Story by Jon Wilner
Week Three in the Pac-12 brings a fascinating conference duel in Pullman, where a coach-less team meets a vax-less coach, two matchups against Power Five opponents and the first look at UCLA since its triumph over LSU a fortnight ago.
But the most interesting game of all features the team we know the least about.
That mystery factor is exactly why Arizona State’s trip to Brigham Young on Saturday night (ESPN) is so compelling.
For months, the Sun Devils have been a trendy pick to win the South (guilty!) and the object of severe criticism for potentially deplorable recruiting violations (also guilty!).
But with two weekends come and gone in the 2021 season, we have no idea if they’re worthy of the division title or likely to be derailed by the ongoing NCAA investigation.
Two lopsided victories over creampuff opponents do not a contender make.
Then again, three suspended assistant coaches do not a pretender make.
But this week, finally, 19th-ranked ASU will encounter some degree of resistance.
The Cougars are fresh off their first victory over Utah in a decade and look perfectly capable of competing with upper-echelon Pac-12 teams.
The betting line provides a benchmark from which to judge the outcome: The Sun Devils are favored by just 3.5 points.
This is the key season for ASU’s fourth-year coach, Herm Edwards. The roster reload that unfolded over multiple recruiting cycles always pointed to 2021 as the tipping point.
Quarterback Jayden Daniels is a third-year starter. The lines of scrimmage have been rebuilt. The skill positions are stocked with playmakers. There are veterans across the secondary.
The Sun Devils haven’t won the division title in eight years or the conference championship in 25.
By the close of business Saturday night, we’ll have a better sense for their ceiling … or their floor.
Last week: 6-3
Five-star special: 2-0
All picks against the spread
Lines taken from vegasinsider.com
All times Pacific
No line (FCS opponents): Oregon State, Cal, Oregon and Arizona
Colorado -2 vs. Minnesota
Kickoff: 10 a.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Comment: Minnesota’s defense isn’t nearly as stout as Texas A&M’s, but the offense will be far more potent. Does CU have the means to score 20+ points against an opponent not named Northern Colorado? Only if the passing game awakens. The task would be much easier with advantageous field position, which means Nate Landman and Co. need to force a few turnovers. Pick: Colorado
USC -8.5 at Washington State
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. on FOX
Comment: How will the Trojans react to the dismissal of Clay Helton and the elevation of assistant Donte Williams to the role of interim coach? We expect a spirited performance, at least at the outset, but the flaws are likely to persist, in particular the hit-and-miss running game and the lack of discipline. The Cougars have a bevy of playmakers and could win the game outright if they protect the ball. Their blueprint for victory: Stay within range until the fourth quarter, then pounce on a USC mistake. Pick: Washington State
Washington -16.5 vs. Arkansas State
Kickoff: 1:15 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Comment: The key number here is 55. No, it’s not the Over/Under (that’s 57.5, by the way). Instead, 55 is the number of points scored on Arkansas State last week by Memphis. In other words: There’s hope for the Huskies’ woeful offense, which found a morsel of rhythm in the second half of the loss to Michigan. Look for a breakout game for the UW aerial attack, with a resounding victory in tow. Pick: Washington
Utah -7.5 at San Diego State
Kickoff: 4 p.m. on CBS Sports Network
Comment: The Utes were wobbly against BYU in worrisome places — namely, quarterback efficiency and run defense — and they now face an opponent built to take advantage. (SDSU tailback Greg Bell is one of the best in the western half of the FBS.) The placement of the game for Utah, after the Holy War and before the conference opener, also gives us pause. And that extra half-point? It’s too tempting. Pick: San Diego State.
Stanford -11 at Vanderbilt
Kickoff: 5 p.m. on ESPNU
Comment: Another long trip for Stanford, albeit not another 9 a.m. (Pacific) kickoff. We’re not quite sure what to make of the Cardinal after two extreme performances, but we know this: Vanderbilt is bad. (We’re talking lose-to-East-Tennessee-State-by-20-points bad.) And we know rookie quarterback Tanner McKee gives the Cardinal offense a fighting chance. Pick: Stanford
Arizona State -3.5 at Brigham Young
Kickoff: 7:15 p.m. on ESPN
Comment: To everything noted above, we’ll add this: The Sun Devils should be fresh physically after easy wins over Southern Utah and UNLV, while the Cougars must recalibrate emotionally after the long-awaited victory in the Holy War. The Sun Devils might wobble early, but they should take control late. Pick: Arizona State
UCLA -11 vs. Fresno State
Kickoff: 7:45 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Comment: The Bruins are two weeks removed from the breakthrough performance against LSU. Have they lost the momentum? Or did the break do more good than harm by providing a window to celebrate and then refocus? We should find out early in this one, to the extent that anything happening after 10:30 p.m. Eastern is early. Pick: UCLA
Five-star special: Washington. Sure, it’s bananas to expect a team averaging 8.5 points per game to cover a 16.5-point spread. And that’s exactly why we like the Huskies.
Straight-up winners: Colorado, Washington State, Washington, Utah, Stanford, ASU and UCLA
Support the Hotline: Receive three months of unlimited access for just 99 cents. Yep, that’s 99 cents for 90 days, with the option to cancel anytime. Details are here, and thanks for your support.
*** Send suggestions, comments and tips (confidentiality guaranteed) to email@example.com or call 408-920-5716
*** Follow me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline
*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.