The Hotline is often pummeled on social media for erroneous picks and wayward forecasts, and that’s fine. If we minded being wrong, we wouldn’t predict the result of every Pacific-12 Conference football game.
But our projection for the Oregon-Utah game was embarrassing. Mortifying, in fact.
It’s not that we picked the Ducks to cover the spread and win the game outright. That wasn’t an unreasonable view at the time.
The piece that sticks in our gut is the why – the reasons cited for an Oregon victory.
• We thought the Ducks would move the ball successfully on a Utah defense that had been porous against the run. Instead, the Utes were as immovable as the Wasatch.
• We thought Oregon’s big-stage experience would serve it well in difficult situations. Instead, the Ducks responded to trouble like a wide-eyed freshman.
• We thought Utah’s special teams would stumble at the worst time. Instead, they produced the biggest play of the game.
In other words, our forecast was as abysmal as the Ducks’ performance.
And like Oregon, we need to respond appropriately.
Through 12 weeks, the Hotline is slightly above .500 in our picks against the spread for every Pac-12 game.
There are nine left: seven this weekend, plus the conference championship on Dec. 3 and the Cal-USC makeup game.
We have no intention of finishing with a losing record.
Last week: 3-3
Five-star special: 5-8
All picks against the spread
Lines from vegasinsider.com
Colorado (+23.5) at Utah
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Friday (Fox)
Comment: This is all about timing: At what point will Utah’s sense of urgency kick in following the gigantic victory over Oregon? If the Utes don’t focus until the second half, then CU just might cover that big number. But Utah looks like a team with next-level purpose and no plans to dawdle against an overmatched opponent. And there’s this: It’s the final home game for Utah seniors who have been through a pandemic and the deaths of two teammates. No mercy. Pick: Utah
Washington State (-1) at Washington
Kickoff: 5 p.m. Friday (FS1)
Comment: UW’s pass defense is the best in the land and should cause trouble for Cougars quarterback Jayden de Laura in his first Apple Cup. Meanwhile, we’re curious to watch the Huskies manage their quarterback position. Will they use Sam Huard? (Tough spot for a freshman.) Or might Dylan Morris produce a career game in his first Apple Cup? WSU has been the better team over the course of the season, possesses more playmakers and is substantially healthier. Pick: Washington State
Oregon State (+6.5) at Oregon
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)
Comment: The line has been cut in half from its outrageous opening figure, and for good reason: The Beavers won the game with no name last season and possess the personnel to mirror Utah’s approach offensively against the depleted Ducks defense. The issue for OSU is the other side of scrimmage: Its defense doesn’t share Utah’s talent and could struggle to contain Oregon’s running game. Expect a bounce-back performance from Anthony Brown. Pick: Oregon.
Arizona (+20) at Arizona State
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Saturday (Pac-12)
Comment: If anything, the talent disparity is greater than it was a year ago, when the Sun Devils rolled to a 70-7 victory and sent Kevin Sumlin packing. The grit gap has closed significantly, but even a career game from quarterback (and Phoenix-area native) Will Plummer won’t be enough for the Wildcats. They need a stunning number of mistakes by ASU (penalties and turnovers) in order to create the conditions for a dramatic finish. The Sun Devils are perfectly capable, but a double-digit margin feels right. Pick: Arizona
Notre Dame (-19.5) at Stanford
Kickoff: 5 p.m. Saturday (Fox)
Comment: The Fox announcing crew had better come loaded with tales to spin, because this could be over in the first half. The Cardinal have lost six consecutive games – five of them against teams far less capable than Notre Dame, which has lost just once (to Cincinnati). Only Utah is truly comparable to the Irish, and it humiliated Stanford two weeks ago. Pick: Notre Dame
Brigham Young (-7) at USC
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)
Comment: The Trojans must beat BYU and Cal to qualify for a bowl berth, but there’s good reason to think the postseason is a low priority for the players as their season under interim coach Donte Williams comes to a close. Even if focused, does USC’s defense have enough resolve to hold up against the relentless BYU running game? Will the offense execute consistently against the opportunistic Cougars? We are skeptical on every front. Pick: BYU
Cal (+7) at UCLA
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday (FS1)
Comment: The Bruins are playing for their eighth win, Senior Day pride and not much else: They’ve clinched a bowl berth but can’t win the division. Meanwhile, the Bears (4-6) are in desperation mode and have won their past three games that weren’t impacted by COVID. We’re wary of placing too much emphasis on a blowout win over woeful Stanford, but Cal’s offense is humming like it hasn’t in years. And UCLA’s defense is anything but stout, especially at home, where the Bruins are allowing 29 points per game. Pick: Cal
Straight-up winners: Utah, Washington State, Oregon, Arizona State, Notre Dame, BYU and Cal
Five-star special: Cal. Truth is, we’d happily take the Bears +6. The extra point this weekend is, fittingly, gravy.
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