Dane Miller’s Week 3 Pac-12 Football Previews

Posted on September 16, 2021

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

The Conference of Champions looks to continue its march toward the Playoff in the third week of the College Football season.

No. 13 UCLA faces Fresno State in a matchup that is sure to be analyzed when comparing the Bruins to the No. 4 Ducks, while Oregon itself takes on lowly Stony Brook in Eugene.

But the showdown to keep an eye on might be Utah against San Diego State. A defeat on the road could ring the alarm bells in Salt Lake City for the remainder of the year.

And in the Pac-12 Game of the Day, No. 19 Arizona State travels to Provo to play No. 23 BYU. In the eyes of the national media, a Sun Devil victory would further boost the Conference’s revitalized image.

I preview all 11 matchups here, and our Senior Writers’ picks appear at the bottom.

Minnesota at Colorado

Folsom Field, Boulder, Co
Saturday, September 18
10:00 a.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

The extent of Jarek Broussard’s injury has been kept under wraps in Boulder, but it’s probably safe to assume the defending Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year will miss the matchup with Minnesota.

The absence of the heart of CU’s offense could derail its chances against the Gophers, although Alex Fontenot and Ashaad Clayton are capable of filling the gap in the lost production.

Colorado’s Brendon Lewis | Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

If ever there was a moment for a breakout game from Brendon Lewis, this is it.

The freshman quarterback has struggled through the air in the first two games of the season, arguably costing Colorado an upset victory over Texas A&M.

The Buffs have the defensive firepower to beat Minnesota, yet Lewis must get it together on offense.

The Gophers’ pass defense is 102nd in the country, allowing 265 yards per game and six touchdown through two contests.

Facing a poor secondary, wide receiver Dimitri Stanley is ready to eat. It’s up to Lewis to feed him.

Idaho at Oregon State

Reser Stadium, Corvallis, OR
Saturday, September 18
12:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

Chance Nolan has changed the perception of Oregon State football in 2021. His acumen executing Jonathan Smith’s offense has allowed OSU’s run game to come alive, the product of an efficient passing attack.

The increased threat to pass the ball opens lanes for running backs, allowing B.J. Baylor to take full advantage.

Nolan forces opposing coordinators to move out of their run-stopping schemes to defend the edges of the field, playing directly into Smith’s gameplan.

OSU’s Chance Nolan | Sean Meagher/The Oregonian

And facing FCS opponent Idaho at Reser Stadium, Baylor and Nolan should have field days. Staying healthy is Objective No. 1, but continuing the evolution of the Beaver offense is a close second.

Redshirt freshman Anthony Gould should continue to benefit, with another 100-plus yard outing appearing to be in the cards. Trevon Bradford figures to have a strong performance against the Idaho defense as well.

usc logoUSC at Washington State

Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
Saturday, September 18
12:30 p.m. PT, Fox

The Clay Helton Era is over, but the remainder of USC’s season is up for grabs.

In his first game as a head coach, Donte Williams could be facing a career-defining decision if Kedon Slovis struggles on the Palouse. Jaxson Dart is rearing to go on the sidelines, itching for an opportunity to take the reins.

And after Slovis put up career-low passing yards per game to open the year, fortune favors the bold.

USC’s Kedon Slovis | Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

But Washington State’s pass defense is 104th in the country and Jake Dickert’s 4-2-5 scheme is susceptible to Graham Harrell’s Air Raid.

The motivation of the SC roster is the X-Factor, a wildcard that could go either direction after the termination of Helton. If the Trojans come out flat, the Cougars have a chance to keep the game close into the second half.

Jayden de Laura has the confidence to pull off the upset, and the Washington State fan base can sense the weakness in the USC program.

Sacramento State at California

California Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, CA
Saturday, September 18
1:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

Over its past five games, California has lost four by a combined 10 points, while its lone victory came by a margin of four.

The Bears have to go all the way back to the 2019 Red Box Bowl to find a double-digit win, indicating the offensive struggles the program faces.

Its 32 points scored against TCU last week were its highest total since the bowl victory against Illinois, and its third-highest total over the last 21 games.

Cal’s Chase Garbers | Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With Cal’s offense stuck in the Dark Ages, Sacramento State presents an opportunity to begin to change the narrative.

Chase Garbers and Damien Moore should boost their six combined touchdowns against the Hornet defense, while Nikko Remigio figures to have a breakout game.

The trio have eight of Cal’s nine touchdowns through the first two weeks, and each should capitalize on the FCS opponent.

Washington football pac-12
Arkansas State at Washington

Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA
Saturday, September 18
1:15 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

Washington offensive coordinator John Donovan must get the job done against Arkansas State.

On paper, the Red Wolves have a potent offense that ranks near the top of the NCAA in points per game and yards per game. But the Sun Belt opponent has the 118th scoring defense in the nation, allowing 38 points per night.

If the Dawgs struggle to move the ball at Husky Stadium, this matchup could veer dangerously close to another disaster.

Washington’s Richard Newton | Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times

It all starts on the ground, with the Huskies forced to be one-dimensional through the first two games of the season. The 57.5 yards per game on the ground is dead last in the Pac-12, and only three other teams in the country average fewer yards rushing per night.

That’s unsustainable in any conference and must be fixed against Arkansas State. Failing to address the issues with the rushing attack could result in more of the same in Seattle.

Utah at San Diego State

Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, CA
Saturday, September 18
4:00 p.m. PT, CBS Sports Network

Coming off its loss to BYU, the Utes face another challenge on the road.

San Diego State handled Arizona in Tucson with ease, tearing up the Wildcats’ run defense. The Aztec offense features heavy pre-snap movement and misdirection plays designed to fool opponents and generate missed tackles.

The system is particularly effective against man-defense, creating a one-step-ahead advantage in option plays with the pre-snap movement indicating defensive assignments.

Utah’s Charlie Brewer | Scott G Winterton/Deseret News

But Kyle Whittingham’s staff will dissect the Arizona tape and should employ zone looks to counteract the SDSU scheme.

And with a defense light-years ahead of UA, the emphasis in practice is probably on staying disciplined before the snap.

The focus then shifts to the Utah offense. Charlie Brewer doesn’t have many options, but Dalton Kincaid figures to play a heavier role than he did against the Cougars.

This game has upset potential, but the Utes should find a way to get it done.

Oregon Ducks Logo Pac-12
Stony Brook at No. 4 Oregon

Autzen Stadium, Eugene, OR
Saturday, September 18
4:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

Injuries have piled up within the Oregon program after facing two quality opponents to open the year. But the matchup with Stony Brook provides a reprieve, and Ty Thompson should get the first action of his career.

The true freshman’s command of the offense might be the primary storyline to watch, but the FCS opponent presents an opportunity for the third and fourth strings to take advantage.

Oregon’s Ty Thompson | Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports

Staying healthy is the lone concern of the weekend, and the importance of the margin of victory is lessened after the Ohio State win.

The circumstances are a perfect storm for breakout games from players lower on the depth chart. And Mario Cristobal should empty his bench.

Buy-games such as this one may be a thing of the past with the Alliance’s agreement on scheduling, putting greater meaning on this matchup for those players fighting for increased playing time.

Stanford at Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, TN
Saturday, September 18
5:00 p.m. PT, ESPNU

David Shaw is feeling himself after dismantling USC and breaking the camel’s back to force a coaching change.

The Stanford head coach took a bit of a dig at Vanderbilt this week, saying Stanford had better academics which allows it to recruit better players. The statement may have been cast with respect, but it indicates a degree of confidence that’s probably traceable to last weekend’s win.

Stanford’s Nathaniel Peat | Harry How/Getty Images

And heading into SEC Country, the Pac-12’s reputation must be protected. A stumble in Nashville would revive the questions after the Kansas State loss and derail the Cardinal’s path to bowl eligibility.

But the Commodores have scored just three touchdowns this season and have a -3 turnover margin. Nathaniel Peat and Austin Jones should shine against the Vanderbilt run defense that gives up 193 yards per game.

And Tanner McKee figures to continue his 75.6 percent completion percentage without throwing an interception.

Arizona football Pac-12
Northern Arizona at Arizona

Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ
Saturday, September 18
7:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

Arizona looks to rebound after getting rolled by San Diego State in Tucson.

The focus all week in practice has been on tackling, after the UA defense struggled to wrap up the Aztec ball carriers.

But the matchup with Northern Arizona presents an opportunity to break the Cats’ 14-game losing streak and go down as the first victory of the Jedd Fisch Era.

Although the focus is rightly on the defense, the potency of Fisch’s Pro Style offense is also under a microscope against the Lumberjacks.

Arizona’s Will Plummer | Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Will Plummer will start under center in place of Gunner Cruz, but the rushing attack is where the improved production is needed most.

Through two games, Arizona is averaging just 65 yards rushing per night, and it might be time for true freshman Stevie Rocker Jr. to get meaningful carries.

Receivers Tayvian Cunningham, Stanley Berryhill III, and BJ Casteel remain the threats to score, and each should have strong nights.

No. 19 Arizona State at No. 23 BYU

LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, UT
Saturday, September 18
7:15 p.m. PT, ESPN

In their first real test of the season, the Sun Devils take on No. 23 BYU in Provo.

The Arizona State rushing attack faces a Cougar rush defense that sits 69th in the country, an indication of the success Herm Edward’s offense figures to have at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Chip Trayanum is expected to be ready to go, and Rachaad White should consistently reach the Cougars’ second level.

ASU’s Rachaad White | Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Mix in the 93rd-rated BYU pass defense, and Jayden Daniels should lead the Sun Devils on scoring drive after scoring drive.

But slowing down Jaren Hall is a different question.

The Cougar quarterback is drawing early comparisons to Russell Wilson, and appears destined to end up as a First Round draft pick. Hall’s willingness to scramble, get first downs with his legs, and accuracy on the move presents a sizable challenge for Antonio Pierce’s defense.

But as one of the top defensive coordinators in the country, Pierce should find a way to at least slow him down.

Fresno State at No. 13 UCLA

Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
Saturday, September 18
7:45 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

In a game that will be closely watched by Oregon fans, No. 13 UCLA pits its ground attack against the Fresno State rush defense.

The Bulldogs give up just 91.3 yards rushing per game, making them the nation’s 34th-best run stopping team. And its pass defense allows only 155 yards per game, the country’s 24th-strongest at defending the pass.

The quality of Fresno State’s defense could make this a low-scoring game, putting a premium on winning the turnover battle.

UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson | Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Converting on third down figures to loom large as well, with the Bulldogs holding opponents to a 25.5 percent conversion rate, good for 15th in the FBS.

But UCLA puts up 227 yards per night on the ground and has scored touchdowns in four of its six Red Zone opportunities. Dorian Thompson-Robinson should continue to operate efficiently with Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown breaking chunk plays.

The final score could be closer than anticipated, but the Bruins should pull away in the second half.

SportsPac12 Football Writers Week 3 Game Picks

—More from Dane Miller—