Week 1 (September 1): UCLA at Rice
The conference opens quietly, with a schedule that sees the Pac-12 host three FCS schools and three teams out of the WAC. Only UCLA and Washington State go on the road, with both schools starting new regimes under Jim L. Mora and Mike Leach, respectively. We’ll give the Bruins the Game of the Week nod, and mostly because of the pressure put on Mora’s squad right out of the gate. With Nebraska looming in Week 2, the Bruins have to win the first game against Rice, a team that stastically matches up very close to UCLA.
Week 2 (September 8): Washington at LSU
Nebraska will Red-Out the Rose Bowl on September 8th, but something tells me that more people will be seeing how Steve Sarkisian and his Huskies fare against the LSU Tigers. LSU beat Washington 31-23 back in 2009, but needed a late score to settle it. This Huskies team is far better than the 2009 squad that went 5-7 however, as they return Keith Price at quarterback and bring in their best freshman group in years, headlined by Shaq Thompson. It might be a little much for Thompson to contribute defensively in his first road game at one of the most hostile environments in the game, but you got to start somewhere. UW’s new defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, isn’t exactly new to LSU, as he comes to Seattle by way of Tennessee, and so the Huskies will be ready for Death Valley, at least in terms of scheme.
Week 3 (September 15): USC at Stanford
Last year’s USC-Stanford game was a classic, even for USC fans. If the 2012 affair comes remotely close, it will without a doubt be the game of the week in the Pac-12. USC will be favored this go around, and Stanford will regress a little bit without Luck, but the Trojans haven’t beaten the Cardinal since the Bush Administration, so it won’t be easy. Stephen Taylor, now a senior, is a grizzled vet for Stanford, and with their out-of-this-world offensive line, the USC defensive line will be given all they can handle. The bright side for the Trojans? The Stanford student section might be a little light, as the ‘autumn quarter'(as pretentious as you’d expect, right?) doesn’t start in Palo Alto until September 26th.
Week 4 (September 22): Colorado at Washington State
A year ago, the Buffs and Cougs were battling alongside Oregon State to avoid the conference’s cellar. This year, Colorado might get a little bit better, while Washington State could get a helluva lot better, with Jeff Tuel and Marquess Wilson returning to Pullman in time for the Mike Leach era to begin. While it’s only Week 4, these two teams within the lower tier of the conference should reveal who’s improved more.
Week 5 (September 29): Arizona State at Cal
Arizona State and Cal have been notorious for underachieving and collapsing over the last decade, so it’s only fitting that they meet early in year. However, with the hot-seat burning the cheeks off of Jeff Tedford, especially after what could be back-to-back road losses to Ohio State and USC coming into the game, the Bears will have to beat ASU to avoid what could be a 2-3 or 1-4 start. Consider it to be an early season bowl elimination for both teams, as weird as that sounds. Cal gets OSU and USC early, but get rewarded by having to hot Stanford, Oregon and Washington with a road trip to Utah thrown in, during a tough late season string. For ASU, early season titles with Illinois, Missouri and Utah in addition to Cal, likely sees them winning two of four at best, while Oregon and USC are looming in the back half of their schedule. It’s going to be a long, stressful year for both Jeff Tedford and Todd Graham. But don’t worry, that probably means that college football’s favorite nomad, Todd Graham, will his talents to Berkeley after Tedford hits the showers at season’s end. Maybe.
We’ll look towards October on Wednesday. Stay tuned.