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Dane Miller’s 2023 Week 3 Pac-12 Football Previews

The Pac-12 is on top of the CFB world with 8 teams in the AP Top 25 and GameDay in Boulder

Posted on September 15, 2023

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

The Pac-12 enters Week Three on top of the College Football world.

Eight teams are ranked in the AP Top 25 and ESPN’s College GameDay is in Boulder.

But with seven games tucked away on the Pac-12 Network, the exposure from this weekend figures to be more muted.

Still, Oregon State takes on San Diego State in a key matchup while Washington plays Michigan State.

I preview all 11 games across the Conference of Champions here and the picks of our writers and broadcasters appear at the bottom.

Weber State at No. 12 Utah

Saturday, September 16
11:00 am PT, Pac-12 Network

With Playoff hopes and an unblemished record in tack, Utah rounds out its tough nonconference schedule with a buy-game against Weber State.

Cam Rising’s status is still up in the air, but it’s possible the senior is able to play against the Wildcats. The FCS program is 2-0 to start the year and fields a capable offense.

Led by junior running back Damon Bankston, Weber State operates a run-first system that’s averaging 34.5 points per game.

That should bode well for Utah, though, with Morgan Scalley’s defense entering the game 15th in the FBS in rushing defense. The Wildcats’ quarterback, Kylan Weisser, isn’t much of a dual-threat, either.

Utah QB Nate Johnson scores against Baylor | Jerry Larson/AP

The junior has just six rushes credited to his name so far this year, although he did bust a 23-yard scamper against Northern Iowa last week.

As long as the Utes get consistent penetration into the backfield, the game shouldn’t be close. It’s one of those matchups where Utah’s strength along the defensive line figures to shine through.

The key to watch is on the other side of the ball.

Andy Ludwig’s offense has struggled spectacularly to start the year and must get it together.

If Rising can’t go, backup Nate Johnson should have the chance to show just how efficient he makes the offense with his constant threat to run.

San Diego State at No. 16 Oregon State

Saturday, September 16
12:30 pm PT, FS1

Jonathan Smith and the Beavers have the opportunity to make a statement.

San Diego State was blown out of the water by UCLA’s RPO schemes and the showdown at Reser Stadium provides a direct comparison between the two Pac-12 programs.

Smith’s offense doesn’t share many similarities with Chip Kelly’s system, yet it figures to take advantage of SDSU’s questionable defense. The Aztecs are 111th in the FBS in total defense and 80th in scoring defense.

Boasting the top offensive line in the Pac-12, the Beavs should make easy work of the Mountain West program. Look for DJ Uiagalelei to have an efficient game on the shoulders of strong running back production.

Beaver RB Damien Martinez has run for 249 yds in two games | Amanda Loman/AP

Damien Martinez and Deshaun Fenwick should consistently move the ball on the ground, opening the field for shots down the field. The result should be a polished offense that puts up points with relative ease.

On the other side of the ball, the key to beating San Diego State is keeping quarterback Jalen Mayden contained on the ground.

The Aztecs are a far more dangerous team when Mayden is able to gain yardage with his legs. He is the team’s leading rusher and is averaging 61.3 yards per game.

But, the SDSU offense is woefully ineffective if the quarterback run game is contained. Mayden isn’t a strong enough passer to become one-dimensional through the air and will inevitably throw interceptions.

As long as Oregon State keeps the quarterback rushes in check, the Beavs should win by a large margin.

Idaho at Cal

Saturday, September 16
1:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Don’t look now, but this matchup with Idaho isn’t as easy as it may appear.

The Vandals are 2-0 to start the season and are fresh off a 33-6 trouncing of Nevada. Quarterback Gevani McCoy is slippery and mobile enough to make defenses pay.

Entering the game with 11 rushes for 71 yards, Cal’s linebackers must contain the sophomore in the pocket.

Still, the matchup with the FCS program is an opportunity for Jake Spavital’s offense to get back on track. The system has been Jekyll and Hyde to start the year, dominating North Texas but unable to score against Auburn.

Cal QB Sam Jackson V vs. Auburn | Godofredo A. Vasquez/AP

The status of Jaydn Ott is questionable, but the Bears must dominate the trenches to establish the ground game.

Cal’s offense is predicated on its rushing attack and its quarterbacks are far more efficient with an effective traditional ground game.

That shouldn’t be a problem against an FCS front seven, but it might be more challenging if Ott isn’t able to play.

Even so, Isaiah Ifanse and Ashton Stredick are talented options who should take advantage of their potentially increased touches.

As long as the California quarterbacks aren’t turning the ball over, the Bears should handle their business against Idaho.

North Carolina Central at No. 24 UCLA

Saturday, September 16
2:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

The emergence of Dante Moore as UCLA’s starting quarterback has arguably changed the trajectory of the season.

The true freshman operated Chip Kelly’s system like a veteran against San Diego State, carving up a respectable Aztec passing defense.

Operating an efficient RPO system, the Bruins enter the matchup with North Carolina Central boasting the nation’s No. 32 passing efficiency offense and No. 34 rushing offense.

That’s a deadly combination for a team just getting to know itself.

The sky could be the limit with Moore at the helm and the two-headed monster of Carson Steele and T.J. Harden to hand off to.

Bruin QB Dante Moore threw 3 TDs vs. SDSU | Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports

N.C. Central has a dual-threat quarterback in Davius Richard, who has as many rushing touchdowns (3) as passing touchdowns to start the year. Averaging 4.4 yards per rush, the Eagle’s quarterback is the engine of the offense.

But, similar to most running quarterbacks, the key to slowing down their system figures to be containing the ground game.

Those types of QBs are substantially more effective in the passing game when their running backs are operating effectively and the quarterback run game is successful.

However, if the run plays go nowhere and the offense is forced into passes, the efficiency falls off.

As long as the Bruins contain the Eagle’s rushing attack and force Richard to beat them through the air, Moore and Company should win in a landslide.

Northern Colorado at No. 23 Washington State

Saturday, September 16
2:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Cam Ward and Ben Arbuckle’s offense look to regain momentum against Northern Colorado.

The Washington State “O” disappeared in the second half against Wisconsin, ending the final two quarters with just one touchdown and nearly costing Wazzu the game.

The struggle to get anything going is a concerning sign to monitor against quality opposing defenses, but this FCS opponent does not fall into that category.

The Bears gave up 31 points in their opener to Abilene Christian and surrendered 42 to Incarnate Word in Week Two.

Facing a high-level Power 5 offense, Northern Colorado is in for a world of pain.

Ron Stone Jr. had 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles vs. Wisconsin | WSU Athletics

Finding the silver lining in matchups such as this one is never easy, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Arbuckle challenged his group to score a touchdown on every possession of the opening half.

Arguably relying too heavily on Ward running the ball, a key to watch is Washington State’s effectiveness with its traditional ground game.

Nakia Watson and Jaylen Jenkins haven’t been given enough opportunities, and the overreliance on Ward’s arm and leg could bite the program down the road.

On the other side of the field, Jake Dickert’s defense faces a spectacularly inept offense. Northern Colorado has scored just 18 points over two games and Dickert is probably expecting his team to shut them out in Pullman.

Washington football pac-12No. 8 Washington at Michigan State

Saturday, September 16
2:00 pm PT, Peacock

In a preview of what life will be like in the Big Ten, Washington battles Michigan State on Peacock.

The matchup has some wildcard characteristics after the suspension of head coach Mel Tucker. When teams lose their coach, they tend to go one of two ways: come out on fire and dominate, or shrivel and get blown out.

The performance of the Spartan roster figures to be indicative of Tucker’s influence on the team. A strong game would indicate they are taking his suspension in stride, while a weak performance would be a devastating sign for the rest of their year.

Still, MSU was arguably going to struggle against the Huskies either way.

Michael Penix and Jalen McMillan celebrate vs. Tulsa | Washington Athletics

There isn’t a defensive coordinator in America that has schemed up a way to slow down DeBoer’s offense with Michael Penix Jr. running the show.

The pre-snap movement, route trees, and decision-making of Penix make the system almost unstoppable. The apparent lack of a run game hasn’t mattered and the Dawgs arguably have the top receiver corps in the nation.

On the other hand, Michigan State’s “D” is No. 5 in the FBS in passing defense and is allowing just 107.0 yards passing per game. It’s a matchup of strength on strength that could produce a tighter game than expected.

As long as Washington keeps Spartan running back Nathan Carter relatively in check while limiting its turnovers on offense, the Huskies should leave with a win.

Hawai’i at No. 13 OregonOregon Ducks Logo Pac-12

Saturday, September 16
5:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

The Ducks return to Eugene to round out their nonconference schedule against Hawaii.

Expected to blow the Warriors out of the water, the game acts as somewhat of a live scrimmage for players to show what they have.

Getting pressure on Hawaii quarterback Brayden Schager is key. The Stanford defensive line was able to disrupt UH’s entire offense by manhandling their offensive line, producing six sacks in the Week One matchup.

Oregon fields a much stronger front seven than the Cardinal and should eat from the opening snap.

Oregon QB Bo Nix threw for 359 yds and 2 TDs vs. Texas Tech | Chase Seabolt/AP

Pofele Ashlock and Steven McBride are the primary threats to lockdown. The receivers have combined for eight touchdowns on the year and are the heart and soul of the pass-heavy scheme.

The Warriors’ run game is nonexistent, entering the matchup 128th nationally in rushing yards per game. With such a one-dimensional offense, Hawaii figures to struggle to score points against Oregon.

At the same time, the Warrior defense is 55th in rushing yards allowed per game and 64th in passing yards allowed per game.

The middle-of-the-road numbers were against relatively incompetent offenses, though, and Will Stein’s system is by far the strongest they will face this season.

Look for Oregon to get whatever it wants in all phases of its offense and put the game to bed by halftime.

Sacramento State at Stanford

Saturday, September 16
5:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Troy Taylor faces his old team in Stanford’s home opener.

It’s unusual for a Power 5 program to start its season with two road games, but the Tree only have to play away from Palo Alto three more times this year.

Taylor has been coy about his starting quarterback, similar to how he played his cards before the Hawaii matchup.

But, if that game is any indication, he’s sticking with Ashton Daniels and giving the sophomore most of the reps with the ones during practice this week.

Sacramento State is undefeated to start the year and fields a capable offense. The Big Sky Conference is a respected league at the FCS level and the Hornets were picked to finish third in the preseason media poll.

Stanford QB Ashton Daniels was injured vs. USC | Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

With a dual-threat quarterback and multiple running backs to rotate, Sac State is a legitimate challenge.

Its head coach, Andy Thompson, has been the team’s defensive coordinator since 2019 and should be integrally familiar with Taylor’s offense.

But, Taylor knew this game was coming and has likely planned accordingly. Whether it’s variations to formations, play calling, signals, or tendencies, the Stanford head coach will certainly have cards up his sleeve.

The key, though, is the Tree’s defense. In particular, the defensive line.

As long as Stanford wins the battle in the defensive trenches, the team should walk away with the win.

Colorado State at No. 18 Colorado

Saturday, September 16
7:00 pm PT, ESPN

Shedeur Sanders and the Buffaloes look to continue their momentum with a victory against in-state rival Colorado State.

The Rams are coming off an oddly timed bye week after getting blown out by Washington State in Week One.

Jay Norvell’s defense was unable to contain Wazzu’s pass-heavy scheme and figures to have more of the same issues against Sean Lewis’s system.

Sanders is more mobile and a better passer than Cam Ward, too, plus Colorado has greater weapons at wide receiver than the Cougs.

The result should be a Colorado offense that moves the ball effectively and puts up points.

Shedeur Sanders passed for 2 TDs and ran for 1 vs. Huskers | Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

One of the keys to watch, though, is the protection created by CU’s offensive line. The unit struggled against Nebraska and enters the game dead last in the FBS in sacks allowed per game.

Some of those issues are attributable to Sanders’ decision-making. But it’s an aspect of the offense that must show improvement in order for the Buffs to truly contend in the Pac-12.

The ground game needs more production, too, with CU currently sitting 124th in rushing yards per game.

Still, Lewis’s schemes should get the Buff players into open space where they are able to do damage. The combination of playcalling, route running, and quarterback execution has been undeniable to start the season.

With the country’s No. 27 scoring offense, the two primary issues on “O” have been masked. Yet, facing their weakest opponent to date, it’s fair to expect improvement in the trenches and in the traditional ground game.

Fresno State at Arizona State

Saturday, September 16
7:30 pm PT, FS1

In what might be the most intriguing Pac-12 game of the weekend, Arizona State hosts Fresno State for a showdown in Tempe.

The Bulldogs already have a road win over Purdue and escaped with a double-overtime victory over FCS Eastern Washington.

Bringing an offense to the desert that’s 37th nationally in points per game, Fresno State presents a substantial challenge.

The Sun Devils might be dealing with a quarterback controversy, too, after reports indicate Notre Dame transfer Drew Pyne is available for the first time this season.

Whoever gets the majority of the snaps will face off against a defense that has struggled to start the year. The Bulldogs are 112th in the FBS in points allowed per game and 81st in total defense.

WR Elijhah Badger runs in for a TD vs. Oklahoma St. | ASU Athletics

The key for Arizona State is getting its ground game going. Cameron Skattebo and DeCarlos Brooks are capable running backs who have the power to significantly open up the passing game if given the chance.

Yet, with an offensive line dealing with substantial injuries and potentially a true freshman quarterback running the show, that’s easier said than done.

On the other side of the ball, frustrating Fresno State quarterback Mikey Keene is pivotal. Jeff Tedford’s offense is pass-heavy and averages over 40 pass attempts per game to start the year.

One of Arizona State’s strengths is its defensive line and the consistent pressure it is able to generate could be a deciding factor.

At the end of the day, it’s a toss-up game that could come down to the final possession.

UTEP at ArizonaArizona football Pac-12

Saturday, September 16
8:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Looking to bounce back after an overtime loss to Mississippi State, the Wildcats face a struggling UTEP offense.

The Miners are averaging just 16.3 points per game with a quarterback who has been sacked seven times with four interceptions.

With a run-first offense and a relatively immobile QB, the Conference USA opponent creates a relatively straightforward game plan.

As long as Arizona keeps UTEP’s running game in check, the Wildcats should score plenty of points to leave with an easy win.

That shouldn’t be much of a problem with UA’s revamped defensive line. The unit has helped produce the country’s No. 36 defense in tackles for loss per game while allowing just one rushing touchdown this season.

WR Tetairoa McMillan had 161 yds vs. Miss St | Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Look for the Wildcats to be aggressive in their playcalling and dare Miner quarterback Gavin Hardison to beat them through the air.

At the same time, Jedd Fisch’s offense should have a field day.

The UTEP “D” is 90th in third-down percentage defense and Arizona’s running backs should feast with Fisch’s variable play calling.

The result should be a Wildcat offense that keeps the Miners off-balanced and on the back foot from the opening drive.

Expect productive nights from receivers Jacob Cowing and Tetairoa McMillan, too, as Arizona overpowers UTEP in Tucson.

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