Pac-12 Opening Week TV Schedule

Hooray! Its time for football! - Photo by Andy Wooldridge

Only 10 of the 12 conference teams are opening their seasons on opening weekend, but those that are will spread out over 4 days, and 5 different channels. And you can watch 6 or 7 of the games before even resorting to recording or replays! That 7 1/2 month long drought with nothing but spring football and camp controversies is coming to an end with a deluge!

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Utah kicks things off Thursday evening at 6 PM MDT (5 PM PDT) when they host their "other" rivals from up the valley, Utah St. It's also the kickoff of football for Fox Sports 1.

The Utes will be looking to bounce back from a 5-7 season last year that left them just a win short of the post-season, and also the 27-20 loss in overtime up in Logan last year that had as much to do with Utah being home for the holidays for the first time since 2002 as anything.

To help now sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson lead Utah back to the winning ways they are used to, coach Kyle Whittingham hired former Oregon St. (and Washington St. and Arizona St., among others) head coach Dennis Erickson to be the co-offensive coordinator.

It's the best chance to scout the Utes before the Beavers head to Salt Lake City, where they have lost all 3 times they have been there since 1968.

The Aggies went on to an 11-2 season, and a Potato Bowl win, in a season where the losses were by 3 points at BYU, and 2 at Big Ten Champion Wisconsin. That impressed Badger Athletic Director Barry Alvarez so much that when his coach Bret Bielema bolted for Arkansas, and the SEC, he hired Gary Andersen away from Utah St.

Former Offensive Coordinator Matt Wells and junior do everything quarterback Chuckie Keeton (who threw for 3,373 yards and 27 touchdowns, and ran for another 619 yards, and 8 more scores) now have the task of maintaining that program landmark level of success as the Aggies move into the Mt. West Conference this year.

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USC continues the evening, with a game that's especially interesting to Oregon St., and not only because the Trojans are back on the Beavers' schedule this season after a 2 year absence. The Trojans visit Hawaii at 6 PM Island time, which will be 8 PM PDT, and so the game on the CBS Sports Channel is also must see tv as a dual scouting opportunity, with the Rainbows coming to Corvallis next week to take on the Beavers.

The Trojans of course took a nose dive last season, losing 5 of their last 6, and stumbling to a 7-6 season, the worst finish ever for a team that started the season ranked #1. Coach Lane Kiffen is under pressure to reverse that trend, and the trip to Hawaii is the first chance to see who he should pick in the Max Whittek/Cody Kessler quarterback derby. Both will play in the islands, and a strong differential in performances could make the decision for Kiffen.

If he has, and if WR Marqise Lee can keep his shoulder healthy, a win here could start the Trojans on a run that could very reasonably still see them undefeated when they return to Reser on Nov. 1.

On the downside, RB Silas Redd not being on the trip won't help the Trojans' rushing game, or tell us as much about it.

The Rainbows, as noted, will arrive much sooner, and the degree of threat they pose to the Beavers is going to depend on how head coach and noted offensive football enthusiast Norm Chow has gotten Hawaii going under new quarterback Taylor Graham.

Last year, Schroeder had a quarterback rating over 100, but threw more interceptions than touchdowns, which led to a 3-9 season, and last place in the Rainbows' first season in the Mt. West. Oregon St. fans recall how a 3-9 season can turn around when a quarterback in his second year turns a negative touchdown to interception ratio into a positive one.

How Hawaii looks against USC, win or lose, will be interesting to say the least.

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Friday evening is the first game of the season on the Pac-12 Network, when Arizona hosts upstate FCS foe Northern Arizona, at 7 PM AST (7 PM PDT).

The Wildcats were one of the surprise teams in the Pac-12 last year, producing an 8-5 year under new head coach Rich Rodriguez, and an NCAA rushing title for Ka'Deem Carey. Replicating that success will depend on Coach RichRod picking the right replacement for quarterback Nick Foles, and the B.J. Denker/Jesse Scroggins/? competition has been even harder to handicap, or predict, than those at USC and Oregon St.

That decision became imminently more important when WR Austin Hill went down for the season with an ACL injury during spring ball, so even though this is the first of 3 winnable non-conference games, the questions and their answers the 'Cats must sort out make this one more interesting than the annual loss by the Lumberjacks to one of the states' FBS programs usually is.

Northern Arizona bounced back from a 63-6 loss in last season's opener at Arizona St. to win 8 straight games, including a road upset of UNLV. But a pair of 1 td losses, 1 in overtime, relegated the Lumberjacks to a 4th place finish in the Big Sky (by 1 game), and out of the FCS playoffs.

The outcome of this one shouldn't be in doubt, but the margin certainly is, and it could provide insight into both the Pac-12 South and Big Sky races.

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#3 Oregon starts the Saturday slate off hosting (hosing?) Nicholls St. at 1 PM PDT on Fox Sports 1. The game is of note if for no other reason than it is the beginning of time post the "Era of Chip", with new head coach Mark Helfrich taking the reins.

It's unlikely there will be much learned from this one though; these are the same struggling FCS Southland Conference guys that Oregon St. destroyed 77-3 to end a 1-10 season. The Colonels haven't even beaten an FCS division team since 2010.

The only time Oregon St. was stopped was on their 12th possession, when the game clock ran out. Oregon will still run an up tempo under Helfrich, and should be able to squeeze in a 13th, or maybe even a 14th possession. The Ducks might need a defensive score off a turnover to approach the state record held by Portland St. back in the day, but whether they can or not, and at what point the fans still at Autzen Stadium are invited to move to the better seats, are the only mysteries in this one. The Autzen stadium scoring record of 72 points is certainly in jeopardy.

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#25 Oregon St. kicks off their season at 3 PM PDT when they host FCS Big Sky opponent Eastern Washington. The game will be on the Pac-12 Channel, and it will be the toughest FCS opponent the conference will face. The Eagles were co-champions of the Big Sky last year, and put together an 11-3 season.

Eastern Washington, who won the 2010 FCS National Championship, and comes into the season as the #4 ranked FCS team, has been right on the verge of upsetting a northwest FBS foe in recent years, losing 24-20 down the road at Washington St. last year, and 30-27 at Washington to start the 2011 season.

It will also be the unveiling in a game of one of the new-look Oregon St. uniforms, as the Beavers plan to wear their retro-Giant Killers blacks.

Sean Mannion has been installed as the starter for Oregon St. at quarterback, but the offensive line could be in flux, with RT Gavin Andrews out and C Isaac Seumalo dealing with a bruised knee.

The Beavers should win this in any event, but the Eagles are probably going to be the best team to come into Reser until Stanford arrives in late October. The good news is both prior meetings resulted not only in Oregon St. wins, but double digit win seasons for the Beavers.

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Washington St. opens their season with a rare Pac-12/SEC matchup, visiting Auburn at 6 PM CST (4PM PDT). ESPNU has the coverage.

Both the Cougs and War Eagles are coming off 3-9 seasons, and last place finishes in their divisions. At least Washington St. won a conference game. Neither program was close to satisfied with the results, and both fully expect better things this season.

It's the second year of the Mike Leach era in the Palouse, while its the beginning of the Gus Malzahn era on the plains, after Auburn fired Gene Chizik, and hired Malzahn back. Malzahn was the Offensive Coordinator of the 2010 National Championship team, and then led Arkansas St. to back to back 10-3, Sun Belt Champion seasons.

With a trip to Pullman coming up in mid-October, this is another good game for Oregon St. fans to set the recorder for for scouting purposes, in order see how the "Air Raid" is looking this year, and also whether the Cougs can run the ball at all, after finishing 124th and last in the country in FBS last year on the ground.

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One of the most interesting games of opening weekend, and not just in the Pac-12, is the re-opening of remodeled Husky Stadium, and Washington has a top drawer opponent in #19 Boise St. coming to Montlake for the occasion. A 7 PM PDT kickoff makes it the prime time choice of Fox Sports 1.

Buoyed by having come close in a 28-26 loss to the Broncos in the Las Vegas Bowl, and what will be a clear home field advantage for the Huskies, who are healthier than at any time last year, many Washington fans and a fair number of others are predicting the Purple to prevail, and launch a breakthrough season for head coach Steve Sarkisian.

It's worth noting though that under Coach Chris Peterson, Boise St. is 60-5 over the last 5 years, with the losses by a total of 11 points, and a 4 point loss at Michigan St. the largest margin of defeat. The Broncos have a much more veteran quarterback in Joe Southwick than he was at this time last year when that happened as well.

Getting a win in this one will be a tall order for either team, but the one who does will have a quality win to anchor their season.

It should be a close game, and also a great barometer of how the season will go for 2 teams that figure to be central to the state of football in the west, and maybe nationally, this year.

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At the same 7 PM PDT time, the second year of the Jim Mora era at #21 UCLA will kickoff in the Rose Bowl on the Pac-12 Channel. It's also the beginning of the second post-Chris Ault era for Nevada, after the iconic leader of the Wolfpack retired for a second time.

Brian Polian takes over the Wolfpack, in his first head coaching stint, but he's familiar with the west coast, and the Pac-12, having been an assistant at Stanford for the 2010 and 2011 BCS bowl runs, before a side trip to Texas A&M last year.

Polian only has half of the starters back from last year's Wolfpack, but one of the important ones is quarterback Cody Fajardo, who ran for 1,121 yards and a dozen touchdowns to go with 2,786 passing yards and 20 more scores. Questions in several places about the UCLA defense will probably get answered one way or the other.

The Bruins have won the Pac-12 South the first 2 years of the divisional format, and with Bret Hundley returning, there's good reason to believe they could do it a 3rd time. But Nevada is a solid program, with a run of 8 consecutive bowl seasons, and just the first of an array of challenging opponents, especially what will be the toughest road schedule in the country, that could derail UCLA's season.

Oregon St. would only encounter ucla in a Pac-12 Championship game this season, but the Beavers and Bruins will likely be competing with each other for poll position, and possibly bowl selection preference, again this year, just as they did last season.

How the Bruins, fare in this one will give everyone a good idea of where UCLA will actually fit into the conference, regional, and national picture this season.

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California caps off the Saturday schedule, hosting #22 Northwestern at 7:30 PM PDT in Strawberry Canyon, and its the evening game on ESPN2. Its another debut of a new head coach, this time new to the Golden Bears Sonny Dykes, who took over for Jeff Tedford, who say his career in Berkeley come to an end after a blowout 62-14 loss at Oregon St. last November,

Dykes brings his version of the spread offense, quickly christened the "Bear Raid", to the Pac-12 after 3 years at Louisiana Tech, which included the 2011 WAC Championship, and a 9-3 record last year.

The Wildcats, who are coming off a 10 win season, are a very difficult opponent for the Bears to break in a new offense, including freshman quarterback Jared Goff, defense, and pretty much everything against.

Its another game well worth getting a recording of, as the 'Cats are a factor in the Rose Bowl race, and potentially even the National Championship picture, thanks to their home game against Ohio St. And it will be a great preview of the "Bear Raid", and also new but familiar Defensive Coordinator Andy Buh's 4-3 defense, before the Beavers make their trip to Berkeley in mid-October, for what will probably be a "must-win" game immediately preceding the 5 game home stretch against potentially all top 25 teams Oregon St. finishes the regular season against.

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The Pac-12 weekend wraps up Sunday afternoon at 4 PM MDT (3 PM PDT) with the Rocky Mountain Rumble from Sports Authority Field at Mile High (Stadium) in Denver, when Colorado takes on rival Colorado St., with the CBS Sports Channel on hand for the coverage. The Rams are the designated host for the neutral site affair, hence the Mt. West tv package instead of limited Pac-12 channel distribution, which the Buffs will likely be banished to most of the time this season.

The Buffs were one of the worst teams in FBS football last year, giving up more points than anyone in the country, and also finishing in the bottom 5 in points scored.

As a result, Mike MacIntyre was brought in from San Jose St., after turning the Spartans, historically another of the weakest programs around, into a legitimate threat, capped off with an 11-2, bowl game winning season last year, with one of those losses by a field goal at eventual Pac-12 and Rose Bowl Champion Stanford.

While most expect it to take some time under even the most opportunistic turns of events for the Buffs, they do have one of the better receivers in the Pac-12 in Paul Richardson returning after missing all of last season due to injury.

And Oregon St. will host Colorado, a team they haven't seen since the Buffs joined the conference, at the end of September, in what will be the Beavers' Pac-12 home opener. So it will be a good chance to get a look at the team in the conference and region that they know the least about.

The Rams are in rebuilding mode in the Mt. West Conference as well, after a 4-8 campaign last year under then new head coach Jim McElwain. But Colorado St. progressed from being an inept offense to a relatively high scoring, and relatively well balanced, one late last season, as they began to adjust to a new regime, which could make the game entertaining, as well as informative, given that lack of familiarity with Colorado.

Arizona St. and Stanford don't start the season until next week, when the Sun Devils host Sacramento St. on Thursday, and the Cardinal entertain San Jose St. Saturday night, making them the last team in FBS to begin their season.

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Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com

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