Thursday, September 5th
Sacramento State @ Arizona State (-37), 7PM PST, Pac 12 Networks
The Hornets are expected to be a contender in the Big Sky this year, returning 9 starters from a strong offense (including a dynamic QB) and 17 overall. That didn't stop San Jose State from blanking them last week as the Spartans beat them 24-0 and held Sacramento State to just 278 yards. They can only hope the old adage about teams making their biggest gains between games 1 & 2 holds true as they travel to Tempe this week.
The Sun Devils are counting on this as a warm-up game as their schedule gets serious in a hurry after this week (Wisconsin, @Stanford, USC, Notre Dame). There's a lot to like about this team as Chris noted in his Gekko Files, and on paper there's no good reason why ASU shouldn't win this game comfortably. ASU 48, Sacramento St. 6
Saturday, September 7th
Weber State @ Utah (-23), 11AM PST, Pac 12 Networks
The Wildcats of Weber State are in year 2 of head coach Jody Sears, a former Cougar and long-time assistant under Paul Wulff (going back to his days at Eastern Washington). They had a tough year last year going 2-9 but had a barn-burner win last week in their opener, topping Stephen F. Austin 50-40. That said, there's little to indicate they are anything more than a mediocre FCS team.
Utah showed a lot of heart in pulling out a back-and-forth game with a tough Utah State team as the lead changed hands 4 times, with the Utes finally holding on to win 30-26, due in no small part to a gutsy onside-kick call and a fairy-tale debut for walk-on kicker (and former ski racer) Andy Phillips. The Utes showed an improved offense under new OC Dennis Erickson, and So. QB Travis Wilson had a big day, passing for 302 yards and 2 TD's on just 28 attempts. The run game on the other hand averaged just 3.4 ypc, and the defense - normally a strength under Coach Whittingham - was gashed for 487 yards by the Aggies, so they'll be looking for some answers this week as they tune-up for their Pac-12 opening against Oregon State next week. Utah 41, Weber State 17
Oregon (-22) @ Virginia, 12:30PM PT, ABC/ESPN2
Virginia is one of those programs that feels like they should be better than they usually are. They boast terrific academics, a populous base and a beautiful location, and while they've had success, they've never really been able to make the jump from "good" to "great". Coach Mike London is in his 4th year, and though he isn't on a 'hot' seat quite yet, there's definitely pressure on him to show some progress. He got a good start in that quest by downing BYU in their opener 19-16 on a late TD run. It wasn't a pretty win as the Cavaliers managed just 223 yards of offense, but their defense played reasonably well (though part of that may just be that BYU's QB is horribly inaccurate). Their D will get a much more severe test this week.
Oregon accomplished their most important goal last week vs. Nicholls State - no significant injuries. The blowout win didn't tell us a whole lot about these Ducks given that Nicholls has arguably been the worst FCS program in the country over the last 4 years. Still, talent is talent and Oregon has a ton of it, from QB Marcus Mariota to RB De'Anthony Thomas to WR Josh Huff to TE Colt Lyerla (and that's just talking about the offense). They'll get a legitimate opponent to play in week 2 as they travel east for their first road test which will give us a much more enlightening view of just how good this edition of the Ducks is. Virginia's defense gives them a (slim) chance, but their offense is unlikely to keep pace, and I suspect Oregon wins this one going away. Oregon 47, Virginia 20
Portland State @ Cal (-28), 2PM PST, Pac 12 Networks
Former Husky Nigel Burton enters his 4th season as a head coach with the Vikings, and he's had an up-and-down run so far finishing 2-9, 7-4 and 3-8. Playing what was basically a tune-up game last week against NAIA level Eastern Oregon, they won easily, demolishing them 57-17 and racking up 672 yards of offense (405 on the ground). They now turn around and head to Berkeley to become a tune-up for Cal, a role they played nicely for Washington last year.
Cal showed a lot reasons for optimism last week vs. Northwestern. Yes, they lost by 14 at home and surrendered 44 points to a team that lost their starting QB on his first drive of the game. Yes, they lost Jr. SS Avery Sebastian for the season with an Achilles tear. Yes, the defense surrendered 508 yards and 7.3 yards per play. But they also showcased a passing game with a lot of potential in new Coach Sonny Dykes' "Bear Raid" offense. True Fr. QB Jared Goff looked his age at times, but he also showed off a strong arm and displayed the potential that earned him the starting nod. He also has a nice young pair of talented WR's to throw to in Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs, and if RB Brendan Bigelow is healthy (he left with a concussion), that gives this offense explosiveness in the run game as well. While this game isn't necessarily a gimme for the Bears (they need to take this game seriously), this is a great opportunity for them to build up some confidence in their young roster before they face two top-3 teams in the following weeks. Cal 45, Portland State 17
Hawaii @ Oregon State (-27), 5PM PST, Pac 12 Networks
Norm Chow didn't get the payback he probably craved against his old underling Lane Kiffin, but he made the Trojans work harder than they expected as the Warrior defense limited USC to 30 points and 364 yards. If Hawaii had shown any kind of offense they might have made a game of it longer than the first 1.25 quarters of the game. That might have something to do with a nasty Trojan's defense, but they were terrible last year too (finishing 118th of 120 FBS teams) - not what Hawaii was expecting in hiring a long-time offensive guru in Chow.
Mike Riley is probably wondering why the Beavers couldn't have scheduled Nicholls State again this year instead of FCS Championship contender Eastern Washington, as they became just the 3rd ranked FBS team to lose to an FCS team, falling to the Eagles 49-46. I seem to recall someone warning us that the Beavers might take a step back this season, and when two of their touted JC transfer DT's failed to gain entry (and the other two were unable to win starting jobs), it became reasonable to worry about their defense. That worry becomes a lot more acute after last week as Eastern rolled up 625(!) yards on the Beavers behind QB Vernon Adams (411 yds passing, 107 yds rushing). That complete breakdown on defense took away from a strong offensive performance by Oregon State and QB Sean Mannion who had a terrific day, completing 37-43 passes for 422 yards and 3 TD's vs. no picks. But the Beaver run game wasn't much of a factor, gaining just 105 yards as Riley (similar to last year) focused on the passing attack. The worry for the Beavers this week is getting their defense right, and facing Hawaii is a good recipe for just that. Still, this is another team that they can't take lightly, and after last week I think their focus will be laser-like. But will their confidence bounce back? I think Hawaii will make this one a little uncomfortable for Oregon State - call it Oregon State 35, Hawaii 20
Central Arkansas @ Colorado (-13.5), 5PM PST, Pac 12 Mountain
The Bears have been one of the better teams at the FCS level under Coach Clint Conque and are expected to be a championship contender this season. They got a good start on that quest in their opener against fellow FCS program Incarnate Word, blowing them out 58-7 behind a highly efficient passing attack and terrific defense. They'll be looking to notch their second win over an FBS team since knocking off Western Kentucky in 2009.
Colorado kicked off the Mike McIntyre era with a win over in-state rival Colorado State 41-27. And WR Paul Richardson showed just how much the Buffs missed him last year as he torched the Rams for 10 catches, 208 yards and 2 TD's; if he hadn't torn his ACL prior to last season, Jon Embree might still be coaching. Colorado also showed a much improved defense as they held the Rams to 295 yards on offense and forced (and recovered) two fumbles. Still, it was two long TD plays to Richardson that made the difference for the Buffs as he scored the first and last touchdowns for Colorado - the first going 82 yards, the second for 75. And they might need his heroics again this week, as Central Arkansas can't be taken lightly. I see the potential for some let-down for Colorado, especially with what could be viewed as a payback game next week with Fresno State (who embarrassed them last year 69-14), but I think they have enough talent to avoid the upset: Colorado 31, Central Arkansas 21
Washington State @ USC (-15), 7:30PM PST, FoxSports1
Cougar fans made the news last Friday night, and the football team was three Connor Halliday picks and a breakdown on special teams away from making news on the field the next day, falling short at Auburn by a 31-24 score. While WSU is probably kicking themselves over a missed opportunity, they also showed that they are a dangerous team. The Mike Leach Air Raid looked more formidable than last year with a much improved run game (120 yards rushing), and the defense showed flashes, especially vs. the pass. They'll need to stiffen up their run defense though, as they were gashed for 295 yards on the ground.
USC will look to exploit that weakness in the Cougar run defense as RB's Tre Madden and Justin Davis had strong games in place of injured starter Silas Redd. The big question is whether they can find a starting QB to feature, as neither Max Wittek nor Cody Kessler impressed despite having one of the top WR in the nation to throw to in Marqise Lee. They will also hope that new DC Clancy Pendergast's defense shows as well against the Cougars as they did against Hawaii - look for them to generate a lot of pressure on Halliday. This is a game WSU can win, but I think USC rides homefield advantage and Halliday mistakes to a narrow win: USC 27, WSU 23
Arizona (-10.5) @ UNLV, 7:30PM PST, CBS Sports Network
UNLV Coach Bobby Hauck is sitting on a scalding hot seat in his 4th season in Las Vegas, having posted records of 2-11, 2-10 & 2-11. His seat isn't any cooler after getting drubbed at Minnesota last week 51-23. The Rebels didn't play terribly as they outgained the Gophers 419-320, but they couldn't make the plays when they needed to and too often shot themselves in the foot. They'll face a more dangerous team this week in Arizona, but they'll do so from the comforts of their home turf - maybe they'll get lucky and the Las Vegas Strip will prove too much for the Wildcats to handle.
Arizona took care of business last week in their tune-up game vs. Northern Arizona. They hardly missed All-American RB Ka'Deem Carey as their run game proved as explosive as ever piling up 306 yards on 34 carries. QB B.J. Denker didn't have to pass much in this one, so the issues Arizona has had at WR this off-season were not a factor. RichRod's defense got a confidence boost as they pitched the shutout and held NAU to 270 yards. UNLV should prove a little more challenging, but not by much - expect the Wildcats to again dominate on the ground as Carey returns and the defense to prove opportunistic against a mistake-prone Rebels offense. Arizona 38, UNLV 17
San Jose State @ Stanford (-26.5), 8PM PST, Pac 12 Networks
The Spartans rise over the last 3 years was one of the more remarkable (and overlooked) stories in college football - the San Jose State program was in bad shape, but Mike McIntyre executed a significant turnaround and earned a shot to do the same with Colorado. Can they keep it going under new coach Ron Caragher? Their opener against FCS Sacramento State was a success as they notched the shutout, 24-0. But there's a huge gulf in talent between the Hornets and the Cardinal, and San Jose State returns only 12 starters from last year's 11-2 squad that fell just short of upsetting Stanford, losing 20-17.
There's a lot of hype around the Cardinal this season, and what started off as a "dark-horse" pick for BCS Championship contention became popular as the off-season progressed, with Stanford opening the season ranked #4 in both major polls. While David Shaw's squad features a terrific defense and retains the physical running game first established under Jim Harbaugh, their passing game is still a question mark as they lack proven receivers. I don't expect that to be a major issue this week as their defense and running game should prove more than adequate enough to handle the Spartans, but it will be interesting to see if Hogan has any reliable targets emerge in the passing game. Stanford 31, San Jose State 10
Record last week* (including the Washington game)
Vs. the Spread: 4-5-1