Last Week: Pac-12 Picks: 3-3; Other Picks: 4-2; Overall: 7-5; Mustache Margin: +7.
Overall: [Same as above.]
After a doozy of a Pac-12 slate last week, we've got another nice set of Pac-12 games on tap, including a monster game between UCLA and Arizona State to set up the South race. With Stanford's loss, Oregon now controls its own destiny in the road to the Rose Bowl, so the potential bowl opponents picture has clarified itself. (For safety's sake, we'll keep an eye on the Big 12 in case shit gets weird.)
A commenter to the Week 12 Review asked how many mustaches we won last week, so I've been inspired to start a "mustache-margin counter" as we go through the year. Because in these tough economic times, there just aren't enough mustache-margin counters to meet demand.
Picks went decently well at 7-5 last week, but always hoping for better. Let's see how we do.
--> Oregon (-20.5) @ Arizona ( 2-Stache Pick)
48-29. 56-31. 49-0. Besides being awesome Keno numbers (*ATQ does not condone Keno*), those are the last three UO-'Zona results. And for you math majors out there, that's a combined score of 153-60, with an average margin of victory of 31 points. The smallest margin there is 19, when a weary 2010 squad faced a talented 'Cats squad led by current Eagles magician Nick Foles. (I know: The last part of that last sentence is REAL.) Last year's game was a banner night for the Ducks' defense, as they snuffed out several red zone chances to preserve a shutout, a rare occurrence in the Pac-12. So what's this matchup going to bring?
Everyone is concerned about the Ducks' running game. Arizona is 7th in the conference in rushing defense, both total yards and yards-per-play. I think this will be a nice bounce-back game for the running attack.
Everyone (read: Canzano) is concerned about "encounter[ing] [an] opponent that won't allow receivers and kick returners to run free." You mean....a team that can play mistake-free, complete defense? Uh, yeah. So am I. So is Nick Saban.
Here's the deal: the Ducks defense is still very, very good, and at full strength. Ka'Deem Carey is an elite player. But BJ Denker is an FCS quarterback living in an FBS world. And so there's no reason that Aliotti can't stack the box and say in a gravelly voice: "Good luck beating Ifo, Mitchell, and Patterson, Mr. Denker."
Now, admittedly, 20.5 is a ton of points. But I think Zona is on a slide after only scoring 17 at home against Wazzu. You think they're all of a sudden gonna score 30 on the Ducks? I'm cautiously optimistic (read: 2 Mustaches' worth!) about this game, so take the Ducks to cover. Call it 48-20.
--> Utah @ Washington State (-1.5) (5-Stache Pick)
After a nice road win at Arizona, Wazzu is riding high. After being boatraced by Oregon, Utah slides to 1-6 in conference (the "1" = Stanford), and is riding in the equivalent of a '93 Geo Metro. WSU wins this game, they're bowl-eligible. They'll face a Utah team that's been dreadful outside of the state of Utah, and is without Travis Wilson, who was at least a threat in their offense. I think this is a no-brainer. Take Leach and the Cougs.
--> Washington (+3.5) @ Oregon State (3-Stache Pick)
First question: can we call Cyler Miles "Wrecking Ball?" No objection? MAKE IT SO.
Second question: How the hell is Oregon State favored against, well, any team whose name doesn't end in "-lifornia?"
It's a matchup of 6-4 squads, and it's tough to say who's had the more disappointing second half of the year.
Something tells me that Washington is better along both lines than Oregon State, plays good enough pass defense to at least limit Mannion's success, and can punish the Beavers on the ground. As of press time, Keith Price says he has a "high belief" he'll suit up against the Beavers. But even if the Huskies have to trot out the Wrecking Ball in Corvallis, I think they've got a good chance to keep it close or even win here.
--> USC (-22.5) @ Colorado (3-Stache Pick)
There's zero question to me whether USC can cover 22.5 points. This line is simply a question of whether the Trojans can avoid the letdown spot after the biggest win since - GULP - Matty Barkley and Lane the Bane beat Oregon in Autzen in 2011.
Frankly, I have no idea what Colorado is going to be able to do against 'SC. While they finally got a conference W against Cal last week, USC is a whole different animal. A purebred, trendy-jeans wearing, iced soy latte-sipping animal with perfectly blow-dried hair.
So, the question here is really about coaching: are the Trojans ready to focus up and dominate the Buffs like they can and should? Normally for a post-Carroll USC team, I'd say no. But this isn't an ordinary post-Carroll USC team.
There's something about the charismatic Coach O and the ripple effect he's created that tells me that USC has turned a corner. Scary for Oregon fans heading into the next few years, but even scarier for the Buffs on Saturday. They find themselves directly in front of a now-rolling USC squad who has their eyes on the prize, and is also 5-1 against the spread since Coach O took over. You want to bet against USC right now? Lay the points.
--> Arizona State @ UCLA (+2.5) (2-Stache Pick)
Both these teams are who we thought they were before the season started: real good, but not yet on the E-vite for the Top-10 Look-At-Us Party. Both sit at 8-2, both control their own destiny in the race for the South, the Pac-12, and the Rose Bowl. I think either fanbase would have taken that spot if asked at the beginning of the year. And so now, we arrive at the GAME OF THE SOUTH OF THE YEAR AND STUFF.
'Zona State is favored by 2.5 points going on the road to LA. Frankly, I'm surprised ASU is favored. The Sun Devils do have a ton of talent, namely Grice on O and Sutton on D. But UCLA's defense is also pretty studly, their run game is reinvigorated, and they're fresh off a really nice performance against Washington at home.
I've gone back and forth about this game all week. (Being on the spot in front of all of you is hard!) But I gotta roll with Mora and his bunch at home. In a game this important, between teams I think are largely even, you gotta credit coaching. Mora has done a pretty awesome job coaching this crew over the past two seasons (and especially the last two weeks!), and I'm not ready to trust Todd Graham in a massive game on the road in November. I think UCLA's playing good football, and will gut out a win at home.
--> California (+31.5) @ Stanford (2-Stache Pick)
Let. Down. Look. Ahead. Sandwich. I said it slow, to make sure everyone notices this. Stanford just had a draining, nationally-televised loss which all but destroys their Pac-12 and BCS hopes. Next week, they host a Notre Dame team that has every ability to beat them straight up. And now they've gotta get jacked up to beat a bad Cal team by 32 points?
No one should construe this as me putting any faith in Cal whatsoever. It's just that Stanford has scored no more than 31 points in any game since late September. After last week's shaky playcalling, and their overall desire to be a control-the-clock team, I don't see them putting up 50+, which they'd all but have to do to cover this spread. Cal sucks, sure, but it can score points late in games to secure a back door cover. Bet on the let-down-look-ahead-sandwich, as well as the sizeable back door potential, and take all those points. (And please, no jokes in the comments about "sizeable back doors.")
Potential Bowl Opponents:
--> Michigan State (-7.5) @ Northwestern (4-Stache Pick)
I'm laying points on the Spartans' defense right now until they prove me wrong. Northwestern is 0-6 since Gameday was on their campus, and if you expect them to bounce back against the nation's best defense (YEAH I SAID IT SABAN), I've got a "Taylor Martinez 4 Heisman" T-shirt to sell you. The 'Cats have been exposed as a fraud since facing Ohio State, and haven't exactly looked like an offensive powerhouse in the process. And - again - every Michigan State win this year has been by 8 points or more. I think Sparty gives up at most 17 points and stomps these fools.
--> Wisconsin (-16.5) @ Minnesota (2-Stache Pick)
Minnesota's 8-2 record while dealing with the up-and-down health of coach Jerry Kill has been a great story for college football, and a bright spot in an otherwise pretty boring B1G year. Not only that, the Golden Gophers sit at 7-3 against the spread.
But here's the thing: I think Wisconsin is just way, way better. These dudes, while 8-2 overall like Minnesota, are 9-0-1 against the spread this year, and are a Pac-12 officiating mindsplosion away from possibly being 9-1 and in the Top 10. The reason the Badgers have been so reliable is two-fold: they play great defense, and they can move the ball and score points reliably on the ground without having to attack through the air. Having an explosive rushing attack is great for games on the road, especially if the weather turns sour like it so often does in the Upper Midwest. 16.5 points is a lot to lay on the road, but the Badgers have been outperforming the oddsmakers all year. (See last week's 59-3 pasting of a decent Indiana team despite being favored by "only" 27.) Some time this season Wisconsin will lose against the spread. I don't think it's this week. I think this is a 41-21 win for Wisconsin as they remain in the discussion for an at-large BCS bid.
--> Baylor @ Oklahoma State (+9.5) (2-Stache Pick)
This is an awesome matchup in the Big 12, with conference and national championship implications. But this point spread really tests my crush on Baylor.
Baylor is Baylor, but winning by 10 in Stillwater is a serious chore. What's more, this somehow will only be Baylor's 3rd road game this year; the others were at Kansas State, where they posted a 10-point win, and Kansas, where they crushed Charlie Weis, the FUPA himself.
You've gotta be impressed at the defense Oklahoma State played on the road against Texas last week. And their offense is as good as anybody's.
Not saying the Cowboys pull off the upset, but 9.5 is a lot of points for a Top 10 team to get at home versus anybody, especially with a Top 10 team that can score quickly and get it close at the end of a game. Take the points and hope for a great shootout between these two clubs.
--> Indiana (+34.5) @ Ohio State (1-Stache Pick)
Do we have to do this AGAIN? Almost an identical spread against almost an identical team as last week (Illinois, -34). "OHIO STATE VERSUS [CRAPPY B1G OPPONENT]! IT'S A MIDWEST SHOWDOWN!" Spare me. Ohio State should murder these guys, but this is a TON of points. I see the Buckeyes becoming a little complacent this week after their coach finally vented some frustration about the BCS surface after last week's win. But again, I have no idea how this thing will go, and I actually don't really care.
Stay tuned for a review of how we did and, of course, the Magical Mustache Margin.