Though I keep track, weekly, of my game-by-game picks from my annual “Picking the Winners” Pac-12 preview (which has appeared annually on USCFootball.com for the past decade or so), it’s been a few years since I offered readers a regular recap and progress report. To rectify that, I’ll be providing three updates this season — this one, recapping the month of September; a second that will take a look at October outcomes; and, finally, a post-season, pre-bowl overview. If you missed my picks in the feature story, here’s the link:
15th Annual ‘Picking the Winners’ Pac-12 Preview
I finished the first month with a solid 32-9 mark. Only two completely inexplicable non-conference upsets and last weekend’s stunning Utah rout of Oregon in Eugene — an outcome nobody saw coming — kept me from a fantastic start. Let’s see how things shook out — my best picks, my worst picks, and how my pre-season expectations for each team compare with the current reality.
- Utah over Michigan (picked 24-20; actual 24-17)
- UCLA over Virginia (picked 38-14; actual 34-16)
- Oregon over Eastern Washington (picked 46-24 [22-point margin]; actual 61-42 [19-point margin])
- Washington State over Portland State, 45-13 (actual: FCS-level PSU 24, Washington State 17)
- Stanford over Northwestern, 31-20 (actual: Northwestern 16, Stanford 6)
- Colorado over Hawaii, 35-24 (actual: Hawaii 28, Colorado 20)
Let’s talk about the worst picks here. I mean, wow — it’s embarrassing enough that Washington State has a team like Portland State on its schedule, but scrambling for a fourth-quarter tie before losing in the closing moments at home? The loss dwarfs the other two disappointments.
Stanford embarrassed itself in Evanston, Ill., against Northwestern. The Cardinal’s (premature) 2015 obituary was written many times over in the week following this loss. And while Colorado‘s defeat here was probably the least shocking of the three, anyone who stayed up late enough on the season’s first Thursday night to watch even the first half of this game knows just what a frightful performance this was by both the Buffaloes and the Warriors.
- Michigan State over Oregon (picked 38-34; actual 31-28)
- Utah over Utah State (picked 20-14; actual 24-14)
- Michigan over Oregon State (picked 35-7; actual 31-10)
- UCLA over UNLV (picked 37-7; actual 37-3)
- USC over Idaho (picked 56-7; actual 59-9)
- Rutgers over Washington State 34-28 (actual: Washington State 37, Rutgers 34)
In easily my most solid week of September, even my worst pick — aforementioned Washington State, which bounced back from the embarrassment against Portland State to go on the road and beat a troubled Rutgers team they’d lost to in Seattle last season — was close to on the money. You could even make a case that my worst pick was a 51-21 predicted blowout by Arizona State over FCS Cal Poly — in a game that was deadlocked at 21 into the fourth quarter before the Sun Devils scored two late TDs.
On the other hand, those best picks are all something to behold. Perhaps the most difficult thing to do in picking games like this is coming close to the actual scores in should-be blowouts. So, those scores in the Michigan, UCLA, and USC victories are all rather pleasing.
- Washington over Utah State (picked 27-16; actual 31-17)
- Arizona State over New Mexico (picked 43-19 [24-point margin]; actual 34-10 [24-point margin])
- Washington State over Wyoming (picked 31-14 [17-point margin]; actual 41-23 [18-point margin])
- USC over Stanford, 24-20 (actual: Stanford 41, USC 31)
- Texas over California, 38-37 (actual: California 45, Texas 44)
Interestingly, one of my worst picks also was one of my best picks. In a shootout in Austin, I took Texas to win a one-point nail biter. Really, in a shootout in Austin, Cal won a one-point nail biter when the Longhorns missed a late PAT that likely would have spelled overtime.
Remember Stanford’s obituary? Neither did they, as they simply wore down USC in the second half at the Coliseum. This matchup has been up, down, and all around in recent seasons — and with a number of close margins, it’s often anybody’s guess as to which team will come out on top. After the Cardinal’s early misstep at Northwestern, not many gave them a chance against the Trojans. Many were wrong.
- California over Washington (picked 39-28; actual 30-24)
- Arizona over UCLA, 27-20 (actual: UCLA 56, Arizona 30)
- Arizona State over USC, 35-28 (actual: USC 42, Arizona State 14)
- Oregon over Utah, 48-20 (actual: Utah 62, Oregon 20)
I mean, you see those worst pick scores. Whew. At best, before the season, I’d have said UCLA and USC, with the right breaks, could win close ones in the desert — while it would take a lot of breaks for Utah to pull a last-minute upset in Eugene. So much for those ideas. It looks like the Ducks might be going through an “end of the mystique” season, much like USC did in 2009 — Oregon’s offensive injuries and troubled defense don’t remind anyone of its recent dominant squads. In the meantime, it’s clear that the Pac-12 South is staking its claim as the conference’s best division.
September Expectations vs. Reality
With nine incorrect picks, including four in Pac-12 conference games, there’s some shakeup when looking at my expectations for each squad vs. the reality. Let’s start from the Pacific Northwest and head down the coast before curling back inland.
- Washington (picked 2-2, 0-1 in Pac-12; reality 2-2, 0-1 in Pac-12): One of two teams in the conference for which I’ve picked the right outcome each week.
- Washington State (picked 2-1; reality 2-1): Same record, two miscues that were both covered earlier — the loss to Portland State and the victory at Rutgers.
- Oregon State (picked 2-2, 0-1 in Pac-12; reality 2-2, 0-1 in Pac-12): The other team in the conference that I’ve nailed all four picks for this far.
- Oregon (picked 3-1, 1-0 in Pac-12; reality 2-2, 0-1 in Pac-12): So far, I’ve only gotten that Utah pick incorrect — but the way the Ducks are playing, quite a few more miscues could be on the way.
- California (picked 3-1, 1-0 in Pac-12; reality 4-0, 1-0 in Pac-12): That Texas win not only foiled my pick, but also should make Cal’s bowl eligibility a cinch.
- Stanford (picked 3-1, 1-1 in Pac-12; reality 3-1, 2-0 in Pac-12): The Cardinal went from written off to the class of the North — in a three-week span. The Northwestern outcome is the one that really stings me, though.
- UCLA (picked 3-1, 0-1 in Pac-12; reality 4-0, 1-0 in Pac-12): Not only did the Bruins’ win at Arizona place them aside Utah atop the early race in the South, it also wrecked my perfect record with them.
- USC (picked 3-1, 1-1 in Pac-12; reality 3-1, 1-1 in Pac-12): Looks good, right? I mean, as a Trojan, I’ll take it (after that Stanford performance). But, purely from a selection standpoint, the Jekyll-and-Hyde aspect of this team in recent years continues unabated, leaving me with a 2-2 mark.
- Arizona State (picked 3-1, 1-0 in Pac-12; reality 2-2, 0-1 in Pac-12): I wasn’t buying the Sun Devils in that opener against Texas A&M in Houston, but I did think they’d be better than Arizona this season. After falling on their faces against USC last week, it’s anyone’s guess.
- Arizona (picked 4-0, 1-0 in Pac-12; reality 3-1, 0-1 in Pac-12): That UCLA destruction — my lone miscue — plus injuries to Anu Solomon and Scooby Wright seem to have the Wildcats season hanging in the balance during the next few weeks.
- Utah (picked 3-1, 0-1 in Pac-12; reality 4-0, 1-0 in Pac-12): After performing to standard in the season’s opening weeks — grinding out home wins with defense and just enough offense against Michigan and Utah State — the Utes have exploded on the national scene. Are they this good? Is Oregon that bad? We will find out.
- Colorado (picked 4-0; reality 3-1): That loss to Hawaii stings me — and it really stings Colorado’s bowl hopes, unless they get upset happy during their upcoming conference schedule.
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