Dane Miller’s Week 2 Pac-12 Football Previews

Posted on September 9, 2021

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

The first week of the season was one to forget for half the teams in the Pac-12. But new opportunities arise on Saturday.

Pac-12Week Two features four nationally televised matchups, and five programs out of the Conference of Champions enter the day ranked in the Top 25.

Starting off with a bang, No. 12 Oregon faces No. 3 Ohio State in Columbus for the Big Noon Kickoff, while Colorado takes on No. 5 Texas A&M in Denver just after the game wraps up in the Buckeye State.

The day rounds out with Washington taking on Michigan in Ann Arbor, No. 21 Utah traveling to BYU, and No. 14 USC hosting Stanford in the first conference game of the year.

The perception of the Pac-12 could change with upset victories, as the trajectory of the season still hangs in the balance. I preview all 10 matchups here, and our football writers’ picks appear at the bottom.

Oregon Ducks Logo Pac-12No. 12 Oregon at No. 3 Ohio State

Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH
Saturday, September 11
9:00 a.m. PT, Fox

This one has been circled for months: The marquee matchup of the Pac-12’s nonconference season.

What happened last week in Eugene is irrelevant—all that matters is taking care of business in front of 100,000 people in Ohio State’s “Horseshoe” convinced the Ducks don’t have a chance.

Mario Cristobal’s job is to seize that energy and turn it to his team’s advantage.

Oregon’s Anthony Brown | Sean Meagher/The Oregonian

A strong start is a must, and UO must generate turnovers. But Anthony Brown is a seasoned quarterback that knows how to run Oregon’s offense.

The recipe to a victory likely starts on the ground, with the Duck offensive line making (or breaking) the difference.

But at the end of the day, converting on third down should be the stat to watch. If UO is able to move the chains more efficiently than the Buckeyes, the Ducks have a chance.

And after Ohio State looked sluggish in its opener, don’t be surprised if the final score is closer than expected.

No. 5 Texas A&M v. Colorado

Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO
Saturday, September 11
12:30 p.m. PT, Fox

Jimbo Fisher was quoted as saying that playing in elevation is “not a factor” and that he’s “never had an issue” with it before. That’s arguably bulletin board material for Karl Dorrell and a source of motivation for his gameplan.

The CU defense has the strength to slow down Texas A&M and could generate a turnover or two to keep the game close. The conditioning factor should play a role, with Dorrell putting a greater emphasis on blitzing than he might otherwise employ.

Colorado’s Brendon Lewis | David Zalubowski/AP

And on offense, the Colorado wide receivers have the speed to wear out the Aggie secondary. The elevation element figures to be a factor, but CU’s chances mostly lie on the play of Brendon Lewis. The freshman QB should rely heavily on his running backs.

Yet, Fisher knows that, and is likely to focus on defending the run, daring Colorado to beat them through the air.

California at TCU

Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, TX
Saturday, September 11
12:30pm PT, ESPNU

The Bears have a chance to turn their season around after an unexpected stumble in the opener. But facing TCU in a true road game, the deck is stacked against them.

The Horned Frogs are coming off a 42-point demolition of FCS opponent Duquesne, an easy win that arguably benefits Cal. Teams learn nothing about themselves in cupcake buy-games, and California was hardened by one of the top teams in the Mountain West.

Cal’s Chase Garbers | D. Ross Cameron/AP

Gary Patterson’s roster could be overlooking the Bears, confident after their blowout win.

But Justin Wilcox’s team is angry and playing with something to prove. The dichotomy in circumstances may be a factor, but Bill Musgrave’s offense must run the ball better.

Chase Garbers is at his most effective when his backs are moving the ball, and Musgrave may do well to try and establish the run in the first half.

Portland State at Washington State

Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
Saturday, September 11
3:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

Jayden de Laura probably should have started against Utah State. If Nick Rolovich had gone with his proven returning quarterback who ran the Run-and-Shoot in high school, we likely would be talking about a 1-0 Washington State team.

Instead, Max Borghi was under-utilized and Deon McIntosh became an after thought. But facing a FCS opponent in Pullman, the Cougar offense should return to form.

Washington State’s Max Borghi | WSU Athletics

Apart from the offensive rebound, the tell-tale sign to look for is a strong afternoon out of Jake Dickert’s defense. The second-year coordinator could challenge his unit to step up to the plate and shut down the Viking passing attack.

After putting up 35 points on Hawaii’s defense last week, frustrating Portland State quarterback Davis Alexander with heavy blitzing figures to be the gameplan.

But if the WSU defense struggles to slow down the pass, this game might be too close for comfort in the second half.

Washington football pac-12Washington at Michigan

Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
Saturday, September 11
5:00pm PT, ABC

Coming off what is likely the worst loss in program history, the Huskies travel to Michigan with a chance at redemption.

Jim Harbaugh’s offense put up 47 on Western Michigan in Week One, primarily due to a strong ground game. Slowing down the Wolverine running backs figures to be Objective No. 1 in Jimmy Lake’s gameplan.

But the focus in practice this week was likely on UW’s offense.

Jimmy Lake and the Huskies | Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times

After punching in a touchdown on the opening drive of the season, the Dawgs were held scoreless the remainder of the game.

The blunted momentum is head-scratching considering the weapons on Washington’s offense, and this matchup presents the opportunity to prove it was a fluke.

Special teams could be the spark to reignite the fire, with a jolting return potentially changing the game.

But however it gets going, a strong start to the night is pivotal. If Washington goes down early, it might be too tough a task to overcome the home crowd and get back into the game.

Arizona football Pac-12San Diego State at Arizona

Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ
Saturday, September 11
7:00pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Riding a 13-game losing streak, Arizona’s matchup against San Diego State could be the end of the skid.

Gunner Cruz and the Wildcat offense breathed life into the program in Week One against BYU, displaying a never-give-up attitude that brought the program within a single possession in the fourth quarter.

And after the UA defense sparked the comeback, the belief is alive in the desert.

Arizona’s Gunner Cruz | AP via The San Diego Union Tribune

The Aztecs are a run-heavy offense that win games on the ground. Almost entirely relying on its running backs, the onus is on UA defensive coordinator Don Brown to scheme up a system to slow down SDSU.

With an offense that can score enough to win the game, Arizona’s defensive performance figures to determine the outcome. And in front of what could be a raucous home crowd desperate for a win, this might be the night the Jedd Fisch Era truly begins.

No. 21 Utah at BYU

LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, UT
Saturday, September 11
7:15pm PT, ESPN

The Holy War—does it get any better than this?

Utah didn’t look as good in the opener as the 40-17 final score indicates. But Charlie Brewer had several touchdown passes dropped and a weather delay in the first quarter may have contributed to the perception.

Yet on Saturday, the key to beating BYU is arguably on the defensive side of the ball. Devin Lloyd shined as expected in Week One, and the Ute defense forced two turnovers.

Utah’s Devin Lloyd and teammates | KSL Sports

The Cougar offense appeared susceptible to pressure in its matchup with Arizona, as quarterback Jaren Hall missed on open receiver. Kyle Whittingham’s gameplan could make the sophomore uncomfortable with its focus on preventing plays of 20 yards or more.

And on offense, getting Tavion Thomas going on the ground should open up the playbook, allowing Brewer additional time to find the open man in passing plays.

UNLV at No. 23 Arizona State

Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ
Saturday, September 11
7:30 p.m. PT, ESPN2

Facing another cupcake opponent, Arizona State looks to clean up its mistakes from Week One.

UNLV is coming off a loss to FCS opponent Eastern Washington, a game in which it struggled to pass the ball.

But facing an exponentially stronger Sun Devil defense, the question might be whether or not the Running Rebel staff asks for a running clock in the second half.

ASU’s Jayden Daniels | Benjamin Chambers/The Republic

Jayden Daniels and the ASU rushing attack should eat from the opening drive, turning the game into a glorified scrimmage by the third quarter. Staying healthy remains the primary goal, but the continual development of the receiver corps is a close second.

Favored by more than four touchdowns, scoring 40 points or more while holding UNLV to 10 is a reasonable goal for Herm Edward’s team.

But with a BYU matchup right around the corner, keeping his players focused on this game might be toughest challenge of the week.

usc logoStanford at No. 14 USC

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
Saturday, September 11
7:30 p.m. PT, Fox

In the first conference matchup of the season, USC and Stanford do battle in Los Angeles.

David Shaw has announced Tanner McKee as the Tree’s starting quarterback, a move that came a week too late, and arguably cost the Cardinal a chance to beat Kansas State.

But regardless of the starting quarterback, the Stanford ground game must move the ball more effectively for Shaw’s team to pull off the upset at the Coliseum.

Stanford’s Tanner McKee | ESPN

Austin Jones managed just 25 yards rushing in the opener and was afforded only 9 carries. Yet, getting back to the ground and pound should be easier with a more effective quarterback in McKee.

Todd Orlando and the USC defense will have something to say about that, though. The Trojans stepped up and rendered the defending Mountain West champions’ offense ineffective in Week One, indicating what could be SC’s strength in 2021.

Hawai’i at Oregon State

Reser Stadium, Corvallis, OR
Saturday, September 11
8:00 p.m. PT, FS1

The last time Oregon State played Hawai’i, the Rainbow Warriors got the upper hand. But that matchup was in the islands and the Beavers have some momentum after playing Purdue close.

The open question in the backfield remains for Jonathan Smith to solve, yet the Hawai’i defense was gashed by UCLA on the ground. That should bode well for an OSU program seeking to establish an identity after the departure of Jermar Jefferson.

Oregon State’s Chance Nolan | Michael Conroy/Associated Press

And after Chance Nolan provided a spark in the opener, Smith must also decide who will lead his offense.

With an abundance of unanswered questions, the emphasis among the Beaver coaching staff could be on defense. Hawai’i has weapons capable of putting up points, though it’s susceptible to turning the ball over.

If Oregon State forces more than two turnovers, it should handle the Rainbow Warriors with relative ease.

SportsPac12 Football Writers Week 2 Game Picks

—More from Dane Miller—