College football picks: UCLA beats rebuilding USC; Utah upsets Oregon

·7 min read
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson scrambles against USC.
UCLA Dorian Thompson-Robinson Bruins breaks from the pocket for extra yards against USC during the 2019 season. (Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

Each week, the Times’ national college sports reporter J. Brady McCollough will pick the week’s eight best games — that have a combination of big-brand intrigue and a spread within a touchdown — plus the USC and UCLA games. Through 10 weeks, McCollough is 58-52.

UCLA at USC

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is shoved out of bounds by USC cornerback Olaijah Griffin
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is shoved out of bounds by USC cornerback Olaijah Griffin during their 2019 matchup at the Coliseum. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

As much as USC fans might be perturbed the Trojans’ game against California was postponed until Dec. 4, prolonging this tortured season another week, that turn of events could give their team a better chance to upset its crosstown rival. Injuries have left USC depleted on both sides of the ball, so a chance to heal up before the Bruins worked out pretty perfectly. Will it matter? UCLA is the better team and is fueled by the momentum of having clinched a bowl berth for the first time since 2017. Dorian Thompson-Robinson is back in the lineup and torched the Trojans in a close defeat last season that has been gnawing at him. USC’s offense will show some flourishes, but its defense just isn’t built to take on a physical rushing attack like UCLA’s. UCLA 42, USC 31

No. 3 Oregon at No. 24 Utah

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising, right, and receiver Britain Covey (18) celebrate beating USC
Utah quarterback Cameron Rising, right, and receiver Britain Covey (18) celebrate beating USC on Oct. 9 in Los Angeles. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The Ducks and Utes are extremely likely to play each other twice during the next three weeks, as each team is on the verge of clinching its division and punching a ticket to the Pac-12 title game. Oregon winning both games to make its case for a spot in the College Football Playoff is what would be best for the Pac-12, but we all know that the teams in this league have a funny way of doing the opposite of what would help the conference. Oregon has proven it can win in a tough environment with its victory at Ohio State, but Rice-Eccles Stadium on a cold November night can rival just about anything. Utah has it going after a slow start and will all too predictably push the Pac-12 out of the playoff. Utah 27, Oregon 24

SMU at No. 5 Cincinnati

Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell looks on during a game against Navy
Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell looks on during a game against Navy on Oct. 23 in Annapolis, Md. (Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

The CFP selection committee has taken issue with the Bearcats’ meager schedule of late, but SMU presents a real opportunity for Cincinnati to show it is far better than a good Group of Five team. The Mustangs throw it all over the field with Oklahoma transfer quarterback Tanner Mordecai, who has great skill talent around him. Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell’s challenge is to be aggressive and not fall into the trap of coaching not to lose. SMU will keep Fickell up at night this week, but ultimately the Mustangs won’t have enough defense to slow Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder. Cincinnati 38, SMU 28

No. 13 Wake Forest at Clemson

Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman looks to pass against North Carolina State
Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman looks to pass against North Carolina State on Nov. 13 in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Chris Carlson / Associated Press)

Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman has put himself into the Heisman race with his ridiculous numbers — he has passed for 30 touchdowns and rushed for nine — but he has not seen a defense like Clemson’s. If Hartman can solve the Tigers, he’ll also put himself onto NFL draft boards. The Tigers have been below standard this season, but they’re still 7-3. Playing at home, this feels like a game where Dabo Swinney reminds everyone that this is just a down year. Clemson 31, Wake Forest 26

Iowa State at No. 13 Oklahoma

Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, center, greets receiver Michael Woods II (8) and quarterback Caleb Williams (13)
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, center, greets receiver Michael Woods II (8) and quarterback Caleb Williams (13) as they walk off the field during a game against Baylor in Waco, Texas, Nov. 13. (Ray Carlin / Associated Press)

All season, other than the second half of a comeback win over Texas, everything has looked so hard for Oklahoma. It has been shocking to say the least, and the Sooners finally got what was coming for them last week at Baylor in a humbling 27-14 loss. But Oklahoma still controls its destiny in the Big 12, and this Iowa State team has not been able to pull it together after starting the season ranked in the top 10. Look for an OU bounce back. Oklahoma 28, Iowa State 17

No. 11 Baylor at Kansas State

Baylor coach Dave Aranda, left, greets receiver Drew Estrada (18) as he runs off the field
Baylor coach Dave Aranda, left, greets receiver Drew Estrada (18) as he runs off the field during a game against Oklahoma in Waco, Texas, Nov. 13. (Ray Carlin / Associated Press)

USC fans wanting another look at Baylor coach Dave Aranda will have an interesting scenario to evaluate: How does he prepare his team coming off one of the biggest wins in program history to win in a very tough environment at Kansas State? The Wildcats have quietly rolled off four wins in a row and sit at 7-3. Led by diminutive tailback Deuce Vaughn and a stingy defense, K-State has the makeup to beat Baylor at its own game. Baylor 28, Kansas State 23

Arizona State at Oregon State

Arizona State's Rachaad White is brought down by Washington's Jackson Sirmon
Arizona State's Rachaad White is brought down by Washington's Jackson Sirmon Nov. 13 in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

Arizona State running back Rachaad White has rushed for 386 yards and five touchdowns in his last two games, putting the Sun Devils on his back. Oregon State’s rushing defense ranks a respectable 60th nationally, but the Beavers will have to rise to another level Saturday. With its “After Dark” placement, this feels like a game that gets wild in Corvallis. Arizona State 32, Oregon State 31

Texas at West Virginia

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian, center, crouches down and watches his team from the sideline
Texas coach Steve Sarkisian, center, crouches down and watches his team from the sideline during a game against Iowa State on Nov. 6 in Ames, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

Because of their five-game losing streak, the Longhorns have to beat West Virginia and Kansas State to become bowl eligible in Steve Sarkisian’s first season. It’s remarkable looking back at halftime of the Red River Rivalry, when Texas was 4-1 and leading the Sooners 38-20. Texas fans are now seeing the dark side of Sark’s “all gas, no brakes” mantra; there has been no stopping this slide and that won’t change in Morgantown. West Virginia 35, Texas 31

Virginia Tech at Miami

Miami head coach Manny Diaz looks on as officials review a play
Miami head coach Manny Diaz looks on as officials review a play during a game against Georgia Tech on Nov. 6 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

When the ACC drew up its divisions, it was assumed that Miami and Virginia Tech would be battling it out for the Coastal crown most seasons. It hasn’t happened that way very often, though, and this season both teams bring identical 5-5 (3-3) records into this old Big East rivalry. The winner earns bowl eligibility. In this case, playing at home comes with a lot more pressure for Manny Diaz. Virginia Tech 23, Miami 20

California at Stanford

Stanford quarterback Jack West (10) warms up before facing Oregon State
Stanford quarterback Jack West (10) warms up before facing Oregon State on Nov. 13 in Corvallis, Ore. Oregon State won 35-14. (Amanda Loman / Associated Press)

Stanford has lost five in a row after beating USC and Oregon to start 2-1 in the Pac-12. Go figure. The Cardinal are guaranteed to miss out on a bowl, and Cal, at 3-6, at least has that to play for beyond rivalry bragging rights. California 17, Stanford 10

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.