UCLA vs Virginia (UCLA -14.5)
There are a few interesting subplots happening around Westwood as the Bruins open up against the Virginia Cavaliers in a rematch of a game that UCLA barely survived a season ago. The obvious one is how true freshman Josh Rosen will perform now that he has been anointed starter over senior Jerry Neuheisel. Rosen is a physically gifted and well spoken young man with tremendous upside. But he'll still be taking his first snaps against a real life Power 5 defense in a real life game without the benefit of a yellow jersey being worn.
Although the Cavs lost a lot of defensive production from last year's team - which was surprisingly stout - they are still expected to boast an upper-tier defense in the ACC. The strength of the unit lies in the back end where their experienced secondary, including Freshman All-Quin Blanding, should have some success against the Bruins young signal caller.
Yet, I still see this one breaking for the Bruins. I do expect UCLA to be able to run the ball with Paul Perkins and I'm having a hard time seeing 6'5" first year Virginia starting QB Matt Johns suddenly overcoming his accuracy issues, despite the fact that UCLA CB Ishmael Adams seems destined to be suspended. I do NOT expect, however, for this game to be pretty.
Gekko's Pick: UCLA 21, Virginia 17
Stanford @ Northwestern (Stanford -10)
The Cardinal will travel to Northwestern to take on a team that, a few years ago, may have given Stanford a run for its money. But this Wildcats team is not the same one that was competing for a chance to go to the Rose Bowl as recently as 2013. This Wildcats team is struggling to find its way on defense and has some unanswered questions at QB.
Stanford, on the other hand, enters the season with a bit of a chip on its shoulder. Fifth year senior QB Kevin Hogan has been omitted from the "best in conference" QB conversation by much of the national media and the stark improvements that Stanford is otherwise boasting on offense - the killer offensive line, the huge TE and WR corps and playmaker breakout Christian McCaffrey - hasn't generated a ton of buzz even within the conference. Expect that to change after Week 1.
I do think that the Wildcats have some pieces at WR and RB that will make some plays on the Cardinal D - a unit that isn't as potent or as deep as last year's version. However, I do expect Stanford to easily cover, even on the road.
Gekko's Pick: Stanford 33, Northwestern 17
Utah vs Michigan (Utah -5.5)
The intrigue surrounding the return of Jim Harbaugh to college football makes this game the national game of the week in my mind. The Utes are a perennially undervalued team who, a year ago, marched into Ann Arbor and whipped the Wolverines on their own turf. That game may have done more than any other to hasten the ousting of Brady Hoke and the hiring of Harbaugh. Now it is time for payback.
While I admit that I have a man-crush on that Utah Defense, I have an uneasy feeling about this one. Under normal circumstances, I'd give Utah's defense the benefit of the doubt in their ability to impact the outcome of a game like this. But we are talking about Jim Harbaugh here. He's prepared for and would be perfectly happy with a game in which both sides got into a Greco-Roman wrestling match in the mud and concluded with a score of 6-3 ... just as long as his team was the one with six.
And that is what may well happen here.
I expect this to be a grinder of a game, despite the fact that it will be played in beautiful summertime weather. There is something about Harbaugh that is almost mythical and I am expecting another chapter in the legend to be added in Salt Lake.
Gekko's Pick: Michigan 14, Utah 10
Arizona State vs Texas A&M (ASU +3)
The PAC 12 and the SEC get matched up in another "game of the week" candidate. This one will feature the aggressive and flashy ASU defense against one of the most prolific offenses in college football. But I'm more interested in what happens on the other side of the ball.
Despite being loaded with blue chippers everywhere, Texas A&M was one of the worst defenses in the nation a year ago - in particular against the rush. John Chavis was added to Kevin Sumlin's staff this year with the goal of replicating the kind of dominating success he had as the DC for LSU over the past several years. If he has the kind of impact that his track record suggests, it could become a long night for an ASU team that is still trying to settle in with a new QB in Mike Bercovici, two new offensive tackles and a new set of receivers trying to fill the void that Jaelen Strong leaves behind.
This one should be a full out barn-burner. I think it is as close to a pick 'em as you can get. In the end, I think ASU is a better coached team and, thanks to Todd Graham's very aggressive defensive playcalling, should be able to generate a few more plays on D than Chavis's Aggies.
Gekko's Pick: ASU 45, Texas A&M 42
Rest of the PAC
Oregon 55 vs Eastern Washington 14
The Vernon Adams era should start with a bang, but don't expect the new Oregon QB to rip it up through the air right off the bat. I'm looking for Oregon save their air attack bullets for Michigan State and to run their vanilla zone-read featuring Royce Freeman most of the night.
USC 42 vs Arkansas St 28
Steve Sarkisian needs something other than tequila to talk about in LA. I expect a relatively easy win here, even if Arkansas St scores a few more points than the fans expect. The big question after the game will be with what will Sark toast his victory.
Arizona 49 vs UTSA 31
Keep in mind that Arizona needed to get to the fourth quarter before they were able to put away this scrappy UTSA team a year ago. Expect it to go a bit easier for RIchRod at home this season, but not without hiccups.
Cal 55 vs Grambling State 24
Commence with the Jared Goff show and the irritating tweets coming from Cal fans concerning how many hashtags they are going to drop every week.
WSU 41 vs Portland St 21
Luke Falk will be looking to put an emphatic stamp on his position at QB even if the opponent is of FCS caliber. The Cuogs should roll.
Colorado 21 @ Hawaii (-2.5) 31
This is a rematch of a game from a year ago that saw the Rainbow Warriors burn through three QBs in a single day. I do not expect that to a problem in the return trip as Hawaii head coach Norm Chow finally has a QB that he can win with. Former USC starting QB Max Wittek is back and, I expect, ready to lead Hawaii to a win over the Buffs.
Oregon State 27 vs Weber State 10
The Beavers won't get tested too harshly as they break in their QB rotation of Marcus McMaryion and true frosh Seth Collins. I'll be watching that Beaver D to see how Kilane Sitake's newly installed 3-4 looks in orange.