Pac-12 picks of the week: Cal wins, UCLA escapes, and the three unbeaten teams stay perfect

The Pac-12’s collective performance doesn’t track perfectly with the play of its quarterbacks, but there’s a strong correlation.
This season, QB play has been uneven, uninspiring and un-Pac12.
Seven teams began the season with first-year starters; three are already hurt.
Meanwhile, the five returnees haven’t, for various reasons, reminded anyone of Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence, Kyle Trask, Mac Jones or Zach Wilson.
For elite quarterback play, look elsewhere.
ASU’s Jayden Daniels hasn’t played since Week One because of a program-wide COVID shutdown.
UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson has missed the last two games while in quarantine.
Stanford’s Davis Mills was held out of the opener because of a testing error, then missed a week of practice before the second game.
USC’s Kedon Slovis has been very good … in the final four minutes of two games.
Cal’s Chase Garbers, without three quarantined starters on the offensive line, has been inconsistent.
Add it up, and the position group is struggling.
The Pac-12 has just one quarterback, Oregon sophomore Tyler Shough, in the top-25 nationally in passing efficiency — a stat that relies heavily on percentages and ratios, as opposed to games played and passes attempted.
Last year, there were five in the top-25.
Without consistent high-level play at that position, the ceiling is low for the collective.
To the picks …
Last week: 2-2
Season: 8-8
Five-star special: 0-3
All picks against the spread
Lines taken from
Oregon State (plus-11) at Utah: OSU quarterback Tristan Gebbia has been ruled out, leaving the offense in the hands of sophomore Chance Nolan. We like Nolan on one-yard sneaks to win the game, but that’s about it. The Beavers need 200+ yards from tailback Jermar Jefferson. The Utes merely need zero turnovers from quarterback Jake Bentley. Pick: Utah.
Colorado (minus-7) at Arizona: Prior to the season, this looked like Arizona’s best chance for a victory. Now, it looks like Arizona’s best chance was the opener against USC. The Buffaloes aren’t elite on either side of the ball, but they’re better than the Wildcats on both — especially if injured starting quarterback Grant Gunnell cannot play. It sure seems like Arizona’s issues are less about COVID’s havoc than they are about Murphy’s Law. Pick: Colorado
UCLA (plus-3) at Arizona State: The number of days between games for ASU — 27 — is equivalent to an entire training camp. Exactly how much quality practice time each starting position group has received during the break, we cannot say. But some level of rust is inevitable. Meanwhile, the Bruins have played weekly and won two of their last three, and they should have starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson back from COVID quarantine. Pick: UCLA.
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Stanford (plus-11.5) at Washington: How’s this for extremes: Stanford was forced to relocate to Seattle for practice this week because of untenable local restrictions, while the Huskies are playing at home for the fourth consecutive game. Even without the disruption, the Cardinal would be facing a difficult challenge with an opponent that plays a lot like Stanford itself used to. Pick: Washington.
Oregon (minus-10) at Cal: Tracking Cal’s COVID quarantine issues on a weekly basis requires a Cal degree, but anybody can see the Bears are a mess on special teams. Eliminate those breakdowns, and they should have plenty of opportunities for victory No. 1 against an opponent reeling from its first loss. The Ducks have their own problems to solve, particularly on defense. Pick: Cal.
Washington State (plus-13) at USC (Sunday): Both teams are coming off COVID woes that disrupted practice, but not in the same fashion: WSU has missed two games, the Trojans just one. When we last saw each on the field, USC was in command at Utah while the Cougars were staggering through a rough second half against the Ducks. Feels like those contrasting trajectories will continue. Pick: USC
Straight-up winners: Utah, Colorado, UCLA, Washington, Cal and USC
Five-star special: UCLA. We like the Bruins to win outright. But with the points, they’re an easy call for the five star.

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