Posted on August 31, 2023
After nine long months, the first full weekend of College Football is finally here.
The Pac-12 is loaded from top to bottom in 2023, and the march to the Playoff begins now.
Utah and Arizona State start things off today with home contests against Florida and Southern Utah, respectively, and Stanford travels to Hawai’i on Friday.
I preview those three games here and the picks of our writers appear at the bottom.
Florida at No. 14 Utah
Thursday, August 31
5:00 p.m. PT, ESPN
Still recovering from ACL injury sustained in last season’s Rose Bowl, Rising’s mobility and decision-making will be missed.
Backup quarterback Bryson Barnes has some experience to lean on, but the junior doesn’t possess the same threat to run that’s vital to Andy Ludwig’s system.
Without Rising, the ability of the offense to put up points will arguably come down to the production of the running backs. If Ja’Quinden Jackson and Micah Bernard have strong games, the Utes will be hard to beat.
Still, Utah has plenty of weapons on the other side of the ball to defend Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Morgan Scalley’s defense should be able to create interceptions lined up against Florida quarterback Graham Mertz.
The Wisconsin transfer has thrown 26 interceptions over his three seasons as a starter for the Badgers compared to just 38 touchdowns.
With eight starters returning in Scalley’s unit, the Utes should come up with enough third-down stops and pivotal turnovers to will the team to victory.
Southern Utah at Arizona State
Thursday, August 31
7:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network
With no bowl game to play for, each week carries greater meaning than it otherwise would. Arguably overlooked by some, Arizona State has a roster capable of reaching six wins.
The keys to watch are ASU’s offensive line and linebackers. The two position groups are the primary questions coming into the season and figure to be tested throughout the year.
Holding Southern Utah under 17 points is a fair expectation for Brian Ward’s defense, and limiting the Thunderbirds to less than two sacks is a reasonable goal for the O-Line.
Running back Cam Skattebo, receiver Elijah Badger, receiver Xavier Guillory, and tight end Jalin Conyers all should find the end zone in the opener.
And matched up against an inferior FCS opponent, a four-touchdown night from Rashada is an achievable outcome.
But any struggles on either side of the ball could raise alarm bells for the rest of the year.
Stanford at Hawai’i
Friday, September 1
8:00 p.m. PT, CBS Sports
The Warriors only lost by seven on the road to Vanderbilt in Week Zero and likely view Stanford as vulnerable.
The quarterback situation on Troy Taylor’s roster is murky, at best, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see multiple players get drives.
No matter who is under center, the Tree must find ways to get tight end Benjamin Yurosek and receiver John Humphreys the ball. The two top players on Stanford’s offense should be focal points throughout the season.
Yet, the key to beating Hawaii figures to be slowing down its passing attack. That’s a problem for a Stanford secondary that, at least on paper, is the worst in the Pac-12.
The Warriors threw the ball 35 times against Vanderbilt with quarterback Brayden Schager connecting on 77.1 percent of his throws.
Unless Taylor’s offense is able to put up 30 points or more, the writing seems to be on the wall for an upset on the Islands.
Game Picks from Our Senior Writers and Broadcasters
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