Good morning, Dawg fans.
Guess what? I have a little surprise for you.
You know what it is, don’t you? No? No clue at all?
That’s ok. It’s been a long offseason. Would you like to guess?
No, it is not a new offensive line recruit. No, it isn’t an extra year of eligibility for Kasen Williams. No, it is not a puppy.
It’s football. As in “a game”. As in “tonight”.
That’s right: WE HAVE A FOOTBALL GAME TONIGHT!
Cal and Hawaii kickoff the 2016 CFB season with a #PAC12AfterDark classic in Sydney, Australia (7pm PT, ESPN). And it counts. For real.
With this surprise comes another unexpected surprise. Welcome to your first “Pickin’ the PAC” article of the season.
It might be a little early to project some of the Week 1 games, but what the heck. It’s not like any real news is coming out of fall camps anywhere across the PAC anyhow.
Cal vs Hawaii
This will be an interesting test for Cal against what should be an over-matched Hawaii team. The Bears are breaking in a new QB in Davis Webb and a whole new receiving corps. The Warriors are breaking in a new head coach in Nick Rolovich, but are doing so with a veteran QB in Ikaika Woolsey (Dawg fans will remember him) and a saltier-than-you-think 4-3 defense.
I expect that this will be a sluggish affair on both sides of the ball for both teams. Trips to Australia tend to have that effect. Ultimately, Cal should do enough to win the game but not in terribly impressive fashion.
PICK: Cal 23, Hawaii 17
Southern Utah at Utah
The only intrigue in this one is seeing how effectively former Husky Troy Williams handles QB duties. Otherwise, the Utes are too big on both sides of the line for Southern Utah to handle.
PICK: Southern Utah 6, Utah 28
Oregon State at Minnesota
Oregon State heads to the tundra of Minnesota to take on a Gopher team that is top 40ish kind of club in 2016. The Gophs boast a potential first round QB in Mitch Lidener. Their new offensive coordinator, Jay Johnson, is sure to spread out the Beavs and put pressure on them to make plays in space.
This isn’t the ideal matchup for a team trying to find its footing as it rebuilds under Gary Andersen. I think it might take a few quarters of live football for new QB Darrell Garretson to find rapport with guys like WR Jordan Villamin and for RB Ryan Nall to get into a rhythm. Unfortunately, Minnesota will probably be up three scores by the time they do.
PICK: Oregon State 21, Minnesota 31
Colorado State at Colorado
The Buffs host the traditional rival in a game that has been notoriously difficult for Colorado to find success in. This year, the Buffs will be bringing an experienced defense and a senior QB in Sefo Liufau. Look for WR Shay Fields to have a big day as Mike MacIntyre opens up the game plan in an attempt to make a statement.
PICK: Colorado State 17, Colorado 28
Kansas State at Stanford
Stanford has one of the more difficult schedules in the nation this year. It starts with a tough out in Kansas State. Newly minted QB Ryan Burns will have his hands full in trying to deal with a rugged K-State front seven. But he’ll get plenty of help in the form of RB Christian McCaffrey and RB Bryce Love. Bill Snyder will have his team ready to play, but his offense isn’t very good. Even if Stanford sputters in finding their offensive stride, they should be able to handle the Wildcats at home.
PICK: Kansas St 10, Stanford 30
UCLA at Texas A&M
In the first of the LA / SEC grudge matches, UCLA heads out to College Station to take on Kevin Sumlin and his Aggies. An interesting sub-plot here is the presence of former UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone on the opposing sideline. That is an advantage for the Aggies (insert Mazzone jokes here), but is it enough? The Bruins are bringing a solid offensive unit to the field led by QB Josh Rosen and his experienced offensive line.
The Aggies will have best player on the field in DE Myles Garrett. He has the potential to be a game changer in the pass rush. His presence lends a wild-card factor here that has me thinking twice about picking UCLA in a game that they otherwise matchup well in. I think Garrett plus the home field advantage puts UCLA on the wrong side of the ledger in a wild one.
PICK: UCLA 31, Texas A&M 35
UC Davis at Oregon
PICK: UC Davis 24, Oregon 57
USC at Alabama
I like USC as a team. I love their offensive line. I think Max Browne is going to do very well at QB. I think playmakers like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ronald Jones, Justin Davis and Steven Mitchell are all legit. I just don’t think that they are going to fare very well in Tuscaloosa against the reigning champions.
The Crimson Tide are as they always are: mature, well-coached, big, fast, strong ... (insert hyperbole). I could see USC hanging around for awhile, but eventually Lane Kiffin’s offense will break off a few big plays and put this one away.
PICK: USC 24, Alabama 34
Eastern Washington at WSU
Look, we all know better than to just assume that Washington State will beat an FCS team (right Portland State?). It is also more than fair to say that Eastern Washington isn’t your typical FCS team. Still, this projects as nothing more than a tune up for Luke Falk, Gabe Marks and that emerging Cougar defense. The only question is who from WSU will be suspended?
PICK: EWU 27, WSU 41
Arizona at BYU
Arizona is bucking their own trend by scheduling an out of conference opponent with a pulse. They lucked out by catching BYU at what looks like just the right time. The Cougars are breaking in a new head coach and a bunch of new pieces all around the roster. Returning, however, is 26 year-old QB Taysom Hill. His presence will be a challenge for a Wildcat team that is breaking in a new defensive scheme of their own.
It still is hard to ignore the scoring potential that QB Anu Solomon, RB Nick Wilson and WR Trey Griffey present. The Wildcats might take this into the fourth quarter, but I think that they can score enough points to win on the road in what I think will be an exciting game.
PICK: Arizona 45, BYU 42
Northern Arizona at Arizona State
This is exactly the opponent that Todd Graham needs in order to assimilate a new QB, offensive line and defensive secondary.
PICK: Northern Arizona 10, Arizona State 52