Here it is, the start of the 2012 season. As the Pac-12 enters its second season under the new branding, hope springs eternal for programs all over the Western U.S. Here is the first installment of my weekly prediction series.
Northern Colorado at Utah Thursday 4:15pm Pacific
Utah has no excuses not to shine in their opening game at home against one of the weaker programs in the Big Sky Conference. The Utes offense should find plenty of opportunities to score and the defense should shut down the Bears attack.
Prediction: Northern Colorado 6 Utah 48
UCLA at Rice Thursday Thursday 4:30pm Pacific
Jim Mora Jr. couldn’t ask for a better start to the schedule than a Rice squad that did absolutely nothing well in 2011. Expect the Bruins to have their way with the Owls in Houston.
Prediction: UCLA 45 Rice 17
Washington State at BYU Thursday 7:15 Pacific
This is my pick for the best Pac-12 game of the week. Cougar fans have to be anxious to find out what Mike Leach’s air raid offense looks like in crimson and gray. Quarterback Jeff Tuel and receiver Marquess Wilson will give BYU plenty to worry about. I’ll give the edge to the BYU D. This has all the makings of a fun start to 2012.
Prediction: Washington State 27 BYU 31
Northern Arizona at Arizona State Thursday 7:30 Pacific
If new head coach Todd Graham expects his honeymoon to last more than a week in Tempe, he would be wise to chop down the Lumberjacks early and often. I say the Sun Devils will. Arizona State has an easy road to a 1-0 record.
Prediction: Northern Arizona 3 Arizona State 48
San Jose State at (21) Stanford Friday 7pm Pacific
The Bay Area gets a regional game on a Friday night to kickoff the season. The Cardinal will likely make life difficult for the Spartans offense. Oh… the Spartans run defense allowed an average of 204.3 yards a game in 2011. Yikes. An easy beginning to the post-Andrew Luck era.
Prediction: San Jose State 13 Stanford 34
Nevada at California Noon Pacific
I expect the Cal defense to keep Nevada at bay. The Golden Bears, conversely, should put points on the board with all major offensive contributors back.
Prediction: Nevada 24 Cal 35
Nicholls State at Oregon State Noon Pacific
Corvallis should have a fun Saturday spent beating up on a FCS Nicholls State squad that went 0-7 in the Southland Conference last season. Oregon State rolls. I’ll give the Colonels a safety to be nice.
Prediction: Nicholls State 2 Oregon State 60
Colorado State at Colorado 1pm Pacific (Denver)
Rocky Mountain Showdown promises to be a great game start to finish. Buffs head coach Jon Embree has his work cut out against the physical rushing attack of the Rams led by Chris Nowke. I expect this game to go down to the last play, and give the edge to Jim McElwain and Co.
Prediction: Colorado State 21 Colorado 20
Hawaii at (1) USC 4:30 Pacific
As I mentioned in the Mountain West week one preview, the Warriors are in a lot of trouble. Matt Barkley will have time to throw stud receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee all day. Thumbs down for Hawaii in the Coliseum Saturday.
Prediction: Hawaii 10 USC 50
Toledo at Arizona 7:30 Pacific
The Rich Rodriguez era begins opposite a MAC squad that should not be taken lightly. Rember the Rockets near upset in Columbus in week two of 2011? Toledo has a tough offense to prepare for as they will likely use a two quarterback system to keep the Wildcats on their heels. Arizona better be careful if they hope to avoid an early upset.
Prediction: Toledo 27 Arizona 32
San Diego State at Washington 7:30 Pacific
The Huskies D will improve under new coordinator Justin Wilcox. It won’t matter too much this week against an Aztecs offense with mostly new personnel. Washington should score plenty with quarterback Keith Price under center.
Prediction: San Diego State 17 Washington 38
Arkansas State at (5) Oregon 7:30 Pacific
Using the term “being fed to the wolves” would be applicable. Ironically, the Red Wolves won’t be doing the dining, that job belongs to the Ducks. Newly named starting QB Marcus Mariota has all the tools to keep Chip Kelly’s offense in the endzone. The boys from State University are better on offense than most know, but won’t be able to keep up with Oregon in Eugene. Arkansas State fans… don’t look.
Prediction: Arkansas State 24 Oregon 52
For the Pac-12 preseason power rankings click here.
James Gomez is a Pac-12 and Mountain West columnist for Rant Sports and member of the Football Writers Association of America
You can follow James on Twitter as well.