NCF Nation: Southern Utah Thunderbirds

The Pac-12 should stop scheduling Sacramento State. And Colorado might want to rethink its ideas about FCS teams.

Sacramento State, which won at Oregon State in the 2011 opener, beat Colorado 30-28 with a 30-yard field goal as time expired.

Colorado, 0-2 after losing to Colorado State in the opener, is now 1-2 all-time against FCS teams. It lost to Montana State in 2006.

The Buffaloes didn't just lose, they got beaten. They jumped to a 14-0 lead, but the Hornets didn't back down. They outgained the Buffs 466 yards to 341. While Sac State did most of its damage through the air, it still outrushed Colorado 154 yards to 153.

But the biggest difference was at quarterback. Sophomore Garrett Safron threw for a career-best 312 yards on 25-of-37 passing for the Hornets. He also was 4-for-5 for 53 yards on the game-winning drive.

Colorado quarterback Jordan Webb was just 12 of 24 for 160 yards. In Webb's defense, it's clear the Buffs don't have much talent at receiver.

The lone bit of good news for Colorado was freshman fullback Christian Powell, who ran for 147 yards and three touchdowns.

Colorado was hoping to get its young team off to a fast start against a very soft early schedule. Now that the Buffs are 0-2 against that soft schedule, it's not easy to see where victories -- even a victory -- will come.

A notoriously bad team on the road, Colorado will be at Fresno State next weekend.

California 50, Southern Utah 31: California led just 20-17 in the third quarter, but the the Bears erupted in the fourth quarter to post an easy win. Quarterback Zach Maynard completed 17 of 23 passes for 229 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Running back Isi Sofele rushed for 104 yards on 19 carries, and wide receiver Keenan Allen had two touchdowns, one on a 69-yard punt return. It was the Bears' first victory inside newly renovated Memorial Stadium. A week after looking terrible in a loss to Nevada, the Bears piled up 518 yards, scoring 30 points in the fourth quarter. Still, it was hardly an impressive win. The Bears defense, expected to be strong, surrendered 371 yards. The Thunderbirds had just 209 yards in a 34-3 loss to Utah State the previous week. Cal is at Ohio State next weekend.

Washington State 24, Eastern Washington 20: Mike Leach has his first win coaching the Cougars, but his offense is still not clicking. Jeff Tuel threw a pair of touchdown passes to Isiah Myers, but the Cougs were outgained by the FCS Eagles 469 yards to 355. The Cougs' highlight, in fact, was a 60-yard field goal just before halftime from Andrew Furney. Tuel completed 20 of 26 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He may have cemented his hold on the starting job, as backup Connor Halliday completed just 5 of 11 for 76 yards with an interception. Washington State is at UNLV on Friday.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 2

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
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Welcome to Week 2. Ted went 9-2 in Week 1; Kevin went 8-3. The difference was Kevin picking a Washington State upset of BYU.

Friday

Kevin: Utah 35, Utah State 10. The Utes will see a stronger offense than they saw last week, but it won't matter much because the defense is so solid. Love the emergence of Jake Murphy and the increased attention to the tight ends.

Ted: Utah 28, Utah State 17. It won't be as easy as last weekend but the Utes will be in control on both sides of the ball. Expect quarterback Jordan Wynn to take a few more shots downfield.

Saturday

Kevin: Cal 31, Southern Utah 14. Maybe this is the week Memorial Stadium sees a victory. The last one was on Oct. 23, 2010. Cal should win based on its athletes alone.

Ted: Cal 35, Southern Utah 10. The Bears should get a couple of injured guys back on defense, which should help. Playing angry might help, too.

Kevin: Washington State 28, Eastern Washington 14. The Cougs let me down last week, but I'm cautiously picking them again this week. I think the offense gets going. The defense actually showed some life in the second half against BYU, giving hope that it will carry into this week.

Ted: Washington State 35, Eastern Washington 24. If I were picking an FCS team to play, the Eagles might be the last one I'd pick -- just ask Washington. There's a reason the Cougars have avoided their neighbors since 1908. Still, I suspect the Cougs' offense will get going this week.

Kevin: Colorado 21, Sacramento State 10. Colorado did some good things last week, but was just too inconsistent. The younger players should have the jitters out of their systems and the Buffs should be able to run the ball against an FCS team. If not, things are worse than we thought.

Ted: Colorado 33, Sacramento State 17. This qualifies as a must-win, and I suspect the Buffs will take care of business in a focused fashion.

Kevin: USC 45, Syracuse 17. No issues for the Trojans this week -- they'll cruise. Wouldn't be surprised to see a little more balance on offense this week, considering they are on the road again next week at Stanford and they'll probably want to test drive the run game.

Ted Miller: USC 48, Syracuse 20. It will be interesting to see how many of the three injured USC defensive starters return this week. I suspect things will look more polished on both sides of the ball. Ditto on what Kevin said about running the ball.

Kevin: Wisconsin 21, Oregon State 17. Tough to gauge the Beavers since they didn't play in Week 1. And though Wisconsin struggled last week, it's never easy to start the season against a ranked opponent.

Ted: Wisconsin 34, Oregon State 24. Was tempted momentarily to pick the upset, but then I remembered that Montee Ball is back. For those who don't know, he's really good. I doubt the Beavers' defense, though improved, can contain him for four quarters.

Kevin: Oregon 49, Fresno State 21. Taking into account that Oregon's fifth-string players will be in by the second quarter, I'll give the Bulldogs three touchdowns throughout the course of the game. Ducks breeze through another one.

Ted: Oregon 55, Fresno State 24. They say a new quarterback makes his biggest improvement from Game 1 to Game 2. If so, here's a "Yikes!" on behalf of the Bulldogs in advance of facing Marcus Mariota.

Kevin: Nebraska 28, UCLA 27. I saw a lot of good things out of the Bruins in Week 1. I also saw a lot of things that won't fly against the Cornhuskers. I want to pull the trigger on the Bruins, but the youth on the offensive line is still a concern.

Ted: Nebraska 35, UCLA 24. The Bruins will battle, but Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez is a third-year starter who appears to have figured it all out. I want to see how the Bruins run the ball and stop the run. Of course, that's all about taking a measure of UCLA's physicality up front.

Kevin: Oklahoma State 45, Arizona 28. A nice win for the Wildcats last week, but the defense probably isn't ready yet for a high-powered offense like the Cowboys'.

Ted: Oklahoma State 35, Arizona 30. I suspect the Wildcats have a better shot than many suspect, playing at home against a freshman quarterback, with Matt Scott giving Arizona a significant advantage behind center. That said, the Wildcats' track record in two previous meetings as well as a questionable front seven makes it difficult to pull the trigger on an upset pick.

Kevin: Stanford 24, Duke 17. Traveling cross-country is never easy. We saw that last season when Duke hung with the Cardinal in the first half in Durham. The Cardinal have some core fundamentals to fix before next week's game against the Trojans.

Ted: Stanford 30, Duke 17. The Cardinal will play better this weekend on both sides of the ball. And they need to. Duke thinks it has a bowl team and is hungry to earn respect.

Kevin: Arizona State 27, Illinois 14. Color me impressed by the Sun Devils, who showed no mercy in Week 1. There are quarterback issues surrounding the Illini and regardless of who starts for them, the Sun Devils face either a backup in Reilly O'Toole or a limping starter in Nathan Scheelhasse.

Ted: Arizona State 24, Illinois 17. This pick assumes that Scheelhasse won't play or will be severely limited by his bum ankle. The key for the Sun Devils is getting the running game going, whether that's with Cameron Marshall, Marion Grice or D.J. Foster. Or all three.

Kevin: LSU 28, Washington 17. I was impressed with the defense against San Diego State, but if the offense struggles against LSU, it could be a long day. Losing Jesse Callier doesn't help.

Ted: LSU 41, Washington 17: LSU will be able to run and stop the run. Washington won't. While Huskies quarterback Keith Price will have his moments, it's too much to ask him to beat -- or even to be competitive with -- the Tigers on the road.
Cal folk and Stanford folk don't really like being lumped together. Unless the words "Big" and "Game" accompany the two schools in the same sentence, folks from either side of San Francisco Bay would just as soon they not be mentioned together, thank you very much.

This week, however, the Bay Area's two Pac-12 teams find themselves in strikingly similar positions:

  • Both teams performed well below expectation in Week 1.
  • Both teams have very winnable games in Week 2.
  • Both teams have season-defining showdowns in Week 3.

Translation: There ain't much time to get your stuff together.

There is one massive difference that shouldn't be overlooked. Stanford was a winner in Week 1, surviving San Jose State 20-17. Cal can say no such thing, falling to Nevada 31-24. But when we take that very important factoid out of the equation, we're left with a couple of teams -- thought to be toward the top of the Pac-12's North division hierarchy -- scrambling to patch holes on Sept. 8 before crucial contests on Sept. 15.

Both teams had issues on defense -- a perceived strength in 2012 for each program. Cal, in particular, had few answers for Nevada and its pistol offense, yielding 220 yards on the ground, including 145 and three touchdowns from running back Stefphon Jefferson and 97 yards and a score from quarterback Cody Fajardo.

[+] EnlargeStefphon Jefferson
Kyle Terada/US PresswireStefphon Jefferson (25) and Nevada ran all over Cal in its opener on the way to 31-24 victory.
Nevada had 15 offensive drives in the game. Of those 15, five consisted of nine plays or more, four consumed at least four minutes and Nevada's first touchdown came on a 16-play, 80-yard drive that ate up 6 minutes, 13 seconds of clock. Cal's defense allowed the Wolf Pack to convert 11 of 20 third downs -- a point that doesn't sit well with Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who said third-down defense was what frustrated him the most.

"It seemed like last week, what could have gone wrong did," Tedford said. "They did a nice job executing, you have to give them credit. But we couldn't get off the field on third down. They put long drives together."

Across the bay at Stanford, third downs were also an issue -- at least for the offense -- which converted just 2 of 13 chances (15 percent). For a little perspective, last season the Cardinal converted 53 percent.

After taking the opening kickoff 81 yards on 13 plays (6 minutes, 32 seconds) for a touchdown, the Cardinal failed to put a drive together that lasted more than eight plays. Of their 11 offensive drives (not counting the final drive that ended in victory formation), Stanford had four three-and-out drives. For a little more perspective, Stanford had 16 three-and-out drives all of last season.

"The best I can say is there was some dissatisfaction with the way that we played," said Stanford head coach David Shaw. "San Jose State played us extremely tough and extremely well. But at the same time, we didn't play up to our capabilities and the positive is we were able to gut out a win and get some stops on defense in the fourth quarter. Those were positives and we ended the game with an interception. But at the same time, we were dissatisfied with our execution."

Both teams are at home in Week 2, with Stanford hosting Duke and Cal hosting FCS Southern Utah of the Big Sky Conference. And just to be clear ...

"We're in no position to overlook anyone after losing last week," said Tedford.

Still, next week is looming. Stanford will play host to USC -- which was ranked No. 1 to start the season -- and Cal travels to Ohio State. Both games have tremendous implications for the rest of the season. For Stanford, it's a chance to silence critics who say the Cardinal will fall back to mediocrity now that Andrew Luck is gone. For Cal, it's a significant out-of-conference game that could bolster the league's national reputation.

Fajardo scorched Cal on zone-read runs. Imagine what Braxton Miller will do if the Bears don't tighten up. San Jose State's David Fales threw for 217 yards on 24 of 35 passing against the Cardinal. Matt Barkley and his wide receivers will be far more formidable.

In other words, if each school performs the way it did in Week 1, Sept. 15 could be a very long day.

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