The Pac-10 is arguably the second-best conference behind the "Almighty" SEC. Out-of-conference scheduling creates West Coast versus East Coast matchups not normally seen until bowl season. The depth of the conference creates parity year after year. And of course, there's the annual chase to unseat perennial powerhouse USC.
Here's a preview of what's to expect from the Pac-10 in Week One.
Thursday, Aug. 28
Oregon State @ Stanford: 6:00 pm on ESPN2
Oregon State travels to Stanford for an uncommon Pac-10 Week One opener. Stanford carries momentum from last year and looks to transfer it into 2008 with coach Jim Harbaugh and a talented defense. The Cardinal returns all three starting linebackers and five defensive linemen who have game time experience.
Oregon State has started slow the last few years and needs to start fast in order to keep up in the Pac-10 race. In the past Stanford has been a sure W on the schedule, but this year could prove to be much tougher. Improved quarterback play and the return of All-American hopeful Sammie Stroughter should help the Beavers.
Stanford will have trouble moving the ball in its early season games, and OSU's versatility and athleticism on offense will give the veteran defense fits.
Prediction: OSU comes out of Stanford Stadium with a win, 30-17.
Saturday, Aug. 30
Washington @ No. 21 Oregon: 7:00 pm on FSNW
Another Pac-10 opener pits Northwest rivals Washington and Oregon. While Oregon lost Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart to the NFL, they look to reload with Nate Costa at QB and Jeremiah Johnson at RB. Both are athletic and fully capable of producing similar numbers to those of Stewart and Dixon. Big play WR Jaison Williams returns for his senior season and wants to prove he can catch the ball with consistency.
Washington returns the Pac-10's most explosive quarterback in Jake Locker. Locker will attempt to improve on his atrocious passing percentage this year. The loss of leading tackler E.J. Savannah hurts the already porous Husky defense. Coach Willingham is in trouble unless he can rally the troops.
People might mark this as an easy win for the Ducks. However, this game is close until the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Washington's defense can't stop the spread offense, and Oregon wins at home, 35-24.
Northern Arizona @ No. 15 Arizona State: 7:00 pm on FSN AZ
Dennis Erickson returns for a second season after great success and a Holiday Bowl berth last year. Rudy Carpenter is the best all-around quarterback in the league and should provide fireworks for a solid ASU offense.
Northern Arizona went 6-5 last year with close losses to FCS No. 1 Appalachian State and Big Sky Conference No. 3 Montana. The Lumberjacks return senior quarterback Lance Kriesien, senior TE Sean Fitzpatrick, junior RB Alex Henderson, and junior WR Ryan Rouschert.
Prediction: Unfortunately, there's no Appalachian State miracle in this one—Arizona State wins big, 48-17.
Idaho @ Arizona: No TV Broadcast
Arizona is poised for big things this year with Willie Tuitama at QB. Arizona also returns Tuitama's favorite target, Mike Thomas, who had over 1,000 yards receiving last season. Last year's emergence of leading rusher Nic Grigsby should add another dimension to the pass-happy Wildcat offense.
Idaho struggled mightily and finished 1-11 last season. Picked to finish eighth in the conference this year, Idaho looks to its seniors for leadership. Vandal nation must be cursing Dennis Erickson and his immediate success at Arizona State.
Prediction: Arizona flexes its muscles and racks up more than 500 total yards, winning 35-13.
Oklahoma State @ Washington State in Seattle: 12:30 pm on FSNW
Under new head coach Paul Wulff, the Cougars are in rebuilding mode. Maxwell nominee Brandon Gibson returns for a senior season. Gibson was their leading receiver and could have opted to go pro last year. Quarterback Gary Rogers doesn't have experience and could have a tough time leading this team anywhere near a bowl this season.
Big 12 underdog Oklahoma State travels over 1,900 miles to battle WSU. Oklahoma snuck into bowl contention in 2007 and beat Indiana in the Insight Bowl. Returning quarterback Zac Robinson is hoping for bigger things in '08. He'll have a great target in 6'2", 210-lb. receiver Dez Bryant.
Prediction: I'd pick both teams to lose, but that can't happen. I just don't think WSU will be able to get anything going offensively, and OK St. walks out with a win, 28-13.
No. 3 USC @ Virginia: 12:30 pm on ABC
One of the most anticipated non-conference games this season. USC is nursing injuries to two running backs and QB Mark Sanchez. USC returns linebackers Ray Maualuga and Brian Cushing, who will destroy ball carriers. If the run game doesn't work for opposing offenses, the secondary could produce a lot of turnovers with returning veterans.
Virginia has the luxury of being at home and possibly not having to face first-string quarterback Mark Sanchez, should he fail to return from a dislocated kneecap. The Cavaliers started 7-1 in 2007 but faltered late and lost to Texas Tech in the Gator Bowl.
Prediction: USC uses this game to send a message to Ohio State fans around the nation and wins big despite injuries, 45-20.
Michigan State @ California: 5:00 pm on ABC
This is the most intriguing matchup of the week in the Pac-10. California is searching for a leader at quarterback and someone to replace 1,600-yard rusher Justin Forsett. Jahvid Best is electric with the football and should create similar numbers to Forsett last year. All the top receivers were lost, and new faces will have to step up if Cal wants to be competitive in a very tough Pac-10.
Michigan State returns QB Bryan Hoyer and tailback Javon Ringer. This offense could be something special to watch if the pieces fall into place. MSU averaged 34 points last year and finished the season 7-5 with a loss to Boston College in the Champ Sports Bowl.
This game has excitement written all over it. California loses too much at the receiver position to recover in Week One.
Prediction: Michigan State runs for nearly 200 yards and wins this barnburner, 38-30.
Monday, Sep. 1
No. 18 Tennessee @ UCLA: 5:00 pm on ESPN
Fed up with California, Tennessee brings its 18th-ranked squad into the Rose Bowl. Arian Foster returns for a senior season and will ease the transition of new starting quarterback Jonathan Crompton. Foster rushed for 1,193 yards and 12 TDs in 2007.
UCLA is in a world of hurt entering the '08 season. Quarterbacks Ben Olson and Patrick McCown are out with injuries. McCown tore his ACL and is out for the season. Ben Olson has a fractured foot for the second time in four months and will miss at least eight weeks. San Diego State transfer Kevin Craft will have his work cut out for him trying to revive the UCLA faithful.
Injuries at quarterback are more detrimental to a program than a new starter in my book.
Prediction: UCLA fights valiantly because of early jet lag suffered by Tennessee, but the Vols win in the Rose Bowl, 31-17.
In games not matching Pac-10 opponents this first week, the Pac-10 goes 3-3, losing games at home to teams that are beatable and winning the games they should. Again, the slow start by the Pac-10 has everyone in SEC country smiling.