Week 5 Pac-12 Predictions And Previews

    Stanford (2-1) at Washington (4-0) Sept. 27, 4:15, Fox Here’s The Deal: The Pac-12 South has UCLA at Arizona State Thursday night. The North Division is

    September 26, 2014

    Stanford (2-1) at Washington (4-0) Sept. 27, 4:15, Fox 

    Here’s The Deal: The Pac-12 South has UCLA at Arizona State Thursday night. The North Division is staging its own similarly pivotal game in Seattle two days later. 

    Oregon is the favorite in the North. But the winner of Saturday’s game between Stanford and Washington instantly becomes the Ducks’ biggest threat in the division. The Cardinal is the two-time defending league champ, but it already has a blemish, falling at home in Week 2 to USC. With another loss this early in the season, Stanford will basically be out of the hunt before it’s October. 

    Washington may be 4-0, but it has stumbled, coughed and wheezed its way to an unbeaten start to the Chris Petersen era. The Huskies have flashed varying degrees of inconsistency, especially against Hawaii, Eastern Washington and Georgia State. They can make things right this week, though, against a rival that’s been their nemesis the past decade. 

    Why Stanford Might Win: U-Dub isn’t battle-tested for what it’s going to face this weekend. 

    The Cardinal presents a challenge that the Huskies haven’t seen in the first four games. Stanford can neutralize Washington’s strength in the trenches, and it’ll force Cyler Miles to be more of a passer than he’s been the last three weeks. However, Washington’s biggest threat to staying perfect is its shaky pass defense. Cardinal QB Kevin Hogan has been crisp so far this season, and receivers Ty Montgomery, Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector represents an enormous challenge for a young secondary. 

    Why Washington Might Win: The old Stanford manhandled Washington. This isn’t the old Stanford. 

    USC showed in Week 2 that the Cardinal is as vulnerable as it’s been in the David Shaw era. The running game isn’t as assertive, and the venerable O-line is making an unusual number of mistakes. For the Huskies, it’s been ages since their combination of linemen and linebackers was this sound. They lead the Pac-12 in sacks, and are tied for second in sacks allowed. The front seven is comprised of five seniors and two juniors, headed by All-American candidates Danny Shelton and Shaq Thompson. 

    Who To Watch Out For: Shelton at the nose versus the interior of the Stanford line is going to be an epic four-quarter battle. Shelton is off to an incredible start, leading the team with 40 tackles, 9.5 stops for loss and seven sacks. The Cardinal guards and center are well-coached on the inside, but still somewhat inexperienced, with the biggest test of their careers coming Saturday. 

    This could be Hogan’s game to win or lose. The running game will get yards from Kelsey Young and Barry Sanders, but neither will carry the offense. If Hogan gets time, he’ll beat the Washington defensive backs. And not only are his receivers big and talented, but sophomore Austin Hooper is on the verge of becoming Stanford’s next big thing at tight end.

    The Huskies have blocked well early on, despite not having access to injured RT Ben Riva. Redshirt freshman Coleman Shelton has filled in admirably, but he’s young and just 281 pounds. Stanford will have the edge whenever fifth-year senior ends Henry Anderson or Blake Lueders is lined up opposite Shelton. The Cardinal will also create headaches when unleashing Kevin Anderson and James Vaughters off the edge.

    For Washington to deliver the upset, it has to run the ball on Stanford, something few opponents have done well in recent years. The Huskies will employ a collaborative effort that includes Miles and top backs Lavon Coleman and Dwayne Washington. Despite the weak level of competition, long runs have been rare in the first month, which will force the Huskies to grind out yards against a defense that rarely buckles. 

    What’s Going To Happen: Washington wants this showdown. Stanford needs it. 

    The Huskies—and their crowd—will be electrified. But the Cardinal will be ready to avoid early elimination from the Pac-12 race. U-Dub has flashed too many cracks early on to beat a Stanford squad that’s so disciplined on defense. The Cardinal will stifle the Husky running game, while getting a couple of Hogan touchdown passes to earn a huge conference road win. 

    Prediction: Stanford 28 … Washington 21 
    Line: Stanford -8 o/u: 47.5 
    Must Watch Factor: (5: Roosevelts: An Intimate History – 1: Red Band Society) … 4  

    Colorado (2-2) at Cal (2-1) Sept. 27, 4:00, Pac-12 Network 

    Here’s The Deal: So close. So Cal. The Bears were within a few seconds of an improbable 3-0 start and a signature moment in the brief Sonny Dykes era when disaster struck. Arizona’s 47-yard desperation prayer was answered, denying Cal the momentum it’d worked so hard to achieve in the offseason. The Bears want to make sure the waning seconds of last week’s game doesn’t beat them twice. Colorado got to even with last Saturday’s win over Hawaii. With an upset in Berkeley, the Buffs will move over .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2010. 
    Why Colorado Might Win: The Buffaloes are catching the Bears on the back end of a severe hangover. Colorado has been competitive all season, even in losing to Arizona State, 38-24. Cal remains vulnerable on defense, which up-and-coming QB Sefo Liufau will work to exploit. He’s thrown 10 touchdown passes, seven to Nelson Spruce, who’s becoming one of the premier wide receivers in the Pac-12. 
    Why Cal Might Win: Colorado doesn’t figure to be the first team to hold the Bears under 31 points this season, especially if linchpin LB Addison Gillam remains slowed following a concussion. QB Jared Goff and his coterie of receivers remain the focal point of the offense. But Daniel Lasco and Khalfani Muhammad have emerged as bi-play complements capable of gashing the Buffs if they slough off to play the pass. 
    Who To Watch Out For: If Lasco and Muhammad keep running the way they did in Tucson, few opponents are going to slow down the Bears this fall. Goff is a different pitcher than he was as a rookie, and the threat of speedy backs will help make him markedly more effective as the point man of Dykes’ attack. 
    What’s Going To Happen: Sure, Cal is smarting from last weekend’s blown 22-point cushion. But with time to reflect, the Bears will recognize how far they’ve come since 2013, and what’s left to achieve in 2014. The offense will keep humming, with Goff and his growing troops outgunning Liufau and Spruce. 
    Prediction: Cal 42 … Colorado 28 
    Line: Cal-13 o/u: 67 
    Must Watch Factor: (5: Roosevelts: An Intimate History – 1: Red Band Society) … 2 

    Washington State (1-3) at Utah (3-0) Sept. 27, 8:00, Pac-12 Networks 

    Here’s The Deal: All of a sudden, Utah is buzzy, courtesy of last week’s matter-of-fact upset of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The win validated the Utes’ early routs of Idaho State and Fresno State, while positioning the team to be a possible sleeper out of the Pac-12 South Division. They’ll be looking to start 4-0 for the first time since 2010, as Washington State heads to Salt Lake City. The Cougars were excruciatingly close to stunning Oregon a week ago, falling 38-31 on a late Marcus Mariota touchdown pass. Early losses to Rutgers and Nevada have Wazzu’s postseason hopes on life support. 
    Why Washington State Might Win: The Cougs are driven by their offense, but this might be their best defense in years as well. Washington State harassed Mariota throughout last week’s nail-biter, sacking him seven times. Utah QB Travis Wilson must prove he can avoid turnovers when linemen Xavier Cooper and Ivan McLennan are constantly in his face. 
    Why Utah Might Win: Oregon may have more flash, but this Ute D is the toughest unit Wazzu will have faced this year. Utah is physical at the point of attack, and markedly improved now that Miami transfer LB Gionni Paul has made his debut. The Utes will get after Connor Halliday with DE Nate Orchard and LB Jared Norris, while the secondary is led by veterans Brian Blechen and Eric Rowe. 
    Who To Watch Out For: Coordinator Dave Christensen’s new spread offense is heavy on the run, which ought to produce a few big gallops for the quarterbacks, Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson, and running backs Devontae Booker and Bubba Poole. Success on the ground increases the likelihood Wilson will connect on long balls with Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott. 
    What’s Going To Happen: Both teams’ mindsets must be monitored following emotional games, a Utah and a close Wazzu loss. The Cougars will battle hard again this week for Mike Leach, but this is not a favorable road trip. The Utes will lean on the run and screens to offset the Washington State pass rush, while frustrating Halliday with different looks and dime packages. 
    Prediction: Utah 37 … Washington State 24 
    Line: Utah -12.5 o/u: 66.5 
    Must Watch Factor: (5: Roosevelts: An Intimate History – 1: Red Band Society) … 2.5 

    Oregon State (3-0) at USC (2-1) Sept. 27, 10:30, ESPN 

    Here’s The Deal: No. 18 USC returns to work for the first time since getting embarrassed two weeks ago by Boston College. A week off afforded the Trojans an opportunity to take a deep breath, refocus and really teach some of the younger kids. It’ll be interesting to see how Troy responds to the wild swings of emotion that have marked the beginning of the Steve Sarkisian era. Oregon State heads to Los Angeles looking to snap a 22-game Coliseum losing streak that dates back to 1960. The Beavers, like so many unbeaten teams in September, haven’t proven a whole lot by taking down Portland State, Hawaii and San Diego State. 
    Why Oregon State Might Win: The Beaver D is comprised of all juniors and seniors, and it’s operating like a veteran unit. CB Steven Nelson and SS Ryan Murphy headline a secondary that has yet to allow a touchdown pass in 2014. Meanwhile, the USC defense is still trying to recover from the whooping it received from the Boston College ground game. This is a week that Oregon State might want to see backs Terron Ward and Storm Woods complementing the passing of Sean Mannion a little more. 
    Why USC Might Win: After being shut down two weeks ago, the Trojans are going to run the ball with something to prove. Expect a huge day from RB Javorius Allen, who’ll be facing a retooled D-line that’s had issues in run defense lately. Oregon State’s new-look offensive line must also prove that it can keep DE Leonard Williams and the rest of the USC defenders off Mannion’s back. Mannion, by the way, will be down a weapon now that starting WR Victor Bolden is out with an injury. 
    Who To Watch Out For: Can Nelson neutralize Nelson Agholor, the best wide receiver he’ll face in the first month of the season? Agholor has already caught 23 passes from Cody Kessler, three of which produced six points. And if Nelson is fixated on Agholor, how will Oregon State’s other starting corner, Larry Scott, manage USC rookie sensation JuJu Smith? 
    What’s Going To Happen: Nothing USC did in the first three games was expected, but Troy is about to restore some stability to the program, if only for a week. The Trojans will handle Oregon State easier than expected behind a huge day on the ground from Allen and a solid all-around effort from the defense. 
    Prediction: USC 35 … Oregon State 20 
    Line: USC -9 o/u: 56 
    Must Watch Factor: (5: Roosevelts: An Intimate History – 1: Red Band Society) … 3.5


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