Dane Miller’s 2023 Week 1 Pac-12 Football Previews

The final two of four straight days of football continues with nine games on Saturday and Sunday

Posted on September 1, 2023

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

The first full weekend of college football games continues in the Pac-12 with nine matchups on Saturday and Sunday.

Colorado-TCU, Washington-Boise State, and UCLA-Coastal Carolina highlight Saturday’s games while Oregon State takes on San Jose State on Sunday.

I preview all the remaining contests (after today’s Stanford-Hawai’i matchup) here and the picks of our writers appear at the bottom.

Colorado at No. 17 TCU

Saturday, September 2
9:00 am PT, Fox

The Deion Sanders era begins in Boulder with a Big Noon matchup on Fox.

Sanders completely rebuilt the Colorado roster over the offseason with the No. 1 ranked transfer class and brings a team to Fort Worth with stronger schemes on both sides of the ball.

Sean Lewis’s offense utilizes spread principles and is predicated on a strong rushing attack.

Running backs Alton McCaskill, Kavosiey Smoke, and Dylan Edwards should take full advantage of the open lanes that the scheme provides.

At the same time, quarterback Shedeur Sanders should utilize his mobility for the occasional quarterback run to keep the defense in check.

Colorado QB Shedeur Sanders | David Zalubowski/AP

The result should be an effective passing game that produces plenty of yards after the catch. Spread schemes that favor the run tend to catch defenses off guard when throwing out of an RPO.

Receivers usually catch the ball in open space and can take advantage of their athleticism to force missed tackles.

The X-Factor, though, is CU’s defense. The Horned Frogs lost their starting quarterback, top two running backs, and top three receivers from last year’s squad, and the Buffs brought in plenty of SEC transfers on “D.”

An upset might not be in the cards, but the game figures to be closer than some expect.

Portland State at No. 15 OregonOregon Ducks Logo Pac-12

Saturday, September 2
Noon, Pac-12 Network

The Ducks start their Playoff campaign with a buy-game against Portland State.

With zero chance of upset potential, the primary storylines are the cohesiveness of the offensive line and the strength of the defense.

Under no circumstances should Oregon give up a sack to the Vikings, and holding the FCS team under 14 points is a fair expectation.

Outside of those two goals, staying healthy is a top priority. The injury to Bo Nix last season stopped the Ducks in their tracks and this matchup is essentially meaningless in the grand scheme.

Oregon QB Bo Nix | San Diego Union-Tribune

Still, the new transfers on both sides of the ball should get plenty of run to show what they are capable of. Defensive lineman Jordan Burch, in particular, is a player to watch.

The transfer from South Carolina had 3.5 sacks and 60 tackles last season for the Gamecocks. Burch figures to be a key part of the Oregon defense and should help produce one of the top defensive lines in the Pac-12 once again.

If there’s only one position group to keep an eye on, though, it’s the linebackers.

For a team with Playoff expectations, the linebacker unit is not quite where it should be, and could be a relative weakness for the team in 2023.

Boise State at No. 10 WashingtonWashington football pac-12

Saturday, September 2
12:30 pm PT, ABC

The Washington defense figures to have its hands full with Taylen Green.

The redshirt sophomore quarterback changed Boise State’s 2022 season after winning the starting role early in the year. Always a threat to run, Green substantially opens up the BSU offense.

With 10 rushing touchdowns last season and eclipsing the 100-yard mark on the ground three times, the Bronco quarterback is a threat on every snap.

Doubling the potency of the Boise State offense, leading running backs Ashton Jeanty and George Holani are back as well.

Husky DL Tuli Letuligasenoa | Alika Jenner/Getty Images

There’s a reason this game is on national television. The Dawgs are legitimately on upset alert.

But, fortunately, the clash of schemes tends to favor Washington. The Boise State offense is more predicated on the run and the UW defense is much stronger at stopping the ground game than defending the pass.

The Huskies have one of the top defensive lines in the Pac-12 and capable linebackers able to get the job done.

As long as the Dawgs keep BSU’s rushing attack reasonably in check, the Husky offense should score enough points to secure the win.

California at North Texas

Saturday, September 2
1:00 pm PT, ESPNU

If there’s any team that faces a barometer test in the Pac-12 this week, it’s the California Bears.

No matter who you are playing, road games are tough to win. The challenge substantially increases when breaking in a new quarterback and new offensive scheme at the same time.

The matchup with North Texas provides a first look at offensive coordinator Jake Spavital’s scheme and TCU transfer quarterback Sam Jackson V.

Somewhat flying under the radar, the Bears have numerous transfers on both sides of the ball that figure to immediately contribute.

Cal quarterback Sam Jackson V | Cal Athletics

247Sports rated Cal’s transfer class as the 18th-best in the nation and there’s an argument to be made that the Bears have one of the top secondaries in the league.

Plus, with plenty of depth at running back and enough weapons at wide receiver, Cal shouldn’t drop this game.

One key to watch is the dynamic between Jackson and running back Jaydn Ott. Jackson is a mobile quarterback that can make plays with his legs and Ott is arguably the top running back in the Pac-12.

How they play off of each other could determine the ceiling of Cal’s season.

Nevada at No. 6 USCusc logo

Saturday, September 2
3:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

There’s so much noise surrounding Alex Grinch’s defense that somehow a 28-point victory over a respectable San Jose State team gets lost in the wind.

The four touchdowns surrendered to the Spartans was slightly disappointing, yet still within the range to avoid overreactions.

The case against Nevada is different, though. The Wolfpack did a relatively respectable job in the transfer portal over the offseason, bringing in multiple players from Oregon, California, USC, and Colorado.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams | CBS Sports

Still, Nevada should struggle to score more than two touchdowns at the Coliseum. Colorado transfer quarterback Brendon Lewis has been named the starter alongside Oregon running back transfer Sean Dollars.

Grinch’s defense had flashes of strong play in Week Zero, but still had worrying breakdowns containing a mobile quarterback. Lewis isn’t on the same level as Chevan Cordeiro, yet still presents a similar form of threat.

Until the USC defense puts together a dominate game, all of the talk surrounding the program will remain on that side of the ball.

Outside of that glaring issue, the rest of the country will be keen to see how many yards and touchdowns Zachariah Branch puts up in his second game.

Washington State at Colorado State

Saturday, September 2
4:00 pm PT, CBS Sports Network

The old Coug Raid is out and Ben Arbuckle’s offense is in.

There are some teams in the Pac-12 that have clearly defined ceilings and are narrowly range-bound in their win-loss projection. The Cougars are not one of those teams.

Massive amounts of production were lost from the linebacker corps and there are worrying concerns in the offensive line.

Yet, Cam Ward should take several steps forward in his second season in Pullman and he has plenty of weapons around him to score points.

Washington State QB Cam Ward | The Draft Wire/USA TODAY

At the same time, Wazzu has a strong defensive line and secondary to continue Jake Dickert’s hallmark defensive strength.

Matched up on the road to Colorado State, the Cougs face a rebuilt Ram offensive line.

The Mountain West program returns just one O-Line starter from last year’s squad and must contend with what’s expected to be one of the top defensive lines in the Pac-12.

As long as Dickert’s defense gets pressure and forces turnovers like they always do, Wazzu should be in good shape. The primary focus, however, figures to be on Arbuckle’s offense and how many points it puts up.

Northern Arizona at ArizonaArizona football Pac-12

Saturday, September 2
7:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Jedd Fisch and the Wildcats get a revenge game against Northern Arizona after losing to the FCS team in 2021.

Expected to make a bowl game this season, the matchup with the Lumberjacks is a bit of a bridge game to the showdown with Mississippi State next week.

Staying healthy will be a top priority along with providing many different players opportunities for snaps. Fisch’s offense is one of the most explosive in College Football and should produce several touchdowns of 20-plus yards.

Arizona LB Justin Flowe | Arizona Athletics

With an offense expected to roll, much of the analysis will be focused on the defense.

In Year Two of Johnny Nansen’s system, the Cats should hold NAU under 21 points. Oregon linebacker transfer Justin Flowe should create havoc all game and the depth along the defensive line should shine bright.

In the secondary, an interception or two is a reasonable expectation.

At the end of the day, Arizona should drop 50 points or more on the back of big play after big play.

Coastal Carolina at UCLA

Saturday, September 2
7:30 pm PT, ESPN

UCLA’s season starts off with a bang.

Coastal Carolina is no pushover and quarterback Grayson McCall is elite. New defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn is getting dropped in the proverbial fire and will be forced to either sink or swim.

At the same time, the Bruins’ quarterback situation is in flux and could be a drag on the team. Rotating multiple QB’s is never ideal and all three of UCLA’s options are still gunning for the starting role.

Ethan Garbers has been named the starter, although that seems more to do with his experience in the system rather than pure merit.

UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers | UCLA Athletics

Fortunately, the three quarterbacks have plenty of weapons around them.

Running back Carson Steele averaged 5.4 yards per carry last year and should thrive under Chip Kelly’s offense. Cal transfer wide receiver J. Michael Sturdivant should excel, too, assuming the rebuilt offensive line holds up as expected.

But the Bruins have an uncanny knack for losing games they should win and Coastal Carolina has a respectable offense.

The game figures to come down to Lynn’s command of the defense. With an NFL pedigree behind him, the new defensive coordinator should scheme up a game plan to get the job done.

No. 18 Oregon State at San Jose State

Sunday, September 3
12:30 pm PT, CBS

Kicking off on a Sunday, Oregon State opens its season on national television.

San Jose State fields an underrated team with a capable offense. The program just opened a new athletics facility and is brimming with momentum heading into the year.

Quarterback Chevan Cordeiro is the Preseason Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year and he returns his top running back alongside him in Kairee Robinson.

Wide receiver Nick Nash scored three touchdowns in Week Zero and the SJSU offensive line gave up just one sack.

In other words, San Jose State is a capable team that is not to be overlooked.

Oregon State QB DJ Uiagalelei | Getty Images via CBSSports.com

Still, the Beavers have Pac-12 Championship Game aspirations and should be a substantially more dangerous team with DJ Uiagalelei running the show.

Jonathan Smith’s offensive scheme is arguably perfect for Uiagalelei’s style of play. The Clemson transfer had many options when he entered the portal and there’s a reason he came to Corvallis.

The scheme is run-heavy and allows the quarterback to pick and choose his moments. Quarterback play was the primary issue holding OSU back over the last few years and that problem should be solved.

Combined with what’s expected to be the top offensive line in the Pac-12, the Beavers should beat San Jose State by multiple touchdowns.

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