Cleat Geeks

Week 4 Pac 12 Preview: Game of the Week, Upset Watch & More

pac12introphotoIt hasn’t been the ideal start for the Pac-12 as a whole, only four teams remain undefeated and they haven’t exactly performed well in non-conference play – highlighted by USC’s blowout loss during the opening week in what was one of the most hyped up games leading up to the season. Still, teams like Stanford and Washington bring life to the conference as possible playoff threats.

While it’s been quite a disappointing start for the Pac-12, there’s a lot to look forward to, particularly this week. We saw Stanford open conference play with a convincing win against USC last week. Full conference play kicks off in week 4 with some appetizing match-ups. On Friday night we get to see if USC can rebound against a stout Utah squad. Stanford pays a visit to UCLA in a game that carries huge conference implications. Oregon State is the lone team in non-conference play as they host a good Boise State team.

Friday Night Showdown

USC (1-2, 0-1) @ #24 Utah (3-0)

usccrowdpaintedFollowing their disappointing 1-2 start to 2016, Clay Helton named Sam Darnold the new starting QB in what could be cited a move of slight desperation. The redshirt freshman was a four star recruit in the 2015 class and was personally recruited by Helton. It looks like the head coach has his guy under center, but how will that translate on the field?

There is a clear mismatch in this contest. Utah is top 10 in the nation in points allowed at only 12, while USC ranks 108th in scoring offense as they post only 20 points per game. Mix that in with an inexperienced QB, it doesn’t look good for the Trojans on the offensive side of the ball. Utah bolsters one of the best defensive lines in the conference headlined by 1st round hopeful Lowell Loutelelei.

The Utes have done just enough on offense to get by, as you could see in their one-point win against BYU in week 2. While they haven’t had any major tests like USC has, you know Kyle Whittingham will have his team ready to go. It’s hard to pick against a stout Utah team going up against a QB getting his first start during a short week.utahcrowd

The X-factor of this game of course will be the redshirt freshman Sam Darnold as he makes his first start. He’s a dual threat QB who can extend plays with his legs – he should re-instill life and flare into a USC offense which desperately needs it. However, I don’t expect much in his starting debut against Utah’s defense, although he will show flashes. USC has won four of the last five meetings, but Utah will shift that trend in Friday’s match-up.

Prediction: Utah, 25-21

Game of the Week

#7 Stanford (2-0, 1-0) @ UCLA (2-1)

Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News

Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News

This is a game I’m really excited for. It features the sturdy program of Stanford against the up and coming UCLA Bruins. Josh Rosen is of course the player to watch as he continues to build his case as a future #1 pick. It won’t be an easy task in this one as he goes up against a Cardinal defense which has given up an average of only 11.5 points per game through two games – ranked 8th in the nation. However, Rosen leads a high powered passing attack which averages over 300 passing yards per contest. Oh yeah, don’t forget about Heisman candidate Christian McCaffrey.

The Cardinal’s boast a tough front 7 led by Solomon Thomas on the line and some good athletes in the LB corps. UCLA counters with a great offensive line anchored by 5th year senior Conor McDermott manning the blindside. The blossoming star at RB in Soso Jamabo will have an impact as well.

christianmcaffreyamericanflagOn the offensive side of the ball for Stanford, they rely on Christian McCaffrey as you’d expect. At QB Ryan Burns hasn’t been asked to do too much, but he’s been solid and reliable. The Cardinals are stout in the trenches as they are year after year. The Bruins offer a lot of athleticism on defense. Eddie Vanderdoes is an All American linemen and Takkarist McKinley is off to a great start to his senior year as he offers a great presence off the edge. This will be a fun match-up to watch.

Stanford has won the past 8 match-ups dating all the way back to 2009, but this could be the year the Bruins bring a stop to that streak. Both teams offer a different playing style where UCLA brings more speed and tempo while Stanford is more smash mouth. David Shaw vs. Jim Mora is a great coaching match-up, but I’m giving the edge to Mora in this contest. I expect Rosen and the Bruins to flourish through the air while they do a decent job at containing McCaffrey with their athletes on defense.

Prediction: UCLA, 33-27

Other Top Games to Watch

1. California (2-1) @ Arizona State (3-0)

2. #9 Washington (3-0) @ Arizona (2-1)

3. Boise State (2-0) @ Oregon State (1-1)

Upset Watch: Colorado (2-1) @ Oregon (2-1)

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