Friends, it’s game week. Football is back! And what better way to celebrate that fact than by weighing in on games on which I possess little more than passing knowledge?
(That’s a joke, of course. I’m never wrong, as any faithful UW Dawg Pound reader will excitedly affirm.)
As is tradition, week one offers a smattering of competitive games (though you’ll have to wait until Friday for my Washington vs. Auburn prediction), and a whole host of what should be comfortable blowouts that will have our more seasoned fans looking toward the clock and pondering their bedtimes by the end of the second quarter. That being said, we’ve got a couple of diamonds in the rough on deck this weekend, starting with the defending Pac-12 North champs.
Game of the Week
San Diego State vs. No. 13 Stanford (Friday, 6 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Stanford -14.5, o/u 49.0
With the obvious caveat that Washington vs. Auburn is the true week one Pac-12 Game of the Week, don’t sleep on this Friday night matchup between the Aztec Warriors and the Cardinal. While Stanford suffered an early-season road loss in 2017 at the hands of San Diego State before bouncing back and winning the Pac-12 North, the Cardinal should be able to avoid a similar stumble this year. The Aztecs return a good deal of production from 2017’s No. 33 defense, but a healthy Bryce Love will likely provide David Shaw with all of the cushion he needs before he calls off the dogs in the fourth quarter. Stanford 34, San Diego State 21.
All the Rest
Weber State vs. Utah (5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Consider this the first of Kyle Whittingham’s two dress rehearsals before welcoming Washington into Salt Lake City for both programs’ Pac-12 opener. The junior duo of quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss will find few of the Wildcats across the line of scrimmage Saturday able to match their athleticism, and while Weber State isn’t a complete pushover, Utah should have more than enough firepower to cruise to an comfortable victory. Huskies fans will want to pay special attention to see which of the wide receivers steps up in place of Darren Carrington, now a member of the Dallas Cowboys, who led the Utes in catches, yards and touchdowns a year ago. Utah 38, Weber State 13.
Colorado vs. Colorado State (6:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Colorado -7.5, o/u 65.0
Despite his struggles since reaching the Pac-12 championship game two seasons ago (the Buffs have gone 5–8 since losing to the Huskies in 2016), Mike McIntyre has tallied a 4–1 record against the Rams since joining Colorado in 2013, including consecutive wins in the last three years. The 2018 season looks like it’ll be another tough slog — Bill Connelly has the Buffs as outright favorites in just three games this season — but with the Rams in the midst of a serious rebuild, the Buffs should have the inside track to starting their season with a tally in the win column. To do so, however, they’ll need to stymie former Washington quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels, who last week put on a clinic against Hawai’i (34 completions on 50 attempts for 537 yards and five touchdowns) in a losing effort. Colorado 30, Colorado State 28.
Oregon State vs. No. 5 Ohio State (9 a.m., ABC)
Ohio State -38.5, o/u 64.0
Urban Meyer’s absence from the sideline will be perhaps college football’s biggest storyline early on Saturday, but it will likely have little bearing on the outcome of this contest. Jonathan Smith takes over for an Oregon State program that cratered in 2017, culminating in the nadir of Gary Andersen’s midseason departure, and a three-time-zone trip to the ‘Shoe and 100,000 rowdy Buckeyes fans doesn’t exactly have the makings of a recipe for success. Quarterback Jake Luton showed flashes of potential last season before suffering a season-ending thoracic spine fracture against Washington State, but with the Beavers looking for a replacement for Ryan Nall, there’s no reason to think they’ll have the horses to keep this race competitive. Ohio State 59, Oregon State 13.
Washington State vs. Wyoming (12:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Washington State -1.0, o/u 47.0
The Cougars finally snapped their five-year streak of season-opening losses last year with a win against Montana State, but I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see them return to their losing ways this year on the road in Laramie. The Cougs are breaking in a new starter at quarterback, replacing a pair of All-Americans in Hercules Mata’afa and Cody O’Connell, and welcoming a new defensive coordinator and coaches at the cornerbacks, safeties and outside linebackers positions. It’s going to take some time for this group to find its sea legs, and while that period endures, it would almost be a surprise if the team didn’t drop a winnable game such as this one, especially on the road. Wyoming 27, Washington State 17.
North Carolina vs. California (1 p.m., FOX)
Cal -7.0, o/u 61.0
The Tar Heels will enter this fight with a proverbial hand tied behind their backs, as North Carolina has suspended 11 players for the season opener. Even so, Justin Wilcox will find a worthy opponent in Larry Fedora, whose 43–34 record at UNC includes an 11–3 mark in 2015 before the bottom fell out in 2017 to the tune of 3–9. If Ross Bowers and Patrick Laird can build upon the strides they took in 2017, they should be able to take advantage of a short-handed UNC team in the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium. Cal 35, North Carolina 31.
USC -26.0, o/u 64.0
USC prides itself for being one of the few teams in college football to have never played an FCS opponent, but this year’s contest against UNLV appears to be about as sure of a thing available this side of Savannah State vs. Florida State circa 2012. The reigning Pac-12 champs plan to debut 18-yard-old JT Daniels as their starting quarterback Saturday, but he’ll have a veteran offensive line to protect him, a trio of talented ball carriers to take handoffs, and a mess of former blue-chip recruits such as Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Michael Pittman Jr. to catch his passes — in other words, everything he needs to start his college career on the right foot. That goes doubly so against UNLV, a team whose total defense has been better than 107th nationally just once in the last four years. USC 52, UNLV 17.
Cincinnati vs. UCLA (4 p.m., ESPN)
UCLA -15.0, o/u 64.0
Chip Kelly’s return to the Pac-12 will undoubtedly be one of the conference’s most closely-watched storylines of 2018, and there’s every reason to think that sooner rather than later, he’ll get the Bruins consistently rolling in a way that Jim Mora came close to — but never succeeded in — reaching. Whether he’ll start that process in game one of his tenure is a much more open question, especially considering that he’s suspended six players for the season opener. Fortunately for Kelly, he’ll have some wiggle room against Cincinnati, a team that struggled last year on defense (No. 83 in the nation) almost as much as it did on offense (No. 99). The Bearcats’ 2018 season is all about the hunt for six wins, and I just don’t see one of them coming on the road against a Pac-12 opponent being coached by one of college football’s most innovative offensive minds. UCLA 42, Cincinnati 27.
Bowling Green State vs. No. 24 Oregon (5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Oregon -32.0, o/u: 74.0
For everyone who has jumped aboard the Oregon Ducks hype train, Saturday night’s contest against the Falcons (as well as subsequent games against Portland State and San Jose State) will likely only serve as further evidence that The Ducks Are Back™. Here’s a spoiler alert: Starting with the Falcons, the Ducks will absolutely blow each of those teams out of the water, with Justin Herbert putting up numbers that spark early Heisman buzz and Troy Dye further entrenching himself as one of the conference’s best linebackers. I’m confident that no matter how the Webfoots finish the season, we’ll at least be able to say that they hit the ground running. Oregon 56, Bowling Green State 17.
UTSA vs. Arizona State (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Arizona State -18.5, o/u: 53.0
Continuing the theme of Pac-12 programs welcoming sacrificial lambs into their home stadiums for ritualistic slaughter, Herm Edwards will coach his first game for the Sun Devils against a Roadrunner program that earned a middling 5.65 yards per play in 2017, and which must replace its starting quarterback, running back, top-three wide receivers and 107 career starts among departed offensive linemen, per Bill Connelly. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils boast one of the Pac-12’s (and perhaps the nation’s) best QB-to-WR connections in Manny Wilkins and N’Keal Harry, and I would be surprised if Harry doesn’t put up a week one performance that catches the eye of the Biletnikoff Award committee. Arizona State 38, UTSA 14.
Arizona -11.5, o/u: 61.0
After nine months of building up Heisman Trophy buzz, Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate will get to display his brand of basketball-on-grass style of football against the Cougars, who are coming off of a disappointing 4–9 campaign in 2017 in which they surrendered 7.6 yards per pass attempt and gained only eight interceptions against 19 touchdowns allowed. Meanwhile, former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is dodging comparisons of Tate to Johnny Manziel like Neo dodged bullets in The Matrix, and will have to hope that Marcel Yates’ third year as defensive coordinator yields more capable units than the ones that gave up 6.03 and 6.10 yards per play in 2017 and 2016, respectively. Arizona 42, BYU 38.