Gold: Final thoughts heading into the Pac-12's Week 3
After a bounce-back week for the Pac-12 that featured two key non-conference road wins in Washington State’s victory at Wisconsin and Oregon State’s success at Fresno State, the conference has more chance at glory this Saturday.
Two Pac-12 teams host ranked opponents, with No. 12 BYU heading to No. 25 Oregon and No. 11 Michigan State venturing to Seattle to take on Washington. Wins in both would sure help to ease the pain of a brutal Week 1, when the Ducks crumbled against mighty Georgia and Utah fell at Florida.
And, of course, USC gets its chance to beef up its résumé, with a pivotal game against Fresno State, which has to be wounded by the home loss to the Beavers.
Here’s a look at my final thoughts heading into Week 3 of the Pac-12 slate.
UCLA vs. South Alabama, 11:00 p.m., Pac-12 Network
The cat was let out of the bag early in the week: Chip Kelly was indeed playing it coy as it related to his two stars against Alabama State last Saturday.
Bruins fans had heart palpitations when running back Zach Charbonnet dressed but did not play against the Hornets and again at the end of the first quarter when quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was ruled out and did not return.
UCLA’s eventual 45-7 win did little to allay their concerns, even if it provided a temporary salve. But one of the league’s top quarterback/running back duos returned to practice this week and appears ready to play against South Alabama. The Jaguars are a step up in competition for the Bruins, albeit not a perfect tune-up for the Pac-12 slate after one of the weakest non-conference schedules in the country.
Final Verdict: Bruins wrap up their first undefeated non-conference schedule since 2015
Cal at Notre Dame, 11:30 p.m., NBC
The Fighting Irish haven’t started 0-3 since 2007, Charlie Weis’ third season at the helm. That was a very different Notre Dame program than the Irish who have won 10 games in each of the past five seasons.
The talent still exists for Notre Dame, even if it hasn’t been used right and even if it hasn’t been evident.
Yes, the Fighting Irish have a difficult task in replacing Tyler Buchner with Drew Pyne, but Cal offers a good opportunity to clean things up with a more conservative approach. The Bears have not looked very good in home wins over UC Davis and UNLV, and now they head to a simmering South Bend, which needs Notre Dame to turn things around.
Task No. 1 for Cal: Stifle an Irish running game that has limped out of the gates, averaging 103 yards per game. The replacement of the ground threat Buchner with the flat-footed Pyne shouldn’t help.
Final Verdict: The Fighting Irish have too much talent to fall to 0-3, even with a QB change
No. 25 Oregon vs. No. 12 BYU, 12:30 p.m., Fox
The Ducks need a résumé-builder heading into Pac-12 play, and the Cougars offer a great opportunity. If Oregon can seize it, that is.
And if Bo Nix can rise to the occasion.
BYU has officially turned the corner in the Kalani Sitake era, improving from 7-6 in both 2018 and 2019 to 11-1 in 2020 and 10-3 in 2021. Coming off a huge double-overtime win over No. 9 Baylor in Week 2, the Cougars boast a good passing game with Jaren Hall and a terrific pass defense that held Baylor quarterback Blake Shapen to 137 passing yards on 18-of-28 attempts while sacking him four times.
For Nix, this is a pivotal game. Nix went 3-4, 1-4, and 2-3 against ranked teams in his three seasons at Auburn. Oregon may not get many more chances for redemption after losing 49-3 to Georgia in Week 1. A win against the Cougars wouldn’t just redeem the Ducks, but Nix himself.
Final Verdict: Ducks clip the Cougars for a season-redeeming win
Colorado at Minnesota, 12:30 p.m., ESPN2
Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse for the Buffaloes, they encounter a strong Golden Gophers squad that ranks No. 1 in the country in both total offense and total defense.
Colorado is not just the worst team in the conference, the Buffs are one of the worst teams in the country, with a rotating door at quarterback and an almost complete lack of impact players. Coming off losses to TCU and Air Force, Colorado could’ve used a reprieve, and instead they get the best statistical team in the country. Not great.
Final Verdict: Buffaloes fall to 0-3 after big loss
Washington State vs. Colorado State, 2:00 p.m., Pac-12 Network
After pulling off what will go down as one of the biggest upsets of the season for the Pac-12 — and a huge boost for postseason seedings — the Cougars pull one of the least talented teams in college football. The Rams were blown out by Michigan in Week 1 and fell behind 34-6 to Middle Tennessee State in Week 2 before falling 34-19.
Washington State has matured a ton these two weeks and during Jake Dickert’s run last year after the Cougars fired Nick Rolovich. A big win in the Apple Cup last year was a huge step forward for Dickert. Beating No. 19 Wisconsin last week, 17-14, was another.
Battering the Rams would only go further toward planting the Cougars in the postseason hunt.
Final Verdict: Cougars continue rolling under Dickert
Washington vs. No. 11 Michigan State, 4:30 p.m., ABC
One of the hottest offenses in college football, the Huskies rank third in total offense (571 yards per game) and 10th in scoring offense (48.5 points per game). With Kalen DeBoer and Ryan Grubb teaming up to lead the offense, and Indiana transfer Michael Penix Jr. settling in nicely under center, Washington appears to be hitting on all cylinders.
But now the Huskies get a real test.
The No. 11 Spartans have allowed just one touchdown in eight quarters and have outscored their opponents 87-13.
Michigan State is coming off a 52-0 win over Akron, the kind of win that the Spartans should put up, after winning 35-13 against Western Michigan. That game was a little too close for comfort.
Speaking of comfort — the Spartans must travel to Husky Stadium, one of the best atmospheres in the Pac-12. Washington will have to particularly fluster Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne, who had two interceptions against Akron.
Final Verdict: Huskies lose a heartbreaker to stout Spartans
Oregon State vs. Montana State, 5:00 p.m., Pac-12 Network
With a pair of wins over upper-tier Mountain West opponents in Boise State and Fresno State, Oregon State takes on a much lesser state in Montana State on Saturday. The Bobcats shouldn’t present much opposition for the Beavers, but this could be a look-ahead game. The Beavers have big goals in the Pac-12, like a potential top-four finish, and that starts with taking out Montana State.
One thing that’s worrisome: Oregon State’s mounting injuries, including stud tight end Luke Musgrave and rotational running back Trey Lowe. Not so worrisome that I think the Beavers could lose, though.
Final Verdict: Beavers continue their impressive early season run.
Utah vs. San Diego State, 7:00 p.m., ESPN2
Here’s the question: Was San Diego State’s 33-31 win over the Utes the start of a big run for the Aztecs, like from 1986-1998, when SDSU won seven of 10 against Utah?
Or was it a fluke? The Utes had won five straight and seven of eight against San Diego State, even while they rebuilt their program into something decent. And the Aztecs have not exactly looked decent this year.
Utah rebounded from a Week 1 loss at Florida to absolutely annihilate Southern Utah last Saturday, 73-7, and while SDSU is a step up, the Aztecs are not the 12-2 team from a year ago.
Final Verdict: Utes go for blood in a revenge game against Aztecs
USC vs. Fresno State, 7:30 p.m., Fox
The Bulldogs should provide a stiffer test for the Trojans this Saturday, and that is probably welcomed by Lincoln Riley and USC’s new coaching staff. USC gets thrown into the Pac-12 fire, getting Oregon State, Arizona State, Washington State, and Utah before getting whatever the opposite of ‘gauntlet’ is in Arizona, Cal, and Colorado. It could use a real tune-up, and Jake Haener is a real tune-up.
With a passing game that ranks among the best in the nation and an opportunistic defense that has a propensity for turnovers, the Trojans need to sharpen their knives a bit this weekend.
Final Verdict: The Trojans stay hot — arguably hotter than any team in the country
Arizona vs. North Dakota State, 8:00 p.m., FS1
The Bisons are not your average FCS team, with a six-game winning streak against FBS teams. North Dakota State is one of the best organizations in all of football — high school, college, pro, anything — and the Bisons are a tough match for any college football team, much less one like Arizona.
The Wildcats are a tough read right now. They had a thrilling season-opening win at San Diego State to open Snapdragon Stadium. Then they looked terrible in a 39-17 home loss to Mississippi State.
NDSU might just be somewhere in the middle there. Arizona is lucky to get the Bisons at home, even if it is paying $425,000 for the pleasure.
Final Verdict: Wildcats snap Bisons’ FBS winning streak
Arizona State vs. Eastern Michigan, 8:00 p.m., Pac-12
This needs to be a get-right Game for the Arizona State pass rush. The Sun Devils have totaled precisely zero sacks in two games this season, an embarrassing mark for a defense that usually gets after it.
Now they get an Eagles passing game that has given up seven sacks this year.
After routing Northern Arizona in Week 1, the Sun Devils fell back down to earth in a 34-17 loss to No. 11 Oklahoma State last week. This can get them back on track.
Final Verdict: Sun Devils rebound from a tough loss