With early season “throwaway” and non-conference games in the books, it’s about to get real for power conference teams looking to move up in this week’s college football rankings. Four weeks into the season, only four Pac-12 squads remain undefeated, and that number will dwindle down to at most three after this upcoming week. In the Pac-12 North, Stanford and Washington have broken away from the rest of the field. But in the South, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado are jostling for control atop the standings.
Although it’s only week five, this week’s slate of games features several matchups that could have enormous implications down the road when all things are said and done. The Pac-12 is so tightly packed that all teams have shown they can compete with any other conference opponent on any given day. Last weekend featured 10 Pac-12 teams with games decided by 10 points or fewer, and this week is shaping up to be no different. So, without further ado …
3) No. 18 Utah (4-0, 1-0) vs. California (2-2, 0-1)
The undefeated Utes stroll into Memorial Stadium with a target on their backs. The Bears undoubtedly have not forgotten about last year’s 30-24 heartbreaker in Salt Lake City, when the Utah defense picked off Jared Goff five times. The Bears finished the regular season 2-4 after the loss to the Utes and are now even more motivated to make a statement after losing a late lead against Arizona State this past weekend. In the 51-41 loss to ASU, senior quarterback Davis Webb passed for 478 yards and five touchdowns but threw two crucial interceptions on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter, leading to 14 of ASU’s mind-boggling 31 fourth-quarter points.
While the Bears left Sun Devil Stadium discouraged after letting a game get away from them, the Utes stole a victory from the desperate USC Trojans, 31-27. Junior quarterback Troy Williams engineered a 93-yard game-winning drive in the final five minutes, capping it off with an 18-yard strike to leading receiver Tim Patrick with 16 seconds remaining. The Utes forced three Trojan turnovers, which will likely force Webb and the motivated Cal offense to move down field with more precaution than usual. That being said, the Utes struggled with special teams and were outgained 466-456 yards last week. And although Utah is undefeated and has worked hard for its current No. 18 ranking, the host team has last season and last week on its mind.
Final Score Prediction: Cal 38, Utah 34
2) Arizona (2-2, 0-1) vs. UCLA (2-2, 0-1)
The Wildcats and Bruins have both struggled on their way to 2-2 overall records thus far. Last week, however, evidenced just how competitive these teams can be and how tightly packed the Pac-12 conference is. With starting quarterback Anu Solomon sidelined with a knee injury, backup Brandon Dawkins helped keep the inconsistent Wildcats competitive against No. 10 Washington last weekend in Tucson.
The game went to overtime after Dawkins beat the Huskies defense through the air and with his legs, throwing for 167 yards and rushing for an astounding 176, accumulating three touchdowns in the process. His fourth-quarter pass to redshirt senior tight end Josh Kern tied the game at 28 all, and although the Huskies escaped with a 35-28 win, Rich Rodriguez’s team has to feel a little more confident after struggling to compete at its usual level over the first few weeks.
The Bruins season is a similar story. After a 31-24 overtime loss to Texas A&M during week one, the Bruins hosted No. 7 Stanford last week and outplayed the Cardinal for the majority of the contest. The defense not only kept Heisman-hopeful Christian McCaffrey in check but limited Stanford’s offense in a big way, taking a 10-6 lead into the fourth quarter. Sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen played well, passing for 248 yards, but it wasn’t enough as the Cardinal prevailed in the final 24 seconds of the game, rattling off 13 late points and leaving the Rose Bowl with a 22-13 victory.
The Bruins weren’t able to finish the job, but they can be proud of the fact that McCaffrey’s longest gain was for just 13 yards. If the UCLA offense can maintain its rhythm next week, it should be able to put away the Wildcats with ease.
Final Score Prediction: UCLA 27, Arizona 16
1) No. 7 Stanford (3-0, 2-0) vs. No. 10 Washington (4-0, 1-0)
This matchup may be the Pac-12 matchup of this entire year. One can make the argument that Huskies quarterback Jake Browning has been even more impressive than Cardinal phenom McCaffrey. But either way, this game will be won on defense.
The Cardinal defense has surrendered just 36 points in three games to start the year (just think for a moment if Cal had that kind of defense). On the flip side, Browning is third in all of college football with a 194.9 quarterback rating, leading the Huskies offense to 22 offensive touchdowns through four weeks. The Cardinal offense, led by McCaffrey and senior quarterback Ryan Burns, has not eclipsed more than 27 points in a game this season, a feat that will be difficult to accomplish in the loud environment of Husky Stadium.
The team that wins this game will likely have to have good ball control, limiting turnovers and keeping the ball out of the hands of the opponent’s star playmaker. Through the first few weeks, the Huskies have shown more dominance offensively than the Cardinal, but this is an opportunity on a Friday night primetime matchup for McCaffrey to re-establish himself as the Heisman favorite. The same could be said about Browning. Defensively, the Cardinal have shown resilience against some tough teams in USC and UCLA, but there’s no denying the talent of Browning, tailback Myles Gaskin and receiver John Ross.
If you don’t have plans at 6 p.m. Friday night, this is a matchup you won’t want to miss. In past years, Stanford would be the heavy favorite, but a new chapter in this rivalry has begun.
Final Score Prediction: Washington 24, Stanford 20
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