Thursday, August 29, 2013
What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 1
By Kevin Gemmell
A few storylines to keep an eye on in Week 1.
Come at me, lil’ bro: This weekend presents big opportunities for Colorado and Utah to avenge disappointing losses to in-state opponents from last season. The Buffaloes' season was doomed after a Week 1 loss to Colorado State and Utah’s took a turn for the worse following its Week 2 defeat at the hands of Utah State. Adding insult to injury -- literally -- Utah lost in overtime and lost Jordan Wynn, who eventually medically retired. These are critical games for both teams to get the season started with some positive energy.
Eight months after finishing the 2012 season in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl, Washington and Boise State butt heads Saturday to open 2013.
Rematches: There are two other games that are also rematches from last season. USC travels to Hawaii and Washington hosts Boise State in a rematch of the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. One was a blowout win. The other was a nip-and-tuck game that came down to the final minutes. This year, one should be a blowout and the other should be a nip-and-tuck game that could come down to the final minutes. As noted many times, the Washington game carries some significance, as a win puts the Huskies in the Top 25 and in a strong position to be favorably ranked heading into conference play. A loss stunts momentum.
To be continued ... : Arizona and USC have what should be considered very light Week 1 matchups. The Wildcats host Northern Arizona while USC travels to Hawaii. Both games will give Rich Rodriguez and Lane Kiffin plenty of time to evaluate who their quarterbacks will be moving forward. For Arizona, it looks like the field is narrowed down to B.J. Denker, Javelle Allen and Jesse Scroggins. At USC, it’s Max Wittek and Cody Kessler fighting to replace Matt Barkley.
Heisman kickoff: Pac-12 frontrunners Marcus Mariota, Ka'Deem Carey, Marqise Lee and Brett Hundley kick off their Heisman campaigns with varying degrees of difficulty and circumstances. Carey and Mariota face FCS squads that should provide some stat bolstering depending on how long they play. Lee will be working with two new quarterbacks and Hundley faces a Nevada team that allowed almost 34 points per game last season. Something to keep an eye on with Hundley this week, and really all season, is his sack totals. Per ESPN Stats & Info, Hundley was sacked on 13 percent of his dropbacks when opponents blitzed and 7 percent of his drop-backs when they sent four or fewer pass rushers. Overall, Hundley was sacked 52 times, 13 more than any other player in FBS.
Heavy expectations: For the second time in league history and in back-to-back years, the Pac-12 has two teams ranked in the AP preseason top five: Oregon at No. 3 and Stanford at No. 4. In the coming weeks, the Pac-12 will play 37 nonconference games. Of those 37 opponents, 12 are either ranked or receiving votes in the preseason polls.
Mountain West showdowns: Of the 10 games in Week 1, three feature FCS opponents. Of the remaining seven, four opponents had winning records in 2012 and three are from the Mountain West (Utah State, 11-2; Nevada, 7-6; Boise State, 11-2; Northwestern, 10-3). Hawaii (3-9) is also from the Mountain West. Over the course of the nonconference season, the Pac-12 will face all but three of the Mountain West’s 12 teams.
Coaching debuts: The league welcomes three new head coaches this year, making seven in the last two years, with three very different sets of expectations and Week 1 opponents. Oregon should cruise in Mark Helfrich’s first game at the helm (and second, and third, and fourth). Sonny Dykes has a tougher challenge, with three top 25 teams in the first four games -- including Nos. 2 and 3 in Ohio State and Oregon and No. 22 Northwestern this weekend. Mike MacIntyre gets a rivalry game for his debut.
How important is Week 1? The Pac-12 went 9-3 in Week 1 last season. All three teams that lost (California, Colorado and Washington State) failed to make the postseason. Only Utah won its season opener and didn’t go bowling. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. But 1-0 just feels a heck of a lot better.
Week 1 byes: Arizona State and Stanford have to wait an extra week before kicking off their respective seasons -- ASU at home next Thursday against Sacramento State and Stanford at home next Saturday against San Jose State. Todd Graham and David Shaw both downplayed the pros and cons of having to sit at home Week 1. Both teams could use the extra time to heal up and finalize position battles. The Sun Devils next get a break in Week 9 while the Cardinal get a breather during Week 10 heading into the Thursday night game against Oregon.