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Athlon previews the coming week of gridiron action in the Pac-12 Conference.
The story in the Pac-12, at least until Nov. 3, will be attempting to compare Oregon and USC. These were arguably two of the best looking teams in the nation last weekend and, if anything, fans in Eugene should actually be more confident in their quarterback situation. While Chip Kelly and Lane Kiffin are seemingly on a collision course, four new head coaches attempted to kickstart their new tenures. Arizona State and UCLA obliged with force while Arizona slipped past Toledo in overtime, only further muddling the mix of teams behind the Men of Troy in the South. Meanwhile, Wazzu fans weren't so lucky.
Pac-12's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Week 2:
1. New Huskies defense heads to the Bayou
It was only one game, but the totally reworked Washington defense played well in Week 1. A totally new coaching staff — along with some talented newcomers — held a normally potent offense to 12 points and 327 total yards while providing three turnovers and four sacks. LSU will be a slightly different beast than the Aztecs, as the Huskies enter Death Valley as a three-touchdown underdog. One of the most powerful offensive lines and deepest running back corps in the nation will put the new U of W defense to the test early and often. There are no such thing as moral victories, but if Washington can keep it close into the fourth quarter, fans will have to be happy about the potential for success against physical Pac-12 offenses like Oregon, USC and Stanford — all of which Washington will face before Oct. 13.
2. Week 1 duds look for critical rebounds in Week 2
I will be the first to stand up and be counted. I felt strongly that Washington State was going to give BYU a tough run for their money last weekend. That certainly wasn't the case as Wazzu completely wet the bed in Provo. The Cougars weren't the only team to disappoint out West, however, as Colorado and Cal were upset by Colorado State and Nevada respectively. All three head coaches desperately need to win in Week 2 and all three face FCS opponents. These three should go 3-0 this weekend, but Eastern Washington — who beat Idaho on the road last week — won't be an easy out for Washington State.
3. Is Brett Hundley, UCLA ready for a marquee upset?
Nebraska comes to town Saturday night in what might be the best match-up of the weekend in the Pac-12. UCLA looked great under Hundley's leadership as the Bruins offense showed toughness and balance. Nebraska gained as much confidence as any team in the nation last weekend and heads to Pasadena with Big Ten title aspirations. That said, if superstar tailback Rex Burkhead is ready to go, the Huskers have the clear advantage and an upset is less likely. However, Burkhead is currently listed as questionable and his ability to contribute this weekend seems doubtful. If the very talented, but at times underachieving, front seven of UCLA can stack the box and force Taylor Martinez to make tough throws on the road, Jim Mora Jr., could begin his tenure 2-0. If the Huskers walk into L.A. and roll on offense, fans will know the road back to respectability for UCLA is a long and winding one.
4. New offenses set to duel in the Desert
While Nebraska-UCLA is likely the most marquee and competitive game of the weekend, Arizona and Oklahoma State could be the most entertaining. True freshman Wes Lunt led the Cowboys to an 84-0 win over Savannah State last weekend while first-year starter Matt Scott executed Rich Rodriguez' zone-read to near perfection in Week 1. The Cats signal caller's 461 yards of total offense are second nationally and, more importantly, Arizona held on to beat a tough Toledo team. The Pokes are heavily favored but fans should not be shocked to see this one finish much closer than expected as two of the best offensive minds in the game go head-to-head in Tucson. This should be an extremely fast-paced game with lots of points and a high enjoyment factor. Well, for everyone but the defensive coordinators.
5. Primetime Battle of the Brothers
Washington and Stanford were picked by many to be the top challengers to Oregon and USC in the race for the Pac-12 crown. However, Utah might actually be the No. 3 team in the league. Jordan Wynn returned to the line-up last week and was effective enough to create balance on offense while the power running game and stingy defense performed as expected. Against in-state rival Utah State on the road in primetime, however, Kyle Whittingham better have his team ready to compete. Gary Andersen has an explosive offense led by a three-headed rushing attack and dynamic sophomore quarterback Chuckie Keeton. The Aggies won 34-3 with 569 yards of offense over Southern Utah in Week 1 and most of the USU roster likely grew up wanting a scholarship from the Utes. Guys in Vegas know it will be close, as Utah is only a 7.5-point favorite.
6. How long is Josh Nunes' leash?
Nunes and Brett Nottingham battled throughout the spring and summer for the right to replace Andrew Luck. Nunes won the job but poor play across the board nearly cost Stanford its opener against lowly San Jose State. The senior didn't look particularly comfortable in the 20-17 nail-bitter, completing 16-of-26 passes for 125 yards and one very ugly touchdown throw. While the ground game should still be effective — especially against Duke this weekend — one has to wonder how long David Shaw will allow his quarterback to struggle. He has options waiting in the wings, so Nunes needs to prove he deserves to the be starter.
7. The Big Ten comes to town
LSU provides a huge opportunity for Washington and Utah has an intriguing battle with Utah State, but the trio of Big Ten/Pac-12 match-ups offer some interesting bragging rights. Illinois visits Arizona State, Nebraska visits Westwood and Wisconsin will head to Corvallis to face Oregon State in three key intersection contests. UCLA is looking for vindication, Arizona State wants to prove Week 1's 63-point outburst was no fluke and Oregon State is making no bones about what this game will mean to Reser Stadium...
8. Reser Stadium hosts biggest non-conference game ever?
Mike Riley began his press conference this week by explaining he believed this weekend's visit from Wisconsin is the biggest non-conference home game in program history. While not too many ranked non-conference foes visit Corvallis, the Oregon State Beavers are making sure everyone involved understands what a win would mean. The Badgers struggled against Northern Iowa last week and will be facing a team making its season debut after last week's opener was postponed. This game wasn't close last year in Madison, but OSU is expected to be improved and UW is clearly not the same team without star quarterback Russell Wilson, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and three first-team All-Big Ten blockers.
9. Oregon defense gets a second test
The Ducks looked like the well-oiled machine fans have come to expect from Chip Kelly teams. Redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota (MAR-e-o-TAH) was as difficult to stop as his name is to pronounce. The Ducks were up 50-3 with seven minutes to go in the second quarter. While Fresno State isn't going to stop Oregon anytime soon, Derek Carr and the new uptempo Tim DeRuyter offense could provide another interesting test for Nick Allioti and company. Carr completed 20-of-25 passes for 298 yards and two scores in the blowout win over Weber State and will test a group that allowed 34 points and 341 yards of offense to Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin.
10. USC travels 2,700 miles to New York
The Matt Barkley Heisman campaign won't be this close to Radio City Music Hall until December as USC heads across the country to face Syracuse. The game shouldn't be close as the Cuse defense has major issues, but as the clear preseason favorite for the stiff-armed trophy, every snap of every game will be under heavy scrutiny. Anything but a blowout with big numbers will be disappointing for the Trojans.
Week 2 Pac-12 Predictions:
|Week 2 Pac-12 Games||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Utah (-7.5) at Utah St||Utah, 31-14||Utah, 28-20||Utah, 27-24||Utah, 31-17|
|Southern Utah at Cal||Cal, 31-10||Cal, 38-6||Cal, 48-7||Cal, 35-7|
|Sacramento St at Colorado||Colorado, 27-10||Colorado, 37-13||Colorado, 45-10||Colorado, 28-10|
|E. Washington at Washington St||Wash. St, 34-20||Wash. St, 27-10||Wash. St, 45-20||Wash. St, 27-14|
|USC (-26) at Syracuse||USC, 55-17||USC, 41-14||USC, 48-20||USC, 42-14|
|Wisconsin (-8) at Oregon St||Wisconsin, 27-17||Wisconsin, 28-17||Wisconsin, 34-24||Wisconsin, 21-14|
|Fresno St (+34.5) at Oregon||Oregon, 51-21||Oregon, 44-17||Oregon, 55-24||Oregon, 49-21|
|Washington (+23.5) at LSU||LSU, 38-20||LSU, 30-17||LSU, 34-13||LSU, 28-14|
|Nebraska (-5.5) at UCLA||UCLA, 24-21||Nebraska, 27-21||Nerbraska, 31-27||Nebraska, 35-28|
|Illinois (+3.5) at Arizona St||Arizona St, 24-21||Arizona St, 30-24||Arizona St, 30-27||Illinois, 28-14|
|Duke (+15) at Stanford||Stanford, 28-14||Stanford, 27-17||Stanford, 31-20||Stanford, 27-10|
|Oklahoma St (-11) at Arizona||Okla. St, 34-31||Okla. St, 34-20||Okla. St, 38-31||Okla. St, 35-14|
by Braden Gall
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