Predictions and commentary for all PAC-12 games in week 4

The grand experiment of a pro style organization in college football came to an end on Sunday at Arizona State when head coach Herm Edwards and athletic director Ray Anderson agreed that they should part ways. Although many Sun Devil fans hoped that mean Anderson would leave, it was Edwards who exited.

I don’t think the pro mode failed but rather that Edwards made poor choices in hiring assistant coaches and he was not as hands-on in daily operations as most head coaches.

The pro model was called a grand experiment at the time of Edwards’ hiring and that brought to mind a grand experiment that comedic philosopher Steven Wright once mused: “If toast always lands butter-side down, and cats always land on their feet, what happens if you strap toast on the back of a cat and drop it?”


I think Anderson shares much of the blame for the experiment not working because he was aware that Edwards was not as closely involved as most coaches and there are precedents that tell us that loose management by a head coach is perilous.

We only need to look at Mack Brown when he was hired by Texas. He did well in the beginning but he began to turn over day-to-day coaching to his assistants while he chummed with boosters and alums. The program atrophied and Brown was fired. Now that he is back to hands-on coaching at North Carolina, he is flourishing.

Edwards is an affable and likable guy. He’s always loose and looking for fun but I suspect it is his measure of fun that became the root of the program’s dysfunction, both with players and coaches.

His departure is not a surprise. Rumors of recruiting violations and fan unhappiness have abounded for months as do questions about the status of athletic director Anderson who was the subject of fan displeasure most of the weekend.

The timing could scarcely have been worst for ASU players since the Sun Devils now must face nationally ranked Utah without the head coach who recruited them.

So far this season, the Savvy Index has been 80% accurate in predicting winners this season compared to 77% by the betting lines. It is already 31 games better than betting lines in predicting over/under total points and until last weekend, it was better at predicting spreads.

#16 Utah (2-1) at Arizona State (1-2)

Since an opening day loss to Florida, Utah has been rolling. Not only is the Ute defense in the top 25 for fewest points and fewest yards allowed, but the past two games have seen Utah outscore their opponents 108-14.

Leading the way has been junior quarterback Cameron Rising who is completing 67% of his passes and running the ball at nearly seven yards a clip.

What surprises me is Utah’s rush defense which has been porous. I think all of us expected that rush defense to be near the top one-third of college football as it was last year. Instead, it ranks 107th in yards per carry and 90th for yielding rushing touchdowns in the red zone. That defense is also 107th for sacking quarterbacks.

Arizona State has two running backs with at least six yards-per-carry behind an offensive line that has been surprisingly good. Staying more on the ground than usual appears to be the best approach for the Sun Devils against Utah.

Even with a good day running the ball, it isn’t likely that ASU can upset the high flying Utes.

The Savvy Index calls this one 39-13 for Utah.

#11 USC (3-0) at #24 Oregon State (3-0)

What a joy it is to see Jonathan Smith’s Oregon State Beavers in the Savvy rankings.

And there’s even more joy this week because #11 USC is coming to town and college football fans know the trap-game nature of ranked Trojans coming to Corvallis. It makes me wonder if the folks of Corvallis keep their community small and unassuming to elevate the thought among opposing players that “there’s nothing to see here”.

The Trojan defensive approach is pressure, pressure, pressure and that has resulted in USC leading the nation in team sacks and in the top five for interceptions. Those are impressive accomplishments but then, we have to keep in mind that the Troy defense has been able to load up against the pass since big leads have nearly forced opponents to pass.

Trojans’ most notable advantage is at quarterback where Caleb Williams is fourth in the nation for completion percentage (74%).

My rating system calls this for USC 35-33 and national experts place the margin even higher.

But, there is one glaring weakness of USC and Oregon State is just the team to take advantage of it.

Oregon State punt returner Anthony Gould leads college football in yards per punt return (34.7) while Silas Bolden is third in the nation for kick-off return average (36.3).

The Trojans rank 113th in the nation defending kick returns. They won’t fix that problem before kickoff so the question becomes, how many times can Gould and Bolden get loose?

Also keep in mind that Gould is one of the top five long-ball receivers in America.

There aren’t many analysts who are risking a prediction that favors Oregon State but there are more than enough elements to view this as an upset waiting to happen. One thing that is for sure is that this is going to be a exciting football game in an electric atmosphere only possible at a college football game between two ranked teams.

#9 Oregon (2-1) at Washington State (3-0)

It is so hard to score on Washington State. The Cougars are 11th nationally for stopping the run. Even more impressive is that the WSU rush defense has not given up a touchdown all season.

Opponents have figured out that the best way to get yardage is through the air and that is likely where Oregon will find itself more often than it desires. Even that is risky however as Cougar linebacker Deiyan Henley is among the strongest pass rushers in the nation, averaging more than one sack per game to go with an amazing 7.5 tackles for loss.

The Cougars are weak in their over all pass defense so I expect the Ducks to do well in the air with quarterback Bo Nix having a great season. Nix has passed the ball 88 times and only 16 have not been completed. He has also been effective in running the ball (4.5 ypc) which, along with one of the best offensive lines in the nation, has helped Oregon to reach third in the FBS for avoiding sacks. Let’s see if that continues against the fury of Henley.

A noticeable problem for Oregon has been its inability to get to opposing quarterbacks (110th). Perhaps that will change this week because WSU’s offensive line has been performing considerably less than average.

Historically, Oregon has had some performance issues when traveling to Washington State which may be a reason that oddsmakers cite Oregon as just a six point favorite.

The Savvy Index is projecting Oregon will have success through the air and prevail 33-16.

Arizona (2-1) at California (2-1)

Arizona’s defense doesn’t have the linebackers yet to stop the California offense despite that Cal offense being more growl than bite. Expect the Bears to stay on the ground, an appropriate place for fat ol’ bears. This will likely be a slugfest and I doubt total points between the two will reach 50.

A big problem looming for Cal against future PAC-12 opponents is pass blocking. If the Bears don’t fix that soon, their chance of making it to a bowl game will greatly deteriorate.

All of that ground game stuff might sound boring but if your a Cal fan, getting to 3-1 is worth a Saturday afternoon full of yawns and occasional hibernations.

Cal should win this by seven.

UCLA (3-0) at Colorado (0-3)

UCLA was ranked in my system a week ago. Then, the Bruins struggled against South Alabama and dropped out.

Before last week’s game, I mentioned that South Alabama was a terrific threat to upset the Bruins and UCLA needed to be prepared. The Jaguars came within inches of getting that upset.

I expected more out of UCLA this season. I figured the Bruins for a top 15 season but the negative trends are mounting on Savvy and this group just is not what it seems. Fans may be ecstatic that their team is 3-0 and will be 4-0 after this weeks 42-14 predicted demolishing of Colorado. But, they will need to rejoice while they can because the next three weeks have games against resurgent Washington and nationally ranked Utah and Oregon.

As I study the trend lines today, I am convinced that by October 23rd, UCLA will go from 4-0 to 4-3.

Stanford (1-1) at Washington (3-0)

Wow, Washington has been spectacular this year. Not only have they produced net-positive trend lines every week, but the number of those positive trends are growing bigger with each game.

The work this new coaching staff has done for these players has been magnificent.

Take quarterback Michael Penix Jr.


That’s essentially how I saw things when Penix transferred from Indiana and brought his three-year history of throwing too many interceptions with him.

Yet, in just three games, Penix is second in the nation for passing yards and his touchdown-to-interception ratio is 10-to-1. In his tenure at Indiana, he was throwing one interception for every 33 attempts. Right now, he has thrown just one interception in 100 attempts.

Whereas Penix was once a Hoosier hazard, he has now become a Husky hero.

Coach David Shaw of Stanford is in the process of rebranding his scheme as he moves from bully-ball to the finesse of RPO. Changes in the game of college football in the past three years necessitated the Cardinal transition.

Changes of that magnitude take time but there are already some positive signs such as an effective running attack with Stanford hasn’t had for years. However, the offensive line needs to do a better job of pass blocking. Quarterback Tanner McKee is not a runner so without better protection up front, Stanford is facing some trying games.


Washington is an easy 19-point choice with very little chance of an upset.

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