Pac-12: San Diego State Aztecs

Considering its long history of Polynesian influence, it should come as no surprise that the Pac-12 led the way with 15 players named to the preseason watch list for the inaugural Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award.

Headlining the list is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, USC safety Su'a Cravens, Oregon State center Isaac Seumalo, Washington linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha and BYU linebacker Alani Fua.

The award was established by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class of members in January. That group of seven included Kurt Gouveia (BYU), Olin Kreutz (Washington), Kevin Mawae (LSU), Junior Seau (USC), Jack Thompson (Washington State), Herman Wedemeyer (Saint Mary's College) and Ken Niumatalolo (Navy/Hawaii).

The full breakdown of players on the watch list by conference is as follows: Pac-12 (15), Mountain West (12), Independents (4), American Athletic (1), Big 12 (1) and Sun Belt (1).

Here is the complete list (34 total):
Five finalists will be announced on Nov. 20 with the winner set to be named on Dec. 9.
We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2014.

OREGON STATE

Portland State, Saturday, Aug. 30
  • Coach: Nigel Burton (18-27), fifth year
  • 2013 record: 6-6, 3-5 Big Sky
  • Returning starters: Seven offense, four defense
  • Offensive headliner: During the past two seasons, quarterback Kieran McDonagh has rushed for 775 yards and 13 touchdowns to go with more than 4,000 passing yards and 29 scores.
  • Defensive headliner: Cornerback Aaron Sibley is the lone returning starter in the secondary. He was an all-conference honorable mention last year after posting 42 tackles, 1.5 for a loss and one interception. Has all-conference potential this season.
  • The skinny: The Vikings lose a talented running back in DJ Adams, but the offense still has a lot of explosion after setting six school records last season. Defensively, there is some work to do with only four starters returning. This is the first of two meetings between the league and Portland State, which also faces Washington State on Sept. 13.
At Hawaii, Saturday, Sept. 6
  • Coach: Norm Chow (4-20), third year
  • 2013 record: 1-11, 0-8 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: Seven offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner: Offensive lineman Ben Clarke earned all-conference honorable mention honors last season and has started 24 games the past two seasons. He’s one of four returning starters on the offensive line.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Jerrol Garcia-Williams posted 67 tackles last year, including three for a loss and a sack. He also forced a couple of fumbles.
  • The skinny: We hit on Hawaii during the Colorado post last week. That will actually be the third game for the Warriors in the 2014 season against the Pac-12. They open at home against Washington and then get Oregon State a week later. Hawaii hasn’t beaten a Pac-12 team since topping Colorado 34-17 in the 2011 season opener.
San Diego State, Saturday, Sept. 20
  • Coach: Rocky Long (25-14), fourth year
  • 2013 record: 8-5, 6-2 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: Six offense, four defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quinn Kaehler returns at quarterback after taking over starting duties last year – where he passed for more than 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns to nine interceptions.
  • Defensive headliner: Oft-injured defensive back J.J. Whittaker was able to put together a complete season last year and rewarded the Aztecs with a team-high three interceptions, including a critical pick-six in the team’s win over Boise State last year.
  • The skinny: The Aztecs lose a huge chunk of production with the departure of running back Adam Muema. But Long has this team competing for a Mountain West title. It took a bizarre turn over events for the Beavers to win last year’s game at Qualcomm. Recall, SDSU was up 30-21 with five minutes left before an OSU touchdown, followed by a Steven Nelson pick-six and a Ryan Murphy interception in the final three minutes locked up the unlikely comeback.
Thoughts: We’d like to think Oregon State will jump out to a 3-0 start to the season. But we’ve been fooled before. The Beavers have dropped two games in the last three seasons to FCS foes -- Sacramento State in overtime in 2011 and the 49-46 shootout against Eastern Washington last year when the Beavers started the season ranked No. 25. So take the following analysis with a grain of salt: The Beavers absolutely should start the year 3-0. They have an elite quarterback, a running game they hope will blossom and experience on all three levels of the defense. Are they a perfect team? Absolutely not. They have holes like everyone else. But their holes shouldn’t matter against the likes of Portland State and Hawaii. San Diego State, however, is a surging Mountain West team. The Aztecs have gone to four straight bowl games (including 3 for 3 under Rocky Long) and pushed OSU to the brink last season. But the schedule works out that the Beavers have two games then a bye before wrapping the nonconference slate with SDSU at home. Then it’s off to USC to start league play on Sept. 27. The Beavers will be favorites in all three games so thinking 3-0 isn’t lofty. It’s expected.

Q&A: Oregon State's Brandin Cooks

September, 20, 2013
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Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks has so far proven that he’s more than capable of carrying the load as the Beavers No. 1 target. Heading into Saturday’s game at San Diego State, he ranks first in the country in receiving touchdowns (7) and receptions (29) and he’s second in receiving yards (498). And quarterback Sean Mannion has done a great job getting him the ball. Cooks has been targeted 32 times -- giving Mannion a 90-percent completion percentage when he looks to Cooks. The receiver took a few minutes this week to chat with the Pac-12 blog.

Do you get the sense that this team is getting its footing back after what happened in Week 1?

Brandin Cooks: Definitely. After that, we felt like we had a lot to prove, which we did. That lit our fire. We’re ready to go and get this thing back on pace like it should be.

That loss could have sunk you guys and set a real negative tone for the season. But you bounced back to beat Hawaii and Utah in overtime. How proud are you of this team’s resiliency.

[+] EnlargeOregon State's
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJunior wideout Brandin Cooks is the Beavers' top receiving threat.
BC: The resiliency with this group is amazing. I go back to my freshman year when we lost to an [FCS] team and we had a bad season. This time, the captains and the guys who were on that team weren’t going to let that happen this year. When we had that loss, we went back to work. We know who we are. And Week 1 wasn’t who we are.

In terms of momentum, how much do you guys have coming off of that overtime win?

BC: I feel like we have a lot of momentum. A lot of confidence. That’s what you need in this game. It’s good to have that going into the week and going down to San Diego and keep building on win after win. To have that confidence and momentum and knowing that we’ve got guys that will not lay down no matter the situation is a good thing for our team.

You’re putting up fantastic numbers so far. What’s different about your game this year?

BC: To be honest, I feel like I’m bigger and stronger and faster than I was last year. I’m a smarter player this year. I’m learning to read defenses and picking up on little things better than I did last year. Then you’ve got someone like Sean Mannion that is playing lights out right now. He has a lot to do with my success.

Since you brought up Sean, talk about what he’s been able to do so far. Just a few weeks ago we didn’t know if he would be the starter.

BC: He’s been amazing so far. Once he was named the starter, I could see in his eyes that he had that same confidence that he had the first four weeks last year. He’s working hard. He’s working his tail off. The best part of his game this year is being a great leader.

One of the things Markus Wheaton always talked about was studying defenses and tendencies. What are some of the things you learned playing alongside him the last couple of years that you’re applying to your game now?

BC: His football IQ is off the charts. The things he would look for when watching film were things I never would have thought to look for. Learning underneath him helped my game and it’s helping me teach others. By him being here, he was that role model and that extra coach on the side to teach me some things I didn’t know.

Coach [Mike] Riley is coming back down to Qualcomm Stadium this weekend. He joked he doesn’t have many good memories from when he was the Chargers coach. Does he talk about his time in the NFL much?

BC: Not really. Sometimes when we have team meetings and he’s telling a story, he’ll talk about being back in San Diego. But he doesn’t really bring it up that often.

What’s something about you that would surprise people?

BC: I can sing. I love to sing.

When are you doing this? Pregame, just walking around campus? During practice?

BC: I sing all over the place. In the locker room. Pregame. Ask my teammates. They wouldn’t be shocked about that.

What are you singing?

BC: R&B most of the time. I like Michael Jackson.

Old-school Michael or the later stuff?

BC: Old-school Michael. I love the old stuff.
The nonconference primer series came to a close Monday afternoon with the final installment of Washington State. Consider yourselves primed.

Looking over the nonconference slate for each team, there are some good games. Too many to limit to the five-option maximum of a normal poll. So we're going to split them up with a North poll today and a South poll tomorrow. (Auto-correct is trying to change it to North Pole and South Pole, kinda funny). Both divisions have some quality nonconference matchups. Today, we'll vote on the North and tomorrow we'll vote on the South.

SportsNation

What's the most intriguing nonconference game in the North Division?

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Discuss (Total votes: 5,593)

What's the most intriguing nonconference game in the North Division? Your options (determined by chronological order):

Aug. 31, Washington vs. Boise State: The Pac-12 blog hasn't been shy expressing its thoughts about this game. The rematch of last year's MAACO Bowl Las Vegas showdown -- which Boise State won in the fourth quarter -- could have tremendous ramifications for the Huskies -- win or lose.

Aug. 31, Washington State at Auburn: Two teams that were down last season, and two teams with offensive-minded coaches. And there is always Pac-12/SEC pride on the line.

Sept. 14, Cal vs. Ohio State: It's not every day that a potential No. 1 team in the country comes to the East Bay for a nonconference game. And considering how Cal pushed the Buckeyes last season, it's certainly worth tuning in for. I wouldn't say Ohio State is on upset alert -- especially with Cal thrusting a green quarterback into a new system with a new coach. But I'm not completely sold that Ohio State wins this one without a little effort.

Sept. 21, Oregon State at San Diego State: It should be a winnable game for the Beavers ... should be. But the Aztecs have been on a hot streak in recent years -- including a gutty road win at Boise last season that helped them get a slice of the conference title. Adam Muema is one of the nation's top backs, and Qualcomm Stadium and Mike Riley never really agreed. This smells like a trap.

Nov. 30, Notre Dame at Stanford: This one could have BCS bowl game implications. Last year's game -- and its controversial ending -- proved to be a turning point for both teams. Will this year's have the same implications?
We're taking a look at the can't-miss games of the 2013 Pac-12 season. The Ultimate Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 4.

Saturday, Sept. 21
  • Arizona State at Stanford
  • Utah State at USC
  • New Mexico State at UCLA
  • Utah at BYU
  • Oregon State at San Diego State
  • Idaho State at Washington
  • Idaho at Washington State
My choice: Arizona State at Stanford

Why: Utah fans, you are excused this week. We understand. Enjoy the BYU rivalry one last time before it goes on holy hiatus. Go forth with the blessing of all other Pac-12 fan bases. May your gang be the jolliest that we have ever seen.

We're also aware of the elevated tensions in the already heated turf war between Idaho and Washington State. So if you feel you feel pulled toward Pullman, you too are excused.

As for the rest of the conference, the ASU-Stanford matchup might end up being a preview of the Pac-12 championship game. Of course, there is a lot that can happen between Week 4 and Thanksgiving, so we're not going to get too far ahead of ourselves.

Still, if the Sun Devils are who we think they are -- and if the Cardinal are who they have been -- then look out, because this could prove to be one of the marquee matchups of the 2013 season.

For starters, you have two extremely efficient quarterbacks in Taylor Kelly and Kevin Hogan -- both of whom operate different schemes, but both seem tailor-made for their systems. But the real storyline is going to be up front (as it often times is, but not always talked about).

The Cardinal have arguably the best defensive front seven in the league. ASU would argue that. But the Cardinal also have an offensive line that few would argue is inferior to anyone else in the conference, maybe the country. So you have the Stanford front trying to keep the likes of Will Sutton and Carl Bradford at bay. There is always a bit of trickery and nuance from week to week with the Cardinal attack, but for the most part, you know what's coming. They are going to run the power straight ahead and beg you to try and stop it. David Yankey vs. Will Sutton. May the best All-American win.

Meanwhile, ASU's offense will do what it can to confuse the Cardinal defense, splitting out Marion Grice and D.J. Foster while slipping Chris Coyle underneath -- all the while trying to keep Ben Gardner and Trent Murphy from greeting Kelly with their face masks. It's going to be a fun chess match with some of the league's top playmakers on both sides of the ball.

The Cardinal will be coming off their long road trip from Army while ASU will be recovering from their home game against Wisconsin. This is the second in a brutal four-game stretch for the Sun Devils (USC and Notre Dame await in the next two weeks). It's also their chance to stand up and show they deserve a seat at the table with the conference big boys.

This one qualifies as not to be missed. Unless you're a Utah fan. We get it.
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

Oregon State

Eastern Washington, Aug. 31
  • Coach: Beau Baldwin (44-19), sixth year
  • 2012 record: 11-3, 7-1 Big Sky
  • Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Vernon Adams was last season's FCS Freshman of the Year and a Freshman All-American. In a two-quarterback system, he completed 60.4 percent of his throws with 20 touchdowns to eight interceptions.
  • Defensive headliner: An FCS All-American last year, cornerback T.J. Lee posted 90 tackles with 11 pass breakups. He also had 2.5 sacks, nine tackles for a loss and an interception.
  • The skinny: This is not a team to be taken lightly. It pushed Washington State last season and advanced to the semifinals of the FCS playoffs, finishing ranked fourth nationally among all FCS schools. Adams is a playmaker and, as a team, the Eagles set a school mark for passing yards in 2012 with 4,469. It's still an FCS school, but the Eagles are certainly an upgrade over Nicholls State.
Hawaii, Sept. 7
  • Coach: Norm Chow (3-9), second year
  • 2012 record: 3-9, 1-7 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: 9 offense, 8 defense
  • Offensive headliner: The offensive line returns four of five starters from last season -- and we all know continuity on the line is huge -- so Ben Clarke, Dave Lefotu, Mike Milovale and Chauncy Winchester-Makainai get the nod as a single unit.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive back Marrell Jackson was the co-leader in tackles last year with 56, also defending five passes and forcing a pair of fumbles.
  • The skinny: Hawaii has a nice core returning -- quarterback, running back, a couple of wide receivers and four of five offensive linemen. Defensively, half of the line and the entire starting linebacking corps returns. They lose punter Alex Dunnachie, an All-America honorable mention. But if Chow's offense shows improvement from last year -- when it ranked 100th in scoring at 21.2 points per game -- then maybe there will be fewer punts?
at San Diego State, Sept. 21
  • Coach: Rocky Long (17-9), third year
  • 2012 record: 9-4, 7-1 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: 7 offense, 9 defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Adam Muema was quietly one of the top rushers in the country last year, going for 1,458 yards with 16 touchdowns.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Jake Fely was second on the team with 90 stops last year and posted a team-high seven sacks with 11.5 tackles for a loss.
  • The skinny: What Brady Hoke started, Long has continued. The Aztecs set a team rushing record last season, piling up 2,869 yards while grabbing a share of the league title. They lose a pair of talented corners, Josh Wade and Leon McFadden, and tight end Gavin Escobar. But the defensive front seven is nasty, and Muema is the real deal and should continue to flourish as Bob Toledo takes over the offense for the departed Andy Ludwig.
Thoughts: The Beavers aren't without questions heading into 2013. Chief among them is the quarterback spot. But we think we have a pretty good feel for who this team is going to be, regardless of whether Cody Vaz or Sean Mannion gets the nod. So the first two games should be about the starter growing (or re-growing) into his role while continuing to develop a reliable receiver opposite Brandin Cooks. By Week 4 (the Beavers have a league game against Utah before SDSU), most of the questions should be answered. Just in time to face a San Diego State team that has enjoyed some success over the past three years. No team should ever be taken lightly -- and this game in particular could prove challenging. Plus, Qualcomm Stadium was never that kind to Mike Riley. With all that said, the Beavers clearly have the talent to go 3-0 in nonconference play and 4-0 the first month of the season.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 2

September, 6, 2012
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Here are some of the storylines to keep an eye on in Week 2.

1. Who can rebound? Washington State, Cal and Colorado will all look to get in the win column this week after disappointing debuts. Each has something specific it needs to work on in Week 2. The Bears need to find a way to get off the field on third down, Colorado needs to find a running game, and Washington State needs to find a little confidence (positive rushing yards wouldn't be bad, either). And even though Stanford won last week, there was a vibe around the team that a 20-17 against San Jose State isn't going to cut it. And they are right. After this week's game against Duke, USC comes to town and then a big road trip to Washington. Cal has its big matchup with Ohio State looming as well. A lot needs to be sorted out for these four teams in Week

2. Super schedule: Some huge measuring-stick games this week against out-of-conference, BCS-conference foes (seven total). UCLA will see what they really have in Brett Hundleywhen he sees a Nebraska defense that won't be as generous as Rice. And we'll see if Arizona State and Arizona are the real deal when they take on Illinois and Oklahoma State, respectively. While it was nice to see all three win in Week 1, the big question now is whether they can all sustain it with the competition level being increased dramatically. And there are a couple more nonconference games we should mention ...

3. What about the Beavers? Mike Riley joked that so far this season feels like the training camp that would never end. As last week's game against Nicholls State was re-routed because of Hurricane Isaac, we're still not sure what we're getting with Oregon State. We know they want to run the football, and Storm Woods is the guy to do it. At question is whether they'll have success against Wisconsin. It's tough to open the year against a ranked opponent, and Riley called this one of the biggest nonconference games in school history. Also eager to see how much progress Sean Mannion has made and how OSU's passing attack led by Markus Wheaton stacks up against the Badgers. By the way, big ups to OSU, which will have volunteers from the American Red Cross at Reser Stadium to take donations that go to victims of Hurricane Isaac. Classy gesture.

4. What about the Huskies? Grrr ... the SEC. They win national championships. They dominate the rankings. Their fans come to our blog and troll with impunity. Grrr. How well will the Huskies represent the conference when they travel to Baton Rouge? Washington showed a lot of inconsistency against San Diego State, particularly on offense. And losing running back Jesse Callier for the season certainly doesn't help the situation. But when the Huskies were clicking, it was Keith Price connecting with Austin Seferian-Jenkins (nine catches, 82 yards) and Kasen Williams (six catches, 75 yards, 1 touchdown). That trio will have to have a monster game to pull off a shocker against the No. 3 team in the land.

5. Desert defense: Some interesting matchups when you look at Arizona and Arizona State's competition -- particularly at the quarterback spot. How will the Wildcats fare against Oklahoma State freshman quarterback Wes Lunt, who actually saw less field time last week than Marcus Mariota? The Sun Devils might or might not face Illinois starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who has been out with an ankle injury. Head coach Todd Graham said they are prepping to face Scheelhasse, though there's a good chance (depending on which update you read at any particular hour) the Sun Devils could be seeing Reilly O'Toole.

 

Hat trick for Pac-12 in night games

September, 2, 2012
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After a rough start to the day for the Pac-12, USC pounded Hawaii and the conference swept the night games. Here's the breakdown of the three 7:30 p.m. kickoffs:

Oregon 57, Arkansas State 34: For 30 minutes Saturday night, Arkansas State outscored the No. 5 Oregon Ducks 24-7. That would have been great news for the Red Wolves, had the Ducks not dropped 50 on them halfway through the second quarter.

Marcus Mariota impressed in his debut as Oregon's starting quarterback, completing 19 of 23 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns. Twice he connected with De'Anthony Thomas and another went to Josh Huff.

Thomas -- who enters the season with some Heisman hype -- didn't disappoint. The versatile player who comes at you from all angles rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown on three carries to go with four catches for 55 yards and two touchdowns.

Kenjon Barner also added a pair of rushing touchdowns, carrying the ball nine times for 66 yards.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly pulled a large portion of his starters halfway through the second quarter when the Ducks had built a 50-3 lead.

Byron Marshall got plenty of work, carrying the ball 24 times for 65 yards and a score. In relief of Mariota, Bryan Bennett connected on 10 of 17 passes for 107 yards and a 7-yard touchdown pass to Rahsaan Vaughn.

Washington 21, San Diego State 12: It was a mixed-bag performance for Washington, which topped San Diego State 21-12.

The defense showed significant signs of improvement -- at times -- and the offense looked explosive -- at times -- but both also faltered at times leaving the end result in doubt until the final minutes.

Quarterback Keith Price completed 25 of 35 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown and Bishop Sankey rushed for 66 yards on 22 carries with a score. Washington's third score came on a 44-yard fumble recovery from Will Shamburger. The Huskies defense -- revamped under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox -- forced three SDSU turnovers.

The Huskies jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, but gave one back when SDSU receiver Tim Vizzi pulled the old Pop Warner, sneak-on-the-field-near-the-sideline play. No one picked him up and Ryan Katz hit him for a 47-yard touchdown.

But despite giving up 327 total yards (199 on the ground), the Huskies kept the Aztecs out of the end zone again until the fourth quarter, when Adam Muema scored on a 1-yard run. Both of SDSU's two-point conversion attempts failed.

Washington is sure to get a tougher test on both sides of the ball when it travels to face LSU next week.

Arizona 24, Toledo 17, OT: Matt Scott connected with Terrence Miller for a 10-yard touchdown in overtime to give the Wildcats a 24-17, bailing out kicker John Bonano, who missed a 25-yard field goal as time expired that would have given the Wildcats a victory.

Rolling to his right, Scott found Miller just in front of the end zone and released a dart just before being pulled out of bounds. He finished 30-of-46 for 384 yards and two touchdowns and helped make Rich Rodriguez a winner in his first game as Arizona's head coach.

Scott's first touchdown was a 30-yarder to Austin Hill, who laid out and made a fingertip catch in the end zone to put Arizona ahead 10-7 in the second quarter after Bonano's 26-yard field goal Arizona a 3-0 lead early in the game. Hill finished with seven catches for 136 yards and Dan Buckner also broke 100 yards, catching a team-high nine balls for 118 yards.

Running back Ka'Deem Carey turned in a strong performance with 149 yards on 20 carries that included a 73-yard touchdown run.

Arizona piled on 623 yards of offense, but also committed three turnovers, including two fumbles lost. By contrast, Toledo had 347 yards of total offense.

What's coming up: Part 2

September, 1, 2012
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Three games coming up to close out Week 1 of the Pac-12 docket. Here's a look at what's on tap:

San Diego State at Washington (7:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network): People know what Washington quarterback Keith Price is capable of, but a lot of the interest is on the defensive side of the ball to see what sort of impact new coordinator Justin Wilcox can make. The Aztecs are led by former Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz.

Arkansas State at Oregon (7:30 p.m. PT, ESPN): Marcus Mariota makes his debut as Oregon's quarterback with some outstanding talent around him -- including running back Kenjon Barner and do-everything back/receiver De'Anthony Thomas. Thomas was the only player in FBS with at least 500 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards and 500 kick return yards last season. Oregon's defense is being touted as the best of Chip Kelly's tenure.

Toledo at Arizona (7:30 p.m. PT, ESPNU): The Rich Rodriguez era gets underway with Matt Scott running the offense. In his 22 appearances (including five starts) he's completed 63.8 percent of his passes with six touchdowns. Last time they met in 2010, Arizona came out on top 41-2. Arizona's defense, however, does have some questions -- particularly at linebacker where the Wildcats are thin.

Video: Friday Four Downs

August, 31, 2012
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The Friday Four Downs segment looks at four main points of interest for the Pac-12's weekend games.

Media rankings for nonconference schedule

July, 31, 2012
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We've told you about the preseason Pac-12 media poll, which projected things as most folks believed it would. But what about all the other media polls out there for teams that cross paths with Pac-12 teams this fall?

Don't worry. We are here to help.

The Pac-12 has dates with the preseason SEC (LSU-Washington) and Big Ten (Wisconsin-Oregon State) favorites, but there also is plenty of mediocrity on the nonconference slate this season. There's only one game between the conference and the ACC (Duke-Stanford) and Big 12 (Oklahoma State-Arizona). There's two between the Pac-12 and SEC because Missouri (Arizona State) switched its affiliation away from the Big 12.

And it's clear the Big Ten, the Pac-12's Rose Bowl rival, is still the chief partner for quality nonconference action. There also are dates with Illinois (Arizona State), Ohio State (California) and Nebraska (UCLA).

There also are seven dates with the Mountain West Conference: Colorado State (Colorado), Fresno State (Oregon, Colorado), Nevada (California), Hawaii (USC), San Diego State (Washington State) and UNLV (Washington State).

BYU and Notre Dame, as Independents, aren't in preseason media polls. FCS teams aren't included

Arizona: Toledo (first in MAC West Division); Oklahoma State (fourth in Big 12)

Arizona State: Illinois (fourth in the Big Ten Leaders Division); Missouri (fourth in SEC East)

California: Nevada (second in Mountain West); Ohio State (second in Big Ten Leaders Division);

Colorado: Colorado State (eighth in Mountain West); Fresno State (third in Mountain West)

Oregon: Arkansas State (second in Sun Belt); Fresno State (third in Mountain West)

Oregon State: Wisconsin (first in Big Ten Leaders Division)

Stanford: San Jose State (third in WAC); Duke (last in ACC Coastal Division)

UCLA: Rice (fifth in Conference USA West Division); Nebraska (first in Big Ten Legends Division; Big Ten champs); Houston (first in Conference USA West Division)

USC: Hawaii (seventh in Mountain West), Syracuse (seventh in Big East)

Utah: Utah State (second in WAC)

Washington: San Diego State (fifth in Mountain West); LSU (first in SEC West, SEC champs)

Washington State: UNLV (ninth in Mountain West)

Week 1 primer: Pac-12 North

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Week 1 can't get here soon enough. Every team plays an out-of-conference opponent in the first two weeks of the season, so we thought we'd take a quick look at who is coming up in Week 1. We'll go into greater detail as the start of the season draws closer. This is just a primer for those who need their beaks moistened and whistles whet. Earlier today we looked at the South.

NEVADA

Game: at Cal, Saturday, Sept. 1

Coach: Chris Ault (226-103-1, 28th year)

2011 record: 7-6 (5-2, WAC)

Did you know: Another team new to the Mountain West, Nevada returns six starters on offense and seven on defense. The Wolf Pack has been to seven straight bowl games, but also had a significant amount of turnover in the coaching staff this past season. Plus they've lost a lot of defensive linemen from a group that was only 101st in tackles for a loss last year. Dual threat quarterback Cody Fajardo is the one to keep an eye on.

ARKANSAS STATE

Game: at Oregon, Saturday, Sept. 1

Coach: Gus Malzahn (first year)

2011 record: 10-3 (8-0, Sun Belt)

Did you know: Malzahn won the Broyles Award -- which goes to the nation's top assistant coach -- for his work with Auburn and their title run in 2010-2011. Not that a win would make Oregon feel better for what happened in the title game, but hey, it can't hurt. Returning quarterback Ryan Aplin, who is a three-year starter and has some NFL buzz, owns 16 school records and is the reigning conference player of the year.

NICHOLLS STATE

Game: at Oregon State, Saturday, Sept. 1

Coach: Charlie Stubbs (5-17, third year)

2011 record: (1-10, 0-7 Southland)

Did you know: The Colonels have lost 10 straight after opening last season with a win over Evangel University. Nicholls State posted a 42-0 victory, but has been outscored 16-38 in its last 10 contests. Stubbs' first full-time coaching gig was at Oregon State, where he started as a receivers and tight ends coach before becoming the Beavers offensive coordinator in 1987.

SAN JOSE STATE

Game: at Stanford, Friday, Aug. 31

Coach: Mike MacIntyre (6-19, third season)

2011 record: 5-7 (3-4, WAC)

Did you know: This will be the 21st time Stanford has opened its season against the Spartans. The Cardinal are 19-1 in those other meetings and hold a 50-14-1 record in what has now been dubbed the Bill Walsh Legacy Game.

SAN DIEGO STATE

Game: at Washington, Saturday, Sept. 1

Coach: Rocky Long (8-5, second season)

2011 record: 8-5 (4-3, MWC)

Did you know: The Aztecs lost three stars -- QB Ryan Lindley, RB Ronnie Hillman and LB Miles Burris -- to the NFL, but the addition of Pac-12 transfers Ryan Katz (QB, Oregon State) and Brice Butler (WR, USC) give offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig (formerly of Cal) some new firepower. After being bowl-less since 1998 the Aztecs have gone to the postseason in back-to-back years.

BYU

Game: Washington State, Thursday, Aug. 30.

Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (66-24, eighth season)

2011 record: 10-3 (independent)

Did you know: Of FBS coaches with at least five years experience, Mendenhall's .733 winning percentage ranks eighth among all coaches -- ahead of names such as Nick Saban and Les Miles. This isn't the only time we'll see BYU this year. They'll renew their rivalry at Utah in Week 3. Mike Leach has also talked extensively about how his time as a BYU student shaped the philosophies he would embrace as a head coach.
What if the Mayans got it right? Or worse ... what if John Cusack got it right? That means there is only one season left of college football before civilization gets a facelift (and we won't even get to see the national championship game, bummer). So every week has got to count. We're taking you on the ultimate week-by-week road trip in the Pac-12.

Welcome to Week 1.

Thursday Aug. 30
  • Northern Colorado at Utah
  • UCLA at Rice
  • Northern Arizona at Arizona State
  • Washington State at BYU
Friday, Aug. 31
  • San Jose State at Stanford
Saturday Sept. 1
  • Nevada at Cal
  • Nicholls State at Oregon State
  • Colorado State at Colorado
  • Hawaii at USC
  • San Diego State at Washington
  • Arkansas State at Oregon
  • Toledo at Arizona
My choice: Washington State at BYU

Why: Who isn't excited to see Mike Leach return to his roots in Provo, Utah? As we talked about in our most-important-game series, this is going to be a good first measuring stick to see how far Washington State has come in Leach's short tenure.

There is a good vibe coming out of Pullman right now with the potentially explosive combination of Jeff Tuel to Marquess Wilson and a quality road victory to start the year -- and the new era -- would keep that momentum going.

BYU is replacing at least one starting cornerback and one safety, so the Cougars will be tested by WSU's passing onslaught. Should make for an exciting first game.

If that game is sold out, my backup would be San Diego State at Washington. First, Ryan Katz makes his return to the Pac-12 since transferring out of Oregon State. Second, a lot of folks are curious to see what Washington's overhauled defense is going to look like outside of a scrimmage situation. (But we'll get to the Huskies in Week 2).
Every game counts. But some games count more. Or tell us more.

We're going through the Pac-12 and picking out one game that seems most important -- or potentially most revealing -- for each team from our vantage point today.

We're going in alphabetical order.

Washington

Most important game: Oct. 6 at Oregon.

Why it's important: At first, I was leaning toward Stanford on Sept. 27. Then at Cal on Nov. 2. After all, a win in those games elevates Washington to the top of the second-tier North teams. But seriously? Who wants to be the best of the second-best? And Washington fans can allow themselves to think, dream, wish big this year with an exciting quarterback who's surrounded by some fantastic playmakers and a re-tooled defense that many hope will be more mettle and less mesh.

It's no secret that the road to the Pac-12 North goes through Oregon. It just so happens that (as Ted likes to remind Washington fans) Oregon has topped the Huskies eight years in a row by an average margin of 25 points.

Why is this year going to be different? Maybe it won't be.

Washington is going to be run through the wringer in the first half of the season, with the exception of San Diego State and Portland State. The Aztecs lost their quarterback, running back and best linebacker to the NFL. Portland State, bless em', those gutty little Vikings don't pose much of a threat. The Huskies play at LSU, home to Stanford, at Oregon and then home to USC. It's conceivable they could be playing the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 teams in the country in a four-week span. But none is bigger than Oregon, the three-time defending conference champs.

A victory changes the entire landscape of the North and may even indicate a power shift in the conference. A loss reminds the Huskies they are second-class citizens in the North and could be a blow to the ego heading into the USC game.
No one can accuse the Pac-12 of taking it easy when it comes to scheduling. So when Bruce Feldman broke down what he considers the 10 toughest schedules of 2012, it's no surprise that three Pac-12 teams landed in that top 10 -- including two in the top three.

Here's Feldman's list:
  1. Notre Dame
  2. Washington
  3. Oregon State
  4. Michigan
  5. Kansas
  6. Ole Miss
  7. Auburn
  8. Iowa State
  9. Cal
  10. South Carolina
Feldman on Washington: The Huskies start with San Diego State (which has won 17 games the past two seasons), then venture off to Baton Rouge to face a loaded LSU squad. After the encounter with the Tigers, they get FCS Portland State before the Huskies get into the teeth of their schedule: a three-game stretch against Stanford, the most physical team in the Pac-12, at Oregon and then home against USC to wrap things up against the league's three most talented teams.

On Oregon State: In the second half of the season, when coach Mike Riley very likely will be battling to keep his job, his team has to deal with Utah, Washington, ASU, Stanford, Cal and Oregon, which translates to probably five of the six best teams in the league.

On Cal: The Bears get seven home games, which is nice but they also have back-to-back road trips to Ohio State and USC in the opening month of the season. There is also a four-game stretch of Stanford, at Utah, Washington and Oregon and that comes right after a trip to Wazzu, which is going to be a handful for teams to prepare for this fall.

And just to throw a fourth team into the mix, I think you can easily make an argument for USC to be on this list as well. The four-game swing at Stanford, home to Cal, at Utah and at Washington is sure to take its toll -- considering those are three of the top defensive fronts in the conference. Then there is the much-anticipated showdown with Oregon at home on Nov. 3 before closing out the year at home against Notre Dame.

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