harden went off against USC and figures to be fed the ball once again.

California is No. 45 in rushing yards allowed per game, which could make this matchup closer than some are expecting.

If the Bears can get off the field on third down with strong run defense and win the turnover battle, an upset is a possibility.

Game Picks from Our Senior Writers and Broadcasters

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