It feels early for elimination games, but it’s not early.
Next week, it’s October.
From the Hotline’s corner of the galaxy, Saturday brings two pairings in the Pac-12 that approach elimination status.
One is early; the other, late.
Both match teams with 1-2 records … teams that have let games slip away … that have lost games they never expected to lose … that are grasping for momentum as the meat of conference play arrives.
Early: Washington State at Utah.
Late: Cal at Washington.
The losers will slide to the periphery of the bowl picture and need five wins in their final eight games to qualify for the postseason.
All four teams still play Oregon.
All four are under more pressure than planned.
All four are inching to the brink.
Last week: 3-4
Five-star special: 3-0
All picks against the spread
Lines taken from vegasinsider.com
Washington State +14 at Utah
Kickoff: 11:30 a.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Comment: The Hotline deserves endless scorn for whiffing on Charlie Brewer’s impact – we thought he could be a mini-Minshew – but the Utes are clearly better off with Cam Rising in command of the offense. Our expectation is that the defense perks up, too, and the result is the first complete game of the season from the Utes. Meanwhile, WSU is reeling from the second-half collapse against USC. Typically, wobbly teams don’t find their footing in Salt Lake City. Pick: Utah
UCLA -5.5 at Stanford
Kickoff: 3 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Comment: Stanford returns home after seven consecutive road/neutral games, dating to early in the COVID season. This is arguably the top matchup of the weekend in the conference and indisputably the best UCLA team in years. (The Bruins are finally capable of outplaying Stanford at the line of scrimmage.) It won’t match the thriller from 2020, when the Cardinal won in double overtime, but we would be mildly surprised if the outcome is clear with 5 minutes remaining. Pick: Stanford
Cal +7.5 at Washington
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Comment: The Hotline is occasionally fooled (OK, often fooled) by the betting lines, but this makes no sense. Cal’s offense and defense are more comparable to Michigan than they are to Montana or Arkansas State, and UW couldn’t keep up with the Wolverines. We get that the lines are set to attract money flow on both sides and that the betting public will always lean to Washington at home against any conference foe save Oregon and USC. But this line is too high by two or three points. Pick: Cal
Colorado +14.5 at Arizona State
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU
Comment: The only drama here is whether Colorado’s streak of scoreless quarters reaches double digits (it’s currently at seven). Assuming the Sun Devils cut the mistakes in half – and to be clear, that would still be a lot of mistakes – they should easily clear the 20-point mark. Is CU capable of more than a few field goals? Only if the Buffs are gifted premium field position. Pick: ASU
Oregon State +12 at USC
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on FS1
Comment: This feels like a trap game for the Trojans after their emotional week and spirited victory in the Palouse. Back home, against an opponent that doesn’t generate urgency, they’re vulnerable to a letdown. Meanwhile, the Beavers are perfectly capable of taking advantage with a running game that averages 194 yards per game. We expect OSU to clear 200 yards on the ground in the Coliseum. Pick: Oregon State
Arizona +29 at Oregon
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
Comment: How is that not the first-half line? Arizona’s only chance to cover is through the back door, with a few fourth-quarter touchdowns against Oregon’s fifth string. Pick: Oregon
Five-star special: Oregon State. The only aspect of this pick that gives us pause is the potential for USC quarterback Jaxson Dart to create a touchdown or two with his legs. Otherwise, the Trojans are in trouble.
Straight-up winners: Utah, Stanford, Washington, Arizona State, Oregon State and Oregon