Posted on October 14, 2021
For the second week in a row, Pac-12 football kicks off on Friday night as No. 9 Oregon hosts California on ESPN.
Both teams are coming off a bye and Cal beat the Ducks last season, setting up a grudge match that could be closer than expected.
The Saturday slate begins just after Noon when Arizona travels to Boulder to face Colorado. And later in the day, Stanford battles Washington State, while UCLA takes on Washington.
But the Game of the Week starts at prime time on the West Coast when Arizona State plays Utah. The result could determine the race in the South Division, with the winner in position to claim the title.
I preview all five matchups here, and our Football Writers’ picks appear at the bottom.
California at No. 9 Oregon
Autzen Stadium, Eugene, OR
Friday, October 15
7:30 p.m. PT, ESPN
The Bears toppled Oregon in Berkeley last season, but have dropped six-straight on the road in Eugene. And after starting the year 1-4, it’s an uphill battle to get the job done on Friday night.
Injuries within the Duck program may have taken away some of UO’s weapons, yet the prolific recruiting classes of the past several years have provided Mario Cristobal with depth that is arguably unmatched in the Pac-12.
That depth has caused the voices angling for a change of quarterback to grow louder by the week. True freshman Ty Thompson has sat on the sidelines while Anthony Brown struggled to operate Joe Moorhead’s offense.
The unwillingness to make a change under center has kept Oregon within striking distance of weaker programs, and might have cost the Ducks the game against Stanford.
But matched up with the Bears, the battle to watch is the Oregon secondary against Chase Garbers. California has its best offense of the Justin Wilcox Era, a pass-first attack featuring quarterback keepers and a primary running back in Damien Moore.
If the UO defensive backs play as expected, the Ducks should force several interceptions and pull away from Cal by the middle of the third quarter.
Arizona at Colorado
Folsom Field, Boulder, CO
Saturday, October 16
12:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network
In a battle between two struggling programs, Arizona returns to Boulder where it last walked away from a game victorious. Since the 2019 matchup, Khalil Tate graduated and UA has dropped 16-straight.
The Wildcats and Buffaloes have a combined record of 1-9, with UA averaging 16.8 points per game and CU putting 13.8 per night. On paper, Arizona has a stronger offense with 363.2 yards per game compared to Colorado’s 239.6.
But the Buffs’ defense is stouter, holding opponents to 23.8 points per contest while the Cats give up 31.6.
The keys to the game figure to be the efficiency of CU’s rushing attack and Brendon Lewis’ execution of the passing game.
Facing a Wildcat defense that has struggled to contain the run, Jarek Broussard and Alex Fontenot should be able to move the ball on the ground.
The success running the ball could allow Lewis to exploit the UA secondary focused on the backfield, and his willingness to run should create space for his receivers.
But if Don Brown’s defense is able to hamper the Colorado running backs, Arizona has the offensive firepower to win the game.
Stanford at Washington State
Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
Saturday, October 16
4:30 p.m. PT, ESPNU
Coming off a victory over Oregon State, the Cougars have rebuilt confidence in the direction of the season. At 3-3 with bowl eligibility within reach, the defeats earlier in the year are water under the bridge.
But facing a Stanford team that is nearly identical to it on paper, WSU must find a way to slow down Tanner McKee.
Putting pressure on the quarterback appeared to pay dividends for ASU last weekend, and Jake Dickert may copy the strategy Antonio Pierce utilized.
Yet, the 4-2-5 scheme is geared toward stopping the run, and the system was exploited by USC’s pass-heavy Air Raid. The Cardinal average the fewest rushing yards per game in the Pac-12, and McKee is attempting 30.5 throws per night.
With a one-dimensional offense, the Stanford gunslinger will test Dickert’s scheme.
The wildcard, though, is the play of Jayden de Laura. Poor decisions in the passing game must be limited, as turnovers in the red zone could cost Washington State the game.
But de Laura’s mobility and consistent threat to the run should result in an efficient Cougar offense that is able to put up points and move the sticks on third down.
UCLA at Washington
Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA
Saturday, October 16
5:30 p.m. PT, FOX
The three-pronged rushing attack of Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Zach Charbonnet, and Brittain Brown figure to take full advantage.
And with an 11-to-2 touchdown to interception ratio, DTR should light up the UW secondary preoccupied with stopping the run. Kyle Philips and Greg Dulcich are deadly weapons to throw to, but the Dawgs allow just 19.6 points per game.
With the Pac-12’s No. 2 scoring defense, Jimmy Lake’s gameplan might be to avoid giving up the big play and clamp down in the red zone.
The deciding-factor could be the production of Dylan Morris. The Husky quarterback has thrown six picks to just seven touchdowns, and has -15 total rushing yards.
Morris’ longest scramble of the season is for 15 yards, allowing Jerry Azzinaro to call a blitz-heavy game.
But if Morris handles the pressure and limits his turnovers, Washington’s defense could slow down UCLA just enough for the Dawgs to secure the victory.
No. 18 Arizona State at Utah
Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT
Saturday, October 16
7:00 p.m. PT, ESPN
In the Pac-12’s Game of the Day, the Sun Devils look to continue their hot start to the season.
But Utah is undefeated in conference play, fresh off an historic victory over USC in L.A. On a collision coarse, the two programs square off in a game that could decide the South.
Utah’s run defense is fifth in the Pac-12, allowing 129.4 yards per game. But the Utes have given up just three rushing touchdowns all season, and have a front seven capable of limiting the ASU running backs.
That could leave Jayden Daniels to get the job done through the air against the Pac-12’s No. 5 passing defense. Utah has allowed eight TD’s through the air, but Daniels has only found the end zone in two of Arizona State’s six games.
The clash of offensive firepower and defensive prowess could result in a low scoring game that turns into an Instant Classic.
Antonio Pierce’s defense doesn’t back down from anyone, and Kyle Whittingham can be sure Pierce has spent all week scheming up ways to frustrate Cameron Rising.
Assuming the battle between the Sun Devil offense and Ute defense is a wash, the game will be won and lost when Utah has the ball.
If Arizona State shuts down the Utah passing attack, the Sun Devils should advance to 6-1 and obtain full control of the South.