Athlon Sports previews Week 1 of the Pac-12 season.
Undefeated should be the Pac-12's goal in Week 1.
Every team in the league is favored to win its season opener with the exception of Cal — an 11-point underdog on the road at Northwestern.
So barring a Golden Bears’ road upset, the league should be hoping to avoid the upset bug in the first weekend of action. All of the league front-runners are huge favorites to win and an early slip up would be crushing.
An 11-1 mark in Week 1 would be considered holding serve for the Pac-12.
1. Fresno St at USC
7:30 p.m., FOX
Part of the reason the Pac-12 should win at least 11 games in Week 1 is that there is no marquee showdown. Fresno State is picked to win the MW West Division and should be one of the better non-Big 5 teams in the nation. Storylines such as Steve Sarkisian's Trojans' debut, USC and Fresno State's Las Vegas Bowl matchup to end last season and the Josh Shaw saga only adds intrigue.
2. UCLA at Virginia
The Cavaliers pulled an improbable upset against a team from the West (BYU) at home in their season opener last fall. A repeat performance is highly unlikely this go around. Still, Virginia's defense is much more talented than its 10-loss record from last year so Brett Hundley will need to be sharp. But the Virginia offense will have a tough time against one of the better Pac-12 defenses. There are no excuses for UCLA in this one.
3. Rutgers at Washington St
Thurs., 10 p.m., FS1
What should be one of the most competitive Week 1 matchups will feature a “traditional” Big Ten-Pac-12 bout. While a Cougars-Scarlet Knights game is anything but traditional the entertainment value should be high. Kyle Flood enters a critical year as head coach of Rutgers while Mike Leach has a productive returning quarterback and bowl aspirations. Stay up late for this one on Thursday evening, it will be worth it.
4. Colorado St at Colorado
Fri., 9 p.m., FS1, Denver
When it comes to intensity, the Rocky Mountain Showdown in Denver is arguably the most intriguing game of the weekend out West. This meeting marks the 85th between these two in-state rivals. Rams coach Jim McElwain topped the Buffs in his introduction to this series two years ago and has turned the CSU program into a winner while Mike MacIntyre won his debut against the Rams last fall. The Buffs are a 2.5-point favorite.
5. Cal at Northwestern
3:30 p.m., ESPN2
The only Pac-12 underdog in Week 1 is Cal’s trip to Evanston. Sonny Dykes’ first game as the Bears head coach ended in a 44-30 defeat at home against these Wildcats last fall. His squad allowed 508 yards of offense but his freshman quarterback, Jared Goff, threw the ball 63 times for 445 yards in his first career game. Look for more points and a more competitive game this time around (although, the outcome may be the same).
6. UNLV at Arizona
Fri., 10:30 p.m., ESPN
Arizona breaks in a new star at quarterback when redshirt freshman Anu Solomon makes his first career start in his first career game. The Wildcats are a heavy favorite (-23.5) and defeated the Rebels in Las Vegas — Solomon’s hometown — by a 58-13 margin a year ago. Tuning in to see how Solomon handles himself will be important, so get the coffee ready as this was Arizona’s longest game of the year last fall (3:30) and is the final game to kick off on Friday evening.
7. Washington at Hawaii
10:30 p.m., CBS Sports
Chris Petersen makes his Washington debut on the islands this weekend. He will be without starting quarterback Cyler Miles and is one of just two Pac-12 teams to start the season on the road. That said, there is a reason the Huskies are a 17-point favorite and Hawaii head coach Norm Chow is on the hot seat. Washington’s defense should dominate a team picked to finish dead last in its division.
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8. UC Davis at Stanford
4 p.m., Pac-12 Net
A fairly competitive Big Sky team last year (5-3 in league), UC Davis doesn’t figure to challenge mighty Stanford. The Aggies aren’t picked by many to make the FCS playoffs and won’t be able to compete physically with the Cardinal.
9. South Dakota at Oregon
10:30 p.m., Pac-12 Net
Not to be confused with FCS playoff contenders South Dakota State and North Dakota State, the Coyotes of South Dakota (4-8 last year) don’t figure to be competitive longer than a few series. Look for Oregon to churn out yards and points while, most importantly, staying healthy for the visit from Michigan State looming in Week 2.
10. Weber St at Arizona St
Thurs., 10:30 p.m., Pac-12 Net
The Sun Devils — along with the Utes — picked two of the worst Big Sky teams to face in their season openers. The Wildcats of Weber State won just one conference game last year and will be little to no competition for ASU’s totally reworked defense. Look for Todd Graham to get a lot of looks for his new defensive unit.
11. Portland St at Oregon St
4 p.m., Pac-12 Net
There is one reason to tune in: Sean Mannion. Portland State isn’t a contender in the Big Sky this year so don’t expect a repeat of what Eastern Washington did in Corvallis a year ago. This Beavers' offense is worth watching anytime this unit takes the field, even if the score is extremely one-sided.
12. Idaho St at Utah
Thurs., 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Net
The Bengals of Idaho State won just one Big Sky game last year and that should basically guarantee a win for Kyle Whittingham. And for a head coach with quarterback questions and a seat warming beneath him, every win is critical.
|Braden Gall||Mitch Light||David Fox||Steven Lassan|
|Fresno St (+21.5) at USC||USC, 34-13||USC, 37-17||USC, 42-17||USC, 38-20|
|UCLA (-21) at Virginia||UCLA, 38-13||UCLA, 33-14||UCLA, 42-10||UCLA, 34-13|
|Rutgers (+8) vs. Wazzu||WSU, 42-21||WSU, 41-17||WSU, 52-14||WSU, 45-31|
|Colo. St (+3) vs. Colorado||Colo., 28-24||Colo., 21-17||CSU, 24-17||Colo., 31-27|
|Cal (+11) at N'Western||NW, 31-21||NW, 31-24||NW, 38-17||NW, 34-24|
|UNLV (+23.5) at Arizona||Zona, 45-17||Zona, 48-24||Zona, 35-14||Zona, 40-20|
|Wash. (-17) at Hawaii||Wash., 42-7||Wash., 51-10||Wash., 49-7||Wash., 45-13|
|UC Davis at Stanford||Stan., 38-3||Stan., 41-0||Stan., 35-7||Stan., 45-7|
|S. Dakota at Oregon||Oregon, 51-10||Oregon, 58-7||Oregon, 52-7||Oregon, 60-10|
|Weber St at Ariz. St||ASU, 41-14||ASU, 51-10||ASU, 49-10||ASU, 58-13|
|Portland St at Ore. St||OSU, 41-20||OSU, 44-17||OSU, 52-14||OSU, 45-17|
|Idaho St at Utah||Utah, 31-7||Utah, 41-0||Utah, 49-6||Utah, 44-7|