Pac-12 picks ATS: UW a slight favorite Friday night at UCLA

The first Friday night game of Pac-12 conference play matches two unbeaten teams with loads of unknowns in a stadium that could be no more than half filled.

Washington is playing its first road game of the season, to the extent that the Rose Bowl constitutes a hostile environment.

UCLA is facing its first high-level opponent after a series of cupcakes.

Which team is legitimate? Is either a serious contender for the conference title?

The most intriguing matchup of Week Five includes the Friday dynamic.

The Huskies played a night game last Saturday (against Stanford) and have a condensed week of preparation before their first appearance in Southern California in four years.

To gain context on the challenge facing UW, the Hotline plowed through the past five seasons of Friday night results, both on the scoreboard and against the spread. (We excluded the COVID year.)

How often did the road team win? What about the favorites? And specifically, how have the Huskies and Bruins fared under similar circumstances?

There were 24 Friday games over the five years. We found:

— Home teams were 17-7 straight up and 16-8 against the spread.

— UCLA is 1-3 straight up on Friday night and 0-4 against the spread.

— Washington is 3-1 straight up and 2-2 against the spread.

Within those numbers, however, a qualifier is required.

In the early years of our 2016-21 timeframe, the conference paid no heed to the visiting team’s schedule.

Often, the Friday visitor had played a road game the previous weekend, creating a competitive disadvantage reflected in the results: Home teams won 12 of 14 Friday games played from 2016-18 and covered the spread in 10 of them (71.4 percent).

But in 2019 and especially 2021, the conference office was mindful of the visitor’s schedule and avoided the dastardly double of a Saturday road game followed by a Friday road game. (Why it ever thought that was acceptable scheduling is beyond our comprehension.)

The Friday results from the ’19 and ’21 seasons reflect a relatively even split, both on the scoreboard and against the spread.

To the picks …

Last week: 3-3
Season: 12-18
Five-star special: 2-2

Spreads taken from BetMGM (as of 6:45 a.m. Wednesday)
Game totals in parenthesis
All times Pacific

Washington at UCLA (Friday)

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
Line: Washington -3 (total: 65.5)
Comment: Washington coach Kalen DeBoer baffled UCLA’s defense last year when he visited the Rose Bowl with Fresno State (40 points and 569 yards), but the Bruins have changed coordinators and should offer some level of resistance. We like UCLA and love the Over. Good chance this is the best Pac-12 game of Week Five. Pick: UCLA

Oregon State at Utah

Kickoff: 11 a.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Line: Utah -10.5 (total: 54.5)
Comment: Difficult assignment for OSU, which is heading on the road (at altitude) one week after the gut-wrenching loss to USC. The Utes will be ready after losing in Corvallis last season (and allowing 260 yards on the ground). Much depends on Beavers quarterback Chance Nolan’s decision-making and turnover tally. Consider us skeptical. Pick: Utah

Cal at Washington State

Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Line: WSU -4 (total: 53.5)
Comment: Like Oregon State, the Cougars must recover emotionally from a brutal defeat (to Oregon), but at least they face the challenge at home. The Bears scored 49 points against Arizona but face significant challenges against WSU’s disruptive front seven. Of note: Justin Wilcox is 15-4 against the spread as a road underdog during his Cal tenure. Pick: Cal

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Colorado at Arizona

Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Line: Arizona -17.5 (total: 56.5)
Comment: Four weeks in, we finally have a read on the Wildcats: They’re improved but still seriously flawed, especially on defense. Does Colorado have the playmakers to take advantage? Probably not. Eventually, freshman quarterback Owen McCown will inject life into the abysmal offense. But we don’t foresee that in his first road start. Pick: Arizona

Arizona State at USC

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
Line: USC -26.5 (total: 60.5)
Comment: Not since the end of the 2016 season have the Sun Devils been an underdog of this size, when they were +27 at Washington (and lost by 26). USC’s high-powered offense will be eager to rebound after scoring just 17 in Corvallis, but this feels like too many points — the back door is open for ASU to cover the spread with a late score. Pick: Arizona State

Stanford at Oregon

Kickoff: 8 p.m. on FS1
Line: Oregon -17 (total: 63.5)
Comment: The most unpredictable series in the conference is flush with Stanford upsets, but a victory by the road team this year would be a next-level stunner. The Cardinal has a meager running game and no discernible defense, putting immense pressure on quarterback Tanner McKee to stare down Oregon’s talented, hard-charging defense. Pick: Oregon

Straight-up winners: Washington, Utah, Cal, Arizona, USC and Oregon

Five-star special: Under in Cal-WSU. We expect a close game that won’t always be easy to watch. With two well-coached defenses and inconsistent quarterbacks, the total (53.5) will be difficult to reach.

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