February 22, 2024
Fresh off their stunning upset of TCU, the Buffaloes are 3-point favorites over former Big 12 rival Nebraska in the home opener of the Deion Sanders era.

The defining week of the final year of the Pac-12 is here, and it’s loaded: 14 hours of action, all packed into Saturday, with seven showdowns against Power Five opponents, five games on broadcast television and four kickoffs in primetime on the East Coast.

By the close of Week 2, the conference will have set its trajectory for the remainder of the season.

Win the majority of duels against the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12, and this will be a memorable fall for two reasons.

That said, not all matchups are created equal. Utah’s trip to Baylor and Oregon’s visit to Texas Tech carry greater postseason implications than, say, Cal’s under-the-lights affair with Auburn.

At the root of Week 2 lies the multiplier effect. A slew of marquee wins Saturday would guarantee the Pac-12 enters round-robin conference play with five or six teams in the AP top-25 poll.

That would lead to a slew of ranked matchups on ABC and FOX later in the season … to more quality wins for playoff contenders … to more spotlight games for Heisman Trophy candidates.

September sets up November, and November frames the selection process for New Year’s Six bowls.

And this week defines September.

To the picks …

Last week: 4-5
Season: 4-5
Five-star special: 0-1

All picks against the spread
Lines taken from BetMGM (via VegasInsider.com)

Not included (FCS opponents): Oregon State

(All times Pacific)

Nebraska at Colorado
Kickoff: 9 a.m. on FOX
Line: Colorado -3 (total: 59.5)
Comment: An old Big 12 rivalry is renewed under fascinating circumstances, with the Cornhuskers struggling for relevance and the Buffaloes fresh off an upset win in Deion Sanders’ coaching debut. We’re wary of overreacting to Week 1 results but cannot envision Nebraska’s labored attack, which managed just 10 points at Minnesota, keeping pace with the Buffaloes’ playmakers.
Pick: Colorado

Utah at Baylor
Kickoff: 9 a.m. on ESPN
Line: Utah -7.5 (total: 47.5)
Comment: The Utes dispatched Florida with relative ease and, notably, without quarterback Cam Rising. Can they repeat the feat on the road? Rising’s status remains uncertain, but there’s clarity on the Baylor sideline: Quarterback Blake Shapen is out with a knee injury suffered in the stunning loss to Texas State. Whether Rising plays or not, the Utes will face temperatures in the 100s in the second half. They need to have the game in hand before the fourth quarter begins.
Pick: Utah

Tulsa at Washington
Kickoff: 2 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Line: Washington -34.5 (total: 64.5)
Comment: We don’t have much to offer, except this: Tulsa’s secondary cannot possibly handle the onslaught coming its way. The Over is usually a wise move with the Huskies; we would strongly consider, especially if it ticks under 64.
Pick: Washington

Oregon at Texas Tech
Kickoff: 4 p.m. on FOX
Line: Oregon -6.5 (total: 66.5)
Comment: The Tyler Shough Bowl lost some steam with TTU’s implosion at Wyoming last weekend. How the Red Raiders’ quarterback handles the emotion of facing his former team is but one aspect of this critical matchup for the Ducks. Here’s another: How will Texas Tech’s leaky defense contain an array of Oregon playmakers that produced 81 points last week against Portland State.
Pick: Oregon

Arizona at Mississippi State
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. on SEC Network
Line: Arizona +10 (total: 60.5)
Comment: MSU dominated last season in Tucson — with the late, great Mike Leach on the sideline — as quarterback Will Rogers tossed four touchdown passes. Rogers is back, but the Bulldogs are vulnerable on both sides of scrimmage. Whether the Wildcats are able to take advantage deep in the heart of SEC country is another matter. Should be close throughout, with the home team making a few more plays down the stretch.
Pick: Arizona

UCLA at San Diego State
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. on CBS
Line: UCLA -13.5 (total: 48.5)
Comment: SDSU wasn’t impressive in dispatching Ohio and Idaho State while the Bruins hardly overwhelmed in a two-touchdown victory over Coastal Carolina. A substantial motivational edge lies with the Aztecs, who always play well against Pac-12 foes. The schools, 90 miles but worlds apart, last collided in 2019 — SDSU’s only victory in the 23-game series. We expect the Bruins to play two quarterbacks, but will veteran Ethan Garbers and freshman Dante Moore combine for one complete game?
Pick: San Diego State

Wisconsin at Washington State
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. on ABC
Line: WSU +6.5 (total: 58.5)
Comment: The Badgers are under new leadership, with former Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell taking command. They handled Buffalo in the opener and have a veteran quarterback in Tanner Mordecai, who spent three years at Oklahoma and two at SMU before moving to Madison. The Cougars stunned Wisconsin last year, were sharp last week at Colorado State but aren’t getting much respect from the oddsmakers. We think that’s a mistake.
Pick: Washington State

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Auburn at Cal
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
Line: Cal +6.5 (total: 54.5)
Comment: The Bears showed signs of life in Week 1 under new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital and will need plenty more to keep pace with the Tigers. That process starts with the running game and tailbacks Jadyn Ott and Isaiah Ifanse. If Cal is forced into passing situations, Auburn can ramp up the pressure and disrupt Spavital’s precision passing game. The Bears haven’t named a starting quarterback because of Sam Jackson’s injury, but we have clarity: Their prospects are vastly better with veteran Ben Finley in the pocket. Upset alert.
Pick: Cal

Oklahoma State at Arizona State
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on FS1
Line: Arizona State +3.5 (total: 52.5)
Comment: Here’s a rare instance of the Pac-12 team getting too much credit in the Week 2 betting lines. The Sun Devils have a rebuilt roster, new coaching staff and rookie quarterback — plus the postseason ban. This doesn’t appear to be one of OSU coach Mike Gundy’s best teams, but it doesn’t need to be elite to take care of business in Tempe, where the heat should have little impact on the visitors. Stillwater will be sweltering before the Cowboys leave town.
Pick: Oklahoma State

Stanford at USC
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on FOX
Line: USC -29.5 (total: 68.5)
Comment: The last scheduled game in a rivalry that dates to 1905 has all the makings of a blowout in USC’s favor, and that makes us wary of giving 29.5 points. Stanford cannot win without a barrage of USC mistakes — as was the case in the massive 2007 upset — but it won’t take surreal circumstances for the Cardinal to stay within range of that huge number. Coach Troy Taylor will make life uncomfortable for the wobbly USC defense.
Pick: Stanford

Straight-up winners: Colorado, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Mississippi State, UCLA, Wisconsin, Cal, Oklahoma State and USC

Five-star special: Colorado. Even if the Buffaloes are half as good as they looked against TCU, they are more than three points better than a Nebraska team that excels in finding ways to lose.

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