by Lisa Horne
Last year the Pac-12 saw some fantastic upsets. Stanford beat Oregon, USC beat Stanford, Washington State beat USC, Utah beat Stanford and Arizona beat Oregon, to name just a few.
With so much parity in the conference, the competition for the Pac-12 crown (its trophy pictured above) will increase. But let's not forget about those nonconference games that may throw a team's mojo off before it even begins conference play. Last year Oregon State was upset by Eastern Washington in their season opener.
Will another Pac-12 team suffer the same fate?
UCLA at Virginia, August 30
This looks like a potential blowout by UCLA. Head coach Jim Mora is 2-0 in season openers. The Cavaliers went 2-10 last year and are a three-touchdown underdog to the Bruins.
The Cavaliers return a more experienced team this year so they will be vastly improved, especially in their secondary.
UCLA will win big despite the high expectations in Charlottesville. The Bruins want to turn the page and compete for a national title.
USC v Fresno State, August 30
In the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl, USC beat Fresno State 45-20. That was when the Bulldogs had quarterback Derek Carr. He and a slew of other veterans from the offense are gone.
Head coach Tim DeRuyter has yet to win a game where his Bulldogs are the underdog which is probably concerning for the Fresno State faithful. Fresno State used to be the team that no one wanted to play.
The Trojans are favored by more than three touchdowns but they won't take the Bulldogs lightly nor get caught looking ahead to Stanford.
Arizona v UNLV, August 29
This game is a little intriguing for several reasons. UNLV finished the season very strong pulling off two consecutive upsets against Air Force and San Diego State. It also had upset Nevada earlier in the season. That won't matter. Arizona's 11th-ranked rushing offense will be squaring off against UNLV's 108th-ranked rushing defense—we may see some records set.
Arizona is favored by more than three touchdowns in this game. The Rebels won't be affected by the weather. They will be affected by that truck running through their front seven.
Arizona State v Weber State, August 28
Here are the scores of the FCS teams Arizona State has faced since 2009: Arizona State 50 Idaho State 3, Arizona State 54 Portland State 9, Arizona State 41 Northern Arizona 20, Arizona State 48 UC Davis 14, Arizona State 63 Northern Arizona 6, Arizona State 55 Sacramento State 0.
Bonus: Utah walloped Weber State 70-7 last year.
Utah v Idaho State, August 28
The Idaho State Bengals went 3-9 last year. According to Phil Steele's college football preseason magazine, the Bengals have lost 45 consecutive road games—their last victory on the road was in 2006. The last time Idaho State posted a winning season was in 2003.
This game should be over by the second quarter.
Colorado v Colorado State, August 29, in Denver
This rivalry game is a must-watch. Last year Colorado State was favored by three points but Colorado won 41-27. In 2011, Colorado State was favored by seven points but Colorado won 28-14—the Buffaloes went 3-10 that year. The point is, anything goes in this series.
Colorado will miss its big playmaker receiver Paul Richardson but it should be more improved in year two of head coach Mike MacIntyre's rebuilding project. Colorado State averaged more than 200 yards per game last season but it lost its top rusher—NCAA record holder Kapri Bibbs—and four starters on the offensive line. The Rams do add Alabama-transfer running back Dee Hart.
Colorado opened as a 13.5 point favorite but the line has dropped to -3.
Every year the favored team in this series should be on upset alert. This year I'm looking at you, Colorado.
Oregon v South Dakota, August 30
Should Oregon fans be concerned that this is a trap game? After all, the Ducks may be looking ahead to Michigan State on September 6. Just kidding, folks. Even if Oregon does look ahead, it'll still spank 60-plus points on the Coyotes, who lost 31-14 to Kansas last year.
Here is what will happen because it always happens to Oregon:
The Ducks will have their reserves playing the entire second half. South Dakota may score some points on the Ducks' defense comprised mainly of third and/or fourth stringers. The score won't indicate what a rout this game really was. Pollsters will wake up on Sunday morning, check the scores and not move Oregon up in the polls because its defense is obviously suspect.
Stanford v UC Davis, August 30
The last time these two teams played in 2005, UC Davis beat Stanford 20-17. Stanford hosts USC the following Saturday.
Can you spell T-R-A-P game?
It is very unlikely Stanford will lose to UC Davis (again) but Stanford doesn't always come out of its season openers looking like a world beater. Last year against San Jose State, Stanford went into the half leading the Spartans 17-6. Stanford won 34-13. The following week, Stanford held a seven-point half time lead over the undersized Army Black Knights. Stanford, a 30-point favorite, won 34-20 but nobody was impressed. Stanford is also coming off of a 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl game.
If Stanford comes out firing on all pistons early in the game, this could be a Cardinal rout. They may have to score points without receiver Ty Montgomery, who is questionable, according to San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner. But if Stanford comes out a little flat, prepare for a possible upset by UC Davis.
Washington at Hawai'i, August 30
There is a lot going on here. Washington quarterback Cyler Miles has been suspended for this game. The Huskies are 1-11 in road openers, according to Phil Steele's college football preseason magazine. Washington head coach Chris Petersen (Boise State) is in his first year and his playbook may be a challenge to memorize.
Hawai'i will be running a spread offense with a veteran offensive line. Washington has not fared very well against spread offenses. The Huskies will also have to contend with all those island distractions, albeit the crowd noise at Aloha Stadium shouldn't be much of a factor.
Hawai'i head coach Norm Chow has to turn around the Warrior football program. If he can keep the defenses guessing and pressure the Husky quarterback, this could be a tight game.
Mild upset alert here.
Oregon State v Portland State, August 30
Last year the Beavers lost their season opener to FCS heavyweight Eastern Washington, the eventual 2013 Big Sky Champions. Portland State is not Eastern Washington. Moreover, head coach Mike Riley will not allow his Beavers to get caught napping in a fetal position again.
The last time Oregon State played Portland State in 2009, the Beavers won 34-7. Expect the same type of result.
Washington State v Rutgers at Seattle, August 28
Rutgers' pass defense was ranked 122nd last year—only three other teams yielded more than 312 passing yards per game. Think head coach Mike Leach's 4th-ranked passing offense is drooling over the possibilities? The Cougars may never run the ball. Seriously.
To be fair, Washington State's defense is also porous. But its offense still dropped 38 points on Oregon last year. Rutgers' pass offense looked very ordinary last year while its rush offense, ranked 101st, was on life support.
The Scarlet Knights will improve this year but on paper, it looks like Washington State will score too many points for Rutgers to match.
California at Northwestern, August 30
The Golden Bears went 1-11 last year under new coach Sonny Dykes. Like last year, this year's schedule is a nightmare. Opening at Northwestern is daunting. Actually, playing any FBS school has been daunting for Cal. The last time Cal beat an FBS team was at Washington State almost two years ago on October 13, 2012.
The Wildcats return almost everyone from last year including running back Venric Mark. Cal's offense should score some points but its defense needs to step up—last year two Pac-12 teams scored 60+ points on the hapless Bears.
Northwestern is favored by 11.5 points and that sounds about right.
*photo courtesy of Lisa Horne