The Wildcats usually play well in Los Angeles, regardless of the point spread
The sixth Saturday of the Pac-12 season is the last without a scheduled matchup between two ranked teams. That is not to say that the upcoming weekend should be overlooked. The stage is set for drama to take center stage. Three of the four games have point spreads in the single digits.
The only game viewed as a potential blowout is Arizona’s final scheduled trip to Los Angeles before the conference splits up.
For good reason, the Wildcats are three-touchdown underdogs against USC.
Arizona is unranked, while USC is unbeaten.
Arizona hasn’t won at the Coliseum since the Pac-12 was known as the Pac-10, and USC hasn’t lost at home since coach Lincoln Riley took over.
Arizona quarterback Jayden de Laura is questionable due to an ankle injury; Caleb Williams of USC is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and the 2023 frontrunner.
The Hotline, on the other hand, sees a trap game where the oddsmakers see a lopsided affair.
After all, the Wildcats won a game against a ranked opponent in Los Angeles as a massive underdog last year.
Arizona entered the Rose Bowl in early November with three wins, six losses, and little chance of defeating ninth-ranked UCLA.
The Bruins had a star quarterback (Dorian Thompson-Robinson), a Pac-12 title on the line, and a rivalry game on the horizon.
Final score: Arizona 34, UCLA 28.
The point spread then: 19.5.
The point spread now: 21.5.
UCLA’s ranking then: No. 9.
USC’s ranking now: No. 9.
Just as the Bruins were looking ahead to their game against USC the following week, the Trojans will undoubtedly be looking ahead to their game against Notre Dame on Oct. 14.
Just as many Arizona players with Southern California roots were ecstatic to play in front of friends and family in the Rose Bowl, they will be ecstatic Saturday night in the Coliseum.
Noah Fifita, the starting quarterback if de Laura is unable to play, grew up in Huntington Beach. Jacob Manu, the team’s starting linebacker, is from Santa Ana. Tetairoa McMillan, the team’s star receiver, attended high school in Anaheim.
For years, Arizona’s reliance on talent from Southern California has fuelled high-level performances.
The Wildcats were 19-point underdogs at USC in 2015 and lost by eight points.
They were 10-point favorites at UCLA in 2018 and lost by one point.
They were 21-point underdogs at USC two years ago and lost by a touchdown.
Last year, as 19.5-point underdogs, they trailed for four minutes in a six-point win.
Will it be any different this week? Will there be a blowout in the land of closer-than-expected?
The Trojans are essentially the same team (great offense; shaky defense) that struggled to defeat the Wildcats in Tucson 49 weeks ago.
Meanwhile, Arizona’s defense has vastly improved. If de Laura (or Fifita) is good with the ball and makes good decisions… If the Wildcats avoid drive-killing penalties and play well on special teams… If they convert enough first downs to keep the defense fresh, this game could end up being much closer than the point spread suggests.
It could be 2022 all over again, with the top-ranked hosts caught off guard in real time as they prepare for a showdown the following Saturday.
To the choices…
Last week: 3-2 Season: 19-17 Five-star special: 3-2
All picks against the spread Lines taken from BetMGM (via VegasInsider.com)
(All times Pacific)
Washington State at UCLA Kickoff: 12 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks Line: UCLA -3.5 (total: 59.5) Comment: The teams have the same amount of preparation time (two weeks), but their resumes are very different. Washington State has two victories over ranked opponents, while UCLA has only one against a Power Five opponent. The Bruins’ lackluster schedule makes it difficult to assess their strengths and weaknesses. The defense appears to be solid, but it will face a Cougar offense that averages 45.8 points per game. UCLA’s offensive line appears shaky and will have to deal with a strong WSU pass rush. So, why are the Bruins the favorites? Because of brand bias and home cooking. Pick: Washington State
Colorado at Arizona State Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks Line: Colorado -4.5 (total: 60.5) Comment: How will the Buffaloes react to a low-key game — this is their first appearance on the Pac-12 Networks this season — after playing so many high-profile games? A setback seems unavoidable, but does Arizona State have the ability to capitalize? The Sun Devils should be able to move the ball effectively because Colorado’s defense is one of the worst in the conference. Will ASU’s defense be up to the task? Third down is crucial in our opinion. The Buffs rank 32nd in the country in third-down conversion percentage (46.2), while ASU ranks 83rd in defense (40.8 percent). Pick: Colorado
Oregon State at Cal Kickoff: 7 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks Line: Oregon State -9.5 (total: 51.5) Comment: The point spread reflects each team’s current outlook but is not indicative of the overall series trend: The Bears have won three of the last four meetings in Berkeley, with the lone loss coming in 2019. This game, like every other OSU game, will be decided in close quarters at the line of scrimmage. The Beavers average 206 yards rushing per game and will challenge Cal’s stout run defense to slow down tailback Damian Martinez on first down. If the Bears are successful, they should be able to hang around long enough for one play to decide the outcome. A must-win game for the Beavers if they want to remain in contention for the conference championship. Pick: Cal
Arizona at USC Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on ESPN Line: USC -21.5 (total: 71.5) Comment: We’ll add a few more words to the 450 words dedicated to this game in the introduction. Last week, Arizona held Washington to 19 points below its season average. If the Wildcats are only half as effective against USC (to account for the fact that they are on the road), we could reasonably expect the Trojans to score 45 points. Arizona would need a score in the mid-20s to cover the spread. How many teams have gotten that far against USC? The majority of them. San Jose State scored 28 points in the Coliseum. Despite using a third-string quarterback, Arizona State scored 28 points as well. Last week, Colorado scored 41 points on USC’s defense. We’re not convinced the Wildcats will repeat their 2022 upset of No. 9 UCLA, but that’s a lot of points given the circumstances. Pick: Arizona
Straight-up winners: Washington State, Colorado, Oregon State and USC
Arizona is a five-star special. Do you have faith in Alex Grinch’s defense? We don’t either.