A new season is finally here. Here's what to watch in the Pac-12 in Week 1.
1. What’s the best storyline in Week 1?
Kevin Gemmell: The best storyline in Week 1 is that we have to go through it to get to Week 2. With five FCS teams on the docket and only three FBS opponents who went to bowl games last year (Rutgers, Colorado State and Fresno State) there isn’t a ton to get excited about from a big-picture perspective. Meanwhile, Michigan State at Oregon and USC at Stanford tease us from a distance.
Individually, there are a couple of good ones -- particularly Colorado vs. Colorado State. While most of the league will be easing into Week 1 with glorified scrimmages, the Buffs jump right in with a rivalry game. It’s in important tone-setter for Mike MacIntyre and a game worth getting fired up over, even if you aren’t a Colorado fan. And if you have any sense of conference pride, lest we forget Colorado State vs. Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl last year?
Kyle Bonagura: More than anything, we can celebrate that there is actual football to be played. It’s a lousy slate of games, but a lousy slate is better than what we had the last seven-plus months.
Chris Petersen’s debut at Washington is probably the most intriguing storyline from a conference and national perspective considering what he’s meant to college football over the past eight years. It’s always interesting to see how a team looks under a new coach, but even more so in Petersen’s case considering his profile.
Of course, Hawaii doesn’t figure to put up much of a fight, so the team we’ll probably learn the most about in Week 1 is Cal.
2. Which player are you most interested in watching?
Gemmell: I’m actually going to go with two, plus a position group. I’m going to be closely eyeballing the two new starting quarterbacks -- Arizona’s Anu Solomon and Washington’s Jeff Lindquist. Both of their starts might be temporary, or they could be in it for the long haul. Rich Rodriguez said it’s likely Solomon won’t be the only quarterback playing. But if he plays well enough to keep others off the field, that would be a solid first game.
Most people are expecting Lindquist to be a one-game guy before gracefully yielding the floor to Cyler Miles. Maybe. But if he looks really, really sharp against Hawaii, he might make it tough for Chris Petersen to pull him heading into a sneaky tough game against a very good FCS team (Eastern Washington) in Week 2. I’m guessing Lindquist will fight tooth and nail to hold on to his job.
I’m also fascinated by the running back competition at Stanford. Kelsey Young and Barry Sanders are listed as Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, with Ricky Seale and Remound Wright on the back end. David Shaw said he wants to be more by-committee centric this season, so watching which of those guys fill what particular niches will be interesting to see develop.
Bonagura: Oregon RB Royce Freeman. If some of what I’ve read is to be believed, Freeman is basically the real-life version of a create-your-own video game player with 99 ratings across the board. He cannot be tackled! He cannot be caught from behind! He’ll be the case for why one-and-dones should exist in college football! Deep breathes, everyone. Let’s let him play a game first. But, yeah, if he comes close to the hype, we’ll have another exciting player to watch in the Pac-12 the next few years.
3. Will any of the Pac-12’s ranked teams need to break a sweat?
Gemmell: Nope. A lot of people seem to think UCLA might have some trouble in Virginia simply because of the distance and time change. Maybe they are a little sloppy in the first quarter (hey, it happened to Oregon last year). But that’s also to be expected in Week 1.
USC has had some external distractions this week, but Fresno State is breaking in a new quarterback and the Trojans rolled the Bulldogs in their bowl game last year. Washington is playing a Hawaii team that hasn’t gotten off the mat in a few years and the rest are FCS teams.
Bonagura: These games are in August, of course there’ll be sweat. Oh, the question wasn’t to be taken literally? Well in that case, no chance. Predicted average margin of victory for the six ranked teams in action: 38.2.
4. Are there any wrinkles we can expect to see from Stanford and Oregon Week 1?
Gemmell: There are two schools of thought here: 1. Be as vanilla as possible. Don’t give anything away. Or, 2. Put as many wrinkles as possible on film so the Michigan States and USCs of the world have to spend extra time preparing for it.
Well, I guess there’s a third option: just play. Guessing that’s what Oregon and Stanford will do.
Bonagura: Neither team has much -- if anything -- to gain by introducing stuff that hasn’t been apart of their offenses the past few years. Stanford is introducing four new starters on the offensive line so the priority against UC Davis is get that group as ready as possible before the big showdown with USC next week. My guess is the Cardinal get Kevin Hogan some work throwing the ball early before it runs power 50 straight plays to end the game. Or something like that.
5. Who has the most to gain/lose in Week 1?
Gemmell: Right now, all eyes are going to be on USC and its new head coach. It’s been an embarrassing week for the Trojans. Remember what happened last time this team felt embarrassed? Ed Orgeron pulled them together and unified them. Can Steve Sarkisian do the same? If the Trojans go out and roll Fresno State -- as they are expected to do -- then that will help settle the discord that has crested this week in the wake of the Josh Shaw fiasco. Winning, as they say, is the ultimate deodorant. And a fresh broom sweeps clean. But what if they struggle? What if it’s a one-score game? Or, dare we think it, what if they lose? What if they come out looking flat and discouraged and sloppy? Much of how Sarkisian is perceived to handle his locker room will be determined by this game.
Bonagura: We’re all assuming Washington QB Jeff Lindquist’s start against Hawaii will just be a one-time thing and that’ll he’ll head to the bench once Cyler Miles serves a one-game suspension, but what if Lindquist goes out and completes something like 35 of 39 passes for 450 yards and five touchdowns? It’d be hard to come back the following week with a different quarterback. And if Lindquist struggles, he could have a tough time getting back on the field.
6. Whose name will become better known by Saturday night?
Gemmell: If you hadn’t heard, there is a vacancy in the USC secondary. You might know the name Adoree' Jackson in passing when it popped up around recruiting time. USC knows what he can do. And the rest of the conference is going to see on film what all the fuss is about. He’ll see more time on defense following Josh Shaw's suspension, but he’s also probably going to catch a few passes and return a few kicks. The Trojans see him as that special of an athlete that he can impact the game in all three phases.
Bonagura: Richard Mullaney is a well-known name amongst Oregon State fans, but elsewhere in the conference the Beavers’ group of receivers was known as Brandin Cooks and Everybody Else last year. Look for Mullaney to establish himself as QB Sean Mannion's go-to receiver as a precursor of a big year to come.