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Pac-12 picks: Will the 'Utah effect' be Oregon's undoing? Ducks' brutal stretch run continues


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Several years ago, the Hotline took a deep dive into the impact Utah's physical style had on opponents. To a disproportionate degree, teams struggled the week after playing the Utes.

The 'Utah effect' hasn't been as pronounced this season, in part because the Pac-12 schedule left several opponents with extra rest to recover.

But the impact of facing the Utes for 60 minutes is relevant as the final Saturday of the regular season approaches.

How will Oregon respond?

The Ducks survived a punishing affair with Utah last weekend, making just enough plays on defense to emerge with a three-point win. As a result, they are a victory at Oregon State away from clinching a berth in the Pac-12 championship game.

The task seems doubly difficult for the Ducks, who have played two taxing games in a row — each decided by a field goal and both leaving Oregon battered and bruised.

Before Utah, there was Washington.

Quarterback Bo Nix injured his foot in the 37-34 loss to the Huskies, limiting his effectiveness against Utah. In addition, two offensive linemen, including starting center Alex Forsyth, are questionable this week.

Add the emotions involved in consecutive down-to-the-wire games with enormous stakes, and the Ducks are challenged physically and psychologically by the triple whammy. Their next foe, Oregon State, is fresh and rested after two blowout victories.

The storylines run deep down this pulsating stretch. Not only have the Huskies and Utes done their part to make Oregon's task difficult; they would be the prime beneficiaries if the Ducks stumble.

Both are alive in the conference title race but need Oregon to lose this weekend.

It's one more component to a drama-filled final weekend.

To the picks …

Last week: 3-2-1
Season: 39-33-1
Five-star special: 7-5

Spreads taken from BetMGM
Game totals in parenthesis
All times Pacific

Arizona State at Arizona (Friday)

Kickoff: 12 p.m. on FS1
Line: Arizona -4.5 (total: 65)

Comment: The emotions lean in Arizona's favor due to the presence of a permanent head coach and the five-game series losing streak. (Also, only one of the starting quarterbacks has rivalry game experience: Arizona's Jayden de Laura.) Earlier this week, the Hotline plunged into the recent history of betting lines for the Territorial Cup. We found six instances in which the Wildcats were home favorites. They covered only twice (2008 and 2014). On Friday, two-of-six turns into three-of-seven.

Pick: Arizona

UCLA at Cal (Friday)

Kickoff: 1:30 p.m. on Fox
Line: UCLA -10 (total: 60.5)

Comment: The Bruins have lost two in a row and were eliminated from the Pac-12 title race Saturday night by USC in an exhausting affair. How much fuel remains for a short-week road game against an unranked opponent? Our guess: Not much. Cal's playcalling in Big Game was bizarre (to put it kindly). If the Bears actually make use of tailback Jaydn Ott against a vulnerable UCLA run defense, they should move the ball, limit possessions and take this to the wire.

Pick: Cal

Oregon at Oregon State

Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. on ABC
Line: Oregon -3.5 (total: 58)

Comment: The line opened with Oregon favored by a touchdown and quickly moved toward the Beavers, and we expect 60 minutes of delicious tension. The matchup favors Oregon, which is better against the run (OSU's strength offensively) than the pass. As we saw last weekend, success in the biggest games hinges on the quarterbacks. We believe Bo Nix is more likely to make plays, and avoid mistakes, than Ben Gulbranson.

Pick: Oregon

Utah at Colorado

Kickoff: 1 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Line: Utah -29.5 (total: 52.5)

Comment: The Utes will know if they're still alive in the title chase before taking the field — they need UCLA to beat Cal on Friday — but we're not convinced that will matter in the end. Colorado has failed to cover a betting line of 30 points (or more) for three consecutive games. Maybe the Buffs are able to conjure the effort and execution necessary in their finale, but we'll believe it only after we see it.

Pick: Utah

Notre Dame at USC

Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. on ABC
Line: USC -5.5 (total: 64.5)

Comment: The Irish won't make the same mistake as UCLA, which should have relied on tailback Zach Charbonnet to shorten the game and keep USC's offense on the sideline. Notre Dame rushed for 263 yards recently against Clemson and will make the Trojans stop the ground game before asking quarterback Drew Pyne to carry the offense. If the Irish limit turnovers, they just might emerge with a fifth consecutive victory over the Trojans.

Pick: Notre Dame

Washington at Washington State

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
Line: Washington -2 (total: 60.5)

Comment: The Huskies will take the field knowing whether a berth in the Pac-12 championship is at stake (based on the Oregon result). Either way, they haven't forgotten last year's embarrassing home loss and WSU's postgame flag-planting shenanigans. Assuming dry weather, the outcome depends on UW's offensive line maintaining a clean pocket for quarterback Michael Penix. (WSU's pass rush is one of the best in the conference.) If rain or snow moves in, the advantage shifts to the Cougars.

Pick: Washington

Brigham Young at Stanford

Kickoff: 8 p.m. on FS1
Line: Brigham Young -6.5 (total: 58)

Comment: The visitors have clinched a bowl berth while the hosts were eliminated weeks ago and have rarely been competitive since the middle of October. If BYU musters an early show of force, Stanford might roll over and start counting the minutes until the final whistle of yet another miserable season. The Senior Day emotions only last so long when there are vast sections of empty seats.

Pick: BYU

Straight-up winners: Arizona, Cal, Oregon, Utah, Notre Dame, Washington and Brigham Young

Five-star special: Cal. We don't have much confidence in the Bears, but it's hard to ignore a double-digit home underdog against an opponent whose season effectively ended last week.

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Jon Wilner
Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to KSL.com through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group.

Jon Wilner has been covering college sports for decades and is an AP Top 25 football and basketball voter as well as a Heisman Trophy voter. He was named Beat Writer of the Year in 2013 by the Football Writers Association of America for his coverage of the Pac-12, won first place for feature writing in 2016 in the Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest and is a five-time APSE honoree. You can follow him on Twitter @WilnerHotline or send an email at jwilner@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Pac-12 Hotline: Subscribe to the Pac-12 Hotline Newsletter. Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.

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