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Canzano: Pac-12 braces for flurry of bowl games
How healthy is Oregon's Bo Nix?
I like that Bo Nix decided to come back to the University of Oregon for another season. I appreciate that he’s decided to play in Wednesday’s Holiday Bowl. And I’m fascinated to see what he’ll look like, a month removed from the last time we saw him hobbling around.
What was the injury exactly?
Nix’s ankle is “mostly healed,” we’re told. The whisper is that it was likely some kind of high-ankle sprain. Oregon isn’t telling. But coach Dan Lanning said he expects his quarterback to play “some of his best football” in the bowl game.
I’m intrigued to see what that looks like. I’m especially interested to see how mobile Nix looks against a North Carolina defense that doesn’t scare anyone. And I’d like to see a performance that doesn’t leave lingering questions about Nix’s health.
Apologies to five-star quarterback recruit Dante Moore, but the return of Nix was the best news Oregon could have asked for this month. The second best news would be to see Nix attack the line of scrimmage with a couple of runs.
Just a couple, though.
Oregon’s run game should mostly center around its solid stable of backs. Nix is at his best when he’s operating out of play action. Nix was the Pac-12’s highest rated passer this season on play-action pass plays. His rating: 202. And he completes 74.4 percent of play-action passes.
The Ducks and Tar Heels visited the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier on Monday. UNC coach Mack Brown toured the ship alongside Nix and Ducks coach Dan Lanning.
“Bo was going up the steps in front of me, and I started to grab his ankle,” Brown said, “but there were too many cameras. I didn’t want to hurt him bad. It’s just one game. But I’ve been there. God looked at me and said, ‘No, don’t do that.’”
The Pac-12 is 1-1 in bowl games this season. It will play five bowl games in the next six days. Onto my updated Pac-12 bowl-game predictions…
My Pac-12 record vs. the spread this season: 51-38 (.573)
Straight-up season record: 70-19 (.787)
Bowl games vs. the spread: 2-0.
Straight-up record in Bowl games: 2-0.
Oregon vs. North Carolina — Holiday Bowl (Wednesday, 5 p.m. on FOX)
I like Oregon, but I don’t think the Ducks cover the double-digit point spread with a defense that will play without D.J. Johnson, Noah Sewell and Christian Gonzalez. Those key players have all opted out in front of the NFL Draft.
North Carolina, meanwhile, will be without 75 percent of its starting defensive backfield and lost three straight games to finish the season. But the Tar Heels have Drake Maye, the ACC Offensive Player of the Year. He threw for 4,115 yards and 35 TDs this season.
Basically, it’s two really good quarterbacks vs. two defenses that struggled this season. The Holiday Bowl record for total points scored is 91. BYU beat SMU 46-45 in the 1980 game. If things get out of hand, keep an eye on that total.
The spread: The Ducks are favored by 14.
The pick: Oregon 42, North Carolina 34
Washington vs. Texas — Alamo Bowl (Thursday, 6 p.m. on ESPN)
I left the regular season thinking Washington could beat anyone in the conference and maybe anyone outside the top few teams in the final College Football Playoff rankings. Coach Kalen DeBoer’s offense was playing that well.
Texas will be without star running back Bijan Robinson. That puts some additional pressure on quarterback Quinn Ewers. I think the Longhorns are facing a stressful game. They’ll score in the 30s, but it won’t be enough.
Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. completed 71.9 percent of his passes on third down this season. That’s a remarkable stat that led the Pac-12, beating out Oregon’s Bo Nix (69 percent).
The spread opened with Texas as a 4.5-point favorite. That has been bet down to 3.5 points. I don’t think it matters. I like underdog Washington to win the game outright.
The spread: Texas is favored by 3.5 points.
The pick: Washington 41, Texas 35
UCLA vs. Pitt — Sun Bowl (Friday, 11 a.m. on CBS)
UCLA looked terribly distracted at the end of the season, losing two of the final three games. The prevailing thought is that Dorian Thompson-Robinson will play at quarterback. Also, that running back Zach Charbonnet will suit up and play. I’m just not sure I trust that until I see it on the field.
The Bruins are more talented and if Thompson-Robinson and Charbonnet really are locked in, I think they win this game. But I’m pumping the brakes on a runaway performance. I’ll take Pitt and the points. The line opened with UCLA as a 6.5-point favorite, but that number dropped.
The spread: UCLA is now favored by 5.5 points.
The pick: UCLA 30, Pitt 28
USC vs. Tulane — Cotton Bowl (Monday, 10 a.m. on ESPN)
Tulane really wants to be in this bowl game. It’s huge for the American Athletic Conference representative. USC? I’m not so sure.
The Trojans had their eyes on the College Football Playoff before being blown off the field in the Pac-12 title game by Utah. As a consolation, they get a Tulane team that is locked in and on a mission.
USC receiver Jordan Addison will miss the game due to an ankle injury. Two other Trojans starters on the offense line (Andrew Vorhees and Brett Neilon) are both out and preparing for the NFL Draft. And linebacker Ralen Goforth jumped in the transfer portal and is headed to Washington.
I love what Lincoln Riley did in his first season. He exceeded expectations. Caleb Williams is an explosive player. But this game is a trap for USC.
The spread: USC is favored by 2.5 points.
The pick: Tulane 42, USC 38
Utah vs. Penn State — Rose Bowl (Monday, 2 p.m. on ESPN)
These teams play a similar style, are tough-minded, and make a great matchup. The Rose Bowl has to be thrilled to have two rabid fan bases, two quality teams, and some good theater.
Penn State has only two losses — Michigan and Ohio State — but hasn’t beat a ranked team this season. Utah is locked in, trying to close the loop on an elusive Rose Bowl win. Quarterback Cam Rising is terrific in big games.
I’ve seen a lot of people predicting a lower-scoring game here. I think we’ll get a few more points. But I like the Utes to walk off winners and cover the spread.
The spread: Utah is favored by 2.5 points.
The pick: Utah 34, Penn State 31
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