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Football: Pac-12 picks, Week 9

Cal coach Jeff Tedford tells us every week that the Bears are taking the rest of the schedule day by day, game by game. Really, what choice do they have?

But it’s an approach that could work for Cal, at least to a point.

The Bears have four games left, and need to win three of them to become bowl eligible. It won’t be easy, but the order of the games works to their favor: at Utah, vs. Washington, vs. Oregon, at Oregon State.

Imagine if you flip-flopped those four games, and the Bears, at 3-5, were facing unbeatens Oregon and Oregon State the next two weeks. Admit it, you’re thinking¬†3-7, right?

But Utah and Washington — a combined 1-7 in Pac-12 play — are games the Bears can win. If they deliver on these two, suddenly they are 5-5 and the mindset is different.

At that point, the assignment no longer feels quite so imposing. The Bears can tell themselves they simply need to win one more game and they’re in. Then playing ’em one at a time is all they need.

Can they actually win that one?

Let’s see if they can get there first.

LAST WEEK: 5-0
SEASON: 44-16

Saturday

— Colorado at No. 2 Oregon, noon (Pac-12 Networks): The Ducks (7-0, 4-0 Pac-12) host the Buffaloes (1-6, 1-3) in a battle of the league’s best offense (51.0 ppg) vs. its worst defense (42.6 ppg). Oregon — which has scored 30 points or more in 20 consecutive games — apparently has something to prove to the BCS computer after falling from No. 3 to No. 4. But what could the Ducks possibly do against this opponent to impress? The Buffs’ most remarkably grotesque defensive statistic: They have allowed nine times more TD passes (27) than they have pass interceptions (3). Oregon 56, Colorado 3.

— UCLA at Arizona State, noon (FX): An intriguing game for the Sun Devils (5-2, 3-1), who will try to bounce back from a reality-check shellacking at the hands of Oregon. Just as hard to figure which Bruins (5-2, 2-2) will show up. Their only wins since beating Nebraska back on Sept. 8 have been at the expense of Colorado and Utah, a combined 1-7 in the conference. Arizona State 30, UCLA 24.

— No. 10 USC at Arizona, 12:30 p.m. (ABC/ESPN2): Could be a trap game for the Trojans (6-1, 4-1), who must avoid looking ahead to a week from now and a showdown with Oregon. USC leads the all-time series 28-7 over the high-scoring Wildcats (4-3, 1-3), who have scored at least 50 points three times for the first time in 58 years, but whose defense cannot be trusted. I’m seeing four more Matt Barkley TD passes. USC 35, Arizona 24.

— Washington State at No. 19 Stanford, 3:15 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks): The Cardinal (5-2, 3-1) may run for 400 yards against the Cougars (2-5, 0-4). Seriously. The game plan may just call for quarterback Josh Nunes to hand the ball off to Stepfan Taylor 37 times while throwing just 10 passes. And that could work against the Cougs. Stanford 38, Washington State 10.

— Cal at Utah, 6:45 p.m. (Pac-12 Bay Area): Can the Bears (3-5, 2-3) run the ball again? Can they survive the road? Will the Bear quit, will the Bear die? With a bowl bid fading from realistic view, this is a real test of a team’s will to hang with its coach. Coach Jeff Tedford and his players have had each other’s backs so far, but the defense-minded Utes (2-5, 0-4) won’t be easy-pickings. Cal 21, Utah 17.

— No. 7 Oregon State at Washington, 7:15 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks): The Beavers (6-0, 4-0) are off to their best start since . . . drum roll, please . . . 1907. No kidding. The Huskies (3-4, 1-3) have dropped three in a row since upsetting Stanford, surrendering 52 points in two of those. Oregon State has allowed just 99 points all season — best in the Pac-12. Defense wins this one. Oregon State 24, Washington 14.

Jeff Faraudo