The Pac-12 opens its redemption tour with three matchups against Power Five opponents, but one is more important than the others.
Utah’s visit to Florida is the game of the week, month and year for the conference — to a greater extent even than Oregon’s duel with Georgia, the defending national champions.
Allow us a moment to re-engineer the season …
The Pac-12 hasn’t reached the College Football Playoff in six years and is desperate to return to the sport’s grand stage.
At the same time, no two-loss team has been invited to the CFP in its eight years of existence. All 32 semifinalists have carried a zero- or one-loss record into the selection committee’s final meeting.
By that measure, a loss Saturday would require the Utes and/or Ducks to run the table through nine Pac-12 games and the conference championship.
That’s highly unlikely: No team has gone undefeated in league play since the Pac-12 expanded in the 2011 season.
So for Utah and Oregon, the playoff path seemingly demands a victory this weekend.
The Utes are facing a weaker opponent than the Ducks and, with their veteran roster and coaching continuity, are more likely to navigate conference play with only one loss.
That makes Utah-Florida the most important game on the Pac-12 schedule, this week or any other week.
To the picks …
Spreads taken from vegasinsider.com using lines listed for BetMGM
For entertainment purposes only (or not).
(All times Pacific)
*** Not included (FCS opponents): Arizona State, Cal, Stanford and Washington State.
TCU -13.5 at Colorado (Friday)
Kickoff: 7 p.m. on ESPN
Comment: An insulting line for the Buffaloes considering that TCU was 5-7 last year and has a new coach, Sonny Dykes, who has little regard for defense. But is CU good enough to act on the insult? It will be a long season in Boulder, but at least it starts with an upset.
Pick: Colorado +13.5
Bowling Green +23.5 at UCLA
Kickoff: 11:30 a.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Comment: Look for early energy from the Bruins and a heavy reliance on the running game. (Over/Under on the number of UCLA pass attempts: 21.) Not for nothing, the on-field temperature should be well above 100 when the second half begins. The Falcons will wilt.
Pick: UCLA -23.5
Arizona +6.5 at San Diego State
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. on CBS
Comment: The Wildcats opened as a double-digit underdog and would have been an easy pick at that number. SDSU is opening a new stadium, but we wonder if the Aztecs might make the dangerous assumption that Arizona is no better than the version they throttled last season.
Pick: Arizona +6.5
Oregon +17.5 vs. Georgia (in Atlanta)
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. on ABC
Comment: Oregon’s defense should be one of the best in the Pac-12, if not the country. And coach Dan Lanning knows Georgia well. That combination will keep the Ducks within range of the massive spread, but the path to outright victory has a few too many obstacles.
Pick: Oregon +17.5
Rice +33.5 at USC
Kickoff: 3 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Comment: For all the excitement about the Lincoln Riley era, we wonder about the attendance with the extreme temperatures expected. Those willing to brave 105 degrees (or more) will see a dazzling start from the Trojans, followed by an uneventful second half.
Pick: Rice +33.5
Utah -3 at Florida
Kickoff: 4 p.m. on ESPN
Comment: Note the start time: 7 p.m. in Gainesville — it will be humid in the second half but not oppressively so. That said, the Utes would be best served by holding a lead entering the fourth quarter in case legs get heavy and energy dissipates. Also, watch the special teams, especially kick coverage: Utah can’t afford the types of breakdowns it suffered last season.
Pick: Utah -3
Kent State +22.5 at Washington
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on FS1
Comment: If it’s close at halftime, the home crowd, still haunted by Montana, will grow anxious. But we expect UW to reach a level of offensive competency it never attained last season, with creativity and adjustments that make all the difference in the second half. It won’t close down the stretch, but that’s a big number to cover against a MAC team that won seven last season.
Pick: Kent State +22.5
Boise State +2.5 at Oregon State
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
Comment: This easily-overlooked affair could provide the best finish of the weekend. Both teams have returning quarterbacks and veteran lineups. The Broncos aren’t what they used to be but remain formidable. Feels like a field-goal game. If so, OSU’s Everett Hayes to the rescue.
Pick: Oregon State -2.5
Straight-up winners: Colorado, UCLA, Arizona, Georgia, USC, Utah, Washington, Oregon State
Five-star special: Oregon State. We love the Beavers at that number (2.5) but would be wary of giving a half-point more.
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