Picks, Predictions and Prognosis for Every Week 1 Pac-12 Football Game
Another Pac-12 football season kicks off, and 2013 promises to be one of the conference's best yet. The league has unprecedented depth, while front-runners Stanford and Oregon boast two of the most balanced and talented rosters the Pac-12 has seen in some time.
Week 1 is a tune-up for some of the conference's members, an opportunity for the head coaches to better gauge what they have at their disposal against live competition.
For others like Cal, Utah, Washington and Washington State, they dive right in against quality opponents.
All lines courtesy: VegasInsider.com
Utah State at Utah (-4.5)
Thursday, Aug. 29 | 5 p.m. PT
Utah's 27-20, overtime loss to Utah State last season was the program's first in this series since 1997. The 1997 loss was the Utes' second straight to the Aggies, and coincidentally, back-to-back defeats is a distinct possibility this time around.
Kyle Whittingham said in his press conference on Tuesday that Travis Wilson gives Utah the most consistent quarterback play it has had in four years, and new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson is maximizing his potential with a hurry-up system.
Pity Wilson's debut playing under Erickson is against one of the nation's best defenses, and with John "Wolfman" White no longer howling out of the Ute backfield.
Score Prediction: Utah State 17, Utah 14
USC (-21.5) at Hawaii
Thursday, Aug. 29 | 8 p.m. PT
Max Wittek or Cody Kessler, Cody Kessler or Wittek? Against overmatched Hawaii, it should not really matter who Lane Kiffin plays at quarterback. Either will be able to hook up with outstanding wide receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor for huge gains against the Warrior defense.
Both quarterbacks will also operate under little pressure. Expect Morgan Breslin and the Trojan defense to swarm Hawaii quarterback Taylor Graham in his debut.
Hey, maybe Kiffin can unveil sets with both Wittek and Kessler on the field simultaneously.
...OK, maybe not. But it would liven up what should otherwise be an uneventful blowout.
Score Prediction: USC 42, Hawaii 13
Northern Arizona at Arizona (-35.5)
Friday, Aug. 30 | 7 p.m PT
The Arizona Wildcats break in a new starting quarterback to replace 2012 All-Conference honoree Matt Scott. Whether B.J. Denker or Jesse Scroggins is taking the snaps against Northern Arizona, either has the nation's leading rusher on whom to rely.
A heavy dose of Ka'Deem Carey is coming the Lumberjacks' way, though presumably only for the first half. UA's porous defense may give up big yards to NAU back Zach Bauman, but it won't be enough to make this one competitive.
NAU has not beat UA since 1932, and has never won in Tucson. However, the last time the Wildcats beat the Lumberjacks by more than the 35.5 line Las Vegas has set for Friday's meeting, World War II ended just two months prior.
Score Prediction: Arizona 49, Northern Arizona 17
Washington State at Auburn (-13.5)
Saturday, Aug. 31 | 1 p.m. PT
Mike Leach has let the football-following world know his thoughts on Geronimo, pirates and zombies. Saturday should give us a sense of how he feels about Tigers.
Washington State ended 2012 with momentum, playing Pac-12 South champion UCLA close and snapping an eight-game losing streak with its defeat of rival Washington in the finale.
The Cougar offense should be more fluid with a year of experience and a healthy Connor Halliday running the show. Exploiting an Auburn offense readjusting to Gus Malzahn's spread is crucial, but the WSU defense was hit-and-miss a year ago—mostly miss. This unit gave up 35 points and 531 yards to Colorado, after all.
Score Prediction: Auburn 31, Washington State 21
Nicholls State at Oregon (-58)
Saturday, Aug. 31 | 1 p.m. PT
All that stands between Oregon covering the 58-point spread against lowly Nicholls State by halftime is new head coach Mark Helfrich.
The Colonels are regular cellar dwellers in the Southland Conference; Oregon has won three of the last four Pac-12 championships and will contend for a fourth. You do the math.
Score Prediction: Oregon 63, Nicholls State 3
Eastern Washington at Oregon State (-28.5)
Saturday, Aug. 31 | 3 p.m. PT
Eastern Washington is no slouch. The Eagles won the 2010 season's FCS national championship and are ranked No. 4 in the subdvision's preseason.
If there's a Pac-12 member that knows not to take FCS competition lightly, it's Oregon State. The last time the Beavers faced a Big Sky Conference member, Sacramento State came into Reser Stadium to open 2011 and shocked OSU in overtime, 29-28.
Beau Baldwin's offense typically produces some of the nation's gaudiest passing numbers, and EWU will look to take advantage of a Beaver secondary adjusting to life without Jordan Poyer.
However, Scott Crichton will provide disruptive pressure, Beaver running back Storm Woods should impose his will on the Eagle defense and the Sean Mannion-Brandin Cooks combination will go for big yards through the air.
Score Prediction: Oregon State 38, Eastern Washington 17
Nevada at UCLA (-14.5)
Saturday, Aug. 31 | 7 p.m. PT
Anthony Barr is expected to start despite a head injury scare in last week's practice. That's bad news for the Wolf Pack.
Dynamic playmaker Cody Fajardo is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks UCLA will see this season, but the Bruin linebacker corps is loaded with talent, well suited to snuffing out Nevada's zone-read sets out of the Pistol.
Defense will set the table for Brett Hundley and the offense to capitalize in a decidedly uptempo clash.
Score Prediction: UCLA 38, Nevada 24
Boise State at Washington (-2.5)
Saturday, Aug. 31 | 7 p.m. PT
Washington needs this win, lest it face the very real prospect of yet another seven-win season.
UW opens 2013 with the same opponent against which it ended 2012, Boise State. The Broncos bested the Huskies in last December's MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, despite what Steve Sarkisian said was Bishop Sankey's best game of an outstanding season.
BSU has made a habit of opening with wins over BCS conference counterparts—it did so in 2009 (Oregon), 2010 (Virginia Tech) and 2011 (Georgia). For UW to avoid a similar fate, Sankey duplicating his bowl game effort helps. More so though, Keith Price must find ways to attack a Bronco pass defense that ranked No. 5 in the nation a season ago.
The Husky defense must also continue the huge strides it made in Justin Wilcox's first season as coordinator. Stifling quarterback Joe Southwick is very much a critical component to a Husky win. Expect a low score before a raucous crowd in the renovated Husky Stadium.
Score Prediction: Washington 21, Boise State 17
Northwestern (-8.5) at Cal
Saturday, Aug. 31 | 7:30 p.m. PT
The potential for a very exciting offensive showcase is here, with new Cal Golden Bears head coach Sonny Dykes unveiling the "Bear Raid" against Northwestern's variation of the spread.
Each offense features one of the nation's most electrifying, under-the-radar players. Golden Bear running back Brendan Bigelow nearly averaged a first down every time he touched the ball last season, and the wide-open nature of Dykes' scheme perfectly suits Bigelow's skill set. Meanwhile, Northwestern back Venric Mark is a veritable Swiss Army knife.
Offsetting the explosive offenses are two talented defenses. The team that notches a big play late is going to take this one. Northwestern's experience should trump Cal's exuberance from hosting a top 25-caliber team.
Score Prediction: Northwestern 31, Cal 27
Colorado (-1.5) vs. Colorado State (in Denver)
Sunday, Sept. 1 | 3 p.m. PT
Feast your eyes on that rare occasion when Colorado is the favorite. Don't get too excited, Buffs fan; CU was 0-for when favored in 2012, including its season-opening loss to Colorado State.
Implications of the Rocky Mountain Showdown are light years removed from the 1990s, when both programs were in the top 25. Nevertheless, both should be improved from their 2012 incarnations.
Mike MacIntyre completed one of the most impressive turnarounds of a program in recent memory, leaving behind an 11-win San Jose State. CU's reconstruction is an equally sizable undertaking, but it should start positively if running back Christian Powell can get rolling against a Ram defense that ranked No. 103 against the rush last season.
Score Prediction: Colorado 27, Colorado State 21
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