LAS VEGAS -- It’s easy to be impressed with Arizona State, which has posted five double-digit wins and is led by one of the nation’s most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in Jayden Daniels.
Oregon and USC attracted more Pac-12 preseason hype, and the Ducks backed up the talk with an upset of Ohio State in early September, but the Sun Devils appear to be the conference’s top team in October. The stage is set for a pivotal Pac-12 South showdown between Arizona State (5-1, 3-0) and Utah (3-2, 2-0) on Saturday night in Salt Lake City.
In an odd twist, the best thing to happen to the Utes might have been the benching of quarterback Charlie Brewer, a Baylor grad transfer who was expected to elevate the offense to the next level. Brewer was a bust and quit the team after getting demoted during a Sept. 18 loss at San Diego State. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham called an audible and went to Texas transfer Cameron Rising, who is 2-0 as the starter.
Rising ripped the USC defense last week by passing for 306 yards and three touchdowns in Utah’s 42-26 road win. The Utes led 35-10 after three quarters in by far their best overall performance of the season.
The Sun Devils rank first in the conference in scoring defense (16.2 points per game) and total defense (298 YPG), but those numbers are deceiving. Arizona State has faced three terrible offensive teams (Colorado, Southern Utah, UNLV) and allowed Stanford’s Tanner McKee to pass for 356 yards last week, so its secondary can be exposed by a good thrower such as Rising. The Utes’ offense is on the upswing with Rising, and their defense can slow Daniels.
The pick: Utah PK
MINNESOTA (+ 4) over Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have finally cranked up their offense behind quarterback Adrian Martinez, who has accounted for 19 total touchdowns (10 rushing, nine passing). The Gophers are crippled by key injuries and their public perception was hurt by a September loss to Bowling Green, a 31-point underdog.
Still, Nebraska is 3-14 straight up on the Big Ten road under coach Scott Frost. The past two times these teams met in Minneapolis, the Gophers rolled by scores of 34-7 and 54-21. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck is 5-0-1 ATS in his past six as a ‘dog.
KANSAS STATE (+ 6.5) over Iowa State: After two early losses, the Cyclones’ high hopes for the season are deflated. The Wildcats are a different team with quarterback Skylar Thompson, who returned from a knee injury to pass for 320 yards and three touchdowns against Oklahoma before a bye week. K-State coach Chris Klieman is 7-2 ATS as a home dog.
Last week: 1-1-1
Nebraska (P), Texas (L), New Mexico State (W)