Pac-12 picks of the week: Colorado faces its toughest challenge, by far, as Oregon’s loaded lines of scrimmage await

WSU hosts OSU and UCLA visits to Utah as conference play begins in force

When Colorado visits Oregon in the conference opener for both teams on Saturday, the hottest story in college football will face one of the coolest programs in the sport.

The showdown is dripping with plotlines:

Will Deion Sanders and the Buffaloes generate another massive TV audience?

Will Oregon coach Dan Lanning’s offseason remark about Colorado’s lack of Pac-12 success give the visitors an emotional edge?

Which quarterback, Oregon’s Bo Nix or Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders, deserves serious consideration for the Heisman Trophy?

Is the Buffaloes a genuine Pac-12 contender?

Is Oregon a contender for the playoffs?

The hype train appears to have two co-drivers: pomp and circumstance.

We would rather concentrate on an issue that has received little attention but will determine the outcome of the game: Are the Buffaloes able to compete at the line of scrimmage?

Otherwise, they’re doomed.

If this is the case, the on-field drama may live up to the pregame hype.

We examined the starting offensive and defensive lines last week (as listed in the game participation section of the official statistics) with two things in mind: body size and recruiting stars.

When Colorado has possession of the ball:

— The offensive linemen at Colorado average 300 pounds per man, while the defensive linemen at Oregon average 306 pounds. The Ducks are, indeed, larger.

— Four players on CU’s offensive line received 3-star ratings from 247Sports recruiting analysts, while one received a 2-star rating. Oregon’s defensive line is comprised of two 4-star prospects and two 3-star prospects. (This group lacks a key reserve, freshman edge rusher Matayo Uiagalelei, who was the top-rated defensive recruit in California last winter.)

Meanwhile, when the Ducks have possession of the ball:

— The offensive linemen for Oregon average 320 pounds per man, while the defensive linemen for Colorado average 270. Leonard Payne Jr., a 300-pounder, is the largest of the Buffaloes. Every Oregon starter is larger than Payne, with three of them being at least 20 pounds larger.

— Oregon has one 5-star recruit (tackle Josh Conerly Jr.), three 4-star recruits, and one 3-star recruit on its offensive line. Colorado’s defensive line is made up entirely of three-star prospects.

To be sure, body size and recruiting stars aren’t always related to performance. Of course, speed, cohesion, fundamentals, and tactics are essential.

However, when we look at the matchup in Eugene, it’s clear that the Ducks have a significant advantage at the line of scrimmage in areas critical to success.

If Nix can translate that into an effective running game and manageable third-down distances, the Ducks will be difficult to stop.

And if Oregon’s defensive front generates consistent pressure on Sanders without the need for extra rushers, CU will struggle to find big plays and sustained drives.

Where it counts the most, at the line of scrimmage, Oregon is by far the most difficult challenge the Buffaloes have faced to date.

To the picks …

Last week: 3-3 Season: 13-12 Five-star special: 2-1

All picks against the spread Lines taken from BetMGM (via

(All times Pacific)

Colorado at Oregon Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. on ABC Line: Oregon -21 (total: 71.5) Comment: Notably, the Ducks were 17-point favorites on Sunday morning, but the line had risen to 21.5 by Monday afternoon. (At the moment, some sportsbooks are offering 21.) Clearly, the public was underwhelmed by CU’s narrow home victory over Colorado State, and for good reason: the Rams are a mid-level Mountain West team, whereas Oregon is one of the best teams in arguably the toughest conference in the country. We don’t expect a close game, but that’s a few points too many given Shedeur Sanders’ playmaking abilities. The Over, on the other hand, appears appealing. Pick: Colorado

UCLA at Utah Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. on FOX Line: Utah -4.5 (total: 51.5) Comment: Utah represents a significant step up in competition for the Bruins, as the Utes have already faced two teams (Baylor and Florida) that are similar in size and speed to the Bruins. There’s a lot of speculation that Utah quarterback Cam Rising will make his season debut, which would add to the Rice-Eccles craze. Rising’s timing and rhythm, on the other hand, are worth watching. Will he make the typical mistakes seen in season openers? Is Nate Johnson capable of replicating his fourth-quarter efficiency at Baylor if he is unable to play? Our strange-feeling radar is blinking. Don’t be surprised if the Bruins win easily. Pick: UCLA

Arizona at Stanford Kickoff: 4 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks Line: Arizona -11.5 (total: 58.5) Comment: The Wildcats are road favorites in a conference game for the first time since the 2018 season, and for good reason, according to the Hotline’s expert research team. Stanford’s last two games have been dreadful: a thrashing at USC and a come-from-behind loss to Sacramento State. The Cardinals are short on playmakers, have issues at the line of scrimmage, and are quarterback-less. Meanwhile, Arizona’s defense has been solid. The Wildcats should win easily if they limit turnovers. However, the ball security issue causes us to pause. SPick: Stanford

Oregon State at Washington State Kickoff: 4 p.m. on FOX Line: Oregon State -2.5 (total: 56.5) Comment: As the two remaining Pac-12 schools collide with significant stakes, the on-field competition is inextricably linked to the off-field drama: Both are 3-0 and intend to compete for the conference title as they plan their future together. The Cougars have been more impressive thus far (particularly in their win over Wisconsin), and we anticipate their pass rush to cause timing issues for OSU quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. Everything for the Beavers is dependent on the running game, particularly first-down efficiency. Second-and-long against Ron Stone Jr. and company spells disaster. Pick: Washington State

USC at Arizona State Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on FOX Line: USC -34.5 (total: 61.5) Comment: Let’s start with the context: We looked back 25 years to find the last time ASU was a 30 point (or more) underdog — and found nothing. In fact, the Sun Devils have not been a 20-point home favorite in that span of time. Not against the 2000s USC dynasty. Not against the early-2010 Oregon powerhouses. Nonetheless, the line makes perfect sense given the Devils’ off-field (postseason ban) and on-field (quarterback injuries), not to mention USC’s ability to score quickly and frequently. And, as if the circumstances weren’t difficult enough, ASU has had two weeks to prepare. Pick: USC

Cal at Washington Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on ESPN Line: Washington -21.5 (total: 60.5) Comment: The past three weeks indicate that the betting line is indeed too low. Cal’s offense is shaky, and its defense, while strong, isn’t talented enough to stop UW’s high-octane offense. The previous four series meetings, however, paint a very different picture: The Bears won close games in 2018-19, including a 12-10 thriller, while the Huskies were only a touchdown better in 2021-22. Our guess is that Cal’s quarterback play will struggle against UW’s edge pressure, resulting in turnovers and a lopsided game. Washington is my choice.

Oregon, UCLA, Arizona, Washington State, USC, and Washington won outright.

Washington State is a five-star special. Isn’t it true that the more impressive team to date is at home and scoring points? It’s difficult to pass up that combination.

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