Pac-12 picks vs. spread: Washington covers vs. MSU as Oregon struggles

Over four quarters Saturday evening, Washington has a chance to erase three years of wasted time.

Handle 11th-ranked Michigan State, and the Huskies will return to a level of relevance they haven’t experienced since before the pandemic — to a level that more closely aligns with their history, that looks nothing like the flailing, foundering program we saw last year.

Remember the early portion of 2019? The Huskies started 4-1, thumped USC and rose as high as No. 15 in the AP poll.

Then the slide began, first with a loss to Stanford, then Oregon and Utah.

Then came the face plant at Colorado, then Chris Petersen stepped down and Jimmy Lake took over and COVID struck.

Then 2021 arrived, and it all fell apart.

Handle Michigan State on Saturday in the most-anticipated non-conference game at Husky Stadium since Nebraska visited in 2010, and Washington will be back where it was early in 2019: a ranked team with lofty aspirations and a head coach with a signature victory and a tanker truck full of momentum.

The offensive incompetence? Gone.

The quarterback mismanagement? Never happened.

The Washington State flag planted in Husky Stadium? A thing of the past.

Handle Michigan State, and Washington will be Washington again: Relevant nationally; a force within the Pac-12; a worthy heir to the teams unleashed by the Dawgfather and Petersen.

This is a big one, folks — a tipping-point game for a program that fell from grace, then made a shrewd, under-the-radar coaching hire with Kalen DeBoer and currently possesses a roster talented enough to erase three forgettable years with four stellar quarters.

Handle Michigan State, and everything changes on Montlake.

To the picks …

Last week: 2-5
Season: 5-10
Five-star special: 1-1

Spreads taken from using lines listed for BetMGM
Game totals in parenthesis
All times Pacific

*** Not included (FCS opponents): Oregon State and Arizona

*** Not included (idle): Stanford

South Alabama at UCLA

Kickoff: 11 a.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Line: UCLA -15.5 (total: 59.5)
Comment: We expected a line closer to 20. While it’s understandable to question UCLA’s degree of interest and urgency with yet another creampuff, there is also reason to believe the Jaguars won’t hold up at the line of scrimmage in the second half. The Bruins’ running game should take control and power past those 15.5 points. Pick: UCLA

Cal at Notre Dame

Kickoff: 11:30 a.m. on NBC
Line: Cal +10.5 (total: 43.5)
Comment: An ideal situation for the Bears, what with Notre Dame reeling from the opening loss at Ohio State and then the jarring home collapse against Marshall. This is all about the first quarter. The Bears must make a few big plays early to put the Irish on their heels. At that point, doubt sets in and it hurtles to the wire. Pick: Cal

Brigham Young at Oregon

Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. on FOX
Line: Oregon -3.5 (total: 57.5)
Comment: The Cougars survived a major test last week, beating Baylor in overtime, and are poised for yet another head-to-head victory over the Pac-12. The line essentially represents the home-field advantage for Oregon. Were this played at a neutral site, neither team would be favored by more than a point. We suspect the outcome hinges on special teams — either big plays or big mistakes. Pick: BYU

Colorado at Minnesota

Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. on ESPN2
Line: Colorado +27.5 (total: 46.5)
Comment: We have been burned twice by Colorado’s incompetence on offense, first against TCU and then Air Force. (The Buffs scored 23 points, total, in the two games.) If CU covers, good for those gutsy enough to take all the points. We will believe it when we see it. Pick: Minnesota

Colorado State at Washington State

Kickoff: 2 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Line: WSU -17 (total: 52.5)
Comment: Massive letdown situation for the Cougars after the breakthrough win at Wisconsin. Look for a close game into the fourth quarter, at which point WSU’s defense shuts the door against a CSU offense that lacks playmakers in the passing game and can’t take the one leap forward that could fuel an upset. Pick: Colorado State

San Diego State at Utah

Kickoff: 7 p.m. on ESPN2
Line: Utah -21 (total: 49)
Comment: Feels like a few too many points to give a program of SDSU’s caliber, except that we have vivid memories of Utah quarterback Cameron Rising coming off the bench — a quarter too late, by the way — and carving up the Aztecs’ defense early last season. Our guess: He picks up where he left off, and the Utes exact revenge with a blistering performance just prior to the start of conference play. Pick: Utah

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Michigan State at Washington

Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. on ABC
Line: Washington -3.5 (total: 54.5)
Comment: Washington quarterback Michael Penix. Jr. faced the Spartans while at Indiana and should feel comfortable throughout. The key for UW (in addition to turnover avoidance): Enough yards on first down to give DeBoer and offensive coordinator Ryan Grubbs plenty of options on third. Keep MSU’s defense on the field and UW’s defense off it. Pick: Washington

Fresno State at USC

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on FOX
Line: USC -12.5 (total: 71.5)
Comment: The Bulldogs have a roster full of players from Southern California and usually show well when visiting USC and UCLA. They won’t stop Caleb Williams and Co. but should move the ball effectively against the Trojans’ revamped defense — just as Stanford did last weekend. USC has been more opportunistic than stout thus far. We think FSU protects the ball and keeps it close. Pick: Fresno State

Eastern Michigan at Arizona State

Kickoff: 8 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Line: ASU -20.5 (total: 57.5)
Comment: This looks like a trap game for the Sun Devils following their loss at Oklahoma State and with Utah coming to town next week. But the Eagles couldn’t hang with Louisiana and lack the personnel to match ASU over four quarters, especially in the heat. Pick: Arizona State

Straight-up winners: UCLA, Notre Dame, BYU, Minnesota, Washington State, Utah, Washington, USC and Arizona State

Five-star special: Washington. The Huskies have more surprises in store for MSU than vice versa, thanks to the combination of new playbook and quarterback. Wrinkles equal big plays equal early momentum equal early game control.

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