The Hotline typically takes a close look at key trends and statistics when evaluating Pac-12 games against the point spread, but not always.
Under certain circumstances, we make a selection with little thought and zero hesitation.
UCLA’s visit to Washington on Saturday afternoon is one of those circumstances.
The Huskies are an easy call, and here’s our 12-word explanation: Second consecutive road game against a home team coming off a bye.
UCLA is playing the second leg of back-to-back roadies and doing so against a host that has had two weeks to prepare.
What’s more, the Bruins are doing it after a night game in Tucson that was in doubt until midway through the fourth quarter. They returned to campus in the wee hours, had a quick turnaround to prepare for UW, then headed back on the road.
Meanwhile, the Huskies have been sitting around Montlake for two full weeks, resting and healing and preparing for the Bruins.
That’s a significant competitive advantage – one the Huskies are acutely familiar with, albeit from the other side.
Three years ago, Washington played a rugged game in Pasadena that was in doubt late in the fourth quarter. The following week, they were back on the road – to Eugene – for an afternoon showdown against the Ducks.
Oregon had been lying in wait for two weeks, resting up and focused entirely on UW. The game went to overtime, with the Ducks prevailing.
Then, as now, the home team with two weeks to prepare held a significant competitive advantage.
Now, let’s be fair. The conference office has made significant improvements to the schedule, which for years placed teams at disadvantages outside the standard competitive spectrum.
(Like when teams played Friday road games after Saturday road games. Or when Cal played at USC on a short week while the Trojans had extra time to prepare. Or when WSU played three night road games in a four-week span.)
And the 2021 schedule, crafted by football operations chief Merton Hanks and associate commissioner Dustin Rocke – both are relatively new to their posts – is the most competitively balanced edition produced in years, by far.
Except for this week.
Granted, perfect schedules aren’t possible for 12 teams across 13 weeks. But when we see a well-traveled visitor facing a well-rested host, there’s no thought given to the point spread.
Last week: 0-4
Five-star special: 4-2
All picks against the spread
Lines taken from vegasinsider.com
Cal (+14) at Oregon (Friday)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
Comment: Both teams had an extra week to prepare, with Oregon coming off the loss at Stanford and needing time to heal and Cal coming off the loss to Washington State and needing time to soul search. The Bears made it interesting in Eugene two years ago and won outright last season.
We expect another sound defensive game plan and are curious to see the Ducks without CJ Verdell.
If Cal avoids turnovers, this should be a close, low-scoring affair. Pick: Cal.
Arizona (+6.5) at Colorado
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Comment: A winless visitor against a one-win host: So ugly it’s beautiful, so bad it’s good, so unwatchable we cannot wait for kickoff. The line opened at 6.5 and hasn’t budged despite confirmation Arizona will be without its most promising quarterback, Jordan McCloud. Noted previously on the Hotline but lost in the muck and worth repeating: Colorado’s defense is good enough to win four or five games. We like the Buffs, but we love the Under (47). Pick: Colorado
Stanford (-2) at Washington State
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. on ESPNU
Comment: Critical game for two teams attempting to move onto the right side of the bowl math. The Cougars should have plenty of scoring chances against the wobbly Stanford defense, but we’re not sure the same goes for Tanner McKee and Co. WSU’s defense will key on the slants and seam routes Stanford relies on for the bulk of its yardage. The Cougars have won four in a row in the series (no game last year). Make it five. Pick: Washington State
Kickoff: 5:30 p.m. on FOX
Comment: We expect UW’s defense to hold up against the UCLA ground game and force Dorian Thompson-Robinson to execute short throws from the pocket, over and over and over. Meanwhile, the Huskies, fresh and fast, will have an easier time than expected against a UCLA defense that could be a half-step slow for the reasons outlined above. Look for a run-pass balance that converts on third down and in the Red Zone. Pick: Washington
Arizona State (even) at Utah
Kickoff: 7 p.m. on ESPN
Comment: ASU is plenty physical enough to match Utah at the line of scrimmage, has a veteran quarterback who won’t get rattled in the bedlam of Rice-Eccles and possesses enough playmakers to generate quick-strike, long-distance touchdowns. Meanwhile, we haven’t seen quite enough from quarterback Cam Rising to believe the Utes will keep pace for four quarters against an ASU defense that can generate pressure without blitzing. Pick: ASU.
Five-star special: ASU. The Sun Devils are the best team in the conference right now and only need to win the game outright to cover. We’ll take it.
Bonus pick: Washington. The logistical advantage is too great to ignore, even for that wobbly UW offense.
Straight-up winners: Oregon, Colorado, Washington State, Washington and ASU.
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