Miller: 2020 Pac-12 Week 4 Football Picks and Previews

Utes vs. Huskies highlights the games this weekend, which now includes CU vs. SDSU

Posted on November 26, 2020

Dane Miller
  By Dane Miller, SportsPac12

The College Football Playoff Committee released its first rankings of the season and it wasn’t good for the Pac-12. Oregon came in at No. 15 followed closely by USC at No. 18.


The numbers weren’t all that surprising considering the number of games the Conference of Champions has played and the eye-test results. The cancellation of the Colorado-USC game only adds to the problem. Colorado quickly replaced it with a home contest against San Diego State (previewed below).

But the Ducks at No. 15 seems too low. The Conference has historically dealt with a slanted Committee viewpoint, and these initial rankings add fuel to the fire.

Let’s not hit the panic button just yet, though. There are still three regular season games remaining and the Pac-12 Championship to catapult UO into a New Year’s Six Bowl.

And with an undefeated Washington still in the mix, there’s the steadily growing possibility of another Pac-12 team cracking the rankings by season’s end.

California at Stanford

Friday, November 27
1:30pm PT, Fox

The Big Game kicks off early in the afternoon on national television and features two winless teams vying to turn their seasons around. The Cal defense has been less than impressive through two games, but the unit may finally get it together against Stanford.

The Tree’s run game has been mostly nonexistent up to this point, though Austin Jones does have three touchdowns to his name. Finding ways to consistently move the ball on the ground could be the deciding-factor for the Tree on Friday.

Davis Mills has enough weapons on the edge in Simi Fehoko and Michael Wilson to keep the Bears’ secondary hands full. But if Justin Wilcox’s defense is able to contain the Stanford rushing attack and lock down the Cardinal receivers, a second-straight California victory against their rivals may be in the cards.

And even though Chase Garbers struggled in the opener against UCLA, the redshirt junior played better against Oregon State. It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means, but the jump from Game One to Game Two provides hope that the test against Stanford will be his best performance yet.

For Cal’s success, the availability of running back Christopher Brown Jr. is pivotal. Brown’s presence last weekend was sorely missed, and the Bears are averaging just 89 yards on the ground through two games.

Nobody predicted either program to be in such dire straights at this point of the year, but rivalries tend to bring out the best in players. Either way, it’s the Big Game! Enough said.   

Oregon at Oregon State

Friday, November 27
4:30pm PT, ESPN

In the late game on the day after Thanksgiving, the Ducks face the Beavers in the 124th meeting of the Civil War. (Oops, we’re not supposed to call it that anymore.) By any name, it should be entertaining. Oregon strides into Corvallis undefeated and confident, while Jonathan Smith’s team is coming off their first win of the year.

In a stroke of luck, neither program has had a game cancelled this season, and there’s no low-hanging excuses for a poor showing by either squad. The result could be a highly contested game, despite what the oddsmakers think.

For the Beavs, Tristan Gebbia hasn’t played very well through three games, but Jermar Jefferson has emerged as the best running back in the conference. At least on paper.

Still, Tyler Shough and the Oregon offense is hitting on all cylinders. The Ducks are averaging 499.7 yards per game in an attack that’s fairly balanced between the run and pass. Shough can beat defenses with his legs and is second on the team in yards rushing with 197.

CJ Verdell is coming off a bad outing against UCLA in which he managed just 18 yards on the ground. But that should give him plenty of motivation for a bounce-back performance. He has scored a touchdown in every game this season, and that doesn’t figure to change.

The outcome of this year’s rivalry game could turn on Oregon State’s ability to slow down Mario Cristobal’s offense and generate turnovers. The Beavs have blocked punts in back-to-back games, and will be gunning to get a third.

Crazy things happen in rivalries, and the Oregon kicking game has been a let down to say the least. The longer this matchup remains close, the more likely the Beavers find a way to win.

Colorado vs San Diego State

Saturday, November 28
2:00pm PT, Pac-12 Network

After COVID issues prevented USC from facing the Buffs, the CU administration quickly arranged for San Diego State to make an appearance at Folsom Field. With temperatures predicted to be in the mid-50s, the home field advantage should be in full force.

The Aztecs have already suffered defeats at the hands of Nevada and San Jose State, and their run-heavy offense averages just 28.8 points per game. This will be the first opponent the Buffs have faced that truly struggles to throw the ball, presenting an opportunity to take advantage. SDSU is averaging an astounding 155 yards passing per contest, and its quarterback has thrown as many interceptions (3) as touchdowns.

In that sense, the run-first attack will be a new challenge for Karl Dorrell’s defense, and one that may be compounded by the lack of preparation for the system. Still, there’s little reason to think Sam Noyer and Jarek Broussard will struggle moving the ball against San Diego State’s defense.

Assuming CU puts up points as expected, the game could be won on defense. The longest SDSU pass play on the season is just 51 yards, putting the onus on the Buffs’ secondary to prevent any big throws over the top. And keeping the Aztec’s limited passing attack in check should make them one-dimensional.

The deciding-factor figures to come down to containing San Diego State’s rushing attack. The Aztecs have put up a combined 13 rushing touchdowns, and stifling that rushing unit is arguably the key to victory.

Utah at Washington

Saturday, November 28
4:30pm PT, ABC

After both programs had their originally scheduled games cancelled, the Pac-12 acted quickly to negotiate this matchup. And with some mid-week fireworks between the UW and BYU administrations that drew national attention, this game takes on another meaning.

The Huskies looked dominant against Arizona in all phases of the game and there’s little reason to think that won’t continue agains the Utes. Dylan Morris had the best night of his career to date, while the Dawg defense shut down what most considered to be a respectable Wildcat offense.

On the other hand, Utah struggled against USC. After finally getting the chance to take the field, Cameron Rising broke the huddle as the starting quarterback. But Jake Bentley took over after an apparent injury was sustained by Rising, and the Utes played from behind most of the game.

To make matters worse, UW’s defense is miles ahead of the Trojans. If Kyle Whittingham’s starters struggled against that unit, they might be in for a rude awakening in Seattle. Granted, those struggles could have been the result of rust.

But the Utes better come prepared.

In the end, a strong start by either team could be the key to emerging with the victory.

At this point of the year, a Washington win is expected and this game could even get ugly. Though a big-time performance from Utah could show that the Huskies’ demolition of Arizona was more of a fluke.

However, in the race for the North, this game is pivotal for the Dawgs—and they will no doubt play like it.   

Arizona at UCLA

Saturday, November 28
5:00pm PT, Fox

Despite the loss in Eugene, UCLA is brimming with confidence. Redshirt Freshman Chase Griffin ran the offense about as effectively as expected, and Demetric Felton put up a monster game.

This week, the Arizona defense presents a substantially easier challenge. The Bruins could have a field day.

Chip Kelly has been mum about the status of Dorian Thompson-Robinson, but it’s likely that Griffin will get the nod once again due to contact tracing protocols. The second start for the quarterback should be smoother, and he has a solid rushing attack to rely on.

As for the Cats, the UCLA defense is nowhere near the caliber of what they faced in Seattle. Grant Gunnell should have more time to make decisions, run the ball more effectively in scramble situations, and find receivers that create space for themselves. And Gary Brightwell projects to have an easier time running the ball.

At least on paper, the Wildcat offense should perform better than the disaster in the Pacific Northwest.

That doesn’t change the problems on the Arizona defense, though. Kelly’s offense put up 35 points on the Ducks, and its lowest output has been a 34-spot against Cal. With an average of 228.7 yards rushing per game, and a system that gashes defenses with the run-pass option, UA could be in for another rough game.

But with two offenses capable of putting up points, at least when things go right, this game could turn into a shootout.

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