Predictions and commentary for all PAC-12 games in week 3

Will Oregon beat BYU?

Some big games are on the schedule for PAC-12 teams this week and I have predictions for all of them from my Savvy Index rating system.

The Savvy system is 146-31 in predicting games and stands 8 games better than oddsmakers in predicting point spreads and 25 games better in predicting total points.

Let’s start this weeks predictions with a very interesting matchup in Tucson:


North Dakota State 2-0 at Arizona 1-1

Every college football fan knows that North Dakota State has won more FCS national championships than any program and the Bison seldom lose if they are playing an FBS opponent.

This week, they take their stampede to Tucson to take on the Arizona Wildcats.

NDSU has only played FCS opponents so far this season and neither of those was very good. But, the Bison were up 35-0 at the half last week and they pounded Drake by 42 the week before even while using a subs in the second half.

Running back Hunter Luepke averages 9.7 ypc. and he’ll be up against an Arizona rush defense that is better than last year but still only in the bottom third of the FBS. NDSU’s offensive line won’t have trouble opening holes for Luepke because that line is as good as just about any college line in the nation no matter the division.

Arizona has another problem that is more concerning and that is turnovers. The Wildcats rank 111th and most of that has come from quarterback Jayden de Laura who has thrown four interceptions in just 80 passing attempts. That is not a problem he brought with him when he transferred from Washington State.

I think his problem at UA comes from coaching schemes that have taken away his ability to move, escape pressure, and throw on the run. In two years at WSU, he ran approximately five times per game. He has yet to do that at Arizona. I don’t know if that is by game plan or by golly, but coaches need to turn him loose.

The scheme also appears to be avoiding tight ends. Former Arizona high school star tight end Alex Lines averaged more than 13 yards per reception last year. He’s a big kid and an easy target yet he has only been given the ball once in the entire 2022 season.

If Arizona turns de Laura loose to run and they bring tight ends across the middle, the success of Jayden de Laura should return.

NDSU is fabulous on defense with three terrific linebackers and junior safety Sam Jung who is a laser tackler in the open field and the team’s interception leader.

The last time North Dakota State took on an FBS opponent the Bison defeated nationally ranked Iowa 23-21. That was September 17, 2016. And now exactly six years to the day, the Bison will make it two in a row with a 10 point win over the Wildcats.


Colorado State 0-2 at Washington State 2-0

Was it a joy to watch Washington State roll into Madison, Wisconsin and come away with a 17-14 upset win? It was a great win for one of the nation’s brightest new coaching stars, Jake Dickert.

I was never concerned that WSU would have problems stopping Wisconsin on the ground. The Cougar defensive front has been terrific all year. And, if WSU could stop UW’s rush, then the Badgers would be forced to the air and that is just not a good thing when Graham Mertz is your quarterback.

Yes, Mertz is a good guy but his 22-18 td-to-interception ratio is a three year problem. Winning through the air, especially under pressure, is not a good situation for Wisconsin.

So hats off to that Washington State defensive front which had nearly twice as many tackles for loss as did Wisconsin’s front.

I was amused with television announcers who figured Wisconsin would win the game because the Badgers had the ball so much longer than the Cougars and that meant the Cougar defenders would be tired. Has it ever been your thought that perhaps players on the offensive side might also get tired so what’s the difference? Offensive linemen still have to carry their 300 pounds for more plays and they still have to block.

In many attempts to use time of possession as a predictor of football games, I’ve never seen anything that even begins to work.

This week, WSU hosts Colorado State. Although the Rams are winless, they are a dangerous group because former Nevada coach Jay Norvell brought a ton of talent with him from Reno to Colorado Springs. Indeed it is taking time to get things together, but the talent is there and this group will begin to rise.

I don’t see that happening this week because Washington State has proven itself to be solid and competitive and also because CSU wants to run the ball the majority of the time despite gaining just 72 yards in 73 attempts so far this year. Not a single CSU running back averages as much as 3.5 ypc.

Trying to fix that against a defensive front like Washington State is like trying to inflate a football with a breast pump.

(In case you’re wondering, .99 yards per carry is not the worst in the nation. Boston College owns that title with just .6 yards per carry. )

(Also in case you’re wondering — you know, like you’re a single guy or something —- breast pumps work in reverse.)

That leaves the Rams with the perilous option of putting the ball in the air with quarterback Clay Millen. I’m not saying Millen isn’t good. I’m just saying Clay Millen hasn’t been very good so far. But with a father who was a backup quarterback to John Elway and a mother who was a model, he obviously has some genetics.

What he hasn’t had is success through the air (4 td passes; 3 interceptions) or on the ground (minus 80 yards rushing).

Colorado State is going to have a wonderful season and get to a bowl game. In fact, if predicted right now, Savvy would favor Colorado State in eight of its next nine games.

But, not this week. Washington State will continue to roll, 32-14.


Eastern Michigan 1-1 at Arizona State 1-1

EMU’s offensive line is better than I expected but with spectacular running back D. J. Smith out for the season with an injury, Eagle running backs can’t seem to make headway against even mild head winds.

Starting quarterback Taylor Powell is throwing interceptions at twice the national average despite having seven receivers with at least two years of experience.

Eastern Michigan’s defense has fallen significantly from last season. The Eagles are giving up 330 yards per game just through the air and much of that comes from a defensive front that just cannot get to opposing quarterbacks, something the Eagles did well last year.

There isn’t much that I can see that argues against the Savvy Index prediction of Arizona State winning this game by at least 19 points.


California 2-0 at Notre Dame 0-2

We might as well pour honey on the Irish boys now because the Bears are coming to town and they are licking their chops and ready to savor the sweet.

Notre Dame is 0-2 with a defense that is 125th for defending the pass (72.7%) and 79th for defending everything else. If you want to run against them, then run. If you want to pass, then pass. Either way, the Notre Dame defense is as benevolent as it is holey.

The Irish offense ranks 97th nationally in passing and 114th for rushing. My preseason analyses of offensive lines told me that Notre Dame would have some difficulties but certainly not this much.

Both passing and rushing will suffer because Notre Dame’s leading passer is Tyler Buchner. Tyler Buchner is also NDU’s leading rusher.

And, as if things couldn’t get worse, Tyler Buchner is out with an injury for at least a month.

The time is ripe for the Cal Bears to come away with an upset win over a legendary program. The opportunities are there.

What isn’t there is a history of Cal coming away with upset wins over legendary programs.

Savvy Index says Notre Dame wins this 27-17 with a high alert for upset. Ten points is also the margin betting lines have in favor of Notre Dame.

But, my personal assessment is that Cal reverses everything and finally gets that big upset.


Colorado 0-2 at Minnesota 2-0

Minnesota leads the nation in total defense.

Colorado is 125th in total offense.


#7 BYU 2-0 at #22 Oregon 1-1

BYU overcame a tough Baylor outfit last week in a 26-20 Cougar win that most analysts called an upset (although my Savvy system predicted BYU by 3).

This week, the betting lines once again go against BYU as they see Oregon coming out on top by one possession.

There isn’t much to separate these teams in terms of over all quality of opposition and they are nearly identical in their quality of play so far being a little below expectations.

Both teams are nearly identical in 50-50% run-pass distribution so we’ll probably see a lot of everything.

Although their rating data is similar right now, there are two notable differences in these two.

One is that BYU has a history of beating ranked teams whereas Oregon has been miserable in that lately. And, second is that BYU has advantages that come with a coaching staff that has been solidified through time whereas Oregon’s staff is just getting started.

Did you notice that Samford lost to Georgia by 33 whereas Oregon lost to Georgia by 46. Did that give you the notion that Oregon is no Samford? I can’t recall how many head shakes were required for me to shake that thought.

My system is calling it for BYU, 31-30 with the notation that this really is a tossup.


Montana State 2-0 at Oregon State 2-0

It’s my opinion that if any team in the FCS is going to knock North Dakota State from its perch atop the FCS, Montana State is the team that will do it. The Bobcats played for the FCS national championship last year and are just plain loaded this year. Their results have been magnificent in 2022 as they opened with a 40-17 win over a better than average McNeese State outfit and followed that with a 50 point win over Morehead State.

Montana State’s offensive line is better than half of the FBS teams and ‘Cat quarterback Tommy Mellott is as good as most FBS quarterbacks and we know that because he had to beat out FBS transfers to become the starter at MSU.

Oregon State is a legitimate power five conference contender and coaches like Jonathan Smith seldom suffer surprise losses to FCS teams. It’s likely that OSU will center its attack once again around running back Deshaun Fenwick. Despite an offensive line that hasn’t been as good as I expected, the Beavers should have enough size up front to keep Fenwick moving.

Expect Luke Musgrave to have a big day. Already this year, the 6’5″, 250 pound Musgrave has 11 receptions and that is fourth most in the nation among tight ends.

Oregon State is favored 37-24 at home.


South Alabama 2-0 at UCLA 2-0

Most analysts are saying that South Alabama is the best surprise of the season. But, I’ve seen this group emerging for nearly two years because I followed the hiring of Kane Womack as head coach prior to the 2021 season and I knew something was up when he immediately got Major Applewhite as his offensive coordinator.

The Jaguars had losing season after losing season before Womack and Applewhite but after they came to Mobile, it became pretty easy to project that USA was going to climb and become a threat.

Before Applewhite, USA went years without getting to 20 points per game. In 2021, Major installed a multiple spread attack and brought the Jags to 25 ppg and right now to 43 ppg.

Already this year, the Jaguars have climbed 26 spots in the Savvy rankings while posting 22 positive trends. Not only is that the most number of positive trends in the system but the Jaguars are one of only five teams without a single negative trend so far.

If UCLA isn’t paying attention, this will become a loss ballyhooed by the press as one of the biggest upsets of the year. But, I don’t see it that way whatsoever. USA is coming to play and the Bruins better be ready and serious.

USA does have one weakness. The Jaguars have not played well on the road under Wommack so this trip to Los Angeles is a big challenge.

Savvy is calling this one 40-21 for UCLA with a few warning shots that the upset potential is very high.


Fresno State 1-1 at USC 2-0

Now we’re going to find out what USC is made of. The Trojans have had it pretty easy so far and, as predicted, have risen in the rankings by beating up academic cousins Rice and Stanford.

Neither Fresno State nor USC has committed a turnover in 2022 and both defenses yield exactly 21 ppg. Fresno State has played a harder schedule so far but USC has been more impressive.

The last time these two met was in 2019 when USC won 31-23. This time, it should be the Trojans again, 38-27.


San Diego State 1-1 at Utah 1-1

San Diego State has a brand new and beautiful stadium. (Our family has season tickets.) They have a returning coach, returning quarterback, and more returning talent than most.

Yet, the Aztecs are one of the most disappointing teams of this young season.

They can run the ball like crazy (6.47 ypc) but they just can’t seem to complete passes despite an offensive scheme that averages a paltry four yards per attempt.

In addition, the Aztecs are struggling to get consistent efficiency out of their pass defense.

SDSU upset Utah last year but I don’t think Aztec coach Brady Hoke will get things straightened out in time to do it again this year.

The prediction is for Utah, 32-21.


Michigan State 2-0 at Washington 2-0

Both of these teams are well ahead of schedule and the success of either might be a bit deceptive since neither has played a competitive opponent.

Michigan State has executed a balanced attack in 2022 but I see the Spartans staying on the ground more against Washington. In just two games, sophomore running back Jalen Berger has amassed 227 yards and four touchdowns.

Contrast that with junior quarterback Payton Thorne whose career-long reputation for throwing interceptions continues at a very high rate (6%).

Can Washington with a new head coach prove it is finally ready to knock off a nationally ranked team? We’ll find out soon. In the meantime, Savvy won’t risk an upset prediction until UW proves it is upset-worthy.

Michigan State is favored 30-17. Betting lines favor Washington by two.


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