Two games 100 miles apart, unfolding Saturday afternoon along Interstate 10, will frame the final stretch of the last Pac-12 season.
Just before lunch, Utah visits Arizona with the home team (surprise, surprise) taking aim at a spot in the conference championship.
The Wildcats cannot clinch a spot in Las Vegas with a victory, but their sixth consecutive loss to Utah would make the quest vastly more difficult.
After lunch and up the road, Oregon duels with Arizona State in a stadium that has derailed Duck dreams in the past.
Four years ago, a late-November loss to the Sun Devils ended Oregon’s playoff drive. Another loss would do the same — and knock the Ducks out of their pole position in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 championship.
Washington (7-0 in conference play) is the frontrunner and would clinch a berth with a victory in either of its last two games.
Oregon (6-1) also controls its destiny: Win out, and the Ducks are in.
Arizona (5-2) must sweep its final two games and needs the Ducks to lose. (Yes, the Wildcats are rooting for ASU this weekend.)
And let’s not forget about Oregon State (5-2), which must win out and requires help because of its head-to-head loss to the Wildcats. (The Beavers are backing Utah this weekend.)
Loads of scenarios exist — far too many for the Hotline’s crack research team and state-of-the-art supercomputer to calculate.
But clarity will begin to emerge Saturday afternoon along the Pac-12’s southern border.
To the picks …
Last week: 2-4
Five-star special: 6-5
All picks against the spread
Lines taken from BetMGM (via VegasInsider.com)
(All times Pacific)
Colorado at Washington State (Friday)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on FS1
Line: WSU -4.5 (total: 64.5)
Comment: Welcome to the Look Out, Below! Bowl. The Buffaloes have lost four in a row; the Cougars have dropped their past six (but collected a huge victory off the field on Tuesday). The loser is officially eliminated from the bowl season, so desperation will be palpable. We are typically wary of the road team on Friday night because of the difficult logistics and condensed preparation time. But CU quarterback Shedeur Sanders is playing better than his WSU counterpart, Cam Ward, and that should make the difference.
Utah at Arizona
Kickoff: 11:30 a.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Line: Arizona -1 (total: 44.5)
Comment: We couldn’t help but notice the trajectory of the point spreads in this series and how they track with Arizona’s nadir and subsequent ascent. The Utes were favored by 22 points in 2019 and by 24 points in 2021. (The teams didn’t meet during the pandemic year.) But the line dipped to 17 last season and now, amazingly, has flipped completely. The Wildcats are narrow favorites, which reflects both their four-game winning streak and Utah’s lengthy injury list. From here, Arizona looks well-equipped to deal with Utah at the line of scrimmage — a dramatic change compared to prior meetings.
UCLA at USC
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. on ABC
Line: USC -6.5 (total: 65.5)
Comment: The last meeting of the crosstown rivals as members of the Pac-12 once looked like a critical matchup in the conference race. But with both teams immersed in late-season fades, the stakes are local, not national. How far will the Trojans tumble in Year Two under Lincoln Riley? Will the Bruins muster a performance that takes Chip Kelly off the Hot Seat? This might be USC quarterback Caleb Williams’ final college appearance (if he turns pro and sits out the bowl game). He’s a generational talent. Enjoy him while you can.
Oregon at Arizona State
Kickoff: 1 p.m. on Fox
Line: Oregon -23.5 (total: 53.5)
Comment: The Hotline called ASU’s stunner in 2019, but we do not foresee a repeat this week. The Sun Devils aren’t as talented as they were back then, and these Ducks are as good, if not better than the Justin Herbert-led outfit. That said, this should be closer than the point spread indicates. Nobody knows Oregon’s personnel and scheme like ASU coach Kenny Dillingham, who served as the Ducks’ offensive coordinator last year. That edge won’t be decisive, but it will help the Devils stay in range.
Pick: Arizona State
Cal at Stanford
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Line: Cal -6.5 (total: 55.5)
Comment: A few miles from the Pacific Ocean, these future ACC rivals collide with high stakes for one team and a spoiler opportunity for the other. Cal must win to keep its bowl hopes alive; Stanford was officially eliminated last week. The Cardinal’s first-year coach, Troy Taylor, faces his former team with a wobbly defense and erratic offense (20.9 points per game). The Bears are more proficient at scoring (30.9 ppg) under playcaller Jake Spavital, but in a rivalry game that matches rookie quarterbacks, mistakes (or lack thereof) will determine the outcome.
Washington at Oregon State
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. on ABC
Line: Oregon State -2.5 (total: 63.5)
Comment: The game of the day in the Pac-12 is one of the biggest games in OSU history, and it speaks volumes about coach Jonathan Smith’s work in Corvallis that his team is favored against an opponent that hasn’t lost in more than a year. The tactics are straightforward: The Beavers will rely on their running game to control the clock and wear down UW’s defense, while Michael Penix Jr. and the Huskies’ passing attack soften up the OSU defense, opening up running lanes.
Straight-up winners: Colorado, Arizona, USC, Oregon, Stanford and Washington
Five-star special: Colorado. Nothing we’ve seen from WSU in the past six weeks suggests the Cougars can make enough big plays, while avoiding crushing mistakes, to end their losing streak.