Opening weekend for the PAC-12 was the best of times because fans had been waiting for months to see their teams play.
Unfortunately, it was also the worst of times because five PAC-12 teams now sit in the bottom ten for rush defense.
And, for Utah fans, it was even worse because having your opening game cancelled means a five-game season and almost no chance for the Utes to make the National Football Playoff.
Here is a look at all of the PAC-12 games scheduled this week.
Stanford (0-1), Colorado (1-0)
Stanford ran the ball surprisingly well despite last week’s 35-14 loss, a score that would have been much closer had Jet Toner not missed all four of his field goal attempts.
Colorado had its own problem with kicking as James Stefanou was unable to finish the Buffalo’s game with UCLA and retired from football over the weekend. I don’t think anyone can blame the accurate Aussie kicker. He’s 33 years old and had hip surgery over the summer.
Both offenses will roam freely since neither defense seems able to stop anything.
Colorado’s rush attack is led by 5’9″, 185 pound sophomore Jarek Broussard who burst onto the scene with 187 yards and three touchdowns last week against UCLA.
Stanford will counter with Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat who combined for 193 yards against Oregon.
Both teams will run the ball well but neither seems to have a distinct advantage.
Stanford’s controlled passing attack should continue to produce regardless of whether Jack West starts at quarterback or Davis Mills returns from covid-exile. West was 13-of-19 with no interceptions against Oregon.
Colorado will start Sam Noyer who has had an interesting journey. The former Beaverton, Oregon standout was recruited as a quarterback before being switched to safety. In December, he entered the transfer portal. Soon thereafter, he left the transfer portal and switched from safety back to quarterback. Last week, he was 20-of-31 for 257 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions against UCLA.
Colorado has an advantage in returning experience in its offensive line and, believe it or not, it’s five pounds heavier per man than Stanford.
If Mills plays, Stanford has a slight edge offensively but Colorado may have an advantage in ball-hawking after ripping three fumbles from UCLA in just the first half.
Stanford at home, 35-24.
Washington (0-0), Oregon State (0-1)
Washington is not about to reveal its starting quarterback until the weekend although it appears that transfer Kevin Thomson is leading in practices. Thomson was a HERO Sports All American after passing for more than 3000 yards passing and just eight interceptions in 450 attempts at FCS Sacramento State. He also rushed for over 600 yards although that might not matter much with new pro-style offensive coordinator John Donovan who I previewed here.
Oregon State has the advantage behind center because Tristan Gebbia was 34-for-48 for over 300 yards and no interceptions in his first game as the Beavers’ starter. He ranks 11th in the nation for passing accuracy.
Washington was particularly effective across the board on defense in 2019 and now returns among the best secondary groups in the country, so Gebbia will have his hands full.
Despite Donovan releasing an odd depth chart this week that shows leading running back Richard Newton third behind two others who had half as many carries and one-tenth as many touchdowns, expect 210-pound Newton to get the most snaps.
Don’t expect a lot of excitement in this ground game. At the same time, what it lacks in “gosh” and “gee” will be more than compensated by steady and plodding production.
Jermar Jefferson will continue to flourish for Oregon State but alarms should be sounding all over Corvallis because the Beavers are not trusting anyone else with the football.
Expect the Huskies to dominate the ground game although not as wildly as last year’s 245-31 ratio.
The Beavers haven’t beaten Washington since 2011. They won’t this year either.
34-21 for the Huskies.
Arizona State (0-1), California (0-0)
It was a familiar story for Arizona State third-year head coach Herm Edwards as he watched his 14-point lead evaporate in sheer minutes because his offense was feckless when it mattered most.
Those were echoes from his third-year stints at previous stops which I discussed a while back. (Click here to read more.)
But, maybe his misfortunes won’t matter this week because AZCentral is reporting that ASU’s opponent, California, still has covid-related problems and may not play.
ASU relied heavily on its running game against USC but should be concerned that the leading rusher was its quarterback Jayden Daniels who missed much of last year with injuries.
The Sun Devils have two running backs who can do the job (combined 160 yards) so such reliance on Daniels is curious.
Cal will try to run the football, not because it will have great success, but because Cal head coach Justin Wilcox always runs the ball more than he passes.
This game may be an exception however, because . . .
- Arizona State gave up 381 yards through the air last week.
- Cal has eight receivers who caught at least 14 passes in 2019.
- Cal will look to take advantage of quarterback Chase Garbers’ passing effectiveness while he is still healthy.
Arizona State won 24-17 last year. The Sun Devils will win 25-21 this year.
USC (1-0), Arizona (0-0)
Yes, Arizona was just 4-8 last year. But, do you remember that the Wildcats started the year 4-1?
So, what happened?
One word: injuries.
Injuries to offensive linemen alone were enough to dismantle a promising season. At one point, Arizona’s offensive line was down to just four players with experience while at another, it had just one starter. Against Oregon State, two OL starters were injured on the same play. As coach Kevin Sumlin said at the time, “That’s who we have. We’re doing the best we can with what we have.”
But even the best they could do was not enough to prevent Arizona from losing its last seven games and averaging just nine points in the final three.
The Wildcats also had injuries at quarterback but now return promising sophomore Grant Gunnell who is very composed and highly accurate.
Arizona will be better in 2020— just — not this week.
Instead, the ‘Cats host USC and sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis who was 40-of-55 for 381 yards last week.
As expected, not a single USC running back reached 100 yards although Vavae Malepeai might have had he not fumbled at the goal line and been pulled from the game. He had just eight carries despite averaging 7.5 ypc.
USC has advantages at quarterback and receivers but lacks depth at running back as well as the disciplines needed to hold onto the football (third-worst in FBS fumbles).
U of A has the advantage of four quality running backs, four multiple-start offensive linemen who are fully healthy, and a defensive front that should be very strong.
USC won last year 41-14. Trojans will win 37-25 this year.
Arizona has what it takes to get a bowl bid and maybe even enough to upset the Trojans. Either way, this will be a better season for fans in Tucson.
Utah (0-0), UCLA (0-1)
Will the real Dorian Thompson-Robinson please stand up?
And, when will UCLA play two quality halves in the same game?
Last week at Colorado, the Bruins fell behind 35-7 in the first half. Yeah—- to CoLoRaDo!
Just 11 game-minutes later, the Bruins were down by just seven.
Thompson-Robinson seems to come to life when things look most hopeless, not just last week but also last year’s 32 point comeback in the final 21 minutes to defeat Washington State.
Although Utah will not disclose its starting quarterback until just before game time, I have information that the starter is known by the coaches and that the starter will be Drew Lisk. If that is correct, then Lisk has displaced a former starter in the SEC and a former back up from Texas. Not bad for Lisk who is a senior with only nine pass attempts in his college career.
Since the transfer from Texas has a history of leaving programs that don’t name him the starter, perhaps he’ll switch jerseys at halftime.
We’re accustomed to Utah having a stingy defense but based on my preseason logarithms, I rank the percent of the Ute’s defensive effective returning production in the bottom third of the nation. UU still has defensive stars but not nearly as many as in years past.
Utah returns its starting tight end Brant Kuithe plus two stretch wide-outs so Lisk will have lots of passing options and he’ll be well-protected by a strong offensive line.
However, the Utes have yet to find a replacement for the loss of running back Zach Moss (1416 yards).
UCLA can win this game if Thompson-Robinson and the defense are ready to play from the outset. If so, then the Bruins can diversify their attack and take advantage of what looks like a pretty good set of running backs. Otherwise, they’ll be back to playing from behind and putting the Burden on DJT. But then, maybe that’s what ignites DJT and puts him at his best.
Utah’s should have an outstanding offensive line. According to coach Kyle Whittingham, OL talent appears to run ten deep.
Utah won easily last year but will be much younger and less-experienced than the 2019 team.
UCLA plays this one at home but they will lose 37-22.
Oregon (1-0), Washington State (1-0)
It’s just the second week of PAC-12 play and already we have a showdown.
Regardless of what Washington does against Oregon State, the winner of this game in Pullman will be in sole possession of the top spot in the PAC-12 North and hard to beat because both wins will be against North opponents.
While both teams are relying on new starting quarterbacks, Oregon has advantage.
Washington State started Jayden de Laura last week but might not this week since he completed less than 55% of his passes, had nearly 4% intercepted, and because coach Nick Rolovich has a history of switching quarterbacks on a dime.
Oregon gave Tyler Shough his first start as a Duck and he performed even better than expected. Shough was over 65% accurate in passing and rushed for 85 yards at a clip of more than seven yards per carry. Like de Laura, however, he also had an inteception rate of nearly 4%.
Oregon didn’t open much of its offense against Stanford yet the Ducks managed to get 269 yards on the ground.
Washington State was also effective in rushing the football as the Cougars rushed for 229 yards and averaged about one full yard per carry better than the Ducks.
Both teams have enough receivers but it is Oregon’s Johnson-and-Johnson duo that is spectacular. Wide-out Johnny Johnson III has proven his NFL potential with three spectacular circus catches while D.J. Johnson switched from defense to tight end and became as beastly a weapon as there is in the PAC-12.
Oregon’s defense is a concern. Against a depleted Stanford offense, it looked nothing like a defense that is ready to compete at a national championship level.
The amount of talent and effective production returning should make this one of the best defenses in the nation. Instead, it was a sieve against the run and looked awkward against the pass.
Oregon wins by five points but because of those issues on defense, this game is also rated with a “moderately high” chance of upset.