The demise of the Pac-12 isn’t entirely devastating.
Colorado was always an awkward fit, ditching traditional rivals to play on the West Coast. Utah looked even more out of place.
It’s easy to forget that the Pac-12 attempted to build a superconference, long before the most recent rounds of realignment effectively killed the historic league.
Utah wasn’t part of its plans. But Texas and Oklahoma declined. So did Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. The Pac-10 needed a 12th team to meet the requirements for holding a conference championship game, hence, the Utes’ eventual invitation.
The additional money was nice. So was the increased exposure. But what Utah truly wanted was respect.
In 2008, Kyle Whittingham led the Utes — then, part of the Mountain West Conference — to a perfect season, but they were ranked No. 7 in the nation behind six one-loss teams — entering the bowls, before beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. This was just four years after Urban Meyer and Alex Smith went undefeated, as the Utes watched another national championship game from home.
It all led to Utah’s Attorney General building an antitrust lawsuit against the BCS. The state legislature adopted a resolution stating a playoff should be used to determine the national champion.
It would happen, but the Utes haven’t participated in it yet. They peaked at No. 3 in 2015 but finished with three losses. The Utes fumbled a potential opportunity to clinch a berth in the 2019 Pac-12 title game. Though they won the past two league titles, their hope for more took a massive hit with star quarterback Cam Rising unable to return from injury.
So, the program went overlooked again.
Utah (6-1) is an outlier beside the league’s elite offenses, relying on the conference’s best defense. It has held its power-conference opponents to an average of 17 points below their season scoring average, picking up noteworthy wins over Florida, UCLA and USC.
For the second straight week — and third time this season — Utah is an underdog, but it is returning home, where it hasn’t lost in front of fans since September 2018. The Utes will be led by former walk-on Bryson Barnes, who is 5-0 as Utah’s starter after outplaying Heisman winner Caleb Williams last week. And for the first time this season, Oregon’s explosive offense will actually be tested against a top-50 defense.
UTAH (+6.5) still has something to prove.
PENN STATE (-32.5) over Indiana
The Nittany Lions could use some style points after going 1-for-16 on third downs in a humbling loss at Ohio State. Penn State — which is still ranked third in average scoring margin (25.7 points) — is a safe bet to hold the nation’s fifth-worst offense to single digits.
WAKE FOREST (+20.5) over Florida State
A potential playoff team shouldn’t spend so much of its season sleepwalking. It’s hard to count on Florida State to wake up on the road, where the Seminoles barely scraped by Boston College and Clemson.
Oklahoma (-10) over KANSAS
The Sooners rank third in the nation in points per game (43.1) despite ranking 46th in the nation in red-zone scoring. The ceiling is raised against the Jayhawks, who are one of two teams in the nation to surrender points every time their opponent enters the red zone.
LOUISVILLE (-4) over Duke
If you pull this trigger early, you’re banking on the Blue Devils being cautious with quarterback Riley Leonard, who re-injured his ankle last week. The Cardinals, coming off a bye, would then be gifted a matchup against freshman Henry Belin IV, who completed one of six passes for 7 yards against Florida State. Duke’s ground game won’t be able to bail him out against a defense allowing 3.1 yards per carry.
Florida (+14.5) over Georgia
One blowout and bye week doesn’t erase the memories of a defending champion that has consistently underwhelmed this season. Expect the Bulldogs’ (1-5-1 against the spread) trend to continue without star tight end Brock Bowers, who leads the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
BYU (+17.5) over TEXAS
I honestly forgot that Arch Manning was in Austin until Quinn Ewers was injured last week. Freshman Maalik Murphy may make it easy, getting his first start over the nation’s top prospect.
NOTRE DAME (-20.5) over Pittsburgh
The Irish have won all four of their games against unranked opponents — plus USC — by at least 21 points. The Panthers are 0-3 against the spread away from home.
CALIFORNIA (+10.5) over USC
I wonder how many years Alex Grinch will serve for stealing so many paychecks. Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all column.
Washington (-26.5) over STANFORD
The Huskies’ letdown after their win over Oregon was easy to see coming. Michael Penix’s rebound against the nation’s third-worst pass defense should be equally obvious.
KENTUCKY (+3.5) over Tennessee
The Vols have lost four of their past five SEC road games. Though Joe Milton isn’t built to take advantage of Kentucky’s underwhelming secondary, Wildcats running back Ray Davis can gash a susceptible Tennessee run defense.
Ohio State (-14.5) over WISCONSIN
Expect more prose praising Ohio State’s newfound defensive identity after it faces freshman Braedyn Locke, who will meet the nation’s fifth-ranked defense in his second career start.
Colorado (+17) over UCLA
This pick is embarrassingly square, but the combination of a high-upside Buffaloes offense and an unreliable Bruins attack makes the points too appealing to pass on.
Betting on College Football?
North Carolina (-11.5) over GEORGIA TECH
The Tar Heels were 9-1 when they were stunned by the Yellow Jackets last season. After suffering one of the worst losses in school history last week, Carolina won’t fall asleep at the wheel again.
ARIZONA (+3.5) over Oregon State
Just four unranked teams have beaten a ranked opponent this season. Don’t be surprised to see the Wildcats join the list. Arizona is coming off a bye and has been a different team with Noah Fifita, whose only three starts have come against top-20 teams, yet ended with him producing the fourth-best completion percentage (75.2) in the nation.
Most recently, he led Arizona to its biggest win ever against a ranked team, 44-6, at Washington State. The Beavers, who have suffered nine of their past 10 losses away from home, have only faced one true test at quarterback this season, when Washington State’s Cam Ward — yes, the same player Arizona held under 200 yards and without a touchdown — threw for 404 yards and four touchdowns.
Best bets: Cal, Washington, Kentucky
This season: 59-58-3 (9-14-1)
2014-22 record: 1,150-1,082-25