Pac-12 picks ATS: Led by its defense, Arizona covers (once again) as substantial underdog while Oregon edges Washington

The Wildcats have failed to cover the spread just once this season

Only one Pac-12 team and five teams in the country have performed better against the spread this season than Arizona.

Before taking USC to overtime as a three-touchdown underdog, the Wildcats covered a nine-point spread at Mississippi State and a 19-point spread at Washington.

They have only failed to cover once in six games, as a heavy favorite at Stanford.

According to TeamRankings.com, the Ducks’ 5-1 record against the spread is second in the conference only to Oregon’s (5-0). (United Nations, Penn State, Oklahoma, and Rutgers are also unbeaten.)

The Wildcats are winless on the field but perfect against the spread as the underdog. Will the winning streak continue this week? They are 8.5-point underdogs at Washington State in a game that will be both tactical and emotional.

Washington State averages 44.3 points per game at home, where quarterback Cam Ward is at ease and efficient. The Cougars (4-1) have beaten two ranked teams at home, Wisconsin and Oregon State, but are coming off a poor performance at UCLA, where Ward was caught off guard with an unexpected defensive scheme.

The timing couldn’t be worse for the Wildcats (3-3), who must travel to Pullman just one week after suffering an exhausting, emotional triple-overtime defeat at USC. However, gathering the necessary energy is only one of three obstacles.

Their vastly improved defense must limit Washington State’s downfield passing game similarly to how USC’s aerial attack was limited.

The Wildcats will also need another consistent performance at quarterback, whether from freshman Noah Fifita or veteran Jayden de Laura, who is recovering from an ankle injury.

de Laura attended Washington State for three years before transferring after the 2021 season. If he plays on Saturday, he’ll need to keep his cool. Fifita must repeat his stellar performance at USC if he sits.

In any case, the stakes are high for Arizona, which must win three of its final six games to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2017.

The Hotline is going all in on the Wildcats against the spread, at least until the line adjusts to reflect their progress.

We’re not convinced they can win outright this week, not after the arduous effort at USC and with the long trip to the Palouse looming.

To the choices…

1-3 last week Year: 20-20 4-2 for a five-star special

All bets are against the spread. BetMGM (via VegasInsider.com) provided the lines.

(All times are in Pacific)

Arizona State is dormant.

Stanford hosts Colorado on Friday. Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN -11.5 for Colorado (total: 59.5). The logistics favor Stanford, which had two weeks to prepare, while Colorado is playing on a short week after another nail-biter. Travis Hunter, CU’s star receiver/cornerback, could return after a multi-game absence. His presence would energize a team that might otherwise struggle to summon the urgency required to beat Stanford early. The Cardinal are capable of staying in the game well into the fourth quarter. Stanford is my selection.

Cal is in Utah. 12 p.m. ET on Pac-12 Networks Utah -13.5 (total: 45). Will Cam Rising make his debut in 2023 this week? Will backup Nate Johnson be tasked with leading Utah’s floundering offense once more? While intriguing, the issue appears to be unimportant to the outcome this week. We don’t see the Bears scoring more than 14 or 17 points against Utah’s ferocious defense. The last rookie quarterback to win at Rice-Eccles Stadium was Justin Herbert of Oregon in 2016, and Fernando Mendoza is no Justin Herbert. Choose Utah

Washington vs. Oregon 12:30 p.m. kickoff on ABC Line: Washington -3 (total: 67.5) Comment: The Pac-12’s most anticipated game of the season so far pits elite quarterbacks against high-powered offenses. But the game will be decided at the line of scrimmage, and Oregon has the advantage. The Ducks have a stronger defense and better run-pass balance than the Huskies. To put it another way: Oregon has a +4.06 yards-per-play differential (yards gained on offense minus yards allowed on defense), while Washington has a +3.74 differential. That may not seem like much, but in a collision of this magnitude, with two fantastic teams and so much at stake, it’s significant. Choose Oregon

Washington State vs. Arizona The game begins at 4 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks. Washington State -8.5 (total of 58.5) Comment: The Cougars have recently dominated the series at home, outscoring Arizona by a combined 182-53 in the 2016, 2018, and 2021 meetings. This season, they were in complete control of both Wisconsin and Oregon State. With Arizona’s defense playing as well as it has, the Wildcats will most likely need 24-28 points to cover. Can they do it against a tough WSU defense? Yes, as long as the penalty and turnover totals are kept to a minimum. Arizona is my selection.

Notre Dame vs. USC Start time: 4:30 p.m. on NBC -2.5 for Notre Dame (total: 63.5) Comment: One of the sport’s most storied rivalries has taken a back seat this week in favor of the game in Seattle, in part because the Irish suffered their second loss (at Louisville) and thus fell out of playoff contention. Notre Dame should establish its running game early in order to create passing lanes for quarterback Sam Hartman, who threw three interceptions last week. If the Irish have control of the ball, they should shorten the game, wear down USC’s defense, and hope to stop Caleb Williams on a few fourth-down plays that will decide the game. USC is my pick.

UCLA versus Oregon State 5 p.m. kickoff on FOX Line: Oregon State -4 (total: 54.5) Comment: Despite receiving little attention across the conference, this primetime matchup could be the best game of the weekend. If nothing else, it should be a classic matchup between two strong defenses and run-heavy offenses. Oregon State has been fantastic at home, recently dismantling Utah. How will UCLA freshman quarterback Dante Moore react to the situation? He struggled in his only previous road start (in Utah). This season, the Bruins’ identity has shifted, with their defense leading the way. We’ve been torn between the point spread and the Under. UCLA is my pick.

Colorado, Utah, Oregon, Washington State, USC, and Oregon State were the clear winners.

Arizona is a five-star special. We’re going to ride the Wildcats until they give us a good reason to get off. (It’s worth noting that WSU is 3-2 against the spread.)

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