By Geoff Schwartz
FOX Sports NFL Analyst
College football Week 4 is here, and we’re ready to roll with some picks that will hopefully put some cash in our pockets.
This week, I’ve got my eye on the Pac-12 again, especially after the conference dominated last weekend! And most bettors and football fans, truthfully, should be enjoying watching Pac-12 squads play ball since the conference as we know it will be going away soon.
The Oregon Ducks under Dan Lanning look like they are back to the glory days of having a high-powered offense. And USC. Goodness. The Trojans’ defense definitely needs some work, but that offense is a sight to behold. And the Washington Huskies took down Michigan State last week and are still undefeated. Everything’s coming up roses in the Pac-12.
So with that in mind, let’s go ahead and dive into my best bets for college football Week 4 (all odds via FOX Bet).
A surprisingly good 3-0 Washington State Cougar squad hosts the Oregon Ducks this weekend. The Ducks are fresh off a dominating upset win over BYU last weekend. As any Oregon fan knows, a trip to Pullman is never easy. The Cougars have only lost six home games since 2015 because weird things happen on the football field in the Palouse.
Despite all of this, I’m going with my Ducks to cover the game.
Oregon has a new coaching staff, and what we saw in the win over BYU on Saturday is something our fans — including me — have waited to see for years. Oregon’s recruiting has skyrocketed to the moon, so now it is expected that a more talented football team should dominate a team with less speed and size. But that was rarely the case in Eugene over the last four seasons.
Last season, Oregon needed a late touchdown to beat Fresno. The one-win Arizona Wildcats were down five points entering the fourth quarter. The five-win Cal Bears were driving for a game-tying touchdown before getting denied.
This trend of barely beating the teams they’re supposed to beat seems to have stopped under new coach Dan Lanning. Oregon scored nine-straight touchdowns against Eastern Washington in Week 2. And then last weekend, once the Ducks got up 38-7 over BYU, they were able to pull some starters. Oregon is a more talented team than BYU. The Ducks are bigger, stronger, faster and quicker. And they played to their talent. They dominated. Oregon is also a more talented team than Washington State.
Although, I have been impressed with Washington State head coach Jake Dickert. After almost leading the Cougars to a share of the Pac-12 North title last season as an interim coach, he was given the permanent gig shortly after the season. Dickert’s Cougars play way above their talent level, especially on defense. They are an attacking unit that plays with relentless energy. Led by Ron Stone Jr, Brennan Jackson and Daiyan Henley, this Cougar pass rush ranks 7th in havoc rate. However, they are playing an Oregon offensive line that has not allowed a sack this season, including a game against Georgia.
The Oregon rushing attack is 6th in rushing success, and they will absolutely rely on this to win Saturday. They will attempt to dominate in the trenches, and I have no evidence that makes me believe they won’t.
Oregon’s quarterback Bo Nix has mostly played efficient football, but there’s always a chance Bad Bo Nix shows up. Oregon has not generated explosive pass plays at a high rate, and if Washington State can get pressure and keep Oregon’s talented receivers in front of them, they can try forcing Nix into errors. That is the path to stopping Oregon’s offense.
Where Washington State can cover and win this game is with its offense. Incarnate Word transfer quarterback Cam Ward has steadily improved throughout the season, but the offense still has issues putting points on the board. They are 80th in points per drive, including two games against Idaho and Colorado State. However, Oregon’s lack of pass rush could give Ward plenty of time to pick apart the bad part of that secondary. Washington State pushed the ball downfield more last weekend against Colorado State, but Ward is still 123rd in air yards per attempt. Oregon struggled with tackling in Week 1, but since then, the Ducks have been outstanding. If the Cougars try to pickleball their passing game on Saturday, Oregon will shut it down.
The Ducks have the better team. They have better players. They are playing confidently and should use their size and speed to overwhelm the Cougars on Saturday eventually.
I’ll say it again. I’ll take the Ducks to cover.
Give me points in this Pac-12 After Dark contest.
Washington’s quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been fantastic through three weeks in Seattle. He’s completing 66% of passes for almost 1,100 yards. His average air yards per attempt is 11.6. The Huskies are pushing the ball downfield as much as possible, and against this Stanford defense, I don’t see this slowing down.
Stanford’s defense was gashed by USC. The Trojans had 63 offensive plays for 510 yards, including 341 yards through the air. I’m not quite sure why Stanford’s defensive performance would be any different in this game. They have one potential NFL player at corner. Otherwise, the Cardinal D is void of top-caliber talent.
Washington will score at will.
On the flip side, Stanford’s offense can move the ball. If not for two turnovers inside the 10-yard line, the Cardinal would have put up 40 against the Trojans. The Stanford offense debuted the slow mesh against USC, and now off a bye, I’d expect the offense to have fully adopted this offense.
When they’re not running the ball, their offense is being powered by quarterback Tanner McKee. He’s big and strong. He can throw the ball, and he will move the ball well on the Huskies defense because Washington’s D does not generate pressure. Also, I do not believe the Huskies have truly been tested upfront yet. Their rushing defense was poor last season, and Michigan State was not in a position with their offensive line to challenge this.
Stanford can do that. Washington will win this high-scoring contest, but I feel more comfortable taking the over than anything else.
I have been waiting for months to wager on this game and was disappointed I’m only getting seven points with the Beavers.
Oregon State smashed USC last season in the Coliseum by dominating on the ground. While their rushing attack is not quite the same this season, they will run back the same game plan.
The Beavers are 25th in explosive rushing plays; USC’s defense is 119th in rushing success rate. What has accelerated the Beavers’ offense into having the second-highest rate of explosive plays? It’s their offensive design and quarterback Chance Nolan. Beavers head coach Jonathan Smith is a master at drawing up explosive pass plays off play action pass and Nolan has let it fly this season. He’s at 13.1 air yards per pass attempt, and while this offense will miss tight end Luke Musgrave this weekend, Nolan should still have his way with a USC pass defense that does not generate much pressure. The Trojans have only had 16 total pressures from their defensive linemen over three games.
From a gambling perspective, Oregon State has also done well in this spot. Just saying.
Now, here’s a question you must ask every week when USC plays. Can the opposing defense slow down USC’s offense enough to keep pace?
The Trojans’ offense is freaking legit, man. Quarterback Caleb Williams with Jordan Addison, Mario Williams and Travis Dye rank seventh in success rate and 16th in explosive play rate. USC’s offense does the most damage in the first half. Eleven first-half touchdowns in 15 drives is a high level of efficiency. However, we did see the first actual defense they faced in Fresno State slow down their passing attack more than any other team has been able to. The way Oregon State’s defense is set up, the Beavers will attempt to do the same. They have a veteran group of secondary players and are seventh in havoc rate. I do expect some issues for the Beavers’ run defense and tackling in space, which they’ve struggled with under Coach Smith.
But more than anything right now, USC is living right.
They are +10 in turnover margin with an expected turnover margin of +2.5. They have recovered every fumble they’ve forced, and they’ve recovered all their own fumbles. But this pace cannot be sustained. Fresno State was driving the field to bring the game within four points in the third quarter when the team’s quarterback got hurt. That ended the Bulldog’s chance at being a threat to the Trojans.
The Beavers take care of the ball and play well at home. I’ll take them to cover.
Arizona State fired head coach Herm Edwards on Sunday night after an embarrassing loss at home to Eastern Michigan. I believe this firing could give the Sun Devils’ squad a bit of juice to start this game on Saturday.
Edwards’ squads were always good at two things — conservative game plans and penalties. With him out of the building, it’s fair to assume those will change. The program will get a jolt of energy. Overall, I expect the Sun Devils will move forward with a more aggressive game plan and more hands-on coaching from the top dog in the program.
In addition to the Sun Devils getting a mental boost with a new staff, I do believe there are a few matchups on the field that can keep this game close for the first half.
State’s rushing attack is the best in the country at generating explosive run plays. Running back Xazavian Valladay has 6.5 yards per carry, and the Arizona State offensive line is giving him nearly three yards per rush before contact. Utah’s rushing defense has struggled at times this season. The Utes are 85th in rushing success rate and have been poor at allowing explosive running plays. The Sun Devils have an athletic quarterback in Florida transfer Emory Jones who should be used more in the offense. Utah struggled in Week 1 against a similar style of quarterback.
Utah seems to have issues as a program playing games in the Arizona desert. They are 1-3 in Tempe since joining the conference, and while this game is at night, something about the environment in Tempe has bothered the Utes. Utah has started slow in its last two games, only scoring seven points combined in the team’s two first quarters.
This is only a first half wager on the Sun Devils because Utah will overwhelm the Devils for a full 60 minutes. Utah is a far better team, and once the burst of new energy wears off, the Utes will dominate this game. I think you could even take Arizona State first half and Utah full game.
But I’ll just roll with the Sun Devils for the first half.
Geoff Schwartz played eight seasons in the NFL for five different teams. He started at right tackle for the University of Oregon for three seasons and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection his senior year. He is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffSchwartz.
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