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Picking the Pac-12 - Week Two (plus TV schedule)

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Week two in the Pac-12 features two marquee match-ups as Stanford hosts USC in an early conference showdown and Michigan State travels to Eugene to take on the Ducks. Elsewhere, Arizona visits UT San Antonio, WSU travels to Nevada, Utah hosts Fresno State, Colorado visits UMass, ASU crosses the border to New Mexico, UCLA hosts Memphis and Oregon State visits Hawaii.

QB Marcus Mariota is going to find the going a lot tougher vs. Michigan State
QB Marcus Mariota is going to find the going a lot tougher vs. Michigan State
Otto Greule Jr

Thursday, September 4th

Arizona (-7) @ Texas San Antonio, 5PM PDT, Fox Sports 1

New QB?  New RB?  No problem for RichRod as he continues to prove he's one of the top offensive minds in college football.  Sure, it was just UNLV, but the Wildcats rolled like a hot knife through butter as RS-Fr QB Anu Solomon torched the Rebels for 425 yards through the air and the run game tallied 353 with RS-Sr Terris Jones-Grigsby accounting for 124 of those on just 13 carries.  Ka'Deem who?  The defense was a little less awesome, but with the way the offense was rolling it didn't matter.

While UTSA is in just their 4th season of existence, they are no pushovers as Houston found out last week.  They won 6 games last year in their debut in Conference USA and would have gone bowling had they not been provisional members of the FBS.  They are under no such limitations this year, and with former Miami coach Larry Coker in charge they are looking to build on what is already the most impressive birth of a football program in modern history.  This weekend though the challenge is a major one as they look to gain revenge for a 38-13 loss in Tucson.  While their defense looked impressive vs. the Cougars, holding them to -26 yards rushing and 208 yards overall, they will find tougher sledding against Arizona.  And their offense was sluggish, doing just enough to convert on the 6 turnovers generated by their defense.  They will undoubtedly be pumped up in their home debut, but talent should win out:  Arizona 34, UTSA 17

Friday, September 5th

Washington State (-4) @ Nevada, 7:30PM PDT, ESPN

WSU bid adieu to their annual Seattle game with a thriller vs. Rutgers; unfortunately for Cougar fans, it was yet another instance where they came up on the wrong side of the result.  They hit the road to Reno to try to bounce back, and before they get there they'd better hope their defense can find some answers after being torched by the Scarlet Knights.  Given how much Rutgers struggled on offense in 2013 (96th in ypg), this was not a good sign.  The good news is the Air Raid appears fully dialed-in as QB Connor Halliday completed 40 of 56 passes for 532 yards, 5 TD's and just 1 interception.  The bad news is he took a pounding as he was sacked 3 times and hit many more times; as well, the Cougar run game was non-existent.  While never a major part of a Mike Leach offense, the intent is that it serves as a potent change-up for opposing defenses, but the RB's managed just 22 yards on 9 carries.  It seems odd to say in game 2, but this seems like a game the Cougars need to win if they are to go bowling for a 2nd consecutive year.

Nevada is now in year 2 of the post-Chris Ault era (or at least the latest post-Chris Ault era), and things haven't gone that well.  New coach Brian Polian managed just a 4-8 record with the Wolf Pack last year, and they opened 2014 with a decent - but not overwhelming - win over FCS Southern Utah.  QB Cody Fajardo leads the Pistol Offense, and he had himself a nice opener, accounting for 303 yards passing and another 68 yards rushing, leading the offense to 547 yards total.  The defense - which struggled mightily last year and cost DC Scottie Hazelton his job - did OK in week 1, but given the level of the opponent, I'm not going to read too much into it.  They'll get a much more severe test in week 2 as they host the Cougars.  I think this game ends up a rather high-scoring affair, but WSU bounces back from their week 1 heart-breaker and edge Nevada:  WSU 41, Nevada 37

Saturday, September 6th

Sacramento State @ Cal (no line), Noon PDT, Pac-12 Networks

You might recall that it was Sacramento State that edged Oregon State in Corvallis back in 2011.  You might assume from that upset win that the Hornets are one of the better FCS level programs, but you'd be wrong - they were just 4-7 that year and have been nothing better than mediocre in recent years.  They had a nice debut last week, stomping Incarnate Word 49-13, but the Cardinals are in just their 2nd season at the FCS level after moving up from Division 2.

Cal had one of the more impressive debuts in the conference last week, going in to Evansville, IL to open the season and notching a solid 31-24 win over what has been a respectable program in Northwestern under coach Pat Fitzgerald.  Considering how terrible the Bears looked in 2013, this was a significant improvement and a good sign for Year 2 of the Sonny Dykes era in Berkeley.  The defense - abysmal in 2013 under former DC Andy Buh - looked halfway decent vs. the Wildcats, holding them to 354 yards and 4.4 yards/play.  The Bear Raid offense featured a new wrinkle as they made significant use of backup QB Luke Rubenzer - a true Fr - as a spread option change of pace.  Dykes will have to hope that he does a better job of sparking the running game in upcoming games, as Rubenzer's 44 yards on 11 carries led the way for the Bears.  QB Jared Goff had a solid opener, and his receiving group looks promising.  They'll get a chance to shine in this one, though I wouldn't be surprised if the Bears let down a bit and make this one more interesting than it should be:  Cal 34, Sacramento St 17

Fresno State @ Utah (-10.5), Noon PDT, Pac-12 Networks

It was a rough opener for the Bulldogs in their first game post Derek Carr as they were steamrolled by USC.  While it was somewhat predictable that they'd struggle on offense vs. a fantastic Trojans defense, what was less expected was just how helpless they looked on defense as Sark's HUNH attack racked up 701 yards and 52 points, and could have had much more if the game had been in question.  Coach Tim DeRuyter will go back to the drawing board and see if they can do better vs. Utah's version of the hurry-up spread offense.  They'll also hope to sort out their QB situation as both Brandon Connette and Brian Burrell are likely to see action.  Burrell had the better of it vs. USC, and whoever gets the most reps will benefit from leaning on RB Marteze Waller who picked up 97 yards on 16 carries.

There wasn't a lot to take away from Utah's win last week over FCS bottom-feeder Idaho State.  Sure, the offense rolled and QB Travis Wilson posted terrific numbers, but that's to be expected given the opponent.  A little more concerning is that the defense surrendered 179 yards on 44 carries to the Bengals.  They'll need to tighten up their run defense significantly before hitting conference play if they hope to return to a bowl.  They'll face a much better team in Fresno State, but the good news is the QB issues facing the Bulldogs should afford the Utes the luxury of stacking the box and daring them to throw.  And while Wilson and the Utah offense doesn't have the same kind of athletes USC does, they do have WR Dres Anderson and they will do their best to replicate the success the Trojans had last week.  I think Fresno State will show better in week 2, but it won't be enough to even out their record:  Utah 38, Fresno State 24

Colorado (-17) @ Massachusetts, Noon PDT, ESPN3

It's been a painful slide for Buffaloes fans over the last 8+ years.  While they have a guy in Mike McIntyre who's revived a nearly-dead program already in his career (San Jose State), the turnaround process in Boulder is likely to require a lot of patience.  Colorado suffered just their 23rd loss in 88 meetings with in-state rival Colorado State last week, and it was a tough one as they got out to a 17-7 lead only to see the Rams score the last 24 points of the game.  They have to be concerned about their run defense as they allowed 266 yards on 45 carries as CSU just pounded away at them with the tandem of Dee Hart and Treyous Jarrells (both topping the century mark).  Fortunately for them Massachusetts doesn't appear to have much of a running attack.  Offensively they looked OK, but it's hard to overstate the loss of WR Paul Richardson and his explosive game-breaking speed.  QB Sefo Liufau had a steady game and appears to be building a nice rapport with WR Nelson Spruce, but I'm sure Colorado would like to get more effectiveness out of their running game, though that may not happen until the talent level on the OL is upgraded.

Massachusetts is entering their 3rd season at the FBS level, and it's been tough sledding so far as consecutive 1-11 seasons cost Charley Molnar his job.  The Minutemen opened 2014 with a 30-7 loss to in-state foes Boston College that was even worse than the score indicates.  They couldn't stop QB Tyler Murphy as he ran for 118 yards and passed for another 173 on 17 of 24 passes.  All told, they gave up 511 yards to the Eagles who managed only 367.2 in 2013.  Things weren't any better on offense as they put up just 202 yards themselves, with QB Blake Frohnapfel completing just 9 of 22.  They'll have to hope the trip back east takes a toll on the visiting Buffaloes, but this looks like a get-well game for Colorado: Colorado 31, Massachusetts 17

USC @ Stanford (-2.5), 12:30 PDT, ABC

After a week to forget for Sark, the Trojans blocked out all the distractions and had an impressive debut for their new coach as they blew out Fresno State.  The HUNH attack looks to be a terrific fit for QB Cody Kessler who quietly appears to be entering the conversation among the top QB's in the conference.  He had a field day vs. the Bulldogs, passing for 394 yards on 25 of 37 passes for 4 TD's and no picks.  As if they needed any more skill talent, game 1 served notice that top recruit JuJu Smith merits the hype - the frosh WR caught 4 passes for 123 yards, giving the Trojans an embarrassment of riches at WR along with Nelson Agholor, Darreus Rogers and Victor Blackwell.  RB Buck Allen played the Bishop Sankey role in Sark's offense, finding 133 yards on 22 carries.  On defense, USC held Fresno State to 317 yards and picked off Bulldog QB's 4 times while allowing just a 65.11 passer rating; it was a performance that looked very familiar from a Justin Wilcox unit.

There wasn't a lot to glean from Stanford's opening win over FCS Cal-Davis; while the Aggies are expected to be an upper-tier Big West team in 2014, they just can't come close to matching up to the Cardinal.  Despite losing several key members of their defense, Stanford pitched a shutout and allowed just 115 yards overall and sacking Davis QB London Lacy 4 times.  On offense things were a little more surprising as they rode their passing game to the tune of 312 yards as they aired it out 30 times compared to 32 rushes (for a modest 149 yards).  The RB group was by committee as Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young picked up the most carries with 7 each.  WR Ty Montgomery is clearly going to be a major weapon for Stanford this year both in the passing game and as one of the nation's most dangerous return men (he picked up another TD on a punt return).  Coach David Shaw professes to have moved on from last year's dust-up with Sark where his team was accused by the then-Washington coach of faking injuries, but you have to think the fire is simmering just below the surface.  USC broke a string a 4-straight losses to the Cardinal last year, though the last 4 games have all been tight contests.  This one is an early test for both programs as they try to prove themselves conference title contenders, each with questions - USC their depth, and Stanford their ability to reload after significant graduation losses.  I think Sark and his current defensive staff have out-coached Shaw the last two years, and with a more talented squad I think they'll be able to steal a win in Palo Alto to keep their early momentum rolling:  USC 27, Stanford 24

Michigan State @ Oregon (-12.5), 3:30PM PDT, Fox

In an age of sophisticated passing offenses putting up video game-like numbers, there is something deeply satisfying about watching teams like Stanford and Michigan State (and of course Alabama) - teams that lean on dominating defenses and balanced, ball-control offenses - find big-time success.  The Spartans have reached elite status on the field without dominating in recruiting - instead, they have ridden a deceptively simple yet devastatingly effective defensive philosophy to 3 straight top-6 total defense rankings.  It's a defense that has found success against old-school offenses like Michigan and Stanford and against new-style spread offenses like Ohio State or Nebraska.  On offense they love to pound the rock, and now with QB Connor Cook behind center they have the kind of consistency and effectiveness in the passing game to stress most defenses.  Against FCS Jacksonville State they predictably dominated, with Cook going 12 of 13 for 285 yards and the run game picking up 211 yards while the defense allowed just 7 points and 244 yards.  It's worth noting that they are breaking in 2 new starters at DT and at LB and 3 new OL starters.

Oregon hit all the key points in their tune-up opener vs. FCS South Dakota as the offense broke in a new group of WR's, added Royce Freeman to the mix at RB alongside Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner and perhaps most importantly escaped the game with QB Marcus Mariota intact (though All-American CB Ifo Ekpre-Olumu suffered an ankle injury).  The defense wasn't quite as dominant, but in a blow-out like this it's likely the Ducks were emptying the bench.  They'll get a much more severe test with the Spartans coming to town with a blossoming passing attack and tough run game.  If Oregon fans are betraying any worry about this huge early-season match-up, it's because Michigan State bears more than a passing resemblance to Stanford, the Pac-12 team that's given them the most trouble in recent years.  While the defensive schemes aren't exactly the same, the results are very similar, and the Spartans have had success against other spread option attacks of some note.  I expect coach Mark Helfrich to stress the MSU safeties with his blazingly fast RB's out of the backfield and rely on Mariota to make the right reads.  To counter this, I would expect the Spartan defense to send a lot of double A-gap blitzes right at Mariota and try to lay some big hits on him and force the ball out of his hands quicker than he'd like.  The MSU approach will be risky, and Oregon has the speed and talent to make them pay; at the same time, Mariota hasn't been the most durable of QB's, and the Spartans will get their licks in.  This is a terrific match-up and the line is far too generous towards Oregon, though I do think they'll squeak by on the strength of their home crowd:  Oregon 29, Michigan State 24

ASU (-25) @ New Mexico, 4PM PDT, CBS Sports Network

Arizona State's tune-up game vs. Weber State went largely as planned as they rolled, 45-14.  The offense - expected to be among the nation's better units - had an easy time of it with QB Taylor Kelly resuming his potent connection with WR Jaelen Strong to the tune of 10 catches for 146 yards, while RB D.J. Foster rolled up 147 yards on 15 carries.  Still, it's hard not to think there's room for improvement here.  Defensively they were never really threatened, though coach Todd Graham has to be somewhat concerned about his troops surrendering 128 yards on 16 carries to Wildcats RB Zach Smith, especially with the run-centric New Mexico next up on the slate.  Expect the Sun Devils to load up the box against the Lobos and sell-out to stop the run.

New Mexico has adopted an identity under coach Bob Davie, running the ball nearly as much as the service academies and Georgia Tech.  They have finished 4th and 5th in rushing yards per game the last two seasons, and the run game accounted for 410 yards on 52 carries last week vs. UTEP as their two QB's combined for just 9 pass attempts.  But they were undone by a defense that couldn't stop the run as the Lobos gave up 330 yards on 44 carries, allowing RB Aaron Jones to gash them for 237 of those yards.  Defense has been a huge problem for New Mexico despite Davie's background as a DC, and their opener vs. the Miners shows that is likely still the case.  If Jones and UTEP can do that to New Mexico, what will Foster and ASU do to them?  It likely won't be pretty, though New Mexico will look to their own run game to control the pace of the game and hope to keep the score respectable; I'm not sure they'll be able to do it:  ASU 52, New Mexico 20

Memphis @ UCLA (-24), 7PM PDT, Pac-12 Networks

Memphis has been climbing out of a deep, deep hole for the past 2+ years under coach Justin Fuente, and so their opening week 63-0 beat-down of Austin Peay had to feel pretty good, even if the Governors are arguably the worst team in FCS.  The Tigers got to feel pretty good about themselves, dominating not only the scoreboard but the state sheet, gaining 545 yards to 146 and piling up 303 yards on the ground.  That feeling is not likely to carry over into week two as they travel to Pasadena and face a far, far more talented opponent and one that is likely feeling like they have a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.

For a team that many have touted as a College Football Playoff contender, the Bruins sure struggled in week 1.  If not for a tremendous performance by the defense in generating 3 turnovers that all were returned for touchdowns, UCLA would be looking at an 0-1 record right now.  The offense struggled in a major way, scoring only 1 TD of their own and putting up only 358 yards, and just 116 yards on the ground on 39 carries.  You can pin much of that on a green and overwhelmed OL that also surrendered 5 sacks on QB Brett Hundley - a remarkable number considering his mobility, but also not unusual as the Bruins have been among the worst pass-protecting units in the country the last couple of years.  Hundley looked rattled at times, and while he did strike up a productive connection with WR Jordan Payton (8 catches for 98 yards), he didn't look like the Heisman contender many had proclaimed him.  Things were obviously a little better on the defensive side of the ball; while they gave up 386 yards, that came on 84 plays for a respectable yield of just 4.6 yards per play.  The three defensive scores also highlighted the tremendous talent and athleticism on the Bruins, something that Memphis simply can't match:  UCLA 41, Memphis 13

Oregon State (-10.5) @ Hawaii, 7:30PM PDT, CBS Sports Network

Nightmare visions of 2011 and 2013 flashed through the minds of Beaver fans last week as they entered halftime trailing FCS Portland State, and the prospect of another embarrassment to go with those suffered against Sacramento State and Eastern Washington loomed.  But Oregon State took control in the 2nd half and avoided the upset, winning 29-14.  The Beavers stuffed the stat sheet, racking up 504 yards to just 215 by the Vikings, generating 5 turnovers and seeing a renewed run game crank out 176 yards on 36 carries.  QB Sean Mannion adapted to life after Brandin Cooks, spreading the ball around to TE Connor Hamlett, WR's Richard Mullaney and Victor Bolden, RB Teron Ward and TE Caleb Smith.  RB Storm Woods provided a credible running threat, gaining 125 yards on 16 carries.  But there were definitely cracks in the armor as the OL allowed Mannion to be sacked 3 times, and despite a distinct talent advantage the Beavers still only converted two drives into TD's, settling for 7 FG attempts (converting 5).  Defensively they had to be a little worried about allowing Viking QB to bust a 58 yard TD and total 112 yards on 9 carries.

Husky fans should feel plenty familiar with Hawaii at this point as the Warriors gave Washington all they could handle before falling 17-16.  They get another crack at a Pac-12 team in Aloha Stadium this week, and the formula will likely look much the same, at least on offense.  QB Ikaika Woolsey will again lean on bruising RB Joey Iosefa to grind out yards between the tackles, and if Oregon State isn't disciplined in their assignments Woolsey himself has the speed to gash them on the edges.  He also showed himself capable of hitting the short and intermediate routes if open.  Defensively the Warriors will look to keep the Beaver run game contained and dial up pressure on Mannion and take advantage of an iffy OL for Oregon State.  Fortunately for Hawaii, there doesn't appear to be anyone in a Beaver uniform with the electric play-making speed of John Ross.  On the down side, I don't think they'll be able to rattle Mannion nearly as much as they did Lindquist, and I think they'll fall just short again:  Oregon State 23, Hawaii 17

Record Last Week:

Straight-up:  10-2

Against the spread:  2-5