Week 1 Fearless Predictions - Pac-12, Part 1

Posted Aug 26, 2013

Week 1 Fearless Predictions & Analysis - Pac-12, Part 1

Week 1
- Northwestern at California
- Boise State at Washington
- Nevada at UCLA
- Rest of the Pac-12, Part 1
- Rest of the Pac-12, Part 2

Colorado (0-0) vs. Colorado State (0-0) Sept. 1, 6:00, CBS Sports Network

Why You Should Give A Hoot: It's the 85th edition of the Rocky Mountain Showdown, annually the state's most anticipated football game not involving the Broncos. Colorado State captured last year's matchup, the biggest win for then-rookie head coach Jim McElwain. Despite being forced to use a bunch of young players, the Rams finished the year 3-2, lending optimism for further progress in 2013. Over at Colorado, the Buffaloes will be kicking off the era of Mike MacIntyre, the latest coach to attempt to turn things around in Boulder. The Buffs went 1-11 in Jon Embree's finale, and they haven't had a winning record since 2005. The streak of losing seasons will continue at least until next year, as the new staff adjusts to a roster littered with question marks.
Why Colorado Might Win: The Rams are retooling the entire D-line, which is an open invite for the Buffs to run right at their opening day opponent. Yeah, Colorado is going up-tempo this season, but the staff is also excited about the potential of 6-0, 240-pound sophomore RB Christian Powell. Establishing Powell's presence between the tackles only makes the Connor Wood-to-Paul Richardson hook-up that much more dangerous on Saturday.
Why Colorado State Might Win: The Buffs bring back a number of starters, including the entire secondary, but will the results be any different? Colorado yielded 46 points a game in 2012, and a complete about-face is unlikely. While the Rams had their own issues on offense last fall, a second year in McElwain's system has to help. The backfield is very promising on the Front Range in 2013. Former 1,000-yard rusher Chris Nwoke has shaken the nagging ankle injuries that felled him last year. And Donnell Alexander is a budding star who went for at least 110 yards in three of the final four games.
Who To Watch Out For: McElwain has taken his sweet time to name a starting quarterback. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the veteran of the contenders, junior Garrett Grayson.

- The Buffs are giddy about the return of Richardson, and for good reason. When healthy, which hasn't been often, he's a truly elite, game-breaking receiver.

- Are you ready to deliver, Conner Wood? The former blue-chip recruit of Texas has basically won the Colorado quarterback job by default, but now has a chance for redemption as MacIntyre's point man.

- Colorado started 57 freshmen a year ago, more than any other FBS team. This is the first chance to see just how much growing up those kids have done since December.

- There's a very good chance that the most talented player in this one won't have his called all afternoon. Ram Weston Richburg is a top-flight center, who rarely makes mistakes.

What Will Happen: The Rocky Mountain Showdown will be close, intense throughout … and more than a little sloppy. Neither team will be in midseason form. Colorado State holds an edge in the trenches, with Richburg spearheading a line that returns all five starters. Nwoke and Alexander will lead the way in a hard-fought second straight Rams win in the series. It'll be Step No. 1 for CU, which has a long road ahead.
Prediction: Colorado State 24 … Colorado 20
Line: Colorado State -2
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync at VMAs) … 2.5

Washington State (0-0) at Auburn (0-0) Aug. 31, 7:00, ESPNU

Why You Should Give A Hoot: It may only be Week 1, but this is a huge game for both of the coaches, offensive gurus Gus Malzahn and Mike Leach. There's been an awful lot of chatter since Malzahn replaced Gene Chizik early last December. Auburn fans finally get a chance to see how their team has been progressing on the field. Malzahn was Chizik's offensive coordinator during the 2010 national title run, but he inherits a team that went winless in SEC play in 2012. Wazzu's Leach is starting his second year on the Palouse. His debut was a disappointment, matching Auburn's dismal 3-9 mark. Leach is demanding a higher level of consistency from his kids, but the Cougars' roster isn't jam-packed with All-Pac-12 candidates. An upset on the Plains, even over a rebuilding Auburn program, would provide the tailwind victory that Leach is pining for in 2013.
Why Washington State Might Win: The Cougars' offense will inevitably be improved in Leach's second year on the job. And the Cougs will open against an Auburn D undergoing a facelift in the back seven. The Tigers were horrendous in 2012, and S Demetruce McNeal was just booted from the team. As expected, Washington State will take to the air with QB Connor Halliday, whose deep corps of receivers is headed by field-stretcher Dominique Williams.
Why Auburn Might Win: Wazzu is dangerous, but it's not going into Jordan-Hare Stadium on opening day and beating an SEC team. The Tigers offense certainly won't be a finished product, but it will have a little more spark and pop than a year ago. RB Tre Mason, whose been itching for an opportunity to be a feature guy, will have the luxury of running behind a line returning four of its starters.

Who To Watch Out For: All eyes will be on Auburn dual-threat Nick Marshall, the school's seventh starting quarterback to start an opener in the last seven years.

- Washington State could be sneaky-good on defense this year. The unit overachieved in 2012, and returns a bunch of producers, including S Deone Bucannon and LB Darryl Monroe.

- Auburn could create mismatches with the Wazzu O-line, which is shaky. The Tigers want to attack out of a 4-2-5 under new coordinator Ellis Johnson, even without injured star DE Dee Ford.

- Saturday marks the debut of Auburn DE Carl Lawson, the five-star gem who has impressed the coaching staff throughout practice.

- With Leach and Malzahn in the same building, the under-over on the game time ought to be set at four hours. Take the over.

What Will Happen: Auburn will win Malzahn's debut, but not without some tenuous moments along the way. The Tigers will get a lift from Marshall and Mason on the ground. However, the D will win the day for the home team, harassing the Washington State quarterbacks into a number of critical mistakes.
Prediction: Auburn 27 … Washington State 19
Line: Auburn -15
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync at VMAs) … 3

Nicholls State (0-0) at Oregon (0-0) Aug. 31, 4:00, Fox Sports 1

Why You Should Give A Hoot: The Ducks begin life after Chip Kelly with the equivalent of a scrimmage, facing an overmatched opponent from the FCS. A blowout will give new head coach Mark Helfrich a chance to get comfortable in his new role on the sidelines, while getting a good look at as many reserves as possible. For Oregon, this is an obvious table-setter for the month of September, which includes a trip to Virginia and visits from Tennessee and Cal. Nicholls State is in Eugene to pick up a check and a sound beating. The Colonels are a Southland Conference bottom-feeder whose only two wins since 2010 have over Evangel of the NAIA.
Why Nicholls State Might Win: Well, it won't. But the Colonels do have hope for an uptick on offense now that nine starters are back. RB Marcus Washington has workhorse potential, and the quarterbacks are athletic and diverse in their skill set. Head coach Charlie Stubbs is also excited about the potential of QB Kalen Henderson, an experienced Tulsa transfer.
Why Oregon Might Win: Kelly may be at the helm of the Philadelphia Eagles, but no decline is expected from the high-octane Oregon offense. QB Marcus Mariota will be even more explosive in his second season as the starter, combining improving accuracy with his elusive legs. And the sophomore will again have no shortage of exciting complements, including RB De'Anthony Thomas, WR Josh Huff and TE Colt Lyerla, among many others. If Helfrich didn't tap the brakes in the second-half, the Ducks probably could reach triple-digits on Saturday afternoon.

Who To Watch Out For: With the outcome secured after the first few drives, Week 1 is a great chance to get a long look at the Ducks' future stars, such as rookie RB Thomas Tyner, WR Bralon Addison and promising sophomore linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner.

- A visit from Nicholls State means the Oregon coaches get to audition their backup quarterbacks, redshirt freshmen Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues, both of whom might be one injury away from playing meaningful minutes in 2013.

- Oregon will make the linebackers a priority this weekend. Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso are gone, leaving Boseko Lokombo to head the unit in 2013.

- Finally, a chance to see how the Ducks are sizing up their pecking order on both sides of the ball. No school perennially has a better poker face than Oregon, which creates loads of offseason uncertainty.

What Will Happen: Oregon gets an exhibition game to open the season, a chance to work off some rust and empty the bench. The rout may be predetermined, but this is actually a pretty important step for the 2013 Ducks. Besides the debut of Helfrich, they'll use their sparring partner from Louisiana as a chance to build depth and build the confidence of some of the younger kids.
Prediction: Oregon 70 … Nicholls State 3
Line: Oregon -59
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync at VMAs) … 1.5