Week 9 PAC-12 Previews And Predictions – Who Will Win The Salt Flats Showdown Between Oregon And Utah?

Bobby Albrant, Oregon Sports News

Before we get into predictions for this week’s PAC-12 games, there are a couple of issues I want to get off my chest.

The future of the PAC-12 Conference is in litigation, and I suspect the longer it goes, the harder the situation will become for Oregon State and Washington State. I’m sure the opposing side is aware of that, and that leads me to the opinion that the opposing schools will delay and put up obstacles in an attempt to leverage OSU and WSU by squandering cash those two would otherwise have had.

I suspect that will lead OSU and WSU to an out-of-court settlement that relinquishes some of that cash to the other schools rather than waste it on voracious attorneys.

I don’t think the root of problems like this is too many greedy attorneys. Instead, we need more lightning.

Pray brother! Pray!

USC’s loss to Utah was not a surprise. Not only did my Savvy Index prediction system say that Utah would win, but it also made that same projection in August before the season began.

At no time in this decade has USC had the metrics on Savvy to suggest it was a national championship contender.

The Trojans have now lost two in a row and Savvy predicted both of them, so no, it’s not a surprise.

Even if the Trojans somehow reached the national playoff, they wouldn’t go far because teams with 30+ ppg defenses seldom do.

Why isn’t Oregon State more in the national championship conversation? If Penn State, Alabama, Oregon, and USC (before its second loss) can lose a game and still be promoted as championship contenders, why not the Beavers?

The Beavers are a tough, tough “out” for any opponent because they have mastered power football, they commit few mistakes, and their defense is solid at all three levels.

It’s clear that If the Beavers get into the national championship playoff, they won’t finish one-and-done.

Remember Rodney Dangerfield? He’s the guy who told us that his parents took him to Yellowstone, but “That’s okay. I found my way home.”  Yeah— that guy — the guy who got no respect.

That’s how I view the treatment of the Beavers in the national forums.

It’s time for the experts to say what is apparent. The Beavers are every bit as qualified as national contenders as Oregon and Washington. The Beavers face those two in late November, so we’ll soon see.

Predictions for PAC-12 Northwest teams . . .

(Rankings and predictions shown here are not from wire services, etc., but are instead from my Savvygameline.com system of rating teams.)

#8 Washington [7-0] at Stanford [2-5]

Washington fans are wondering what happened to their offense.

The Huskies averaged 50 points through their first four games but have dropped to just 27 in the latest three. Considering that two of those were against the Arizona schools, which are a combined 5-9 UW still must play USC, Utah, and Oregon State,  there are plenty of reasons for fans to be concerned.

Last week against bottom-dweller Arizona State, UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr. threw two interceptions, no touchdowns, and fumbled twice.

The ground game produced a feckless 13 total yards at just one yard per attempt while also losing a fumble. The week before, running backs fumbled twice against Arizona.

Those problems won’t stop the Huskies from getting a win on The Farm this weekend, and they will need to do just that because UW will end the season against three ranked teams, followed by the rivalry game against Washington State.

As things stand today, I don’t see the Huskies escaping with more than two wins, and I base that on turnovers, three straight games of passing inefficiency, and the worst quarterback pressure performance of any team in the Power Five.

Things will look promising this week because Stanford does not have the players yet to compete with Penix. The Cardinal allow opposing quarterbacks to complete 70% of their passes (128th in the nation) at an average of more than 315 yards per game (133rd).

Savvy Index is projecting a 41-16 Washington win.

Washington St. [4-3] at Arizona St. [1-6]   

If Arizona State could come up with a decent passing attack, this Sun Devil outfit would be squarely in the hunt for a bowl game. However, ASU is one of the worst teams in America when it comes to scoring (17.5 ppg), and much of the problem comes from a quarterback group that has thrown less than one touchdown per game while also throwing more than one interception per game.

It’s not that ASU has been forced to the air to play catch-up because most of the Sun Devil games have been decided by one possession. Meanwhile, Cam Skattebo and DeCarlos Brooks are averaging four yards per carry, which raises curiosity about why ASU doesn’t run the ball more than it passes.

Despite those deficiencies, no one should think Arizona State is a typical 1-6 pushover. Not at all. New coach Kenny Dillingham hired former Washington State defensive coordinator Brian Ward, who has done a remarkable job bringing the ASU defense to where it can compete with most teams.

Remember that Arizona State’s metrics on the Savvy Index have gained every week with no decrease from the previous week. Those are magnificent indicators of a bright future that this outfit has under Dillingham.

Washington State will be too much for the Sun Devils this week. The Cougars have lost three straight, and coach Jake Dickert will not only reverse Cougar fortunes this week but follow with three more wins before facing the Washington Huskies. If WSU can also reverse its horrific fumbling problem, a win over UW won’t surprise me.

Cougars win this one on the road, 29-24.

#12 Oregon St. [6-1] at Arizona [4-3]    

Oregon State needs to enter this game with their boots laced because these ‘Cats are the best 4-3 team in America.

Consider:  Not one of Arizona’s three losses was by more than one possession, and all three games were against Power Five teams — USC, Washington, and Mississippi State. The Wildcat defense ranks in the top 10 for fewest yards allowed per play, and it’s only allowed five passing touchdowns all year.

Oregon State is rock solid at all levels on both sides of the ball, making the Beavers so hard to beat. Those attributes will produce an important road win for OSU, but there should be no mistaking that Arizona is a dangerous opponent, especially at home, where the ‘Cats have won three out of four.

OSU is one of only six teams that has not even one time this season underperformed projections made by my Savvy Index system.

That system says Oregon State will win this game 36-21 despite oddsmakers setting the spread at just four points.

#11 Oregon (6-1) at #17 Utah (6-1)

It’s official. Utah quarterback Cam Rising will take a medical redshirt and not play in the 2023 season.

Without Rising, Utah has made it clear that it plans to win on the ground. With a 66% run-to-pass ratio, the Utes are a national leader in their commitment to running the ball.

It’s not that the Utes are good at it. They only rank 70th in yards per rush attempt. It’s more a matter of “have to” than “want to” because coaches still seem to lack confidence in their ability to pass.

The Ducks will counter with a solid defense and can not only deal with Utah ball-carriers at the line of scrimmage but also get to them a half-dozen times in the backfield. Those abilities will be even more noticeable when Utah has to convert third downs. Oregon allows third down conversions just one-third of the time, while Utah ranks 99th in America for getting the yards they need in crunch time.

Switch the running game around, and we find Oregon running backs are so far ahead of everyone else in the nation that the teams behind them are almost out of sight.

Couple that with Oregon’s top 10 passing yardage offense, and Utah will have difficulty stopping the Lemon-and-Lime.

Despite having nearly the same group of skill players and many replacements on the offensive line, the Ducks offense last year was not anywhere close to the production of this 2023 group.

What changed?

Offensive coordinators. Yes, Kenny Dillingham (now at Arizona State) was good, but Will Stein is sensational. I followed him when he was at UTSA and was amazed by how he approached the offensive side of things, so I was very excited when Oregon brought him on board. I honestly don’t know of a more creative and complete coordinator in college football.

Personally, I am surprised that both the bookies and my Savvy Index give Oregon less than a six-point margin to win this. I believe the Ducks take it by more than a dozen points.

Elsewhere in the PAC-12 . . .

#21 USC 41, California 24    

#22 UCLA 38, Colorado 17    

Last week was the first time in years that Savvy only matched the betting lines in predicting winners, point spreads, and total game points instead of beating the lines in two of those three categories.

Even so, the Savvy Index is 2% better in picking winners, about even predicting point spreads, and 44 games better in determining over/under total game points.