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Athlon Sports previews every contest, identifies the most pivotal players and picks every Pac-12 game.
Week One of the season is generally reserved for warm-up tests with cream-puffs so that new coaches and new quarterbacks can ease their way into the schedule.
That won’t be the case in the Pac-12 in 2013. Cal, Washington State and Colorado are underdogs to start the season while Washington, Utah and those same Buffaloes will open things with important regional rivalry games. And the double whammy of new coach-new QB will be on display in both Berkeley (Cal) and Denver (Colorado).
Sure, there should be some routs in Eugene, Tucson, Corvallis and Los Angeles, but this is no ordinary Week 1 for the Pac-12. Seven or eight wins in the 10-game Pac-12 slate this weekend would be considered a huge success.
Pac-12 Week 1 Game Power Rankings:
1. Boise State (+3.5) at Washington (10:00 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)
After an 18-month hiatus from Husky Stadium, the fans in the Pacific Northwest get to test out their new toy. The beautiful new building will be broken in with style when Chris Petersen and his Broncos come to town in Week 1. These two will be facing each other for the second consecutive game after Boise State slipped past U of W 28-26 in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas to end last year. Petersen has made a career of winning huge Week 1 BCS tests but Washington is 8-1 in its last nine home openers. Boise is targeting an unbeaten season and the Huskies want to compete in the stacked Pac-12 North, so both need the statement win right out of the gate.
2. Northwestern (-5.5) at Cal (10:30 p.m., ESPN2)
There will be no shortage of big plays and highlight-reel moments with these two offensive-minded BCS teams. The Wildcats are loaded with skill players while new Golden Bears coach Sonny Dykes brings some explosive weapons and a great offensive system to the table as well. One team won 10 games a year ago and the other lost nine, but these two will look much more even than those records indicate. The key will be the play of Cal's first-year starting quarterback Jared Goff, because talented redshirt freshman Zach Kline is waiting in the wings.
3. Utah State (+2.5) at Utah (Thurs., 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
The in-state round robin between Utah, BYU and Utah State is wildly underrated nationally and will be critical for both programs this fall. Utah State and star quarterback Chuckie Keeton are breaking in a new head coach in Matt Wells while Kyle Whittingham is trying to get Utah back to a bowl game after missing the postseason last year for the first time since 2002. This was a 27-20 overtime home win for the Aggies last year.
4. Washington State (+15.5) at Auburn (7 p.m., ESPNU)
Mike Leach begins his second tour with a key non-conference road game against the nation’s best conference. This team played 17 freshmen a year ago and need those younger players to develop quickly as Wazzu opens in one of the nastiest road environments in the nation. That, or the biggest storyline of opening weekend for the Cougars will be the 131st consecutive flag appearance on ESPN's "College Gameday."
5. USC (-23) at Hawaii (Thurs., 11 p.m., CBS Sports)
Lane Kiffin will play both Cody Kessler and Max Wittek at quarterback while Silas Redd stays back in California working on his surgically repaired knee. Both Kiffin and Hawaii’s Norm Chow, a former Trojans’ assistant, are entering critical seasons on the sidelines. USC’s primary goal should be to return to the mainland fully healthy and with an easy road win.
6. Nicholls State (+59) at Oregon (4 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
This one should get ugly very quickly in new coach Mark Helfrich’s debut. His job is to make sure the No. 2-ranked scoring offense (49.5 ppg) and No. 5-ranked total offense (537.4 ypg) maintains its Chip Kelly-level of production. The Colonels, who were 1-10 last year, won’t put up much of a fight.
7. Colorado (+3) vs. Colorado State (Sun., 6 p.m., CBS Sports, Denver)
The Rocky Mountain Showdown will feature the debut of Colorado’s new head coach Mike MacIntyre. Only one other Buffaloes coach since 1931 — Rick Neuheisel in 1995 — has won his first game and having to face the in-state rival Rams won’t make it easy on MacIntyre.
8. Nevada (+21) at UCLA (10 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
There are freshmen everywhere on the rebuilt UCLA defense and they will be tested by the signature pistol offense and Nevada’s explosive quarterback Cody Fajardo. That said, star quarterback Brett Hundley should have his way with the Wolf Pack defense. Look for a young offensive line and young defense to get its feet wet for the Bruins in what should be an easy win.
9. Eastern Washington (+27) at Oregon State (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
Sean Mannion (rightly so) was named the starting quarterback this week in what should be a workman-like ‘13 debut. The Beavers are breaking in a bunch of new defensive pieces in what should be a relatively easy win. In the world of bizarre stats, Oregon State’s best two seasons, 2000 and '04, began with wins over Eastern Washington.
10. Northern Arizona (+35) at Arizona (10 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
The lone Friday night affair should be a big learning experience for the Wildcats' quarterbacks. B.J. Denker should be the starter and has the most experience but there are a lot of talented and hungry players nipping at his heels. When, not if, the game gets out of hand, Rich Rodriguez should be freed up to play his backups in an effort to see what he’s got.
Pac-12 Week 1 Pivotal Players:
1. Washington’s offensive line
The Huskies' offense was atrocious last year, stemming largely from an injury-riddled offensive line. Those guys are all back and need to give quarterback Keith Price and running back Bishop Sankey room to maneuver against a normally very strong Boise State front seven if Washington wants to win this weekend.
2. Jared Goff, QB, Cal
Goff unexpectedly beat out Zach Kline for the starting gig in Dykes' QB-friendly offense and he should have plenty of support around him. If he wants to pull the potential upset in Week 1, he needs to limit mistakes and get the ball to guys like Brandon Bigelow and Bryce Treggs.
3. Utah’s front seven
The Utes had to replace four of this unit’s seven starters in the offseason, including All-American nose tackle Star Lotulelei. It gave up 302 yards of total offense to Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton last year and will have to be better this time around to start ’13 with a win.
4. Cody Kessler and Max Wittek, QB, USC
Kiffin wants Wittek, but most acknowledge Kessler has been the better player. He lacks the big-time arm strength that Wittek has and that is why Kiffin has been so stubborn about naming a starter. Both will play this weekend and Kessler could end the discussion with a great game right out of the gate.
5. Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
He might be the most talented defensive player in the conference and he will be tested by a feisty Nevada offense led by star dual-threat quarterback Cody Fajardo. The Bruins' secondary could feature four freshmen, so it’s on the front seven to develop quickly and contain Fajardo.
Pac-12 Week 1 Prediction Grid:
|Game||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Boise St (+3.5) at Washington||Washington, 24-21||Boise St, 24-21||Boise St, 27-24||Boise St, 27-24|
|Northwestern (-5.5) at Cal||N'western, 31-21||N'western, 27-24||N'western, 34-24||N'western, 28-17|
|Utah St (+2.5) at Utah||Utah, 20-17||Utah St, 21-20||Utah, 27-24||Utah St, 35-28|
|Washington St (+15.5) at Auburn||Auburn, 35-20||Auburn, 30-13||Auburn, 38-20||Auburn, 24-14|
|USC (-23) at Hawaii||USC, 38-14||USC, 44-13||USC, 45-10||USC, 49-7|
|Nicholls St (+59) at Oregon||Oregon, 59-13||Oregon, 60-10||Oregon, 62-7||Oregon, 63-10|
|Colorado (+3) vs. Colorado St||Colorado, 23-20||Colorado, 35-31||Colorado, 24-20||Colorado St, 17-14|
|Nevada (+21) at UCLA||UCLA, 38-21||UCLA, 27-10||UCLA, 34-24||UCLA, 35-21|
|E. Washington (+27) at Oregon St||Oregon St, 34-7||Oregon St, 35-7||Oregon St, 38-17||Oregon St, 49-14|
|Northern Arizona (+35) at Arizona||Arizona, 42-17||Arizona, 44-14||Arizona, 48-17||Arizona, 38-10|