With four Big Ten and three Big 12 opponents … and with five teams as underdogs, including both of the New Year’s Six participants … the Pac-12 has a terrific opportunity over the next two weeks to alter the nightmare 2017 narrative.
The Pac-12 postseason gets underway Saturday at 12:30 … then promptly puts its head back on the pillow and conks out for 10 more days.
The Las Vegas Bowl makes loads of sense for the conference as a second-tier affiliate, because it’s a destination spot — and how many true destination spots, other than the Rose Bowl, are there in the Pac-12’s lineup for fans already living inside the conference footprint?
But the Las Vegas Bowl is too darn early, and we’ll double down on that sentiment with the introduction of the early-signing period (Dec. 20-22).
Also, the LVB date makes picking games in a one-shot format such as this a tad difficult, because of the potential for draft-bound players in the post-Christmas games to McCaffrey themselves from competition.
Alas, we’ll take our best guesses.
Generally on the conference: With four Big Ten and three Big 12 opponents … and with five teams as underdogs, including both of the New Year’s Six participants … the Pac-12 has a terrific opportunity over the next two weeks to alter the 2017 narrative — partially, if not completely — after a nightmare regular season on the PR front.
Oregon (minus-7) vs. Boise State (Las Vegas, Dec. 16)
Saw that Royce Freeman won’t play. Don’t care. This strikes me as a betting line that considers the totality of Oregon’s season when, in fact, the Ducks should be judged only by the games with Justin Herbert in the lineup, because he will be in the lineup Saturday. And the Ducks will roll.
ATS Pick: Oregon
Straight up: Oregon
Utah (minus-6.5) vs. West Virginia (Heart of Dallas, Dec. 26)
Yep, Kyle Whittingham has a killer postseason record, but the Utes have played plenty of close games in his tenure. This will be another, with or without quarterback Tyler Huntley, who is expected to play. (Psst: The Hotline believes Utah is better off with Troy Williams, and would have been all season).
ATS Pick: West Virginia
Straight up: Utah
UCLA (plus-3) vs. Kansas State (Cactus, Dec. 26)
If we assume Josh Rosen plays, then we’ll assume Josh Rosen lights it up against KSU’s flimsy pass defense. Sometimes, a coaching change saps the energy and motivation from a team in the postseason. That won’t happen to the Bruins.
ATS Pick: UCLA
Straight up: UCLA
Arizona (minus-4) vs. Purdue (Foster Farms, Dec. 27)
The instinct is to pick the Wildcats and Khalil Tate (because he’s Khalil Tate), hand over a minuscule amount of points for a team that averages 41.8 points per game, and wait for Arizona to cover. BUT: Purdue’s run defense is stout. In fact, the Boilermakers are dead even with Oregon in yards-per-rush allowed (3.59), and we saw what the Ducks did to Tate.
ATS Pick: Purdue
Straight up: Purdue
Stanford (plus-2.5) vs. TCU (Alamo, Dec. 28)
Billed as Heisman runner-up Bryce Love against the terrific TCU defense, and understandably so. But the outcome hinges on the other matchup: How will TCU quarterback Kenny Hill fare against Stanford’s defense? Well, but not well enough. And the deflation situation favors Stanford, which should be more excited to experience the Riverwalk et all than the Horned Frogs.
ATS Pick: Stanford
Straight up: Stanford
Washington State (minus-2.5) vs. Michigan State (Holiday, Dec. 28)
If the past few weeks are any indication, the Cougars are in for another clunker. They were clobbered in the Apple Cup, lost their top-two receivers (transfer and expulsion) and almost lost their coach (to Tennessee). Oh, and it’s not like Luke Falk has been even decent away from home.
ATS Pick: Michigan State
Straight up: Michigan State
Arizona State (plus-7) vs. North Carolina State (Sun, Dec. 29)
Like so much else about ASU football, the bowl situation is bizarre: Todd Graham is coaching as a lame duck, and Herm Edwards is the new boss but not involved in the game. I suspect the Devils will play well as a show of support for Graham — and perhaps as a statement to the administration that they weren’t in favor of the change.
ATS Pick: Arizona State
Straight up: Arizona State
USC (plus-7.5) vs. Ohio State (Cotton, Dec. 29)
First postseason meeting since the ’85 Fiesta, and we can’t wait for kickoff. But which teams will we see at that point? Both were brilliant, bad and baffling at various points during the season. (Also, both felt they deserved more love from the selection committee.) The Buckeyes have the better roster and the better coaching staff, but there is no chance — none, zero, zip — that I would give Sam Darnold 7.5 points in a showcase game.
ATS Pick: USC
Straight up: Ohio State
Washington (plus-2) vs. Penn State (Fiesta, Dec. 30)
The Huskies faced a slew of elite tailbacks this season, but Saquon Barkley’s all-around skill places him on a different level. No doubt, defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski will have UW well prepared — this won’t be a shootout like the ’17 Rose Bowl. It should, however, be taut, tense and one of the best games of the postseason. Picking UW to cover is essentially picking UW to win. I’m good with that.
ATS Pick: Washington
Straight up: Washington