Cal at Nevada
Friday, 7:00 p.m. PT
The Bears played their season-opener two weeks ago, but this one feels like a real beginning.
Cal played vastly inferior teams in each of its first two games, beating UC Davis and Colorado by a combined score of 104–10. The Wolf Pack, with their offense that is ranked No. 1 in the nation, will be a huge test for the Bears’ defense, which has dominated so far. In fact, Cal enters this game with the nation’s top-ranked defense (160 yards allowed per game).
This will be a chance for new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast to earn his keep, as the Bears will have to find a way to slow down quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Nevada’s dynamic pistol offense.
Arizona State at Wisconsin
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. CT
After Arizona State beat two Football Championship Subdivision opponents from the Big Sky conference by a combined 95–29, the fun begins for the Sun Devils as they travel to No. 11 Wisconsin. ASU has had a history in recent years of scheduling softer opponents in the preseason, and it hasn’t paid off in conference play. The Sun Devils administered beatdowns on both Portland State and Northern Arizona, but the assignment this week gets a whole lot tougher.
One thing the Sun Devils have going for them: Quarterback Steven Threet has experience playing in Camp Randall Stadium. Two years ago, he led Michigan to a comeback win over the Badgers. Threet then transferred to Arizona State.
Washington State at SMU
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. CT
The Mustangs may come from a mid-major conference, but this will be far from an easy test for the Cougars. Of course, nothing comes easy for Washington State these days, but SMU is a formidable opponent from Conference USA. The Mustangs played Texas Tech tough on the road in their opener before losing 35–27, then ran past UAB last week.
The Cougars found out how tough SMU could be when the Mustangs took them to overtime at home last season before WSU ultimately pulled out a 30–27 victory in what ended up being the Cougars’ only win of the season. Washington State is coming off its first win since then, last week’s 23–22 triumph over Montana State. This will be the Cougars’ best chance at a victory for the rest of the season.
USC at Minnesota
Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT
The Trojans are off to a 2–0 start, but nobody around the program is feeling particularly great about things.
After its defense was shredded in a high-scoring win over Hawaii in the opener, USC held on to beat Virginia at home last week, 17–14. The Trojans were three-touchdown favorites over the Cavaliers but were slowed by an inconsistent offense and 13 penalties for 140 yards. Indeed, new coach Lane Kiffin told reporters afterwards: “I’m extremely disappointed with our performance. That’s the most miserable 2–0 locker room I’ve ever been in, which is good. I think our players understand.”
USC could get a chance to make things right at Minnesota, which lost at home to South Dakota last week, 41–38.
Nebraska at Washington
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. PT
If the Huskies are truly ready to move up the national ladder this season, this would be the perfect time to prove it, as the Cornhuskers come to Husky Stadium ranked No. 8 in the country.
Washington’s defense, considered the biggest question coming into the season, showed promise during last week’s win over Syracuse. But that unit will have to be at its absolute best against Nebraska. The Huskers’ option offense has been piling up yards on the ground. They average 324.5 rushing yard per game, good for third in the country. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is seventh nationally in rushing (142 yards per game).
Quarterback Jake Locker and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse hooked up for three touchdowns against Syracuse, and Husky fans could get used to that connection this season.
Louisville at Oregon State
Saturday, 2:30 p.m. PT
The Beavers had a long time to think about their hard-fought loss at TCU in their season-opener. They had a bye week after just one game and now return to the field for what should be a breather before they travel to Boise State next Saturday.
The Cardinals, who not long ago were a major player nationally, were picked to finish last in the Big East. They did beat Eastern Kentucky last week after opening with a loss to Kentucky.
This should be a better chance for the Rodgers brothers — tailback Jacquizz and wide receiver James — to put up some numbers after going against TCU’s smothering defense in the season-opener.
Portland State at Oregon
Saturday, 3:15 p.m. PT
The only suspense in this game will be when coach Chip Kelly decides to pull his starters. The Ducks, coming off an impressive blowout on the road against Tennessee, should be able to put away the Vikings early. Portland State already has taken on one Pac-10 team this season, losing 54–9 to Arizona State in the opener. Considering the Sun Devils were picked to finish ninth in the conference, it could get unsightly early in Eugene.
Still, it will be another game for new quarterback Darron Thomas to continue to get comfortable, something that will be key as Oregon opens Pac-10 play the following week at ASU.
Iowa at Arizona
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. PT
Like last year, the Wildcats enter a game against Iowa with something to prove. Like last year, the Wildcats started the season with two wins over inferior opponents, although they looked more dominant doing so this year.
Last year, Arizona traveled to Iowa City and fell 27–17 to the Hawkeyes. This season, the Wildcats to Arizona Stadium, and the atmosphere should be electric for the game between two top-25 teams. Despite last year’s loss, the Wildcats went on to be in Pac-10 contention for most of the season before ultimately finishing second in the conference standings. A win Saturday could set the tone for a special season.
Houston at UCLA
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. PT
It’s panic time in Westwood, as the Bruins are coming off an unsightly loss to Stanford and welcome the high-powered Cougars to the Rose Bowl.
UCLA’s offense was awful against the Cardinal, but coach Rick Neuheisel has decided to stay with starting quarterback Kevin Prince, who was benched in the fourth quarter last week. The Bruins are also expected to be without running back Derrick Coleman because of injuries, which could mean more reps for freshman sensation Malcolm Jones.
The only good news for UCLA is that it might not see Heisman hopeful Case Keenum, the Houston quarterback who suffered a concussion last week against Texas-El Paso. With Keenum leading the way, the Cougars lead the nation in scoring (61 ppg).
Wake Forest at Stanford
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. PT
In a game that could end close to 3 a.m. on the East Coast, the Cardinal will look to improve to 3–0 and avenge last year’s heartbreaking lost in Winston-Salem. Stanford held a 17–3 halftime lead over the Demon Deacons last year only to watch them score a winning touchdown with two seconds remaining.
The Cardinal get Wake at home this time and are riding confidence after last week’s 35–0 beatdown of UCLA. Stanford’s defense, considered not to be on the same level as its offense, clearly played well against the Bruins. They will face an offense this week that is averaging 53.5 points per game, good for third in the country.