There will be conference title implications on both sides of the Pac-12 this week when the no. 8 Washington State Cougars host the Arizona Wildcats. Kickoff is at 10:30 EST on Saturday, November 17, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Washington. Fans can see all the action on ESPN.
Based on the Week 12 college football odds, the Cougars are 10-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 60 points.
Washington State is two wins away from going to the Pac-12 Championship Game for the first time. In fact, the Cougars can lose to Arizona and still be in line to face in-state rival Washington next week with a spot in the Pac-12 title game on the line. Of course, that would take away the slim hopes Washington State has of slipping into the College Football Playoff if they run the table and get a lot of outside help. The Cougars haven’t won so much as a share of the Pac-12 title since Mike Price was their coach back in 2002, so this would be huge for the program.
Arizona, on the other hand, is one win away from clinching bowl eligibility. It’s been a trying year for Kevin Sumlin in his first season in Tucson. But he can salvage things by taking the Wildcats to a bowl game. Arizona has scored back-to-back wins over Oregon and Colorado to bring them to 5-5. On top of that, the Wildcats still have a chance to play for the Pac-12 title if they can win their two remaining games and Utah loses to Colorado this week. It’s unlikely but still possible for Arizona to reach one of their preseason goals of playing for a conference championship.
Of course, everything hinges on the Wildcats first beating Washington State this weekend. Arizona got the better of the Cougars last year, winning 58-37. However, when the Cats last visited Pullman in 2016, they were trounced by Mike Leach’s air-raid offense to the tune of 69-7.
To be honest, I can’t seem to figure out Arizona. They have been so up and down that I can’t seem to pin down what they’ll play like from one week to the next. It’s that uncertainty that makes me lean toward Washington State in this game. The Cougars have been consistently good all season. They’ve played quality teams without being tripped up, and so I’ll have faith that they will take care of business against Arizona and cover the 10-point spread.
Obviously, Arizona is coming on strong in November, especially on offense. After quarterback Khalil Tate missed a loss against UCLA, he has come back from injury and played some of his best football of the season. He’s led Arizona to 40-plus points in their last two games and was particularly efficient last time out against Colorado. In that game, he was 17 for 22 for 350 yards and five touchdowns. It’s perhaps a sign that he is finally settling into Sumlin’s system and becoming more comfortable being a pure passer rather than a runner who occasionally passes.
However, I still have some lingering questions about whether or not Tate and the Arizona offense can get the job done against a quality defense. Shockingly, Washington State may actually qualify as a quality defensive team this season. The Cougars have held their opponents to 20 points or less in three of their last four games. In the Pac-12, that’s no joke, especially against the likes of Oregon and a Colorado team that has a ton of offensive talent. With the home crowd behind them, I think the WSU defense will put up some resistance against Tate and the Arizona offense.
On the other side of the ball, I have even more questions about the Arizona defense. At times, they have looked like a solid unit, but at other times, they’ve been downright bad. That same Colorado team that scored just seven points against Washington State last week put up 34 points against the Wildcats two weeks ago. In their last four games, the Cats have conceded over 30 points per game, and it’s not like they’ve played a lot of the Pac-12’s better offensive teams during that span.
Against Washington State, I think the Arizona defense is going to have some trouble. The Cougars continue to lead the country in passing yards behind Gardner Minshew, who throws for over 300 yards every week and has completed nearly 70% of his passes on the season.
To be fair, Arizona did a great job against Oregon’s Justin Herbert a few weeks ago, slowing down arguably the best quarterback in the Pac-12. However, there are several other quarterbacks who had no problem exposing the Arizona defense. That makes me hesitant to believe the Cats can keep Minshew contained.
All things considered, I still have questions about whether the Wildcats can either keep pace with Washington State in a shootout or slow them down enough to stay within striking distance. The Cougars don’t appear to be the least bit rattled by everything that’s at stake on a weekly basis for them. I think they can avoid looking ahead to next week’s Apple Cup with Washington and cover a 10-point spread against the Wildcats.