Dane Miller’s Week 4 Pac-12 Football Previews

Posted on September 23, 2021

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

As the races for the divisional titles kick off, the failures and accomplishments of the nonconference season can be thrown out the window.

Respectable victories and embarrassing defeats against out-of-conference foes mean nothing in the battle for the North and South titles.

To get to the Pac-12 Championship Game, each program must defeat opponents that know them inside and out.

Stanford has a head start in the North after its victory over USC; the Trojans are even in the South, having dispatched WSU; and the Cougars have fallen behind in the North.

But all the other Pac-12 teams face their first conference opponent of the season. I preview all six games here, with each of our football writers’ picks appearing at the bottom.

Washington State at Utah

Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT
Saturday, September 25
11:30 AM, Pac-12 Network

Starting the year 1-2, neither Utah or Washington State are where they expected to be.

The quarterback situation in Salt Lake City remains a carousel after Charlie Brewer unexpectedly left the program earlier in the week. But Cameron Rising is set to take over after igniting a comeback in San Diego that fell just short in triple overtime.

And on the Cougar sideline, an injury to Jayden de Laura could force Nick Rolovich to go with one of his second-string options, either Jarret Guarantano or Cammon Cooper.

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising | Justin Fine/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Fortunately for Rolovich, Washington State’s defensive scheme is suited to slow down Utah’s style of offense. Jake Dickert’s 4-2-5 system should have success containing the Utah ground game, forcing Rising to beat WSU through the air.

Yet, that may be to Rising’s liking. The sophomore put up three passing touchdowns against the Aztecs last Saturday, and likely comes out swinging on his home field.

At the end of the day, winning the turnover battle is arguably the recipe to a Washington State upset, and a big play on special teams could go far in tipping the scales.

No. 24 UCLA at Stanford

Stanford Stadium, Stanford, CA
Saturday, September 25
3:00 PM, Pac-12 Network

The Bruins are 1-12 against the Cardinal dating back to 2009, but the lone victory came the last time UCLA visited the Farm.

The confidence gained from the 2019 win should render the 13-game stretch mostly meaningless, although David Shaw is undoubtedly using it as motivation on his sideline.

Injuries have depleted Stanford’s running back depth, with Austin Jones and EJ Smith unavailable for the matchup on Saturday. The burden falls to Nathaniel Peat, forcing the Tree’s Number One option to take on an increased workload.

Stanford RB Nathaniel Peat |Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The absence of Shaw’s second and third-leading backs might be most felt by Tanner McKee. The early-season Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year candidate has yet to throw an interception, completing 71.4 percent of his passes to go along with his seven total touchdowns.

But without Jones and Smith to share the carries on the ground and catch passes out of the backfield, Jerry Azzinaro could dial up the blitzes. The increased pressure could lead to McKee’s first interception of the season, potentially turning the tide of the game.

With personnel issues on offense, the onus is on Shaw to scheme up a gameplan to shut down UCLA’s run offense and force Dorian Thompson-Robinson to beat them through the air.

Washington football pac-12
California at Washington

Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA
Saturday, September 25
6:30 PM, Pac-12 Network

Looking to continue building momentum at home, Washington takes on a California team brimming with offensive firepower.

The Bears have scored more points through the first three games of the year than the past three seasons, with Chase Garbers just 120 total yards shy of breaking the 1,000 mark.

Combined with running back Damien Moore, the duo have 11 touchdowns to catapult Cal to the nation’s 43rd-rated offense in yards per game.

But the Dawgs regained confidence after holding Arkansas State to three points last weekend, setting the two programs on a collision course.

Cal RB Damien Moore | Sunny Shen/The Daily Californian

The problem for Justin Wilcox is his defense. The unit is giving up 30.3 points per game, sitting 66th in the country in scoring defense.

Yet, Dylan Morris has thrown five interceptions to open the year and the Bears are forcing an average of one pick per contest.

The outcome of the matchup could come down to the number of mistakes the sophomore makes, with California pulling off the upset if it generates two or more more INTs.

And after getting the job done the last time they played in Seattle, Wilcox and Garbers know what it will take to win.

Colorado at Arizona State

Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ
Saturday, September 25
7:30 PM, ESPNU

It’s baptism by fire as the broken Colorado offense faces one of the top defenses in the Pac-12 for its first true road game of the season.

Herm Edwards’ roster is circling the wagons after making too many mistakes against BYU last week, ready to exorcise the demons against the struggling Buffs. And with a first-year starting quarterback in their cross-hairs, the Sun Devils should have a field day.

But the Colorado defense is capable of keeping the game within reach.

ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels | Chris Gardner/Getty Images

With a linebacker corps that matches any other in the South and a secondary capable of making plays, it won’t be a walk in the park for Jayden Daniels and the Arizona State offense.

Chip Trayanum’s availability remains questionable, but D.J. Taylor is expected back to give ASU a needed boost on special teams.

Yet the Colorado offense has managed to score just seven points in the last two games combined. Nothing has worked over the past eight quarters, except for quarterback-keepers from Brendon Lewis.

If the quarterback runs are executed effectively, the CU passing game could open up, making this matchup competitive in the second half.

Oregon Ducks Logo Pac-12
Arizona football Pac-12
Arizona at No. 3 Oregon

Autzen Stadium, Eugene, OR
Saturday, September 25
7:30 PM, ESPN

Coming off an historic defeat to FCS opponent Northern Arizona, the Wildcats head to Eugene where they are 3-12 dating back to 1982.

Jedd Fisch’s Pro Style offense has yet to put up more than 20 points in a game, with three quarterbacks seemingly unable to get the job done.

South Florida transfer Jordan McCloud is the likely starter on Saturday, bringing a running dimension to the offense that is absent when Gunner Cruz and Will Plummer are under center.

Oregon running back CJ Verdell | Chris Pietsch/The Register Guard

McCloud’s decision-making figures to be the X-Factor, potentially securing or losing him the starting job moving forward.

But the Ducks aren’t happy after their performance against Stony Brook. Motivated to fix the mistakes made, Mario Cristobal will have his team focused and ready to go.

CJ Verdell and the Oregon running backs should exploit the Arizona defense that has struggled to stop the run. And the UO defensive line should penetrate the Wildcat backfield from the opening snap.

The mismatch in both skill and scheme could make this game ugly.

usc logo
Oregon State at USC

Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
Saturday, September 25
7:30 PM, FS1

Facing an Oregon State offense led by Chance Nolan, this matchup might be one to watch if the Trojans don’t pull away in the first half.

B.J. Baylor has thrived under Nolan’s command, taking advantage of the running lanes opened by an efficient quarterback.

The duo have 12 combined touchdowns, while Nolan has completed 70.3 percent of his passes with zero interceptions. Perhaps more importantly, the Beavs believe they can win.

Oregon State QB Chance Nolan | Leon Neuschwander for The Oregonian/OregonLive

The confidence within the program is a tangible X-Factor, and it should manifest itself in effort plays on both sides of the ball. If USC isn’t ahead by more than two scores at halftime, Oregon State could find a way to pull off the upset.

Jaxson Dart has reportedly been held out of practice this week, and Drake London has missed time as well. But Kedon Slovis has recovered from the injury he sustained in Pullman and appears to be the projected starter against the Beavers.

To avoid another defeat at home, Todd Orlando’s primary objective will be to slow down Baylor and the OSU ground game. If SC forces the Beavers to become one-dimensional, it should be enough to secure the win at the Coliseum.

SportsPac12 Football Writers Week 4 Game Picks

—More from Dane Miller—