Game Time! What to Watch Around the Pac-12 in Week One
2013 Pac-12 Football: Week One Games and Storylines Around the League
The 2013 college football season has finally arrived, and there’s plenty of Pac-12 football action to kick off opening weekend.
Pac-12 play started Thursday night, with a rematch of Utah State and Utah. The Utes were successful in the Mountain West but have struggled since joining the Pac-12, while Utah State, led by quarterback Chuckie Keeton, has gained ground. Last year, the Aggies upset their in-state rivals. Will they do it again?
The USC Trojans keep college football’s opening night going late with an 11 p.m. ET kickoff on Thursday night with their season opener in Hawaii. Sophomore Cody Kessler will play at quarterback first, but Max Wittek will also see action, leaving fans to analyze who plays more -- and who plays better -- to finally glean some insight into which quarterback will succeed four-year starter Matt Barkley.
Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez has also been noncommittal about his starting quarterback. With a Friday night game against FCS Northern Arizona, the Wildcats should be able to give each of the top contenders plenty of snaps.
The action really picks up on Saturday afternoon. Oregon and Oregon State, two of the Pac-12 North’s top returning teams from 2012, open with "cupcake" games against Nicholls State and Eastern Washington.
The other Pac-12 North teams playing on Saturday evening don’t have it quite as easy. Sonny Dykes’ tenure at Cal, with true freshman Jared Goff, could start rough when the Bears host Northwestern. Washington State and Auburn both struggled in 2012, but playing at home in SEC country might give the Tigers the edge.
UCLA, without last year’s leading rusher Johnathan Franklin, will take on Nevada, without last year’s leading rusher Stefphon Jefferson. Bruins’ sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley will draw plenty of attention, but Nevada’s Cody Fajardo, who is often compared to his predecessor, Colin Kaepernick, could steal the show.
The Pac-12’s most exciting game of the weekend should be Saturday night, when the Washington Huskies host No. 19 Boise State in a rematch of last season’s MAACO Las Vegas Bowl, which the Broncos narrowly won, 28-26. It’s a must-win for Boise State if they want to bust the final year of the BCS, while a UW loss in the opener could be a troubling sign for Steve Sarkisian’s squad.
Stanford and Arizona State, both in the running to win their respective divisions, will kick off their seasons next weekend.
Click through for game times, television coverage and storylines for the first week of 2013 Pac-12 football.
Utah State @ Utah
Thursday, Aug. 31, 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1
Last season, the upstart Utah State Aggies upset Utah in overtime in week two. The Utes' season never recovered, nor did quarterback Jordan Wynn, who was injured in the game and retired shortly after.
The in-state rivals essentially swapped roles in 2012. Utah State, on the arm of quarterback Chuckie Keeton, finished 11-2 with a big win over Toledo in the Idaho Potato Bowl. Meanwhile Utah, just four years removed from an appearance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, finished with a rare losing record in their second year in the Pac-12.
The opener is a big chance for Utah to start the 2013 season on a positive note, for sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson to prove he can be an effective starter, and for head coach Kyle Whittingham to prove he has the chops to get the Utes back in the win column.
USC @ Hawaii
Thursday, Aug. 31, 11 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
The Trojans take a trip to the islands to begin the 2013 season against Hawaii. USC has never lost to Hawaii, and head coach Lane Kiffin was apparently so confident in his team's chances that he declined to announce a starting quarterback until just before game time. Cody Kessler will start, but according to Kiffin, the job isn't his just quite yet.
Last season, USC lived up to the preseason hype in the first game, with a 49-10 blowout victory over the Rainbow Warriors. The game began with a 75-yard touchdown pass from Matt Barkley to Marqise Lee, but unfortunately for USC, the big play wasn't a sign of things to come. This year's Trojans would probably be happy to start with less of a bang if it means they'll finish 2013 better than 7-5, and somewhere other than the Sun Bowl.
Northern Arizona @ Arizona
Friday, Aug. 30, 10 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
The Wildcats start the 2013 season with a new, to-be-determined quarterback, new uniforms and an upgraded stadium in the first-ever weeknight home opener. The Northern Arizona Lumberjacks finished 8-3 last season, but their competition in the FCS Big Sky Conference probably doesn't compare to what they'll see from Rich Rodriguez's Arizona team on Friday night.
The Wildcats went 8-5 in Rodriguez's first season, finishing with a 49-48 win in the New Mexico Bowl, and they've won five straight season openers. Friday night should be their sixth.
Nicholls State @ Oregon
Saturday, Aug. 31, 4 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
It's a week one tune-up game for the Oregon Ducks, who'll get to give their new head coach and offensive coordinator a test run before the real competition starts. Nicholls State has just two wins in the last two seasons, and the team wrapped up 2012 with a 77-3 lost to Oregon State.
To add injury to insult, the Colonels will also be without starting quarterback Landry Klann, who is out for the year with a shoulder injury. On the bright side, they'll pocked a cool $450,000 just for showing up.
Eastern Washington @ Oregon State
Saturday, Aug. 31, 6 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
Eastern Washington went 11-3 last season, but the 2010 FCS Champions still shouldn't be tough competition for Oregon State. The Beavers started strong in 2012, winning their first six before ultimately finishing 9-4, with a disappointing loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
Head coach Mike Riley named junior Sean Mannion his starter for 2013. Mannion started the year 4-0 before he was sidelined with an injury, starting a quarterback controversy that lasted through this year's fall camp. He and the rest of the team should be able to get back into a rhythm in the opener against EWU.
Washington State @ Auburn
Saturday, Aug. 31, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
It may not be a riveting game, but it's an interesting match-up between two teams that underperformed in 2012, both finishing with 3-9 records last season.
The last time they met, in 2006, the Tigers won, 40-14, but Auburn struggled against "lesser" teams in its last two home openers, narrowly beating Utah State and breakout freshman quarterback Chuckie Keeton in 2011 and needing overtime to win vs. Louisiana-Monroe a year ago.
Washington State could give the Tigers even more trouble -- or not. Both teams feature renowned offensive coaches -- Mike Leach at WSU and Gus Malzahn at Auburn -- and quarterbacks who have the potential to become big stars. A win in this game would be big for either team as they continue rebuilding in 2013.
Boise State @ Washington
Saturday, Aug. 31, 10 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
Boise State and Washington faced each other in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl to close out their 2012 seasons, and they'll get a rematch right off the bat in 2013. The Broncos won the last matchup, 28-26, and they enter the year ranked No. 19 in the country.
It'll be a tough start for the Huskies, who struggled down the stretch in 2012. Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick is back, as are the leading pass rushers from a defense that had 37 sacks last year. On the other side of the field, all eyes will be on UW quarterback Keith Price to see if he can return to 2011 form, as well as on his receivers, to see if they can help him out this year by limiting dropped passes.
Nevada @ UCLA
Saturday, Aug. 31, 10 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
Will UCLA head coach Jim Mora continue to make the Bruins the talk of the town, or was 2012 just beginner's luck? We probably won't find out much this weekend, in UCLA's first home opener since 2009.
The game will be the first between UCLA and Nevada, both of which are looking for new leading rushers. UCLA must also replace several receivers, defenders, and a standout punter, while Nevada lost key players on the offensive line, as well as Hall of Fame head coach Chris Ault, who won 233 games in 28 years with the Wolf Pack.
Northwestern @ Cal
Saturday, Aug. 31, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Cal has a new head coach, new offensive and defensive players and coaches, and a true freshman quarterback, but the Bears don't get a "gimme" game to ease the transition. They host No. 22 Northwestern, a team that went 10-3 in the Big Ten a year ago and is expected to challenge for the conference title again.
The two teams met in the 1949 Rose Bowl, but this weekend's game is Northwestern's first trip to Berkeley. Many teams struggle on the road, especially early, but the Wildcats are 3-0 against BCS opponents in road openers in the last three years, winning at Syracuse last season, at Boston College in 2011, and at Vanderbilt in 2010. Those wins have all been close, but Cal might still have too many unknowns to end the streak.
Colorado vs. Colorado State
Sunday, Sept. 1, 6 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
Colorado's 2012 season was among the worst in college football history, but they hope to start a new era with new head coach Mike MacIntyre, and they'd love to do it with a win in the Rocky Mountain Showdown. It will be the 85th meeting between the in-state rivals, and while Colorado has historically dominated the series, the Rams snatched a victory in last year's opening weekend game.
MacIntyre has a monumental rebuilding effort ahead of him, and while he might be the long-term answer for the Buffs, CSU and second-year coach Jim McElwain have an excellent opportunity to claim a second-straight win in Denver.