Pac-12 Gets Rolling This Weekend; Cal Faces Toughest Opener
BERKELEY (CBS/AP) — It’s what amounts to opening weekend in the Pac-12.
After a handful of games between conference opponents the opening month of the season, the Pac-12 season goes into full swing this weekend.
While UCLA and Utah will have a weekend off before playing Oct. 3 in Salt Lake City, the conference’s 10 other teams will face each other, including five playing their first Pac-12 games of the season.
The most lopsided game, at least on paper, appears to be Stanford at Washington State, though the Cougars are improved in their second season under Mike Leach and have a road victory over Southern California on their resume.
Cal likely faces the toughest opener.
The Golden Bears had a tough non-conference schedule, wrapping loses to Northwestern and Ohio State around a win over Portland State. Cal lost by at least two touchdowns in its games against the two ranked opponents and held off the FCS Vikings 37-30 in a shootout, so facing the No. 2 Ducks in Eugene will be daunting.
Oregon has rolled through its first three games, entering Saturday’s game ranked second nationally with 61.3 points and 672 yards per game. The Ducks also have had a week off and play at a tempo few teams can match.
The Bears have played fast under new coach Sonny Dykes — 95 plays per game — but keeping up with a team that’s become the standard for the speed game won’t be easy.
“You have to adjust your practice schedule, the way you implement things when you’re preparing to play against an offense like this,” Dykes said. “There’s some changes that have to be made, but the good thing is our guys, probably 75 percent of our practices are against fast-paced offenses.”
There should be plenty of offense in Seattle on Saturday, when Arizona and No. 16 Washington meet in their first conference games.
Playing a new up-tempo style, the Huskies are third nationally with over 600 yards per game and have outscored opponents 128-30 to open 3-0 in nonconference for the first time since 2000. Washington blew out Idaho State 56-0 in its last game by piling up 680 yards of offense, second-highest total in school history.
Arizona was one of the nation’s fastest teams in its first season under coach Rich Rodriguez and let up only a little this year, mostly because it faced three overmatched opponents to open the season.
The Wildcats had a week off before playing their first Pac-12 game in one of the conference’s toughest environments.
“I’m sure the players are excited to be back in action,” Rodriguez said. “They all know how important this one is and, obviously, conference play begins. It’s a great challenge for us, up there in a tough environment against a very good team.”
Colorado got off to a superb start under new coach Mike MacIntyre, doubling its win total from last season by beating rival Colorado State and Central Arkansas.
The Buffaloes haven’t played a game since.Because of flooding in Boulder, Colorado had to postpone its game against Fresno State, leaving a huge hole in the schedule. It’s not exactly the kind of preparation the Buffaloes wanted heading into their first Pac-12 game, Saturday against Oregon State.
“It seems like three years ago since we last played,” MacIntyre said Tuesday during the Pac-12 coaches’ teleconference. “We’ve been trying to do everything we can to keep the speed of the game, but this is almost like another opening game for us in a way.”
The series between Southern California and Arizona State has been a mismatch in recent years, with the Trojans winning 11 of the past 12 games since 2000.
The teams appear to be more evenly matched heading into Saturday night’s game in the desert.
USC is no longer the offensive juggernaut it once was, entering the game 106th nationally in total offense, though they still have plenty of playmakers, led by All-American receiver Marqise Lee. USC opened the Pac-12 with a disappointing 10-7 loss to Washington State at home, but has one of the nation’s best scoring defenses — 11 points per game — after wins over Boston College and Utah State.
Arizona State got its second season under Todd Graham off to a solid start, rolling over Sacramento State before pulling out a tight home victory over a ranked Wisconsin team.
That set up a measuring-stick game for the Sun Devils last weekend at Stanford. They fell short after a miserable start, but did rally with three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to get within 42-24 and catch the attention of USC’s coaches.
“They’re a talented team with great players,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “It’s going to be a tough test, especially playing on the road.”
And it won’t get any easier from here.
Now that the Pac-12 is in full gear, teams can expect a tough game pretty much every week.
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