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PAC-12 Football: Week 1 Preview and Predictions

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We take you through Week 1 of Pac-12 football with predictions for how the conference will fare.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Media Day Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

UPSET ALERT

BYU vs. Arizona: 7:30pm MT Sept. 3 FS1---ESPN Matchup Predictor: Arizona 61.7%

U of A has not lost a season opener since Sept. 1, 2007. Coincidentally, that game was a 20-7 loss to the Cougars at BYU in LaVell Edwards Stadium. While the quarterback situation is still up in the air for the Wildcats between junior Anu Soloman or sophomore Brandon Dawkins, BYU is set on redshirt senior quarterback Taysom Hill. Hill might be one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the nation if he can remain healthy. The last time Hill had a completely healthy season in 2013, he threw for 2,938 yards along with 1,344 rush yards and 24 combined touchdowns giving him the fifth most passing yards in a season and the third most seasonal rushing yards in BYU history.

The Cougs will run all over a defense that finished last season ranked No. 113 in the nation with the combination of Hill at QB and senior Algernon Brown at running back. The biggest bright spot for U of A is their experienced junior running back Nick Wilson who ran for 725 yards along with eight touchdowns last year splitting time with Jared Baker. This game will go down to the last minute of play in Glendale between two historic western football powerhouses.

Final Prediction: BYU 38 Arizona 31

Quarterback Taysom Hill of the BYU Cougars
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

NAIL BITER

Texas A&M vs. #16 UCLA: 12:30pm MT Sept. 3 CBS---ESPN Matchup Predictor: Texas A&M 60.6%

The 102,733 screaming fans of Kyle Field, first game rust, defensive end Myles Garrett, and Texas A&M’s SEC-caliber pass defense could be all be a possible nightmare for sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen of the UCLA Bruins this Saturday. ESPN and everyone in the southern part of the U.S. predicts Texas A&M to win this game because a PAC-12 team is in SEC territory.

But here is why UCLA will win. The combination of Rosen who threw for 3,670 yards (most by any true freshman in 2015) and 23 touchdowns last season, a former NFL coach in Jim Mora who is 12-7 against ranked opponents since joining the Bruins, and a Bruins offense that scored more points, had more rushing yards and passing yards last year than the Aggies will have a strong performance in College Station.

College graduate redshirt senior quarterback Trevor Knight had a stellar season for Oklahoma in 2014, but sat out for most of the 2015 season, and will be making his first start in two seasons, only now with the Aggies. He is surrounded by talented wide receivers in sophomore Christian Kirk and senior Josh Reynolds, but it will be interesting to see if the rusty Knight will be able to get the ball down the field efficiently. UCLA will jump out to an early lead in the first half, and barely hold off the A&M offense to complete the victory.

Final Prediction: UCLA 28 Texas A&M 27

NCAA Football: UL Monroe at Texas A&M
Kyle Field in College Station, TX
Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

GAMES TO WATCH

#1 Alabama vs. #20 USC: 5pm MT Sept. 3 ABC---ESPN Matchup Predictor: Alabama 64.3%

Two historic programs combine for 1,677 wins, 69 bowl wins, 27 national championships and 19 Heisman winners will finally hit the same gridiron for the first time in 31 years. Unfortunately, in 2016 USC has dropped below the hype of being a national championship contending team.

Max Browne, the redshirt junior quarterback will make his first career start against last year’s No. 3 defense in the nation. Alabama’s defensive line will smother Browne with blitzes like a hurricane rolling in from Tuscaloosa into AT&T Stadium. Adoree Jackson and Juju Smith-Shuster are both NFL-caliber Wide Receivers, but the question is if Browne could get the ball to them accurately against a top tier defense.

The quarterback situation in Tuscaloosa hasn’t even been decided between junior Cooper Bateman and redshirt freshman Blake Barnett; however, Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are returning their top-two wide receivers in sophomore Calvin Ridley and junior Ardarius Stewart along with a defensive line that will cause havoc to any opponent. Regardless there is a reason for why Alabama will win this game and they will show their dominance on in front of the whole nation this Saturday.

Final Prediction: Alabama 20 USC 7

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Coaches Press Conference John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon State vs. Minnesota: 6pm MT Sept. 1 BTN---ESPN Matchup Predictor: Minnesota 70.3%

Oregon State is coming off of a 2-10 (0-9) season in 2015 and has not won a game against a Power 5 opponent since Nov. 15, 2014 vs. #6 Arizona State (still hurts). On the flip side, high expectations are in place for OSU’s transfer-quarterback Darrell Garretson.

He combined for 2,586 yards with 18 touchdowns for Utah State in 2013 and 2014. The Beavers two top 2015 wide receivers junior Jordan Villamin and senior Victor Bolden Jr. are back for another year and are ready to run a pro style “in the air” type offense.

For the opposition, the Golden Gophers were one of the three teams in 2015 to make it to a bowl game with a losing record (5-7) and still came out victorious beating Central Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl 21-14. Fifth-year senior quarterback Mitch Leidner is currently listed as the sixth-best QB and a possible late first round draft pick in Todd McShay’s Way Too Early 2017 NFL Mock Draft.

With the combination of an experienced leader in Leidner at QB and a defense that was ranked 30th overall in the nation last season, the Gophers should compete to win the Big Ten West this season and fly right past a young and developing Oregon State Football team.

Final Prediction: Minnesota 27 Oregon State 14

Other Games

Colorado State vs. Colorado: 5pm MT Sept. 2 ESPN---ESPN Matchup Predictor: Colorado 79.3%

This game will get all the hype it needs, not because it is an in state rivalry game, but because the nation will take its first looks at the Buffaloes and Rams on ESPN this Friday night in Denver. The Buffs will finally contend with the rest of the PAC-12 this season with senior quarterback Sefo Liufau and eight other offensive starters returning to Boulder, Colorado.

Liufau will be making his 30th start as a Buffalo and has more than just experience in his arsenal. The QB threw for 2,418 yards with nine touchdowns and just 6 interceptions while also scoring five TD’s on the run in an injury-shortened 2015 campaign.

He’ll have junior running back Phillip Lindsay behind him who averaged 4.7 yards per carry last season and junior wide receiver Shay Fields who caught the ball for 598 yards and four TDs in 2015. Colorado’s offense should be set, but Colorado State is looking to avenge last season’s 27-24 overtime loss to the Buffs.

And just like how the Giants seem to win the World Series every even year, the Rams defeated the Buffaloes in both 2012 and 2014 and are looking to win the Rocky Mountain Showdown two years later. Experienced junior quarterback Nick Stevens had a stellar season last year leading the Rams to a 7-5 regular season record and a loss to Nevada in the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl. This rivalry showdown should be a good display of two quarterbacks who’ll showcase their arms all game.

Final Prediction: Colorado 38 Colorado State 27

Colorado v Colorado State Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Eastern Washington vs. Washington State: 5pm MT Sept. 3 PAC-12---ESPN Matchup Predictor: Washington State 97.2%

Unfortunately this game will not take place on Eastern Washington’s all red and black astroturf in the one-of-a-kind Roos Field; however, Wazzu and EWU will square off about an hour and a half south in Martin Stadium where college football has become relevant once again.

The deadly combination between junior quarterback Luke Falk, redshirt senior wide receiver Gabe Marks and senior wide receiver River Cracraft will be on full display this Saturday night in Pullman. Marks and River Cracraft linked up for 1,807 yards along with 19 touchdowns last season and managed to average 11.6 yards per catch making them one of the best WR combo’s in the PAC-12.

FCS Opponent EWU in no foe to playing games against PAC-12 teams. The Eagles beat #25 Oregon State 49-46 in 2013, lost to Washington 59-52 in 2014, and fell to #7 Oregon last season 61-42. Though EWU is 1-2 in their last three seasons against PAC-12 opponents, the Eagles averaged 47.7 points in those three games and will give Wazzu a Contest in Pullman.

Final Prediction: Washington State 52 Eastern Washington 38

NCAA Football: Colorado at Washington State
Washington State wide receiver Gabe Marks takes a selfie with Cougar fans
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

BLOWOUT ALERT

Kansas State vs. #8 Stanford: 6pm MT Sept. 3 FS1---ESPN Matchup Predictor: Stanford 85.2%

The departure of Kevin Hogan should be no problem for the Cardinal as they stomp into Stanford Stadium with redshirt junior quarterback Ryan Burns in command. Heisman hopeful Christian McCaffrey will be unstoppable in the backfield after a spectacular 3,864 all-purpose yard 17 touchdown season that gave him AP Player of the Year in 2015.

For KSU, Junior quarterback Jesse Ertz will be making his second ever start as a Wildcat other than his first start when he blew out his knee on the first play of scrimmage in last year’s season opener after a five-yard rush. Though Bill Snyder is one of the Big 12’s most remarkable coaches with 136 wins in 17 seasons, the Wildcats haven’t won a game against a ranked opponent since Oct. 18 of 2014 against No. 18 Oklahoma. The Cardinal defense ranked two times higher than Kansas State’s in both rush and pass last season and will be too much for Ertz to handle.

Final Prediction: Stanford 38 Kansas State 7

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Stanford vs Iowa
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

UC Davis vs. #24 Oregon: 2pm MT Sept. 3 PAC-12---ESPN Matchup Predictor: Oregon 99.4%

Transfer Senior quarterback Dakota Prukop of the Oregon Ducks has the perfect warm up game set against the Aggies in his first appearance in a Duck uniform. Prukop, as a Montana State Bobcat, had a flawless performance against the Aggies as he beat them 77-37 back in 2014 throwing for 361 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. In 2016, Prukop gets a rematch against UC Davis, but this time he’s in Eugene with Division I caliber running backs, wide receivers and a defense that will allow few or no points against an FCS offense.

UC Davis is coming off of a 2-9 season and can only hope to get off to a good start against the Ducks before junior running back Royce Freeman takes it to the house. Freeman is one of the most versatile backs in the nation and could easily be a late first round draft pick. The Ducks will win this one easy.

Final Prediction: Oregon 48 UC Davis 3

Northern Arizona vs. Arizona State: 7:45pm MT Sept. 3 PAC-12---ESPN Matchup Predictor: Arizona State 97.2%

One thing that just about every Sun Devil football fan remembers about last year’s 6-7 season was ASU’s first three quarters against Cal Poly in Sun Devil Stadium’s 2015 home opener. ASU seemed rushed, shocked, and simply unable to handle the run until the fourth quarter of play when they flew ahead to win 35-21.

This year the Sun Devil home opener will be against another FCS team in NAU and ASU is in the same situation potentially eight other PAC-12 teams who may be starting a new quarterback than last season. Just like U of A, the Sun Devils are still undecided (at least publicly) between two quarterbacks just a few days before the season opener. Whether it be Manny Wilkins or Brady White, ASU coach Todd Graham has tremendous trust in both junior running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage.

The duo combined for 1,751 yards on the ground along with 11 touchdowns and averaged 5.3 yards per run. Arizona State’s impressive rush defense will halt the run and throw blitzes all over NAU sophomore quarterback Case Cookus. The Lumberjacks are predicted to finish first in the Big Sky Media Poll, so this game will not be a walk in a park for ASU. However, the Sun Devils will still win and win big.

Final Prediction: Arizona State 43 Northern Arizona 14

Southern Utah vs. Utah: 5pm MT Sept. 1 PAC-12---ESPN Matchup Predictor: Utah 96.1%

The Utes have not surrendered a loss in a home opener since the year 2000 against Arizona when they finished third to last in the Mountain West Conference, and do not look to do that here Thursday night against an FCS team. This year’s Utah Ute football team has a brand new look at quarterback with explosive junior Troy Williams in control.

Williams began his college career with the Washington Huskies before transferring to Santa Monica College where he put up a great numbers in his sophomore season. Williams threw for 2,750 yards with 31 touchdowns and only four interceptions playing Juco ball. With Williams at quarterback and Utah’s hard hitting defense that ranked sixth in the nation last season, they will roll over Southern Utah like a bowl dozer serving as a great warm up game for next week’s Holy War matchup against BYU at home.

Final Prediction: Utah 41 Southern Utah 6

NCAA Football: California at Utah
Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, UT
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers vs. #14 Washington: 11am MT Sept. 3 PAC-12---ESPN Matchup Predictor: Washington 92.5%

The University of Washington is expected to have its most exciting season since Dawg legend quarterback Jake Locker played in Husky Stadium back in 2010. Now, all eyes will be on sophomore quarterback Jake Browning, sophomore running back Myles Gaskin, and the Husky defense that returns nine of 12 starters from last season.

The Huskies will no doubt win this game against a Rutgers team who is predicted to finished last in a decent Big Ten East behind Maryland and Indiana. The good news for the Scarlet Knights is they have their second and third best senior wide receivers back for their more football with senior Chris Laviono in control at the quarterback position. The Scarlet Knights will try to do everything they can, but will be unable to contain the Dawgs with their weak defense that ranked 117th in the country last season. This game will be a party for any Husky fan in Seattle.

Final Prediction: Washington 42 Rutgers 13