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Picking the Pac: Long awaited rivalry week can bring a twist

Shane Dieffenbach Avatar
November 26, 2021

Finally, it’s Thanksgiving weekend. Not only is it the ideal holiday for gathering with family and friends to share a meal together, it’s also the ideal holiday to huddle around the TV. This weekend provides the final slate of regular season games in the NCAA, closing the door on yet another chapter. Adding to the excitement, it’s also the week where rivalries are taking place all across football.

Reflecting back on the start of the season and early expectations, it’s wild to see how the dominos have fallen. As we push into the final weekend of the regular season, there’s still so much chaos to potentially unfold, specifically within the North Division. Oregon, Oregon State and Washington State are all battling for a spot to face Utah, which has already locked-in the South Division title, in the Pac-12 Championship in Las Vegas on Dec. 3.

It’s also rivalry week for a number of schools in the conference, bringing an added flair to the final game of the regular season. The Pac-12 is already infamous for eating itself alive, and this week will likely be no different. In those high-tension, emotional games, anything can happen no matter what the stats say.

For one last time this fall, let’s take a look at what’s going on around the conference during this holiday weekend.

*All odds from DraftKings Sportsbook as of 9 a.m. on Nov. 26. Use code PHNX at signup.*

Colorado at No. 16 Utah: Friday, 2 p.m.

When the Pac-12 initially added Colorado (4-7 Overall, 3-5 Conference) and Utah (8-3 overall, 7-1 conference), many analysts anticipated the game between the two would eventually turn into a rivalry. However, as Utah continued to trend upwards, Colorado has had a bumpy and unstable journey.

Utah has been playing inspired football since the tragic loss of cornerback Aaron Lowe in September. A defining moment for the Utes was the second half comeback against Arizona State, showing extreme resilience in the process. Since then, they Utes have continued to bring the heat. Utah most recently tossed Oregon around like a rag doll in a 35-7 upset victory.

Colorado comes into the game off a huge win over Washington, but Utah will be a much tougher test. Utah has one of the top rushing offenses in the country, averaging 213.9 yards per game. It’s going to be a challenge for the Buffs’ to build a wall strong enough to stop Utah. Right now, they’re giving up an average of 170.7 yards per game.

Adding to Utah’s offense, they have a strong passing quarterback in Cameron Rising, who’s averaging 219.5 yards per game. The lack of ability to pass the ball for Colorado will inevitably come back to bite them in this game. The Buffs’ currently are averaging just 267.4 yards per game.

Britt’s Pick: Utah

Shane’s Pick: Utah

Spread: Utah -24

Total: 50.5

Moneyline: Colorado+1200/Utah-2500

Washington State at Washington: Friday, 6 p.m.

In this year’s Apple Cup, Washington State (6-5 overall, 5-3 conference) will be hoping for a little luck to go along with a win when they travel to the Huskies’ house on Friday evening. Should Wazzu come out victorious, a win by Oregon State on Saturday would officially crown the Cougars as Pac-12 North champs.

While the Cougars are riding high coming into this week’s rivalry, the same can’t be said for the Huskies. Washington (4-7 overall, 3-5 conference) suffered an upsetting loss on the road to Washington last week after dropping the game prior in the final minutes to Arizona State.

Washington is struggling to generate offensive yards this year, coming in at No. 110 in the FBS, averaging 334.6 yards per game. Their strength lies in the passing game, where they’re averaging 228.2 yards per game. It’s been a steady climb in the rankings since they’ve started alternating Dylan Morris and Sam Huard at quarterback. Defensively, their strength lies in shutting down anything that flies. It’s why the Huskies have the top-ranked passing defense in the nation.

Washington State also relies heavily on passing the ball, where they average 261.2 yards per game. However, the Cougars have a slightly stronger ability to run the ball compared to the Huskies.

It’s important to note that both teams are under the direction of interim head coaches right now.

Washington State terminated former coach Nick Rolovich along with a handful of staff last month for refusing Covid-19 vaccinations. Since the termination, the Cougars have been under the direction of former defensive coordinator Jake Dickert. While many thought it would be tough for Washington State to finish out the season, the Cougars have come together to rise above the adversity.

Things are a little more chaotic for the Huskies. The program officially announced the termination of coach Jimmy Lake last week. Lake was initially suspended following an altercation with a player on the field during the game against Oregon. The Huskies have been under the direction of defensive coordinator Bob Gregory since.

No matter who’s coaching, it doesn’t take much to get the squad fired up for the Apple Cup rivalry. Both teams want the state bragging rights that come with the win.

Nov 29, 2019; Seattle, WA, USA; The Washington Huskies players celebrate with the Apple Cup trophy after beating the Washington State Cougars at Husky Stadium in the annual rivalry. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Britt’s Pick: Washington State

Shane’s Pick: Washington State

Spread: Washington State -1

Total: 46

Moneyline: Washington -105/Washington State -115

Oregon State at No. 11 Oregon: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

The Pac-12 North Champion will officially be determined by the conclusion of the Civil War. It’s still a three-way race heading into the weekend depending on how things unfold on Friday. Should Washington win in the Apple Cup, an Oregon State (7-4 overall, 5-3 conference) win would crown the Beavers as the champions of the North. Meanwhile, a win for Oregon (9-2 overall, 6-2 conference) would mean the Ducks take it all.

As the Ducks look to defend their turf, the Beavers want to ride the wave of momentum from their success this season. Just last week, Oregon State capped off its first undefeated season at home since 2001 in a 24-10 win over ASU. The win came when they needed it most. With the Ducks falling to Utah, the Beavers’ chase for the division title is still alive. Oregon State is also bowl eligible for the first time since 2013, giving it a lot to keep playing for.

Oregon comes into the rivalry off an upsetting loss on the road to Utah. The Ducks were stunned early on and struggled to recover, ultimately tumbling out of the College Football Playoff discussions. Despite coming out flat last week, it won’t be hard for the Ducks to get pumped up on Saturday.

Breaking things down, this is the closest the teams have been statistically in years. Offensively, both the Ducks and the Beavers excel at running the ball. Oregon State comes in at No. 9 in the FBS with 229.5 yards per game, while Oregon is only a few spots behind at No. 20 with 212.5 yards per game.

With both teams excelling on the ground, let’s examine how each team is doing at stopping the run. Right now, Oregon is giving up just under 10 yards less per game on the ground than Oregon State. The Ducks are allowing only 129.1 yards per game compared to the Beavers’ 139.

When it comes to passing, Oregon has an upper hand over Oregon State. The Ducks average 215.5 yards per game, while the Beavers average 204.5 yards per game. Stopping the pass, both are nearly dead even, with the Beavers allowing slightly less at 238 yards per game compared to the Ducks 241.8.

This game will likely be the game of the week, as both teams are so evenly matched on paper. While Oregon has the benefit of playing at home, Oregon State has the benefit of coming into the rivalry off a win. In emotional games like this, those factors can make a substantial impact on the outcome.

Nov 27, 2020; Corvallis, Oregon, USA; Oregon State Beavers quarterback Tristan Gebbia (3) runs into the end zone for a touchdown against the Oregon Ducks during the second half of the rivalry at Reser Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Britt’s Pick: Oregon State

Shane’s Pick: Oregon State

Spread: Oregon -7

Total: 61

Moneyline: Oregon State +225/Oregon -280

Arizona at Arizona State: Saturday, 2 p.m.

One of the most underrated rivalries in all of college football, the Duel in the Desert stirs up a lot of resentment among both fan bases. The long, historic divide is rooted in the political vote on whether to allow then Arizona State College to become an official university. Prop 200 went on to pass on the 1958 ballot, and thus, Arizona State University was officially adopted. It was also when the bitterness in the rivalry reached what many say was a new level.

It’s been a struggle this year for the Wildcats (1-10 overall, 1-7 conference), who have been scratching and clawing their way to the finish. Arizona was dealt a number of serious injuries in the earlier half of the season, which only continued to eat away at an already underwhelming roster. The Wildcats are down to their third-string quarterback Will Plummer due to season-ending injuries for both Jordan McCloud and Gunnar Cruz.

Things haven’t been all sunshine and rainbows for Arizona State (7-4 overall, 5-3 conference) either, despite touting a much better record. Jayden Daniels has struggled to meet expectations this year, and his confidence in his passing game has vanished.

Everyone knows that records don’t matter when it comes to a rivalry, and it couldn’t be more true in this case. While the Wildcats are arguably the worst team in college football based on their record, they’ve shown some improvement throughout the year. Arizona is towards the bottom of the FBS for offensive production, averaging 136.8 yards per game on the ground and 215.5 yards per game in the air.

It has been a lackluster season for ASU’s offense considering early expectations, but the defense has held strong. Right now, Arizona State leads the Pac-12 in total defense, only giving up 322.5 yards per game. While Arizona is still down, don’t expect this game to be another 70-7 lopsided game. In a rivalry as intense as this one, expect both teams to play their best game, and Arizona will be motivated after such an embarrassment last year.

Nov 30, 2019; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (2) holds the Territorial Cup trophy as he celebrates with teammates after defeating the Arizona Wildcats in the Territorial Cup at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Britt’s Pick: Arizona State

Shane’s Pick: Arizona State

Spread: Arizona State -20

Total: 53

Moneyline: Arizona +800/Arizona State -1375

No. 5 Notre Dame at Stanford: Saturday, 6 p.m.

It’s hard to look at this game and not immediately think Stanford (3-8 overall, 2-7 conference) is going to get molly-whopped by Notre Dame (10-1 overall), but stranger things have happened. Stanford has been limping to the finish line for a while, but not without picking up two huge wins over Oregon and USC on the way.

For the Fighting Irish, it’s been quite the season. Their lone loss came to Cincinnati, the No. 4 team in the country. The Bearcats are looking for a birth in the College Football Playoffs, but if they stumble the Irish could find their way in. In the past three games, Notre Dame’s defense has allowed only nine points total in blowout wins over Navy, Virginia and Georgia Tech.

While it’s been a rough year, the Cardinal enters the final week of the regular season doing a decent job of shutting down the passing game. Stanford’s defense is ranked No. 32 in the FBS for passing yards allowed per game, giving up an average of only 204.2 yards per game. Notre Dame relies more heavily on the pass game, averaging 256.5 yards per game compared to only 150 on the ground.

However, the Irish will likely pound the ball more in this game since Stanford struggles to stop the run. The Cardinal ranks No. 127 in the FBS, just three spots out of dead last, for allowing 241.7 yards per game. If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s never to count anyone out, but it seems highly unlikely Stanford pulls out a win.

Britt’s Pick: Notre Dame

Shane’s Pick: Notre Dame

Spread: Notre Dame -20.5

Total: 53.5

Moneyline: Stanford +750/Notre Dame -1250

No. 13 BYU at USC: Saturday, 8:30 p.m.

It has been a successful season for independent BYU (9-2 overall) against teams in the Pac-12 South. This season, the Cougars have defeated all four of the conference opponents that they’ve faced so far. They’ll look to make it a sweep with a victory over USC (4-6 overall, 3-5 conference). While BYU’s unexpected success has been a welcomed storyline for the fanbase, it’s a stark contrast from where the Trojans stand.

Things have been a mess since the start. It seemed as if USC’s athletic department was throwing in the towel when they fired coach Clay Helton after a loss to Stanford in the second game of the season. UCLA man-handled USC in the Crosstown Rivalry game last week, handing the Trojans a 62-33 defeat on their home turf.

Somehow, the Trojans are still bowl eligible should they pull off a win this week against BYU. Due to the previous Covid postponement of their game against Cal, the Trojans wrap up the regular season on Dec. 4. However, those bowl dreams seem more like pipe dreams at this point, as USC’s lacked the ferocity and tenacity on the field this year.

Both teams are towards the top of the FBS for total offense, with BYU holding a slight edge. USC relies heavily on its gunslinging quarterback Kedon Slovis, while the Cougars have a more balanced attack divided between the run and the pass.

The biggest difference in this game will likely be the defenses, where the Cougars are only slightly ahead of the Trojans when it comes to overall yards given up. With how much USC likes to pass the ball, it could provide a more interesting matchup than people anticipate as the Cougars allow an average of 234.4 yards per game. Intangibles like a strong solid start and momentum swings will definitely play a part, but BYU seems to be in a prime spot to close out the season undefeated against the conference.


Britt’s Pick: BYU

Shane’s Pick: BYU

Spread: BYU -7

Total: 64.5

Moneyline: USC +205/BYU -255

Cal at UCLA: Saturday, 8:30 p.m.

Cal came out of Covid protocols on fire last week, storming past Stanford in last week’s rivalry game, 41-11. Still in the hunt for a bowl birth, the Bears need a win against UCLA this weekend and against USC in the rescheduled game taking place on Dec. 4. After a slow start to the season, Cal is looking to keep the offensive rhythm flowing to show it’s better than what the record shows.

Meanwhile, the Bruins (7-4 overall, 5-3 conference) are looking to close out the season on a high note after hitting a mid-season slump. UCLA looked to be the early favorite to snag the Pac-12 South, but a loss to Arizona State caused a shake up. Coming in off a huge rivalry win of its own against USC last week on the road, the Bruins are also riding high.

It’s going to be an offensive battle now that Cal has quarterback Chase Garbers back. Garbers has finally found his confidence as a passer, put on display in last week’s game against the Cardinal. Helping to set two different records, Garber was able to connect with Trevon Young for the longest touchdown pass in Big Game rivalry history. Garber also helped Cal generate 636 total offensive yards, a historic performance in its own regardless of the rivalry.

Right now, Cal has the third-best passing offense in the conference. Averaging 235.9 yards per game in the air, Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins are right on their heels, averaging 231.8 yards per game. While UCLA is averaging about 30 yards more per game on the ground, those yards won’t be easy to pick up against the Bears. Cal has the top rushing defense in the Pac-12 and is currently No. 22 in the FBS for yards given up with an average of 122 per game.

Just as Cal has the upper hand in shutting down the run, they’ve also got a leg up when it comes to stopping the pass. UCLA has the worst pass defense in the conference and one of the worst in all of the FBS. Coming in at No. 118 for allowing an average of 272.2 yards per game, it’s a great time for Garbers to be finding his confidence as the Bears will be able to take a mixed attack against the Bruins.

Just as defense wins games, momentum also plays a huge part in things, and Cal seems to have everything working in their favor now. This game has the ingredients to be come a classic Pac-12 After Dark banger.

Britt’s Pick: Cal

Shane’s Pick: UCLA

Spread: UCLA -6.5

Total: 57.5

Moneyline: Cal +215/UCLA -265

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