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Athlon Sports previews every contest, identifies the most pivotal players and picks every Pac-12 game.
The first weekend of action was mostly positive for Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. Mostly.
Washington might have been the most impressive team in the nation after a huge performance against regional rival Boise State. Utah, behind developing quarterback Travis Wilson, clinched an important in-state rivalry win over Utah State. Mark Helfrich and Mike MacIntyre debuted with solid wins. And even in losses, Washington State and Cal appeared to be improved teams from a year ago.
However, Oregon State completely dropped the ball in a head-scratching loss to Eastern Washington at home. The good news for the Beavers and the Pac-12 is that the only game it will lose in Week 2 is a conference game with itself (Wazzu at USC).
UCLA and Washington will get to rest this weekend while fans at Stanford and Arizona State finally get their season started.
Pac-12 Week 2 Game Power Rankings
1. Washington State (+15) at USC (10:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)
In a not-so-marquee weekend out West, the first Pac-12 conference game of the 2013 season takes center stage. As usual, quarterback play will be key as Connor Halliday must be given time to throw for Washington State while someone in a USC uniform needs to complete forward passes. USC’s defense looks much improved and will keep the score down so Lane Kiffin should only need the smallest amount of offense to win the Trojans’ ninth in a row over Wazzu.
2. Oregon (-23.5) at Virginia (3:30 p.m., ABC)
Virginia used some inclement weather to pull an unexpected upset over BYU last week at home. Facing Marcus Mariota and the Ducks' offense is battling literally a bird of a different feather and the Cavs might need more than a monsoon to hang with Oregon. Helfrich and company rolled-up 772 yards of offense and is leading the nation at 10.9 yards per play after one week. And despite winning the game, the Wahoos mustered just 223 yards of offense on a pathetic 3.0 yards per play (116th nationally). Keep an eye on star freshman Thomas Tyner, who will make his NCAA debut after missing last week with an injury.
3. San Jose State (+26.5) at Stanford (10 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
The Cardinal begin their Pac-12 title defense by hosting David Fales and the Spartans after sitting on the sidelines last weekend. Fales is a highly touted passing prospect and was solid but uninspiring in his season debut last weekend (16-of-32, 225 yards, 2 TD). He should be handled by what could be the best non-SEC defense in the nation while Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan could make the statement that he is actually the best signal-caller in this game.
4. Hawaii (+26.5) at Oregon State (8 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
No team in this league needs a win more in Week 2 than Mike Riley’s Beavers. The defensive performance from Oregon State last week against an FCS foe was utterly bizarre as OSU ranked last among BCS conference teams with 625 yards allowed in Week 1. That unit has to improve against a struggling Hawaii offense that mustered just 3.2 yards per play against USC. Quarterback Sean Mannion was a bright spot for a Beavers offense that has plenty of playmakers (See Brandin Cooks). Oregon State should be able to quickly turn its season around in Corvallis this Saturday.
5. Arizona (-10) at UNLV (10:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
One team won 35-0 and the other allowed 51 points to Minnesota in Week 1, so why does Vegas think this game will be so close? Well, UNLV actually out-gained the Gophers 419 yards to 320 last week and Arizona’s complete team effort came against Northern Arizona. Look for Rich Rodriguez to welcome back star tailback Ka’Deem Carey in a big way by feeding him (and backup Daniel Jenkins) the ball in an effort to take pressure of his quarterbacks. The Wildcats should win easily but should be on upset alert.
6. Sacramento State (+37) at Arizona State (Thurs., 10 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
Taylor Kelly and Chaz Sutton make their 2013 premiere against a vastly overmatched opponent. Arizona State has a difficult schedule with marquee non-conference games looming large on the horizon, so an easy win should come as a welcome treat for the team picked by Athlon Sports to win the Pac-12 South. Look for complete and utter domination from the Sun Devils.
7. Central Arkansas (+14.5) at Colorado (8 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
Central Arkansas won last week 58-7 over… the University of the Incarnate Word? (It’s in San Antonio, in case you were wondering.) But that strong showing has the Sugar Bears as just a two-touchdown underdog to the Buffaloes. MacIntrye became just the second Colorado coach since the 1930s to win his first game and should be poised for a 2-0 start — which would already top CU’s 2012 win total.
8. Weber State (+23) at Utah (2 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
New co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson had an immediate impact on Travis Wilson and the Utah offense. This unit scored on two long drives in the waning moments of a huge win over Utah State and Wilson appears to be poised for a big season in Salt Lake City. Kyle Whittingham needs to get his team back to the postseason and any win is a good one for the Utes — even a gimme over the Wildcats of Weber State.
9. Portland State (+27.5) at Cal (5 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
Sure, the Bears allowed 508 yards of offense and 44 points in the Week 1 loss to Northwestern. But there was plenty to like about Sonny Dykes' debut in Berkeley, namely quarterback Jared Goff. This team has plenty of playmakers but needed a quarterback to make the offense move and Goff delivered in a big way. Portland State should pose little threat and Dykes should get his first win at Cal.
Pac-12 Week 2 Pivotal Players:
1. Washington State’s offensive line
It’s just one week but the USC Trojans are leading the nation in sacks after registering 7.0 against Hawaii last week. So the spotlight is on the Wazzu offensive line this weekend. The Cougars played well on the road against a very talented Auburn defensive line last week by rushing for 120 yards on 5.2 yards per carry. Protecting Connor Halliday and moving the chains on the ground might be Mike Leach’s only chance at a victory in the Cougars' ’13 Pac-12 debut.
2. Cody Kessler and Max Wittek, QB, USC
On the flip side, USC has to get better quarterback play to be considered a contender in the Pac-12. Neither Kessler (10-of-19) nor Wittek (5-of-10) were very efficient last week against Hawaii and neither topped 100 yards passing. Until one of these two highly touted signal-callers separates himself on the field, the Trojans won’t be anything but a fringe Top 25 team.
3. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
The Stanford safety is one of the nation’s best players and he will get an interesting test in the Cardinal’s season debut. David Fales is one of the more talented signal-callers in the nation after a monster 2012 campaign and solid ’13 opener (225 yards, 2 TD). The chess match between Reynolds and Fales should be fun to watch this weekend.
4. Oregon’s backfield
Yes, Marcus Mariota is important. Duh. So is De’Anthony Thomas. But after Virginia played much better than anticipated in an upset win over BYU, there is more of a spotlight on this unit than expected. Byron Marshall topped 100 yards last week and uber-recruit Thomas Tyner will make his Oregon debut. The Cavaliers allowed 144 yards to Cougars tailback Jamaal Williams and 42 yards and a score to quarterback Taysom Hill. The Ducks' backfield will likely show the nation that the Cavs' win last week was a bit of a fluke.
5. Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
The star running back was suspended last week for the easy win over Northern Arizona. Daniel Jenkins filled the void adequately with 139 yards on 12 carries but should take a backseat this weekend to Carey. On the road, the powers that be in Las Vegas seem to think the Arizona-UNLV game will be closer than the experts are predicting. This, and a fluid quarterback situation, puts pressure on Carey to perform at the highest level in his first game of the season.
Pac-12 Week 2 Predictions:
|Game||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Washington St (+15) at USC||USC, 31-21||USC, 27-13||USC, 34-17||USC, 35-28|
|Oregon (-23.5) at Virginia||Oregon, 45-17||Oregon, 28-6||Oregon, 41-20||Oregon, 49-14|
|San Jose St (+26.5) at Stanford||Stanford, 51-13||Stanford, 31-14||Stanford, 38-17||Stanford, 35-17|
|Hawaii (+26.5) at Oregon St||Oregon St, 45-20||Oregon St, 33-14||Oregon St, 38-13||Oregon St, 35-10|
|Arizona (-10) at UNLV||Arizona, 38-17||Arizona, 41-17||Arizona, 41-20||Arizona, 35-21|
|Sacramento St (+37) at Arizona St||Arizona St, 52-3||Arizona St, 44-6||Arizona St, 48-14||Arizona St, 42-10|
|Central Ark. (+14.5) at Colorado||Colorado, 31-10||Colorado, 41-20||Colorado, 45-20||Colorado, 28-14|
|Weber St (+23) at Utah||Utah, 34-10||Utah, 31-13||Utah, 48-13||Utah, 31-14|
|Portland St (+27.5) at Cal||Cal, 44-17||Cal, 41-20||Cal, 50-17||Cal, 49-17|