Utah at Washington State
Washington State has come a long way since losing 49-6 at Utah last November and the Utes have faded since knocking off Stanford in mid-October. Who would have guessed the Cougars would be the team in position to earn a sixth win Saturday? Utah is trying to salvage its season. With a home game against Colorado next week, the Utes (4-6) still can qualify for a bowl, although actually finding a vacancy outside of the Pac-12's affiliations may be difficult.
The bigger issue is climbing out of the conference's bottom tier. With a loss in Pullman, the Utes would be 1-7 in Pac-12 play and 8-18 over three seasons. But a road win would change the program's outlook. This is a big day for quarterback Adam Schulz, who has taken over for Travis Wilson. And with Wilson's football future uncertain due to head trauma, Schulz can enhance his own status in the program with two wins to finish the regular season.
That will be difficult, however. Washington State is much improved, as shown by last week's 24-17 win at Arizona. The Cougars' offense will test Utah's inconsistent secondary and defensively will load up against Utah's running game, giving more responsibility to Schulz for the Ute offense's success. The pick: Washington State 28, Utah 21.
BYU at Notre Dame
This game will determine whether BYU has just a nice season or a very good one. The Cougars (7-3) will have almost a guaranteed win next week at Nevada, so if they can beat the Fighting Irish, they should be 9-3 entering the Fight Hunger Bowl against a Pac-12 opponent.
BYU certainly could have beaten Notre Dame last season, and this is another great opportunity. In the school's quest for credibility, beating the Irish would go a long way. That's especially true of quarterback Taysom Hill. He's delivered some of big-time performances this season, notably with his running against Texas and his passing against Houston. But his lousy passing statistics in losses to Virginia, Utah and Wisconsin would be lumped with his Notre Dame numbers if BYU loses to the Irish.
BYU's defense will have to hold up against the run better than it did at Wisconsin and Hill will have to throw the ball more accurately. If those two elements come together, the Cougars can win. The pick: BYU 21, Notre Dame 17.
Colorado State at Utah State
Once the Aggies regrouped after losing quarterback Chuckie Keeton to a season-ending knee injury and started winning, the prospect of closing the regular season with five straight victories came into play. The unexpected variable is Colorado State's improvement. With former Snow College running back Kapri Bibbs going wild lately, the Rams have been posting some amazing numbers.
The Rams' defense remains vulnerable, however, so running back Joey DeMartino and quarterback Darell Garretson should have big days for USU. The Aggies' run defense has been solid all season, so the key will be the secondary's play, amid the preoccupation with Bibbs.
USU shouldn't have much trouble with Wyoming next week, so a win Saturday would make an 8-4 record likely. The pick: Utah State 35, Colorado State 28.