(Pause for laughter)

(Pause again, for laughter)

(Pause, again, still for more laughter)

UCLA head coach Jim Mora had just been asked a purely-for-fun, purely-hypothetical question: What if UCLA and USC had to play in Week 1?

“I don’t think it would be a good deal,” Mora said. “You want the drama to build. I don’t know what it would be like. I never thought of that. [Pause for laughter, again]. It would make for an interesting off season. You’d have a whole lot of time to talk about it rather than just a week. Heck, I don’t know.”

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/David Zalubowski Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre relishes the opportunity to play a rivalry game in Week 1. But most Pac-12 coaches would rather wait until the end of the season.
 The roots of this comical concept stem from the fact that while most of the Pac-12 will be dining on desserts in Week 1, the Colorado Buffaloes have to play a rivalry game with Colorado State right out of the chute.

And make no mistake -- this is a rivalry game. This will be the 86th game in the series (the Buffs lead 62-21-2), which has been played off and on since 1893 and annually since 1995 (the longest gap was between ’58 to ’83).

It doesn’t matter that Colorado is in the Pac-12 and Colorado State is in the Mountain West. This game is as heated as it gets.

“We think of this as a traditional rivalry, no doubt about it,” said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre. “You hear about it every day. Everybody is up and down Interstate 25, and CU fans and CSU fans run into each other. The kids know each other. The coaches know each other because we speak at different clinics and run into each other all of the time.”

Colorado State got win No. 1 for coach Jim McElwain in 2012 with a 22-17 victory. A year later, the MacIntyre era kicked off with a 41-27 victory.

“The pros of it are it’s a big, heightened game,” MacIntyre said. “It keeps your kids on their toes. They hear about it all the time. It makes it a little more special. All opening games are special. But this puts an extra flavor to it, so to speak.”

That got the Pac-12 blog to thinking … simply for extra flavor … what if every rivalry game in the league was played in Week 1. What would the storylines be?

  • Territorial Cup: New Arizona QB faces new ASU D as RichRod looks for first win in rivalry.
  • The Big Game: Bear Raid looks to get off the mat against two-time conference champs.
  • The Civil War: Potential first-round picks Marcus Mariota and Sean Mannion duel in opener.
  • UCLA-USC: Oh jeez … can you imagine USC and UCLA squaring off Saturday after the week the Trojans have had? This one writes itself.
  • The Apple Cup: Chris Petersen’s Washington debut against the Cougs.

Look, we know this isn’t ever going to happen. But it’s fun to think about the possibilities. Right?

“Oh, we wouldn’t like that. I wouldn’t like that at all,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham, [OK, guess not]. “I’m a fan. I don’t want to start the season off with a rivalry game. We love that being at the end of the season for our fans.”

The consensus was that if the rivalry game was in Week 1, so be it, the coaches would prepare per usual. But it just wouldn’t feel the same.

“One year we played Hawaii after [we played Oregon] at the end of the year and that felt funny,” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley. “It would definitely make for an interesting start to the season.”

Because the CSU-CU game is an out-of-conference showdown, the thought is that this game is best played before league play cranks up. And that makes sense.

“Late in the conference, you’re worried about conference games and getting to the conference championship game,” MacIntyre said.” I think playing it early in the year is a good thing for both of us.”

So, no. Pac-12 rivalries should not be played in Week 1. But the tradition works for the Colorado folks so don’t mess with it. It will make for a fun debut Friday night and add some sizzle to a Week 1 slate that doesn’t have a ton of gusto.

And we can all get on board with Graham: “That game is the game for us. You can win 11 games and lose that one and have an unsuccessful season. You could lose 11 and win that one and have a successful season. That’s how big that game is for us. I kind of like it where it’s at.”

WeAreSC Roundtable: Week 1 

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
11:30
AM PT
Who will score the 1st USC touchdown?

Garry Paskwietz: I’ll go with tight end Randall Telfer. The Trojans go a long drive led by Buck Allen and when they get inside the red zone Cody Kessler will hit Telfer for the opening score.

Johnny Curren: Nelson Agholor. Kessler finds his favorite target early to get the party started.

Five storylines: Fresno State at USC 

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
11:00
AM PT
Here are 5 storylines for the USC Trojans against Fresno State (4:30 p.m. PT, Fox):


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

video

It's a week that started with news of their athletic director being hospitalized. And it got much crazier from there. Heather Dinich explains why taking the field on Saturday could be just what the doctor ordered for the Trojans.
Here are five things I learned in college football this week:

1. We’re often guilty of putting too much stock in a team’s opening performance, but it was clear Thursday night that South Carolina is going to miss star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney a lot more than Texas A&M is going to miss Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel.

South Carolina’s defense had no answer for A&M coach Kevin Sumlin’s high-flying offense, as sophomore Kenny Hill threw for 511 yards and three touchdowns on 44-for-60 passing in the Aggies’ 52-28 rout at South Carolina. Hill broke Manziel’s single-game record for passing yards in his first career start and never seemed nervous on the road.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Williams
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesSouth Carolina's new 3-4 defense had a rough debut against Texas A&M as the Aggies racked up 680 total yards.
Afterward, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier even seemed to criticize defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, who installed a 3-4 defense during the offseason.

“I thought we would play a lot better,” Spurrier said. “I have been reading like you guys have about our new 3-4 defense. Did anybody like that 3-4 defense? But I don’t know if it would have mattered if we’d have played a 6-6 defense. I don’t know if 12 out there would have helped that much.”

During the offseason, I said several times that I thought South Carolina might be one of the most overrated teams in the country, given its personnel losses on defense. I also believed the Gamecocks would miss departed quarterback Connor Shaw much more than some people believed. I might have been right on both accounts.

2. Ole Miss had its struggles against Boise State in Thursday night’s opener at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Quarterback Bo Wallace threw three interceptions in the first half, and the Rebels couldn’t pull away from the Broncos until early in the fourth quarter of a 35-13 victory.

Still, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has plenty of reasons to be excited, mainly that his vaunted freshman class of 2013 is a year older and wiser. Sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche is becoming one of the toughest blocking assignments in the country and safety Tony Conner is a future NFL first-round draft choice. Receiver Laquon Treadwell is also fantastic.

Are the Rebels deep enough and experienced enough to challenge Auburn, Alabama and Texas A&M in the SEC West? Probably not. But the Rebels might be good enough to knock off any of those teams in one game and have a say in which team wins the division.

3. The season can’t get here soon enough for new USC coach Steve Sarkisian. One day after Sarkisian had to indefinitely suspend team captain Josh Shaw for lying about how he suffered two high ankle sprains over the weekend, he was accused of being a racist by running back Anthony Brown, who quit the team.

Brown made his accusations on Instagram and other social media, claiming, “Sark treated me like a Slave in his office.” Sarkisian said the accusations were “shocking,” and anyone who has met the former Washington coach would have a very difficult time believing they’re true.

4. So-called football factories such as Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas were in the news for all the wrong reasons during the offseason, as coaches at those schools had to dismiss several players for off-field problems.

But the recent troubles at high-academic institutions like North Carolina and Notre Dame prove it can happen anywhere. UNC coach Larry Fedora suspended four players from the Tar Heels’ opener against FCS foe Liberty on Saturday, a couple of days after Yahoo! Sports reported that a walk-on receiver suffered a concussion during an alleged hazing incident.

The Fighting Irish announced Thursday that a fifth player, safety Eilar Hardy, is being held out of practice and games while the school investigates an allegation of academic misconduct. The Irish have already suspended receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore.

5. Kudos to Virginia Tech for giving coach Frank Beamer a new two-year contract extension, which might keep him with the Hokies through the 2018 season. Sure, the Hokies have uncharacteristically struggled the past couple of seasons, but we too easily forget that Beamer built his alma mater into a national powerhouse when most people believed it could never be done.

It’s also significant that new Virginia Tech athletics director Whit Babcock gave him the deal instead of Jim Weaver, the retired AD who was one of Beamer’s biggest supporters. The Hokies have won 15 games the past two seasons, after winning 10 games or more in each of the previous eight. Beamer built the program, and he should be given an opportunity to get it back to the top of the ACC.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
8:00
AM PT
Happy (football) Friday!

Leading off

So ... Cougs ... what's up?

While Utah and Arizona State cruised to easy victories over FCS teams, the Washington State Cougars fell behind early, came back and took a lead into the fourth quarter, but couldn't hold on in a 41-38 loss to Rutgers. Can't pin this one on the offense. Connor Halliday went 40-of-56 for 532 yards with five touchdowns and one early interception. But the defense broke numerous times, yielding 173 rushing yards and three touchdowns to Paul James, and a critical special-teams error opened the door for a Rutgers go-ahead score. Ted Miller had a quick take on the game last night. And I don't necessarily want to call out Cougar Brian in a second links post this week, but please leave a comment at the bottom, just so we all know you're OK.

Speaking of special teams, the Utes put on quite the special-teams extravaganza in their 56-14 win over Idaho State -- headlined by Kaelin Clay, who went all Reggie Dunn and returned a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown. The Pac-12 blog makes it a habit not to get too high on wins over FCS teams. But it was nice to see a healthy Travis Wilson (13-of-18, 265 yards) throw for a touchdown and run another one in (well, dive it in, actually).

The Sun Devils also took care of business against FCS Weber State with a 45-14 victory. D.J. Foster left fans asking "Marion who?" and scored three touchdowns on the ground to go with 147 rushing yards. Same train of thought as above. It's a win. The Sun Devils did exactly what they needed to do and had a drama-free evening.

USC

Perhaps the weirdest Week 1 in college football history got weirder Thursday when USC running back Anthony Brown quit the team and then accused new coach Steve Sarkisian of being a racist on the way out. This comes on the heels of the Josh Shaw "story." Sark addressed that yesterday, saying he shares the blame for helping the initial heroic story take flight. But that there is also potential for Shaw to return to the team this year. The LA Times also has some details of how Shaw's name got linked to a police incident report.

Year of the Oregon quarterback?

Really interesting story from Gina Mizzell of The Oregonian, who asks if this is the best QB combination ever from the state of Oregon:
In a recent survey of former Oregon and Oregon State coaches and quarterbacks, Mannion and Mariota join other combinations such as OSU's Jonathan Smith and UO's Joey Harrington, who each were fixtures from 1999-2001. There was the combination of native Oregonians Kellen Clemens (a Burns-raised Duck) and Derek Anderson (first of Scappoose, then of Reser Stadium) from 2003-04. Farther back, Heisman winner Terry Baker of OSU faced Bob Berry, who led Oregon to three straight winning seasons for the first time in 25 years.

Comparing times and eras is always complicated. What Marcus Mariota is doing is a lot different than what Harrington and Clemens were asked to do. Mannion is the more traditional quarterback here. But the fact that he'll be the league's all-time leading passer in a matter of weeks shouldn't be overlooked either. For what it's worth, a fun debate and a question worth asking.

News/notes/practice reports

Spread out or spread too thin?

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
11:31
PM PT

The purebred pro-style offense isn't extinct in college football, but it could appear soon on the endangered species list. The mutt population, meanwhile, is soaring.

"I don't think anybody is really running a pure form of anything anymore," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "Almost everybody has some form of West Coast philosophies. Even people who don't run a traditional spread run spread concepts. Football's become a melting pot of philosophies."

Some of the sport's most traditional, pro-style teams -- Wisconsin, USC, Iowa -- will look different this season.

Wisconsin will sprinkle some spread concepts into its ground-and-pound attack. USC wants to run at least 80 plays a game while maintaining a pro-style identity under Steve Sarkisian.

But the debate among coaches is whether offenses can effectively use tempo if they're not married to it.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

College Football Minute

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
8:13
PM PT


video

Heather Dinich goes over Texas A&M lighting up the scoreboard, Oklahoma State facing a monumental challenge and three things to watch for this week. It's all ahead in the "College Football Minute."

#4Pac: Most surprising player in 2014?

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
7:00
PM PT
Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what'll be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question, one topic or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet and all contribute our thoughts.

Sometimes, like today, we'll be playing devil's advocate for a specific team, player or idea.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Today, we're looking for a player who may surprise the league by becoming a household name. They're already established contributors on their own teams, but they may be poised to join the upper echelon in the league with strong showings in 2014.

Utah QB Travis Wilson

Wilson
Ted Miller/@TedMillerRK: The best news is Travis Wilson is still playing football. It wasn't so long ago that it appeared his career was threatened by an injury to an intracranial artery. The good news, at least for Utah fans, is that he successfully fought off a legitimate challenge this preseason from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson.

It's not just good news that the Utes will have a 16-game starter behind center. It's that Wilson wasn't handed the job as a sentimental gesture. He competed and won. And he's won over new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. That means Utah, a team that has struggled with quarterback play since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, has an experienced player behind center who has flashed real ability, both as a passer and a runner.

If you're looking for an under-the-radar guy who might surprise you, who might lead a team back toward its accustomed winning ways, it's Wilson.

Recall that Utah, though coming off consecutive losing seasons, was 4-2 after an upset win over Stanford in mid-October of last year. Those two losses came in overtime to Oregon State and by seven points to UCLA, despite a dreadful six interceptions from Wilson. Even with those picks, however, Wilson's efficiency rating at the time was just four points lower than Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, who ended up second-team All-Pac-12.

Wilson has something to prove, but he also has the means to prove it. The Utes are going to surround him with good offensive talent, starting with perhaps the Pac-12's most underrated crew of receivers -- underrated in large part because so many other teams are good at the position. He has weapons to help him and a solid offensive line to protect him. Don't be surprised if you're looking at the sparkling Pac-12 QB numbers and see his name ranking in the top half.

Stanford LB James Vaughters

Vaughters
Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: Vaughters' arrival at Stanford in 2011 signaled a significant change in the way Stanford was able to recruit. The Cardinal went into Georgia and pried away one of the most coveted recruits in the country.

Vaughters had offers from Alabama, Georgia and just about every big-name school in the country -- so listing him here is not so much a surprise as it is a breakthrough. He bounced around from defensive end to inside linebacker to finally outside linebacker last season when he played opposite All-American Trent Murphy. The results were good -- 36 tackles in 14 starts with four sacks -- but he’s still never quite reached the heights his recruiting profile suggested.

This year, that changes. A.J. Tarpley is going to lead the team in tackles, but Vaughters will be the most physically imposing player on the Cardinal defense and the player most capable of delivering a highlight-caliber hit. At 6-foot-2 and 258 pounds, I fully expect him to push double digits in sacks and turn himself into a legitimate NFL prospect.

Stanford needs that out of him, too. Murphy meant so much to the defense a year ago and with him gone, Vaughters’ role will be key.

USC RB Buck Allen

Allen
Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: All this guy does is take advantage of his opportunities. You tell him he’s under the radar and he runs over the radar on his way to the end zone.

It’s likely we’ll see him shuffle carries with Tre Madden (when he gets healthy) and Justin Davis. But when you look at what Allen accomplished last season, it’s pretty impressive.

After spending the first portion of his career on Lane Kiffin’s do-not-play list (six carries for 32 yards in 2012), he exploded in the second half of last year and turned into one of the most productive backs in the league, earning all-conference honorable mention along the way. He had four 100-yard rushing performances in the final six games and finished the season with 135 carries for 785 yards (5.8 average) and 14 touchdowns.

When you look at what Steve Sarkisian’s up-tempo twist did for Bishop Sankey last season in Washington (1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns, in case you forgot) it’s hard not to get giddy about the prospect of a productive back like Allen getting a full season’s worth of carries. Whether he emerges as a solo act or part of a committee, he’s shown to be a back you have to scheme for.

Washington State WR Vince Mayle

Mayle
Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Last season, Vince Mayle had 42 catches (539 yards, seven touchdowns) for the Cougars. But this year, I think he might be making a big jump. He became quarterback Connor Halliday’s go-to guy in the spring and based off the bit I saw in fall camp, the chemistry between the two is pretty darn good.

Mike Leach likes to spread the ball around to his receivers and get as many guys involved as possible, but if Mayle is Halliday’s safety net then the quarterback's going to go back to him time and time again.

Mayle has really only played wide receiver for a few seasons (he was a running back in high school and junior college), but with his learning curve, I think this could be a huge year for him. A 1,000-yard season seems a bit of a stretch considering how many wide receivers the Cougars have, but there's no reason he couldn't lead Washington State in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns by year's end.
Is anybody else ready for some football?

After one of the strangest weeks in the history of USC football, the Trojans get to put the focus back on the field Saturday, and kickoff can’t come soon enough.

The first hiccup of the week came last Saturday night when USC athletics director Pat Haden was unable to attend the annual “Salute to Troy” kickoff event on campus. The word given to the crowd that night was that Haden was dealing with family issues, but that everything was fine. As it turned out, Haden was actually in the hospital, and it was the second time in two days that he was there.

[+] EnlargeShaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsIt doesn't seem likely that Josh Shaw will be playing for USC anytime soon.
No reason has been given for why Haden was hospitalized, but he was back in the office this week, just in time to deal with the ups-and-downs of the Josh Shaw situation. The hero who wasn’t, a genuinely strange drama that still hasn’t been fully explained and might never be. What we know right now is that Shaw was suspended indefinitely by USC after admitting he lied about the original story, which combined with the ankle injuries means that he won’t be lining up for the Trojans anytime soon. In his post-practice media comments on Thursday, Sarkisian did leave the door open for a potential return for Shaw, but he gave no parameters for how or when that could happen.

Sarkisian also dealt with another off-field distraction in that Thursday media session when he responded to comments made by former USC defensive back/running back Anthony Brown, who quit the team this week but not before firing off comments in social media, calling Sarkisian a racist. Brown isn’t a name familiar to many fans outside of the USC program; he made a couple starts at corner early in his career before injuries really slowed him. Brown had requested a move to tailback this year, which Sarkisian granted, and brought a speed element. He could have found a role, but something obviously went wrong from his perspective in regard to his relationship with the head coach. Sarkisian refuted Brown’s comments and many players -- past and present -- immediately came to Sarkisian’s defense and spoke out against the remarks from their former teammate.

What does all this mean to the mindset of the team as they prepare for the season opener? After all, this was supposed to be a period of new beginnings for the Trojans. The NCAA sanctions basically a thing of the past, a talented roster capable of moving forward under their new coach, one who spent the offseason charming boosters and recruits with equal success. It would be easy to look at the distractions and think they would be an issue, but the guess here is that they will have very little impact, if any.

The most tangible impact will be the loss of Shaw on the field. You don’t just snap your fingers and replace a veteran senior who is one of the best cornerbacks in the nation, one who was just elected a team captain, no matter how talented the players are who will be stepping in. But in terms of the drama influencing the emotion, preparation or focus of the team, I just don’t see it happening. The players have been waiting too long for this. The 2013 season showed this group that they can persevere through four coaching changes and still come out with 10 wins, so what happened this past week isn’t anything they can’t handle.

Pac-12 bowl projections: Preseason

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
5:00
PM PT
The college football postseason will be very different this season, with the end of the BCS and the beginning of the four-team College Football Playoff. But there's more!

The CFP selection committee also will pick teams for the Fiesta, Orange and Cotton bowls. Those are the major bowls not hosting this season's CFP semifinal games. The selections will be based on ... get ready to be shocked ... merit. Well, there are some other considerations, but there won't be any more ridiculous decisions made purely on potential ticket sales. (The national semifinals, by the way, are to be played out at the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual on Jan. 1, 2015, with the winners to vie for the national championship on Jan. 12, 2015, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.)

There also is expected to be more flexibility in the bowl arrangements, with bowls working with conferences to put together the best matchups possible and avoid repeat visits. That seems to be another good thing, though we await its execution.

In any event, here are your Pac-12 bowl projections, made with all the certainty one can muster in advance of the season itself.

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford (vs. Big 12)
National University Holiday Bowl: USC (vs. Big Ten)
San Francisco Bowl: Washington (vs. Big Ten)
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona State (vs. ACC)
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Washington State (vs. Mountain West)
Cactus Bowl: Oregon State (vs. Big 12)
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Arizona

* at large
video

Brian Griese and Mark May react to the news that USC RB Anthony Brown has quit the team, accusing coach Steve Sarkisian of being racist.

Josh Shaw 'potentially' can return

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
11:56
AM PT
video

LOS ANGELES -- USC senior cornerback Josh Shaw, who admitted Wednesday to lying about how he suffered his ankle injuries last weekend, could potentially return to the team this season, coach Steve Sarkisian said Thursday.

Shaw has been suspended indefinitely and was already expected to miss at least the first month of the season with a pair of high ankle sprains.

"Potentially," Sarkisian said when asked if Shaw could return to the team. "Sure."

Shaw said he suffered his injuries Saturday night after jumping from the second story of an apartment complex to save his 7-year-old nephew, who was struggling in the pool. Shaw said his nephew did not know how to swim.

He admitted to team officials Wednesday that the story was a complete fabrication.

Sarkisian, however, said Shaw did not tell them how he suffered the injury outside of "falling from a balcony" and was with his recently hired attorney, Donald Etra, when he spoke to him and school officials.

"He was unable to tell us," Sarkisian said. "When he actually admitted to us that he was lying, he was in the presence of his attorney. That's a better question for his attorney. He didn't tell us and we weren't privy to ask quite honestly."

Etra said Wednesday that Shaw's injury was suffered while falling off the balcony at the Orsini Apartments in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday night.


(Read full post)


Clay Helton back in a familiar role

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
8:00
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- In approximately 48 hours, Clay Helton will once again walk down the famed Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum tunnel to be the eyes and suggestion-maker for another new USC Trojans head football coach.

Helton, however, still, hasn't forgotten that just nine months ago he was the third USC head football coach of 2013. The coach also hasn't forgotten that despite the unusual circumstances of last season, he thoroughly enjoyed his experience as a one-game interim head coach, guiding the Trojans to a resounding victory, 45-20, over Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.

"I have very good memories and we had a great time as a football family putting together and capping off a 10-win season," Helton reminisced. "I was very excited for those players, for that team, and for our Trojans family, and I am even more excited to get this next season started and to carry on from there."

In less than a year, Helton's responsibilities have evolved from interim head coach of one of college football's most storied programs back to his familiar role as offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.

If you think that once being the big cheese and returning to a subservient position as assistant has been difficult, nothing could be further from the truth and much of the credit goes to first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian and to Helton's own positive demeanor.

"Sark's a joy to work with," Helton said. He's one of those guys you love to have on your side. He's a player's coach. He gives you jobs to do as an offensive staff and delegates authority and challenges you as a coach. But then he makes it fun also, so he's a dream come true, really. I feel honored to be working for him and USC."

Sarkisian will call the offensive plays on Saturday against Fresno State, so how has that changed or added to Helton's responsibilities as offensive coordinator?

"My role as offensive coordinator is help Coach Sark in any way I can," said Helton, now in his fifth season as the Trojans quarterback coach.

"Whether it's from organizational like the organizing of practices, helping in the game planning, seeing what's going on from upstairs in the (press) box and letting him know what's going on with the defense to make the proper play calls, to giving him some suggestions after a series to where we might want to go."

Since Helton has some extensive knowledge of Fresno State from last season's bowl game encounter, does he consider it an advantage or disadvantage?

"I'll tell you what, I think the biggest you gain as an advantage is that it goes both ways," said Helton, son of former assistant collegiate and NFL coach Kim Helton.

"You actually know Fresno State's personnel now and you know their safety No. 13 (Derron Smith) is a heck of a football player. You can figure out the areas you may want to attack, and the areas that are some of their strengths that you'd better prepare for. Yeah, it does help you out when you play a common opponent year after year."

It could be said that playing the Bulldogs in back-to-back seasons is much like playing a conference opponent.

"No question," said Helton, 42, the former University of Houston quarterback, who actually played against the Trojans in the Coliseum back in 1993.

Helton's thoughts, however, are not about the past. He is solely concentrating this week in making sure the Trojans understand that despite last season's shellacking of Fresno State, the Bulldogs and the Red Wave, their rabid fan base from Central California, will be coming down to L.A. looking for revenge.

"This is a really, really talented Fresno State team and coach DeRuyter has done a terrific job with them, and we know they're going to come in hungry after the bowl game and looking to prove something," Helton cautioned.

For Helton, his years as a Trojans assistant has given him time to reflect from when he arrived in Los Angeles to coach under former head coach Lane Kiffin to where he is today under Steve Sarkisian. He understands that times change, teams change, and head coaches change.

Understandably, Helton is still proud of the positive work that he and another former interim Trojans head coach from last season, Ed Orgeron, did in picking for the pieces after Lane Kiffin's firing.

Helton is genuinely pleased Sarkisian has continued to embrace, enhance, and build upon the optimistic direction of the program since the Las Vegas Bowl.

"Obviously, Coach Sark has continued that way by helping us in spring ball and training camp," Helton said. "He has really brought this team together in a very positive way and has done a terrific job, and, hopefully, it will transfer over on game day."

And heading into Saturday, Helton, thus far, is impressed by what he's seen of the 2014 Trojans.

"I am very pleased with this unit how close they are, how hard they've worked in this training camp, and the energy that they've brought to make the Trojans family proud,' Helton said. "You can feel that as a coaching staff, and we're really looking forward to getting this season started so we can show what we are."

And what the Trojans are will begin to be revealed this weekend.
The 2014 Pac-12 season starts tonight, and that is unquestionably a righteous thing. The first week's slate of games? Well, it's not exactly going to awaken any echoes. Still, Confucius say he who casts a disrespectful glance at a season opener finds his beer warm and his prayers to the college football gods unanswered.

Yet with all due respect, the Pac-12 plays five games versus overmatched FCS foes and is double-digit favorites in four other games. The only underdog is California, which visits Northwestern.

Ah, but that second Saturday. That, my friends, is a biggie. Not entirely across the conference, but two games will attract beaucoup Pac-12 and national eyeballs and are decidedly meaningful in terms of setting up the first season of the College Football Playoff.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Don RyanMarcus Mariota and Oregon can make a significant statement with a win over Michigan State in Week 2.
Start with No. 8 Michigan State's visit to No. 3 Oregon. This might be the biggest nonconference matchup of the season, and it's even bigger after the season-ending injury to Ohio State QB Braxton Miller. The Spartans are now the clear favorites in the Big Ten, as the Ducks are the popular preseason pick in the Pac-12. It might look like a Rose Bowl, but it probably ends up operating like a CFP elimination game. Or validation game.

It's an intriguing matchup, too: Celebrated offense versus celebrated defense, with the Ducks, led by preseason Heisman favorite Marcus Mariota, facing Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who might be the best in the business.

Meanwhile, No. 11 Stanford plays host to No. 15 USC. The Trojans used to feast on the Cardinal. Now this is a bitter and highly competitive rivalry. What makes this game fun is the rivalry is as much player-based as fan based. That bitterness ignited between Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh -- "What's your deal?" -- and has maintained its burn over the past few years, with the teams exchanging major upsets the past two seasons.

It also won't cool things down, at least in terms of perception, that new Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian and Stanford coach David Shaw were at public loggerheads last year over the Cardinal allegedly faking injuries in a tight victory over Sark's Washington team. While it might be responsible to note that Shaw and Sarkisian seem to get along well and chat amiably at coaching functions, that would de-sensationalize an angle the Pac-12 blog would prefer to jump up and down and point at next week.

It also has been established, though less publicly, that more than a few Stanford players were extremely unhappy with Sarkisian's accusation, most notably DE Ben Gardner, whose NFL career has already been waylaid by the shoulder issue that hampered him against the Huskies.

We also must add that the irreverent Stanford band surely is already clicking its collective heels over the possibilities the "Josh Shaw Tall Tale of Heroism" offers for a halftime snark.

Even if you cast aside the emotions, this is a big Pac-12 game. The winner figures to establish itself as a top-10 team and national contender. While they occupy different divisions, one will end up 0-1 in conference play and the other will be 1-0. In what figure to be tight races in both divisions, that one-game swing could prove critical.

A USC victory would be a significant event in the South Division. The Trojans don't play Oregon, as UCLA does. Arizona State doesn't, either. The Bruins and the Sun Devils both play Stanford. The Sun Devils visit USC. In other words, in terms of schedule strength among the contenders, a USC win over Stanford might change the perception of the South race.

Of course, from a coach's perspective we are getting ahead of ourselves. USC plays host to Fresno State on Saturday. While the Bulldogs don't look like the formidable foe the Trojans whipped in the Las Vegas Bowl a year ago, they certainly have a pulse. Stanford plays UC Davis and Oregon plays South Dakota. Both will roll, though some Davis folks have pointed out the Aggies upset the Cardinal in 2005, one of the notable moments of Walt Harris' coaching tenure.

As you well know, sports teams play one game at a time.

"We approach this game, literally, exactly like every other one," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said of South Dakota and, by extension, Michigan State. "To do anything else would be a conflict of our process, disrespectful to our opponent and to the game."

While Helfrich and Shaw admit that they spent plenty of time this offseason reviewing Michigan State and USC/Washington film knowing about their big dates in Week 2, the nature of football is routine, and routine dictates you prepare for each game the same way.

Dangers of looking ahead this week? Unlikely. For one, it's the first game of the season. The opportunity to play a real game in front of a crowd after a long preseason camp is a reward in itself. Don't expect players to be blasÚ and unfocused.

And there are stakes for players in game one, no matter how undecorated the foe is, according to Shaw.

"We have a lot of guys still competing for things, for who's going to get more playing time," he said. "I'd feel bad for the guy who shows a sign of not focusing on the task at hand. He's going to meet with a not very happy Coach Shaw."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD