Through the first four games of the season, the biggest debate waged has involved the Pac-12 challenging the dominance of the SEC.
It seems this argument comes around once a year – some conference argues against SEC supremacy and, ultimately, the public tunes it out. This year should be different, though.
The Pac-12, notably, has been coming on strong for years.
The league now has two teams that legitimately rank among the national elite in Oregon and Stanford.
Others, namely UCLA and Washington, seem to be on the verge of breaking through to the top of the league. Depth is no longer a concern for the conference either, with Arizona, Arizona State and Utah all turning in strong starts to the season.
Oregon State, because of its track record, shouldn’t be overlooked either, despite a season-opening loss to Eastern Washington.
For the SEC, this year seems like business as usual.
Alabama already has a huge victory under its belt and seems primed to walk into another mammoth November showdown with also-undefeated LSU.
The addition of Texas A&M came at just the right time, with coach Kevin Sumlin and QB Johnny Manziel boosting the program into the same stratosphere among the nation’s elite. (Though, ironically for an SEC team, the Aggies play little-to-no defense.)
Georgia and South Carolina prop up the SEC East while Ole Miss seems to be emerging as a rising contender in the West.
For the first time in a long time, the SEC actually has a rival – or at least a peer.
Sadly, little crossover exists between the SEC and the Pac-12. (This year’s games between the two leagues were Tennessee at Oregon – the Ducks won handily – and Washington State at Auburn – the Tigers took a close victory.)
Saturday Blitz editors Kyle Kensing and Luke Brietzke examined potential matchups between teams from the nation’s two most powerful conferences. The idea is for this to be an examination of who we expect would be favored on a neutral field in a first-round playoff scenario. In other words, both teams would have three weeks to prepare for the game.
The idea is to guess what the Las Vegas spread would be – not what would happen in an actual game.
Oregon vs. Alabama
Kyle: Oregon -1
Luke: Alabama -3
KK: After Alabama surrendered 42 points to Texas A&M, a team with similar offensive make-up to Oregon, I lean Ducks. Nick Saban was coming off a bye week, and spent an offseason preparing in Robert DeNiro-in-Cape-Fear fashion. And the Oregon defense isn’t giving up 49 points.
LB: This is one of the games wherein the specifics matter. Alabama would likely be favored in the desert regardless of circumstance because of recent history. Oregon seems like a better bet to cover (if not outright win) if this hypothetical game happened after both teams played a real team. The Ducks run an up-tempo, spread offense that has given the Crimson Tide fits over the years. There are few people to trust more than Alabama coach Nick Saban with three weeks of preparation time. For that reason, Alabama seems like the better bet as a favorite.
Stanford vs. LSU
Kyle: Stanford -2.5
Luke: Pick ’em
KK: This Stanford defense could stake reasonable claim to being the most polished in either conference. The Cardinal are outstanding up front, at linebacker and in the secondary, capable of testing Zach Mettenberger and limiting the multidimensional Tiger backfield.
LB: In both regions, this might be the most controversial hypothetical game. Many SEC fans naturally think LSU would flatten Stanford. Pac-12 fans, meanwhile, think LSU has been a bloated, overrated carcass of its potential. This feels like it would be a virtual pick ’em either way, but slightly stronger play at QB could lead the Tigers to be the favorite.
Washington vs. Georgia
Kyle: Georgia -6.5
Luke: Georgia -7.5
KK: Washington is on the rise, though not quite at the pinnacle yet. Washington’s new hurry-up offense would have to set the tone against the young Bulldog defense.
LB: At this junction, Vegas wouldn’t trust Washington enough to take it seriously against the Bulldogs. If the Huskies can keep up with the big boys in the Pac-12 North, this battle of the dogs might become closer in spread.
UCLA vs. Texas A&M
Kyle: A&M -3
Luke: A&M -2.5
KK: Texas A&M’s defense would be hard-pressed to keep UCLA out of the end zone. Conversely, UCLA’s defense is loaded with talent, including one of the best linebacker corps you’ll find in any conference. It would take an otherworldly offense to really challenge the Bruins – and that’s precisely what Kevin Sumlin has at A&M.
LB: Of the hypothetical games, this might be the most exciting to watch. Who wouldn’t want to watch Johnny Manziel go possession-for-possession with Brett Hundley? The Heisman winner would tilt Vegas to side with the Aggies.
Arizona State vs. South Carolina
Kyle: SC -8
Luke: SC -5.5
KK: Two of college football’s most exciting defensive playmakers are represented in this hypothetical pairing via South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and ASU’s Will Sutton. These teams have a similar, not-quite-ready-for-prime-
LB: That both teams have already lost big games would concern Vegas, but in the end, oddsmakers would likely side with Steve Spurrier.
Arizona vs. Ole Miss
Kyle: Ole Miss -6
Luke: Ole Miss -3.5
KK: Both Hugh Freeze and Rich Rodriguez injected energy into programs desperately seeking it. Ole Miss is loaded with young talent, whose upside we really don’t know yet. Likewise, Arizona’s 3-0 start really hasn’t demonstrated too much about the Wildcats except they can beat teams they should.
LB: The Rebels are more proven right now than are the Wildcats, who haven’t faced any real challenges so far this season. Arizona has plenty of chances to show it belongs in the upper-echelon of the conference. Unless it does, though Vegas would have little reason to consider the Wildcats a favorite in this one.
Oregon State vs. Florida
Kyle: Florida -10
Luke: Florida -4.5
KK: In a battle of offense vs. defense, common logic dictates you take the defense. Even if quarterback Sean Mannion exploited weaknesses in the Gator defense a la Teddy Bridgewater, the Beaver defense has yet to prove it can stop anyone – including an anemic Florida offense.
LB: The Gators are without their starting quarterback and a significant defensive starter. Then again, so was Texas last year in the Alamo Bowl. Kyle and I weren’t close on this one, but he talked me into believing in the horribleness of Oregon State’s defense. Florida’s offense has never looked great this year, but the defense is still legit.
Utah vs. Missouri
Kyle: Utah -2.5
Luke: Utah -1.5
KK: Utah’s new-look offense with Dennis Erickson calling plays breathed much needed life into that side of the ball. The Ute defense is stout up front, which could force James Franklin out of his comfort zone.
LB: Utah has taken a big step so far this year with wins over Utah State and BYU and a close call at Oregon State. Missouri might be better. It might not be. We won’t know until the Tigers play a good team. Vegas made them a pick ’em at Indiana. Utah is better than Indiana.
USC vs. Auburn
Kyle: USC -3
Luke: USC -1.5
KK: This is an oddity in that they have the common opponent, Washington State, which lost at Auburn but beat USC. Transitive property notwithstanding, USC is often a Vegas favorite. Moreover, the Trojan defense is one of the nation’s most talented. Auburn hasn’t really demonstrated one particularly standout facet yet.
LB: As bad as the Trojans have been – and they’ve been terrible – Vegas favors the teams that bring in the action. If USC stood for “University of Southern Connecticut,” Auburn would likely be favored. As it is, though, the Trojans bring in more action to the casinos. Auburn hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire through four games under coach Gus Malzahn.
Washington State vs. Vanderbilt
Kyle: Vandy -7
Luke: Vandy -2.5
KK: Vanderbilt has underwhelmed thus far this season, and Washington State has exceeded my expectations, particularly defensively. Nevertheless, the Cougars are still proving themselves.
LB: This feels like a field-goal game either way. It also has the potential to a back-and-forth game with a pair of teams good enough to pass the ball and not competent enough defensively to stop each other.
California vs. Tennessee
Kyle: Cal -1
Luke: Cal -3.5
KK: Butch Jones will do good things at Tennessee, but the last two weeks proved the Vols have a way to go. Cal is in a similar rebuild mode, but the outstanding play of quarterback Jared Goff is a testimony to how quickly Bear players took to Sonny Dykes and Tony Franklin’s offense.
LB: The Bears made a reasonably good showing against Northwestern in the opener whereas Tennessee has looked bad in its only two games.
Colorado vs. Kentucky
Kyle: Kentucky -1
Luke: Pick ’em
KK: This might be more a Pick ‘Em. Colorado has looked like an entirely different from last year’s historically awful 1-11 finish, whereas Kentucky still looks like Kentucky.
LB: (Changes channel.)
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