Friday, September 14, 2012

Pac12 Football Preview--Four Games

No.2 USC (2-0) at No. 21 Stanford (2-0):  The Trojans have a big problem that's not getting much attention because of the way the team hides its injuries. Its best offensive lineman, center Khaled Holmes is banged up, nursing a bad ankle. If he plays he won't be 100%. If he doesn't play, that critical position will be manned by freshman Cyrus Hobbi. Either way, the O-line is weakened. That may hamper QB Matt Barkley, who heads a passing game that some NFL teams who love to have.

Stanford has a problem too. All-American QB Andrew Luck is in the NFL and his replacement, Josh Nunes, is green. No doubt USC's game plan will be to gang up on RB Stefan Taylor and ratchet up the pressure on Nunes to move the ball through the air.  If the O-line can protect Barkley, the Stanford secondary, burdened with three new starters, will be blistered by super WRs Marquise Lee and Robert Woods. There's another factor. After losing four of the last five to Stanford, USC is salivating for a win over the Cardinal. Stanford, which has two blah wins, should lose this one, mainly because, overall, the Trojans are better. But if USC has to play the freshman at center, bettors might pick home underdog Stanford to beat the 9-point spread.

Cal (1-1) at No.12 Ohio State (2-0): With a loss and and a shaky win over inferior teams at home, Cal is in deep trouble on the road--in Columbus of all places--with a defense that's riddled with problems. The Bears couldn't stop Nevada and gutsy, out-manned Southern Utah just ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. Ohio State has a weapon, exceptional dual-threat QB Braxton Miller, that makes the Bears shudder. He's the kind of QB, like those running the pistol at Nevada, that the Bears simply can't handle.

The only bright spot for Cal is that Ohio State, so far, hasn't had much of a pass rush. So QB Zach Maynard may have room to maneuver and get the ball to speedy WR Keenan Allen. But Cal will have trouble running against the Buckeyes' rugged front seven. Don't expect much from the Bears, a traditionally lousy road team. A win for Cal, a 17-point underdog, in Columbus, a black hole for any road team, is a long shot. So is beating that hefty spread.

Houston (0-2) at No.22 UCLA (2-0):  Here's the key point. Houston has a horrible defense which has crumbled against two bad teams and won't come close to stopping UCLA's high-powered offense, run by QB Brett Hundley and featuring RB Jonathan Franklin and TE Joseph Fauria. The Houston D is on a par with Rice's, which was savaged by the Bruins. But the UCLA defense is no rock either. Houston's offense will do some damage. In last week's 56-49 loss to La Tech, Houston's QB David Piland threw 77 passes, racking up 580 yards without a pick. He'll pile up passing yards against the Bruins too, but not enough for a victory. Expect a shoot-out, with UCLA topping 50 points. The favored Bruins should cover the 17-point spread.

Arizona State (2-0) at Missouri (1-1):  This may be the most interesting Pac12 game of the week. Arizona State, with new coach Todd Graham, is off to a great start, with routs of Northern Arizona and Illinois under its belt. But playing Missouri, which just jumped to the SEC, on the road is a different story. This is the Missouri team that, last week at home, played Georgia even for three quarters before losing.

Hot Sun Devils' QB Taylor Kelly, who's completed 77% of his passes without a turnover, may have trouble passing against a front seven that's much better than any they've faced so far. And corralling Missouri's marvelous dual-threat QB James Franklin will be a chore for the Arizona State defense. However, Missouri may be in a funk over last week's loss. Also, losing LT Elvis Fisher, maybe the team's best player, is bound to hurt. But just how good are the Sun Devils, who finished in a tailspin last season, anyway? Another point. Arizona State has never beaten an SEC team. The odds-makers say they're not as good as Missouri, a 6..5-point favorite. Smart bettors are staying away from this one. Too many unknowns.