There are 11 weeknight games this week. Nine of them are games that will get interest from fans of those teams and gamblers. Two of them will get interest because they are big games. One is Toledo vs. Ohio on Wednesday night and the other is a huge Pac-12 battle in the North Division between the Washington Huskies and the Stanford Cardinal. The Huskies are a surprisingly big favorite of a touchdown at some shops, but our friends at DSI Sportsbook are holding tight at 6.5 as of Monday afternoon.
Washington was expected to take something of a step back after making it to the College Football Playoff last season, but that hasn’t been the case. The Huskies are 8-1 straight up and 6-3 against the number. They have been arguably the best defensive unit in the country not named Alabama and it shows with five of the six Pac-12 games going under the total. Stanford is 6-3 straight up, but just 3-5-1 against the spread, depending on how you grade against the close. Stanford is also 6-3 to the under like Washington, hence the low total.
Some games just matter more than others. For Washington, this is one of them. Keeping pace with Washington State so that the Apple Cup decides the Pac-12 North winner is a big deal, especially since UDub is the only Pac-12 member that has a shot at making the College Football Playoff. Jake Browning is having another quality season, even though his pass-catching options are dropping left and right. Browning owns a 16/5 TD/INT ratio with a 67.8 percent completion percentage on the season. Dante Pettis has 49 of those 158 grabs and seven of the 16 receiving scores. Tight end Hunter Bryant was Browning’s second-most popular target, but his season is over. Chico McClatcher was lost earlier in the year. Somebody will have to emerge with Bryant out. Myles Gaskin has 6.2 yards per carry and maybe Washington will rely even heavier on the run. The Huskies have five yards per carry and 6.4 yards per play overall. This is a very efficient offense.
As efficient as the offense is, however, nothing can hold a candle to this defense. How good has this group been? The Huskies didn’t play much of a non-conference schedule, so maybe some scoffed at the numbers after those three games, but Washington has allowed just 3.7 yards per play in six conference games. The Huskies have allowed 3.7 yards per play overall and just 11.1 points per game. Washington hasn’t allowed more than 23 points in a game and only gave up 13 in its only loss. Only Alabama has allowed fewer points per game and nobody has allowed fewer yards per play. This is a really special defensive unit, although, Washington hasn’t faced Arizona, USC, or Washington State yet. The Huskies may see USC in the Pac-12 title game and will definitely see Wazzu on November 25, but the team has faced Colorado, Oregon State, Cal, Arizona State, UCLA, and Oregon in Pac-12 play. You have to play the teams on the schedule and it has been a down year for offense in the conference overall, but it’s still hard to argue with what this team has done.
Can Stanford run the ball on Washington? That will be the biggest key to this game. The Cardinal averages 6.9 yards per carry, which is mostly that Bryce Love averages 9.6 yards per carry. Love clearly looked less than 100 percent while struggling through 16 carries for 69 yards in the loss to Washington State. Love had at least 147 yards in each of his previous games. With the short turnaround this week, we’ll have to see how effective he can be. Cameron Scarlett and Trevor Speights are decent depth, but Love has to be the focal point. At least David Shaw made the long overdue switch to KJ Costello last week. Keller Chryst just doesn’t have the upside that the 6-foot-5 sophomore has. To be fair, the naysayers got some ammunition last week because Costello was just 9-of-20 for 105 yards with zero TDs and a pick against Washington State. He’ll draw another difficult assignment in this one, but at least he is the unquestioned starter and can practice with the number ones this week. Stanford only has 5.2 yards per play over the last three games against Washington State, Oregon State, and Oregon without Love at full strength.
On the defensive side, this really isn’t the same Cardinal bunch. Stanford has allowed 5.7 yards per play this season and 4.7 yards per carry. Those are very un-Stanford-like numbers across the board. When you consider that Stanford allowed just 4.2 yards per play in 2014, the fact that the team has allowed 4.7 yards per carry is stunning. The defense lost a few key players from last year, but defensive coordinator Lance Anderson just hasn’t been able to maximize the resources on this team. We may see a DC switch in Palo Alto going into next season, although, this group has played better over the last few weeks. This will be another stiff test for the Stanford defense.
College Football Free Pick: Stanford Cardinal +7
Take a 7 if you can find one, obviously, which is why it’s so important to be able to shop around. The Stanford running game is the most polished one that Washington will have faced to date. Washington’s opponents average just 3.8 yards per carry, so this is a big step up in class in that regard, which should be enough for Stanford to keep it close. The Cardinal are a much smaller dog in my personal power rating numbers, but it is fair to worry about their recent performances. After a solid showing in Pullman, my confidence has been restored a little bit.