*** My weekly conversation with Doc’s Sports handicapper Raphael Esparza (@VSIdocsports) is available below. Esparza will join me each week during the season to discuss the top Pac-12 games …
Everything has fallen perfectly into place for Oregon in advance of its annual date with Stanford, as if ordered from on high (meaning, of course, the top floor in Beaverton).
Facing their chief nemesis — the team that has beaten them three times in a row and squashed dream seasons five times — the Ducks could not have conjured more favorable circumstances for their latest mind-game game.
The Ducks are fresh after two easy home wins.
The Cardinal is gassed after back-to-back road losses.
The Ducks aren’t healthy, but they’re healthier than Stanford.
The Ducks are fast, while Stanford’s lack of athleticism was exposed by USC and UCF.
Did we mention the Ducks are fresh and the Cardinal is gassed?
Oh, and the matchups on the lines of scrimmage, once Stanford’s domain — its counterweight to Oregon’s skill position superiority — now favor the Ducks, especially with their offensive line against Stanford’s front seven.
It’s all set up for the Ducks.
No insurmountable obstacles.
No competitive disadvantages with the schedule.
All the Ducks have to do is take advantage.
All they have to do is not blow it.
From our vantage point, the outcome depends entirely on Oregon.
Stanford will play better than it has the past two weeks and is unlikely to make a boneheaded play to lose the game.
But the Cardinal as currently composed, especially up front, has a limited ceiling.
Oregon is the unknown.
If the Ducks play well … at or near maximum capability … they roll.
But if they aren’t sharp — if the game-plan isn’t sound and the execution isn’t crisp and the play-calling isn’t creative and the focus isn’t laser and the game management isn’t astute — then Stanford has a chance.
The Ducks only lose if the past comes alive and Stanford gets in their head and they serve it up on a green and yellow platter, just like they did last year.
And that, folks, would be a mark against Cristobal’s program not easily erased.
Now or never, Oregon.
Last week: 6-3 | Season: 15-10 | Five-star special: 1-2
All picks against the spread.Lines taken from vegasinsider.com (for entertainment purposes only, or not)
Utah (minus-4) at USC (Friday): Eyes closed, scenarios playing out in my head, here’s what I see: The Trojans score early and repeatedly and lead at the half by 10, but the Utes adjust, grind away, control the line of scrimmage, strike late with play action, lock down defensively and hold on. Utah wins, but it’s within the spread — something like 30-28 or 27-24. Pick: USC.
Cal (plus-2) at Mississippi: When kickoff arrives and it’s 9 a.m. for the Bears’ body clocks, the thermometer will be inching toward 90. Two stout defenses and ordinary offenses should make for something akin to the Arizona State-Michigan State affair. You don’t want to watch, but you can’t look away. Pick: Mississippi.
Washington (minus-6.5) at Brigham Young: We would have figured the Huskies as a four- or five-point favorites. First road game for Jacob Eason in forever will unfold in a rowdy environment against a confident, mature team. How will UW’s young secondary hold up in coverage while playmaking quarterback Zach Wilson does his escape act in the pocket. Pick: BYU.
Oregon (minus-10.5) at Stanford: The last time David Shaw failed to cover as a home underdog: Never. Pick: Stanford.
Colorado (plus-8) at Arizona State: CU’s struggles against Air Force make us wonder if the offense has enough diversity to generate the big plays needed for a conference road win — there’s only so much Laviska Shenault can do. Late touchdown seals it for the Sun Devils. Pick: Arizona State.
UCLA (plus-18.5) at Washington State: Entirely possible that the only drama is whether the Bruins score 14 points for the fourth consecutive game. They had little chance anyhow, but a conference road game after playing Oklahoma just adds to the challenges. Pick: Washington State.
Straight-up winners: Utah, Mississippi, Washington, Oregon, Arizona State and Washington State.
Five-star special: Washington State. The last time Chip Kelly and Mike Leach squared off, in 2012, it was 51-26. Could see that score again Saturday night.
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